Most if not all of my jazz students come to me with a background in rock ‘n roll and blues. Therefore, the first thing I like to go over with them is the idea of playing the changes, I often share this quote with them that I picked up somewhere along the line:
A guitar solo is a stream of single notes that elegantly, melodically and artistically imitates the sound of the chords.
It is a brilliant, salient thought that I wish I would’ve thought of myself and this simple statement often points students in a new and fresh direction that they haven’t thought of, because most rock and blues soloing is about working one scale and staying within that pattern, usually the confines of the minor pentatonic (or minor blues) scale which I sometimes refer to as the “pentatonic prison” to drive the point home. Granted, there is no hot guitar playing without blues scales and minor pentatonic scales -everyone needs to learn to use them and use them well.
In education, scaffolding is a technique that moves students learning and understanding by building on their current skill set and what they already know, invariably hastening the learning process. An educator should provide successive levels of training and support that aid in comprehension and skill acquisition –levels that would not be possible without carefully planned support. Like the scaffolding on a construction site, the ideas remain in place until the building can support itself. Scaffolding is an indispensable component of effective teaching, and virtually everyone who considers themselves an educator uses various forms of instructional scaffolding as a matter of course.
Compositionally Sound Solos
My first lesson for the skilled rock/ pop / blues player is learning to play and improvise 3 passes of a blues in E, if you are set up for recording I recommend recording them and asking them for their own thought and a self-critique before jumping into an evaluation. That way, you can use their own words and ideas in your teaching and keep the student from feeling attacked.
Next, I introduce them to this video lesson:
Musically Analyzing the Lesson Plan
Starting off with a well known Blues double stop and a favorite of the late Stevie Ray Vaughn sets the mood and sticks with the style. The 4th bar is the first instance of being slightly outside the box as I am using a diad composed of the b7 and the b5 and sustaining it -challenging the ear. Rehearsal letter A is all about introducing the “key of the moment” concept and approaching chord tones chromatically, again foreign concept to most studying and learning the guitar. Rehearsal letter B is all about chord tone and tensions before ending the 12 bar pass with an homage to Freddie King’s Hideaway.
Once again chord tones and tensions are leaned on heavily to challenge and develop the ear, bar 4 uses some chromatically ascending 9th chords as an homage to big band and Jump Blues arranging. rehearsal letter D is strictly a key of the moment approach employing a slightly atypical major 6th arpeggio.
Starting with a well known Blues cliche the third pass is all about rhythmic accuracy. To make sure students understand the relationship between and the importance of the major and minor 3rd, the point is totally driven home in the second line. The third line is using basic dominant 7th arpeggios before ending with another must know cliche turnaround lick.
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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.
Credit: Tim Dickeson
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.
Most come to teaching guitar as a supplement to a performing and writing career, in fact I would warrant a guess that many turn to guitar tutoring as a profession because doing real music, actually breaking into the music business as a writer and or performer is an extraordinarily difficult process.
No Room For Musical Snobbery
In my career I have had many teachers who were not university or formally educated but we’re still excellent players, good performers and amazingly competent educators such as the legendary Ted Green author of Chord Chemistry and a virtuoso musician, whose education came from listening, studying and other great teachers. I was a guitar student of his after I had graduated from Berkee College of Music and I was in awe of how much he knew, what he could play -I had never, seen anything like it. Believe me, I am no snob when it comes to college degrees and other pedigrees. The proof is in the pudding!
Chord Chemistry by Ted Greene
Having And Being The Right Guitar Teacher
The Legendary Bill Leavitt
There are many people like me however, who actually really want to be guitar teachers and had teaching as a career goal. I decided this while under the mentor-ship and tutelage of William G. Leavitt, author of the Berklee method and one of the finest musicians to have ever lived. There were innumerable amazing lessons and experiences with him but the one thing that really struck me was that anyone can excel when shown the type of teaching, education, respect and mentorship that I saw from him, very quickly into that 6 year relationship I decided to dedicate myself to this art, the art of teaching the guitar. To follow in his footsteps as a guitar teacher.
The Three Mak Daddy Studs Of Music Education
I have based my work as a professional instructor on three of the world’s great theories of music education -the first one of course is the Berkee method, which was adapted from the work of Joseph Schillinger (1895-1943) a truly remarkable and gifted Renaissance man whose work and importance is sadly obscured by time. Schillinger’s mathematical system of music analysis was embraced by all the top musical minds and luminaries of the day like Glen Miller, Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman. Schillinger was actually a teacher of the great genius George Gershwin and quite interestingly, he worked with Leon Theremin and was deeply involved with the ‘rhythmicon’ a primitive electronic drum machine.
Joseph Schillinger And The Rhythmicon
It’s a highly mathematical system that see music as movement but I think it bridges the gap between classical European theory and modern jazz music theory courses. Popularized just after World War II the Schillinger system is a work of pure brilliance like the world is seldom seen. Although there are many wonderful things about this system I would like you, the reader to have one takeaway or salient quote for immediate use.
In terms of chord to chord motion the principles of the Berklee/Schillinger method states chords most commonly (root motion) move by fourth, fifth, half step or whole step.
Of course, that is in over generalization but you will find it to be an extraordinarily accurate and useful construct for giving music theory and songwriting lessons. I also find this idea useful in memorizing or transposing songs -test it out.
Our next stud is Carl Orff the author of Carmina Burana (which many people state as their favorite opera or favorite piece of classical music), and developer of an amazing system of musical education called ‘Kindermusik’ that is still in use today and provides one of the core standards for early musical educational at institutions throughout the world. Although the work of Carl Orff is deep and unbelievably complex, and takes years of study to truly understand, let’s find some great take aways from his work for application today.
Carl Orff- A Beautiful Mind.
One most Orff’s most beautiful and interesting idea is this: music lessons should resemble a child’s normal state of play. I absolutely love that and I always think of that when teaching: creating a comfortable play like environment for the student.
For me ‘play’ means jamming so for beginners I say, “learn to be a guitar player by making one chord sound good with picking or strumming”. The student and I begin to play that one chord vamp, with or without a rhythm track, and we start to enjoy some question and answer jamming. For experienced students, find something easy for them, and play with them, using small bites sized ideas to share and exchange. The people who really know the Orff method are able to weave threads of fun, joy and musicality throughout their lessons.
The second takeaway for is Carl Orff is that many lesson plans and or exercises actually involve the idea of dramatizing music, putting little skits to existing music or conversely putting music to existing skits or dances, it’s an amazingly insightful idea.
The application for us as guitar teachers (or music teachers in general) is I simply this: when working with a solo piece, ask the student to imagine a scene from a play or movie –imagining the scene in your head while performing the song. The student is learning to concentrate their musical efforts on the artistic and not the technical aspects.
Zoltan Kodaly: Respected Pedagogue
My third cornerstone theory of musical education, another widely excepted industry-standard in the teaching business is the work of Zoltan Kodaly (1882-1967), the Kodaly Method. Kodaly began music instruction in his homeland of Hungary because he once heard Hungarian children singing folk tunes horribly out of key and decided then to dedicate himself to the art of music education. The Kodaly Method relies heavily on solfege and sight singing of rhythms. You have probably seen his system of hand signals to represent the notes of the major scale.
Kodaly Hand Signals For Major Scale Notes
Kodály’s musical compositions are influenced by Hungarian folk songs (nationalism) and the impressionistic movement and most notably Debussy. Accordingly, the study material is drawn from common knowledge, native language folk songs.
These “mother tongue songs”, the students national music, are the perfect material for study, performance and analysis.
The take away for us guitar teachers ( and music teachers) is that the Kodaly Method stresses children learn songs of their homeland and understand the folk songs and nationalistic pieces of music that come from where they were born, the music that came before them, the music that educated the people they learn from and listen to.
For Implementation of this concept, I always include fiddle tunes, bluegrass melodies, or pieces of traditional American (or world) instrumental music, common knowledge songs we all have in our ears.
By introducing a traditional music component into your guitar lessons you are actually honoring and practicing the Kodaly Method. If you don’t believe me just look at the repertoires of people like Chet Atkins, Roy Clark, or Danny Gatton who take instrumental music folk music and rural music to new heights by making something really special out of those well-known melodies. The example below shows Roy Clark playing a few easy Spanish flavored licks and weaving them into an amazing performance. Encourage any 4th or 5th year player to copy this whole thing by ear, because it’s doable, simple and sounds amazing.
Joe, Carl and Zoltan
Hopefully, now is the time when a few readers will start Googling these cats and make a few Amazon purchases. Hope you like my three friends.