Q: Why Do My Solos Always Sound Like I’m Just Playing Scales?
Q: Why Do I Always Hear You Playing Scales When You Practice?
That is the essence of a conversation I once had with my Berklee college teacher and mentor just before he introduced me to the idea of a contrived solo: a solo which you plan out, practice, analyze and maybe even memorize if you really like it. I studied pages of Bill Leavitt’s jazz solos and beautiful reading studies (which were guitar centered melodic compositions actually) based of course on the chord progressions to standard tunes. I loved learning and studying them, they were so cool and musical and gave me lots and lots of ideas on how to treat various chords and standard cadences.
This did seem to be in direct contradiction of one of the prime directives I had often been taught or at least heard discussed countless times in reference to jazz soloing and that is the famous quote by someone I considered to be a national treasure, Chick Corea.
Of course when you develop the hard skills, creativity, and the ability to play creatively, intuitively and perfectly right on your very own mark, creating the sounds you have dreamed of and imagined during all your hours of practicing, you have attained a serious and prodigious level of musicianship, that is a level which I do not think I am on personally and have known very few people that have attained such a serious and complete mastery of jazz performance.
Personally, as one of the mere mortals who inhabits planet Earth but still enjoys playing jazz music on my highest possible level, I have found other ways to adopt and function and still play nicely -even when I can’t create beautiful lines right off the top of my head!
First and foremost, I have always been one to copy the solos of my jazz guitar heroes and also study books of licks and tricks for hours and hours. I think of all the little gems I have mined over the years in much the same way a baseball pitcher thinks of his best pitch, such as a fastball. A Pitcher will use the fastball to get in the rhythm of the game, to settle things down and inspire confidence in his teammates.
I use a contrived solo in much the same way: I like to start out sounding good, to settle into the rhythm of my game, and inspire cooperation and confidence in my band mates. I use my found and discovered little musical germs and gems as my point of departure, the material on which I base my solos. It’s not like I have to recite them note for note, but since I know how they work, I can play hot solos just like them and still be assured of getting a good sound because I know how they were made. It’s much easier to get a swinging musical sound, are that melodic jazz effect this way than it is to just dive into scales and start reciting them -looking for interesting notes or modes to compensate for the boring sound of straight scale patterns with dull and even rhythms, which we all can easily fall right into.
The solo below is 24 bars of a swing blues in F. In it I am playing that nice relaxed Wes Montgomery sound using really accessible rhythms, cool notes and simple melodies based on streams of octaves.
I made this up many years ago, as I was first studying jazz and was visiting a jam session, when I finally got the nerve to go up on stage the leader called “Blues In F”. As a young guitar player who played “Blues In E” all the time I was really not able to get anything going that day. That evening, my friends and I went back to our laboratory and came up with a nice little solo, a good convincing fastball if you will. Now it’s here for you to study, copy and then make your own.