Rhythmic Variation makes solos interesting

One of the most fundamental ways you can improve your soloing once you figure out what notes you can play is to use a wide variety of rhythms in your solo.  Just because this is fundamental does not mean this is easy beginner stuff. Some of the most challenging things in music are the rhythms. So what makes up rhythmic variety?

There are many different rhythmic groups, using rhythmic variation simply means to switch between these to create an interesting sound.  When this is done well, your solo will sound more interesting and less like rambling. Lets discuss the different rhythmic units so we can know what the possibilities are to use in our solo.



Silence is music too. The musical term for silence is rest. Whenever you use silence in your solo lines you will cause rhythmic variation. Experiment with using silence, putting it in different places. Sometimes Silence says more than noise.


Swing, or not to swing:

What is the definition of Swing? This is a question that will give you 100 different answers if you ask 100 different people. The most universal definition of swing is a Dotted 8th note 16th note feel.  Have you ever heard great big band songs from back in the day? In The Mood is a good example of swing. It has a bouncing feel. Now, don’t be fooled, Swing can be used in any style. Its origin is in the 1930s swing era of jazz, but country, blues, rock, bluegrass and any other style you can think of uses it as well. It can create a cool rhythmic feel. Try it.


Note Length:

There are many different lengths of notes that you can use. Here is a list of note values in music:

Whole note

Half Note

Quarter Note

8th note

16th note

32nd note (mostly used in slow songs, otherwise it is too fast)


Triplet note values:

All the note values above also have triplets. If you are playing a long 8th note line in jazz, throw in triplets for interest. One note value by itself will get boring. Triplets can sound extremely awesome.


Don’t be boxed in by note values:

There are no rules against holding a note longer than a whole note. There are no names for these rhythmic values, but they exist.  Also there is no law against going out of time and coming back into time. (Be very careful with that option, but it can be done)


This wraps up the main ways to add variation. Experiment with mixing all of these together and see what you can come up with. A great way to practice this is to pick one note and try to make an interesting solo with it. Listen to a lot of musicians solo and see how they use variation in their rhythm. Listen a lot, you can even transcribe rhythms by themselves, or sing the rhythms as they play. Have fun going out there and making interesting music.

Jazz Blues – Adding Substitutions to the Blues

In this article we are going to cover the blues in more detail, specifically jazz blues. To refresh your memory of the blues click here.

It is possible to find a jazz blues with the same progression as the one mentioned in the previous post, however having it this simplified is relatively rare. There are many ways that jazzers take this form and edit it just a little. The most common change would be to replace the IV and V and a ii-V. This would look like this:

I7   |       |     |    |

IV7 |       | I7|    |

ii-7 | V7 |  I7|    |

Another simple version of the blues is Freddie the freeloader where he replaces the I7 at the end with bVII7.

I7|         |         |       |

IV7|       |I7     |       |

iV7|IV7|bVII7|       |

These variations on the blues can go on forever.  There are tons of substitutions that can be used in jazz blues.  Once the bebop era hit, the blues became a vehicle for reharmonization. Some people (Charlie Parker) took this form so far that it is practically not recognizable.

The first step to adding chords to the blues typically starts with a diminished chord right after the IV7 chord. On top of this it is very common to add an extra ii-7-V7 before the already existing ii-7-V7.

I7           |              |            |                |

IV7         | #IVo7  | I7        |iii-7   VI7|

ii-7         | V7        |  I7       |                |

You will see this on a lot of Charlie Parker tunes such as Now is the Time and Billie’s Bounce.  Next is a common substitution for improvisers and sometimes rhythm section as well. Adding a ii-7-V7 before the IV7 chord.

I7           |              |            |v-7    I7   |

IV7         | #IVo7  | I7        |iii-7   VI7|

ii-7         | V7        |  I7       |                |

So far we have covered the majority of blues you will see in jazz. I want to make a quick mention that this is the major blues. There is also a minor blues form. They are pretty similar and you may see them mixed together sometimes.  Here is an example:

i-7   |       |       |    |

iv-7 |       | i-7  |    |

bVI7 | V7 |  i-7|    |

You can also use a minor 7 flat 5 as the ii chord.

i-7         |              |        |      |

iv-7       |              | i-7   |      |

ii-7(b5) | V7(alt) |  i-7  |      |


Typically when someone says “blues” they mean major unless they specify minor blues. Charlie Parker has taken the blues form to such extremes that it is practically not recognizable.  These are called “Bird Blues”. A Bird Blues is a bit beyond the scope of this lesson.


This concludes our lesson on jazz blues. With this knowledge you will be able to go out and play any kind of common jazz blues progression. We have covered the common chord substitutions and some terminology.  Now go blues out.

Everything starts with the blues form

Are you a blues guitarist? Are you a rock guitarist? Are you a jazz guitarist? Are you a country guitarist? Are you a bluegrass guitarist? Are you a folk guitarist? All of these styles have a form in common. The Blues. The blues form is the most universal changes in music. It is simple and the best place any guitarist could start with. In this lesson you will learn what the blues form is, how to create it and how it works.


You may or may not have heard that the blues was created in the late 1800s from slaves. It was highly influenced by things like spirituals, work songs and chants. The real meaning of the blues, however, comes from the purpose of it. It was intended to sing about serious life topics. Bad relationships, bad work, harsh life styles were common topics of blues. There are some songs that are happier, but of a serious matter. One of the ways slaves were allowed to express themselves was through music. So blues was an important part of society.


Lyrics and Melodies:

Lyrics and melodies of the blues form were often extremely simple.  These were created in an AAB style. What this means is that you sing something like “this is the blues” then you repeated it. Then you sing “The days keep going, they don’t die off”. Here is an example of what a blues melody looks like.


This is the blues

This is the blues

The days keep going, they don’t die off


Here is an example in a song by Albert Collins:

Because of how the lyrics are made, the melody is in the same form. It repeats then changes.


The Chord Progression:

In the blues form there are 3 chords used.  All of them are dominant chords. The blues form is 12 bars long. Here is the chord progression.

I7    |        |         |      |

IV7  |        |I7     |      |

V7   |IV7  |I7      |      |


All you need to do is fill in the chord progression above in the key you are in then you will have the blues form in that key. You can listen to the example above and hear this chord progression.



There are always exceptions to everything. Especially in jazz, there are all kinds of alterations to this progression. Jazz treats this form as “goal posts” in a way. They will hit these chords, but add extra chords between them or substitute other chords in their place. To view a whole lesson on this click here.


In other styles like rock or country you may see similar chord progressions that are slightly changed. The most common thing you will see is changing the order of these chords. For example:

I7 |     |IV7    |      |

V7 |    | IV7   |      |

I7   |    |V7     |      |


You may also see chords added to this sometimes. Also in rock you will move more away from the all dominants toward the harmonized scale. So the fourth degree would be a major 7th, not flatted 7th. To learn about harmonizing the major scale click here.


Hope you enjoyed this lesson. Feel free to leave comments and share your opinions or ask your questions.

Learning the musical alphabet

Remember when we were kids back in school. We were very young and they started to teach us the English Alphabet by having us sing it to twinkle twinkle little star? That alphabet is not only for English. The first 7 letters are what makes up the musical alphabet as well. Sing with me! A B C D E F G. Stop there. You now know the main mechanics of the musical alphabet.

The musical Alphabet

The musical alphabet without lowering or raising any notes.

This is not the full story though. Each note can be raised or lowered. When you raise a note it is called sharp, and when you lower a note it is called flat.


Don’t be fooled. There are 2 exceptions which you will need to memorize. Between the E and the F there are note flats or sharps, also between the B and the C there are no flats and sharps.

Full Musical Alphabet

Full Musical Alphabet

A great place to find an example of the 2 exceptions in the musical alphabet is on a piano. You can use a piano to practice finding the musical alphabet. You will also see 2 sections on the piano which do not have a black note between them. In case you don’t know anything about piano, a black note is a sharp or flatted note.


Before we close this lesson I want to talk about the sharps and flats a little bit more. A sharp and flat note can be the same note. It is spelled differently. For example, John and Jack are the same name just a different way of saying it. For a musical example, C # and Db are the same note. F# and Gb are the same note.


There are only 12 notes in the musical alphabet. 7 of them are in the English alphabet, the rest are just lowered or raised. spending time with this will help you learn how music works as well as help you find notes on the guitar. If you know the musical alphabet you can work your way up the string using it to find a note.  Best of luck

Harmonizing scales to create arpeggios

When you learn a new scale it is a good idea to learn how to harmonize it creating arpeggios over it.  You may be asking what that means. This is simply building a triad or seventh chord off of each note in the scale. Using these arpeggios gives you a wide range of arpeggios to use over your playing. When you are generalizing over a song you can pick any of these arpeggios or play the harmonized scale ascending or descending. Any scale can be harmonized.

Before you start to harmonize a Scale let me quickly go over the nerd stuff. The word harmonize comes from the word harmony. Harmony is the underlying progression of notes. Notice, I did not say chords. Harmony can be chords, but it does not always use chunks of notes. Harmony can be split up into broken chords (notes from a chord played individually.) If you want to harmonize a scale you need to build intervals of thirds. You can review intervals here.  A triad is a 3 note chord (with all thirds) and a seventh chord is a 4 note chord (in all thirds.) So in brief, you need to add a couple notes to each scale tone using thirds.

A Harmonized major scale. It is a good idea to memorize the chord sequence. Major, Minor, Minor, Major, Dominant, Minor, Minor 7(b5)

A Harmonized major scale. It is a good idea to memorize the chord sequence. Major, Minor, Minor, Major, Dominant, Minor, Minor 7(b5)

Now if you are not generalizing over a chord progression you may want to approach this harmonization a little differently. Take the arpeggio and figure out which arpeggio belongs over the Third of the chord, 5th of the chord or 7th of the chord. This will allow you to focus more on important tones. You will be starting arpeggios on the root position arpeggio which is very connected to the chord. Below is an example of harmonized arpeggios.

Harmonized Arpeggios

Harmonized Arpeggios. Notice if you look at all the notes of the arpeggios in each category they complete the full major scale. However they are built in thirds rather than seconds.

Once you are comfortable with these 2 approaches you can intermix them in your playing for a unique sound and more option. The more options you have, but better you can play a wide range of music and have fresh and new ideas. Spend some time working on harmonizing scales and learning to play them. Once you are comfortable with that spend some time memorizing then harmonized arpeggios.

Using this same system you can start to imply altered tones in your playing by changing your arpeggio choices. You can learn to play extended arpeggios and just be freer with your music. These are not meant to restrict your playing; rather they give you building blocks to use to make music. It is hard to be innovative without knowledge of what came before; it is also hard to be good without the knowledge of the basic building blocks of what you want to do. Arpeggios and scales make up much of the music we hear. Learning to use them to our benefit is well worth the time.

Arpeggios are important to jazz guitar

If you play a popular style of music such as rock, metal, country or blues you are probably very aware of how scales are important to soloing. A common question I hear a lot and have asked myself is “what scale is he using”. However in jazz it isn’t the question stated above it is the question “what arpeggio is he using” and “what alterations is he using” Scales are also used in jazz but a large percentage of true jazz is arpeggio based.

If you listen to jazz music early in jazz history you will see a lot of arpeggios used.  Let’s take Louis Armstrong for example. Listen to his playing and you will hear tons of arpeggios. Listen to Coleman Hawkins and Django Reinhardt. All of these musicians and many more use arpeggios extensively.  As mentioned above, scales are used in jazz as well, but they take on a different role. Everything in jazz is based around arpeggios.

Which arpeggios are important? There are only 6 that you need to know.  Only 4 are really important for starting out. The 4 most important arpeggios are Major, Minor, dominant and minor 7(b5). The 3 extra ones you need to learn are diminished and augmented. This beats memorizing a bunch of different scales. It is good to learn to play arpeggios in one octave. 1 – 3 – 5 – 7 are the important notes that make up these arpeggios.

With the knowledge of arpeggios you can add more advanced techniques to them to add more interest and have more available interesting uses.  There is lesson that you may find valuable to get some more bebop sounds using arpeggios. Adding some chromaticism to arpeggios can spice it up and create an interesting melody that sounds really hip.

Try playing around with triads and seeing what melodies you can come up with just using them. They may seem simple at first, but these are the building blocks you can use to build an awesome jazz melody with. Spend some time listening to early jazz and trying to listen to the arpeggios that they use. I also suggest transcribing some of the melodies that you hear. Good luck with your jazz journey.

Adding chromaticism to add interest to simple melodies

All 12 notes can be valid choices to use while improvising.  What makes it good or bad depends on how it is used. We will cover ways you can add chromaticism into your playing without it feeling like you are hitting wrong notes. These are neighboring tones, approach tones, enclosures, and use of diminished arpeggios.


Neighbor Tones:

The simplest form of adding non-diatonic notes into your improvised melodies are neighbor tones. This concept is extremely easy to grasp and put into your playing almost immediately. A neighboring tone is a note a half step below or above any note in the scale you are using. This creates a nice smooth sound that creates so many new possibilities.


Approach tones:

Once you understand the concept of neighboring tones you can jump into approach tones. The typical approach tone is 3 notes. This is very bebopish, and cool sounding. When used in rock it sounds really hip. Guthrie Govan is known for using this kind of stuff a lot. You can think of an approach tone as approaching a note in the scale you are using from 3 chromatic notes above or below. In most places in the scale, what you are doing is simply connecting 2 different notes in the scale with a neighboring tone. You can extend this to longer approach tones by thinking about connecting the scale with neighboring tones.  Django Reinhardt often used extended approach tones in a very fast chromatic scale way.




Take 2 notes above and 2 notes below your note of choice in the scale you are using. There are good amount of combinations you can come up with.  A common enclosure is one above and 2 below. This is a very popular type of chromaticism in bebop and sounds extremely cool.  You have seen each of these so far have added on to previous knowledge, starting with neighboring tones. Now we will take a little bit different approach to adding chromaticism to your solos.


Diminished Arpeggios:

To fully understand this concept I am going to explain some theory behind it.

1)      A Diminished chord is often a substitute for a dominant chord. When chords have the same function, they often substitute for each other. There are only 4 diminished chords, after that they repeat in an inversion.

2)      Often diminished chords are used as passing chords. For example you could play the chord progression C – Dmin like C | Db Dim | D-. This works because the diminished is working as a secondary leading tone. This also means you can add a secondary dominant. The secondary dominant would be C | A7 | Dmin. Most chords are capable of having secondary dominants and leading tones.

3)      Implying chords simply means playing around other chords that are not written. Or in other words you are using notes that are note emphasized by the rhythm section.

So how does this work? You imply a bunch of chords. Let’s say you are playing in the key of G. You can play a G arpeggio, G# Diminished arpeggio, A minor arpeggio, A# diminished arpeggio, B minor arpeggio, C arpeggio, etc. This allows for tension and release as well as creating a chromatic root line.


All of these approaches to adding chromaticism are not meant to withhold your creativity, they can be play with your stylistic manners. You can articulate them differently, put different rhythms to them, Different notes, Mix them up however you wish. These are just a few proven ways to use chromaticism to spice up your solos.

The Pareto Principle and Music Practice

Today’s topic is working on what really matters.  Not every practice routine is created equal, nor is every exercise created equal. Some things are created for specialization, or detailed work. Not all causes have an equal effect. In this article I want to discuss the Pareto principle and give you some examples of how it benefits your musical practice.

The Pareto Principle states that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. This means that for every 10 things that could possibly make you better, 2 of them will cover 80% of your growth. This is very good news. If we focus on the important stuff we will gain much greater improvement in a shorter time frame.  I will give you an example of how the Pareto Principle works.

Consider baking a cake. It starts with mixing all the ingredients together and putting it in the oven. Once it is done cooking, icing is added all over the cake. the baker decides to decorate the cake with a guitar on top, getting every detail the guitar has. Once it is all done, what part took the most time? The details that went into making the icing look good, right? That did not make the cake much bigger though.  80% of the cake was finished with 20% of the time it took to finish the cake. There are many more examples in our world of how the Pareto Principle works.

My point is that you can get a large bulk of the information and skill you need to play music well with less work. If you focus on the important stuff, then it will be easy to gain success. If you start working on the decorative icing without the cake being baked first, you may not see any improvement at all. Making wise choices in the practice room can make great improvement in your skill.

The Pareto Principle is a valuable tool that reminds us to focus on what is important. If you are doing something and don’t see improvement then you may want to consider if it is really part of that 20% that makes the 80%. Time is limited and if you use it wisely you will get more from what time you spend than if you didn’t use it the best way. Best luck and have fun finding that 20%.

The Pareto Principle is like baking a cake with a guitar on it.

The Pareto Principle is like baking a cake with a guitar on it.


Don’t Give Up

This is more of an inspirational post than anything.  Although this is a guitar website you can use this for anything you do in life. The topic today is about staying strong when things seem hard. We all have a tendency to want to back out in the bad times, but is this the best thing to do? Everyone who has ever lived, including those alive and those who will live has come across points in their life where they wanted to quit. There is no way around this. How we handle these hard situations is what defines you.

I like to give this example to my students when they say something is not as easy as they want it to be. I ask them what their favorite athlete is, and depending on the person I get different responses. Let’s just use “athlete” as his name. Do you think Athlete would be athlete if everyone had the ability to do what he does without work? Hard work is the thing that separates the good from the great. Athlete did not get that good sitting on the couch playing video games. No way, he spent many hours practicing his sport and working out. I can guarantee athlete felt like quitting sometimes. Maybe he couldn’t do a certain technique right. The fact is he stuck with it and overcame his difficulties.

I was pinteresting earlier (yes, I like pinterest) and I came across this inspirational photo. It said “The greater the difficulty, the greater the victory” This is very correct. If you have trouble learning something, but stick it out and work through it you will have a much greater victory. It is also a great feeling to finally learn to do something that you’ve been working at for a long time and could not do.

I hope this encourages you to stick it out.  Times will get rough, but that is part of life. Remember the old saying “when life throws you lemons, make lemonade”? Stick through it and you will make the best of the situation. You will come out stronger and more prepared for the next difficult thing. Keep on Keeping on!

Use Motive Development to Set Your Playing Apart From Others

You may be wondering what a motif is, and if you are keep reading. A motive, also known as motif, is simply a connected melody. The best way to explain this is by comparing music to language. When you are playing a melody or solo you are in essence telling a story. A motive is building the story and keeping the same theme. Take this story for example:  I bought bubble gum. Clouds are very dark. Then They danced.” This type of story is not connected and leaves people with nothing to hang on to. A good story has a theme. A good solo has a motif.

Giving listeners something to grab onto is something that can set the average garage guitarist apart from the experienced pro. Take for example the song “You are so beautiful”, The words are “you are so beautiful to me” over and over except for a small amount. These lyrics are simple, but the listener can hold on to it and sing with it. The most catchy melodies are repetitive.  Applying this concept in your playing can bring clarity and coherence to your playing to make you sound much better than you really are. All you need to do is find a simple melody you like and expand upon it.

What makes a good motif?  A motif can be any very simple lick. You can pick a nursery rhyme or make your own 3 or 4 note riff. Once you have this as your basis and you introduced it at the beginning of your solo, you can expand upon it. Adding more notes, sequencing, rhythmic variation are all things you can use to expand upon your motif.  I should clarify that the motif should not be long. It should be short and used as a guideline for building your melodies. Also I should make it clear that you can deviate from your motif whenever you want and however you want. The motif is just a great tool to connect your solo and make it sound logical and easy to grasp to the audience.

When should you use motif development? Is this for certain styles? Motif development can be used anytime and any style. If you are playing a style such as country where you may have a 4 – 8 measure solo motive development is great. Many great solos in country are based off of a theme.  An example of this is “kiss a girl” by Keith Urban. If you are playing more of the instrumental style such as jazz or progressive rock this technique is great because it can expand your ideas much further. We guitarist only have a limited amount of licks and we need a way to keep them fresh. Motif development is great for this. An example in jazz of motif development is Sonny Rollins “St. Thomas” on the record “Sonny Rollins”.

This is a fun technique you can use and it will be your best friend if you work with it. It is the easiest way to make your solo sound logical and make it interesting to listen to.  Have fun experimenting with motif development and have fun becoming a story-teller. Feel free to share your opinions below.