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.

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.