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.