Jazz guitar practice routines uncovered

So here’s a reply I wrote to a youtube friend after we had some to’ing and fro’ing around what things were best to practice. I sent him my practice routines, examples etc – then he asked ‘but what do you actually get to practice nowadays. Here was my answer!

Practice Blog to a friend

I choose one or two specific things to practice each session. Because of the nature of my lifestyle, with so much work on and teaching, gigging, travelling and family, the sessions may be quite short but almost every night I get an hour or two. And when I practice I write down that certain thing (or two) and just keep repeating it – I formalise it in my own mind, and get my fingers to play it so much, and my mind and ears to hear it so much, that it eventually embeds itself somewhere in my playing just like the first things I played did; chords to G’n’R songs, the solo to stairway to heaven lol etc.

Right now I’m reviewing my knowledge of the maj scale – playing chord scales throughout using parallel movements – triads, 7ths, 6ths, and drop 2’s. I’m also working on patterns for the wholetone scale. I’ve just finished about a three month long study of the minor pent with flattened 5th. I’m getting back into cycling 4ths / 5ths using triad and 7th arpeggios as warm ups. I’m studying all the 7th chord inversions there are over 4 strings (EADG, ADGB, DGBE strings) in every key – 12 keys x 4 inversions of ma7, m7, 7, m7(b5), mi(ma7), +7, ma7(#5), mi(ma7),(b5) – that last ones a cool one lol. So yeah, many different things.

And I’m always learning repertoire which is usually for paid work – for pop gigs, a Latin singer, covers gigs, studio stuff, my own compositions, (local New Zealand Musicians) the SNH trio with Ron + Kevin, a funk group with Cam Allen, Junior Turua and Dylan Elise on drums for the Tauranga Jazz Fest coming up, The Alan Brown trio rep, a gig next Sunday with Nathan Haines ensemble, repertoire for uni…. it goes on…

If it’s something heavy, I make a study out of it – write it out in neck charts / notation / record it. Like over the last 8 months I’ve been working on the major scale with b6 (harmonic maj) and the chords, modes, etc. And every time I pick up the guitar over the course of a month or two or more, I work on that one thing… One day it will be one key, the next it will be a different mode, then scale patterns (usually simple ones that I can play easily and musically over the major scale for e.g., diads, 3’s, 4’s, triad and 7th arps), then another day it will be chords, then one string studies etc. And I make sure I’m always applying to a tune I’d call at a gig / jam session or even compose a tune specifically so I can use that sound etc. And over the course of about a 6 month period, I’ve really got that one ‘concept’ of the harm maj into my playing… Well, much better than it was before!

Also, I listen a lot – every time I’m on the pc doing stuff or in the car driving, always listening.

Apart from that I really like to devise a proper ‘time allotted’ schedule with specific ‘modules’ to it that I’d practice over say a week – if I know I’m going to be able to do that and have the time for it (see ‘layout’ attached). This only proves beneficial if you set two plus hours a day to work on it tho…

And play with other people – for all the study I do, the biggest butt kicking inspirational periods in my life have ALL come from having to step up to playing with heavy mothers.

You know what my biggest bit of advice is – whatever you begin that is worthwhile really studying hard:

  1. Formalise it (write it out, Tab, neck charts, notation)
  2. Make it into a study (patterns, melodic lines, chord and harmony analysis)
  3. Repeat it MANY times (my BASE figure for repetition is 50x each new thing!)
  4. Finish it!

Then once it’s in, it’s in, and done with – onto the next thing. It may take you three months per thing, but in 10 years you’ve gotten really, really good at like 40 things, and learnt heaps of other, related stuff on the way by studying / playing with other great cats on the same vibe as you.

The more you play and study and get out there and get known, the more you attract like minded cats to you.

PS: If you are supper thirsty for more lessons you can subscribe to my youtube channel

Tell me. How do you practice guitar at home? Do you have a set routine? What are working on right now? Thoughtful comments and questions appreciated below.

What Does Dating Have to Do with Comping Jazz Guitar?

Comping is one of those jazz terms that gets used a lot by jazz guitarists. So what is the deal with “comping”, just how do you “comp” and what does that have to do with dating?

1. Watch your volume

No one likes trying to play ideas over an accompanist that won’t shut up; you cannot think. Be aware of your volume, enough to sit nicely underneath the soloist, no more. Exaggerate comping at a low volume. And if you are prone to exhibitionism, video yourself and play back to your jazz teacher, partner or favorite antagonistic friend and ask them for feed back. Remember no-one appreciates the loud guy at the bar and any potential partner will be scared off by your loud and intrusive tones.

2. Watch the amount you play

Comping us about listening to and supporting the soloist, not about playing every weird chord and rhythm you know! Think supportive. Think space. Think of comping as being the glue that underpins the success of the soloist. Don’t forget that you will have your day in the sun, now it is time for you to support someone else. Play it cool and know your worth and you will be a better player.

3. Compliment

No this does not mean playing every one of the soloists’ ideas note for note, but it does mean listen to and compliment. Whether that means shutting up entirely or experimenting with the soloists’ rhythmic ideas, maybe catching and mimicking a phrase, or countering the phrase. This calls for a lot of experimenting and practicing at the gig and is one of the only ways to really work on this. Once you start to “over” compliment you may end up with a slap in the face (like the time you first asked a guy or girl on a date). Take your time, listen and you will know the best moment to make your move.

4. Know the tune

Goes without saying, can’t listen if you’re wondering what chord is coming up next. Know the chords, know the melody, and know the length and form of the tune – capture the dynamics of the song and therefore be able to ‘intuit’ what the soloist might play. Know some comp lines you can fall back on for every feel, fast swing, ballad, ¾, Latin, funk, reggae. Have an arsenal of ideas, sounds, rhythms that will allow you to relax enough as an accompanist to really listen to what’s happening around you.

5. Experiment

Listen to the others, not just the soloist – what’s the drummer doing, can I set up a pedal with the bassist, should I stay out completely for the 1st chorus, is there another instrument comping? Does this tie look good on me? Experimentation is the key to discovering your “thing” and your vibe. Don’t live inside a bubble as people in bubbles often end up all alone with no-one to love them, eating TV dinners and watching soap operas alone.

6. Record yourself

Do this over many different feels and at different tempos. This is very important, as you need to have a good idea of how you sound by yourself. How good is your time, how do you place your comp lines? At the gig conditions change, you may not be able to hear all the players, gear may break, strings may snap etc., be prepared and confident about what you’re going to play. Keep these ideas in mind, practicing them at home and at the gig. Comping is an important part of learning about the musicians around you and being able to communicate and share ideas.

Application of ideas (Take action and practice comping)

1. Play through a familiar standard comping only on beat 1, and holding the chord for the duration of that bar (unless there are more than one change per bar).

2. Now comp only on beat two – and hold chord as above

3. Then try comping on beat 3 for a chorus or two, and then 4 for a chorus or two. See what happens to your playing just from this simple exercise – just comping up tempo on beats 2 or 4 can be interesting! When you feel ready for it, move on to 8th notes – 1and, 2and, 3and, 4and – comping whole choruses at a time on each of the off beats – it is an effective and very simple way to open up the rhythmic aspect of your comping.

4. Practice comping over your favourite recordings – this is a good method of ensuring you play in time and it is also the easiest way of playing along with great musicians (I’d prefer this practice method over play along type CDs).

5. Do the Freddy Green styles – down strums on each beat with a light upward flick (for guitarists) to give the swing (offbeats) feel. Keep the pulse even and steady, with a slightly accented 2 and 4. This has an anchoring effect as it follows the bass walk, crotchet on the down beats.

6. Listen to one of the greatest guitar compers around – Jim Hall! He was a seriously beautiful player, improviser, musician and accompanist (check out the duo albums he did live with Ron Carter). So much space and groove and serious TIME!

Armed with these tips and advice please go out and take action!

Tell me what comping practice ideas and routines do you personally use. Please leave comments and questions below.

Bebop Soloing – a General Guide for The Beginning Jazz Student

Work through these ideas at slower tempos and increase gradually – grading yourself at each stage of practice tempo wise and recording yourself wherever possible.

Remember to think of the forward momentum of the great bop players – sit at the front of the beat until you’re killing on the faster tempos. You could ‘groove’ a bit more after your up tempo time feel is really ‘in’.

A general rule is to sit forward on the tempo with your lines – ALWAYS record and listen to yourself and see where you place, especially over the top of the original artist. Most players have a tendency to drag which doesn’t sit well with faster music so it is generally better to push than pull at higher tempos.

PRACTICE CONCEPTS – to be written out and playable (eventually) at tempo.

  1. Patterns – (e.g. 1).1235, 1358ve, 1357 etc ascending or descending for every chord change. Especially good for 2 beat changes i.e. Moments Notice, Giant Steps, Countdown etc. A good systematic approach to playing correct notes through an entire tune. However it can have a tendency towards sounding ‘mathematical’ or premeditated… which it is. However, changing patterns mid run, breaking up the rhythms involved, deliberately missing out notes or developing new patterns will lessen this ‘mechanical’ effect. Put in a lot of practice time and it would open you up to a much freer approach to improvising over up tempo tunes, as muscle memory does play a key part in mastering much of the bop language – especially at faster tempos.
  2. Directional change running – (e.g. 2). Play through all the changes either ascending or descending without changing direction. If you start from any note of the given chord scale and play only the appropriate scale per change it presents a lot of options and you still play accurate notes. Good practice idea for any improvising situation, – think of your lines as cutting THROUGH the chord changes.
  3. Diad patterns through changes applied as above.
  4. Think less of the ‘ii-v’ movement and more of the dom7 in each change. Even though the function of the ii minor is an important cadence in each progression, doing this will lessen the amount of chords by a lot – you could even think in ‘key centers*’ provided you follow the chord tones as they go by.
  5. Think of guide tones , common tones and near common tones which can guide you from change to change and play with the rhythmic aspect. This is a great way of playing accurately and musically through measures without sounding like a bebop regurgitator.
  6. Practice comping chords fluently (and in many places / positions / shapes) on your instrument. Once you feel a bit more comfortable with the piece as a whole, see if you can sing bass notes and play chords or sing a melody and play chords underneath. Even just ‘4 beats to the bar’ comping is hard up tempo – try this to a metronome, record and listen back to see if you are in the pocket. Weaknesses to look out for are at the moment of a chord change – usually where a player drags the beat.