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Learning to Solo by getting the “Pure Essentials” Down First

Question by Josh G

Bill Evans says in one of his videos that lots of new players just flounder around and try to play tons of stuff without being able to play the basics perfectly – that in learning jazz you should build a solid foundation – work on one small thing at a time, making sure you know it perfectly before you move on. I thought that what he said made a lot of sense.

What I’ve been doing since the summer is taking All the Things and trying to learn how to solo over the changes just using 1357 in one 5-fret position on the neck, and mostly focusing on trying to know automatically which note is the 3, the 7, etc… That way I’ll know the notes of the scales involved, and the relationship of the chords to the scales, and the relationships of the notes to each chord, and so on…

I really feel like I need to know in my head instantly that “now AbMa7 is going to DbMa7, so I want to play the 7th going to the 3rd, meaning G is going to F”. Or that “now I’m soloing over Eb7, so I know I can play the 3 which is G, or the 5 which is Bb”, etc. And only once I get that down do I want to try adding the extensions, and then try using passing tones and different scales and stuff (and learning to play the stuff all over the fretboard).

A lot of what I’ve been doing is trying to imagine the guitar in my head – imagining that I am playing random degrees of a chord and trying to know instantly what note and degree it is. Then once I’m comfortable with all the chord degrees (in the 5-fret position I chose), I try to resolve to the next chord. After all, all the notes are right there in one position. And then once I know it well enough I play it on the guitar.

But it’s been taking a really long time to “ingrain” everything, so I was wondering if the way I’m trying to do it is inefficient, and if maybe there are some better ways of practising this stuff that I haven’t thought of.

M-A’s Answer:

Josh, this is a very pertinent question. Although I wish I could give a 5-hour speech on the subject, here’s most of my thoughts on the matter (roughly) organized in this video.

I hope it gives you perspective and what you’re currently practicing:

I hope this helps,

Marc-Andre Seguin
“Improve Your Jazz Guitar Playing with a REAL Teacher”

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