I remember the first time I learned jazz arpeggios from the Jerry Coker Patterns For Jazz book when I was studying in International College of Music, Kuala Lumpur in 1998. I played the notes so stiffly and I had no idea how everything was supposed to work. There I was in the hallways of the college, sitting on the floor staring at the book. Then, my friend Rithan asked me what was I doing. I said I was learning jazz. He wasn’t sure it was jazz. I for one, knew it didn’t sound like real music yet. It sounded like exercises. They were exercises. I didn’t know how to connect them to music.
I wasn’t a natural at music. I’m not what people might call ‘gifted’ or ‘talented’. Music was a very challenging thing to me & I still feel the challenge daily. The best part of this is that I had to figure out how to learn. The best part was that I had to understand how everything worked.
Over the years of learning jazz, I’ve formulated a way of practicing and organizing the mass amount of information out there. It can be overwhelming and intense to digest so here’s a little diagram to help you out.
Download a PDF of this handout:
[PDF] My Jazz Guitar Practice Routine
It outlines 5 main things that I practice:
1) Chord Voicings
Practice new chords – find interesting voicings, expand my guitar fretboard awareness and most importantly: develop my ears.
It’s not enough to just know the chords in a vertical manner (stacked notes), it’s also essential to be able outline the harmony in a linear melodic fashion. Arpeggios are great for clearly stating the harmony and as a skeletal structure for all the melodies that happen in between.
Beyond the arpeggios, scales provide the extended colors of the chord. I view this as an extension of the chord and not the primary element, at least in improvisation. For arranging, scales can be the source of creating different elements in the music.
4) Lines & Etudes
Write melodies – I write melodies, transcribe solos and licks and write etudes to challenge my ears and my fingers. This is part of the process to develop my musicality.
Real life is right here. Anyone can practice all of the above but still not be able to apply it in context. Jamming is a way to experiment and have fun with the material I worked on. It’s precedes the actual performance situation and in a way simulates the environment. Everything in the end should fit in a context. Jamming provides the context for all the material practiced.In addition to all this, the core glue is the song, the repertoire. All this is to support the music, whatever song I want to play.
Now, how would you practice all this? Here are actions steps to get these into your playing:
- Choose a chord you’d like to study
- [Chord Voicings] Learn a voicing for the chord
- [Arpeggios] Learn an arpeggio fingering for the chord
- [Scales] Learn a suitable scale for the chord
- [Lines & Etudes] Write 5 jazz licks/melodies that you can play over the chord. I recommend between 2 to 4 bars each
- Record these 5 jazz licks/melodies over a backing track. I recommend making your own backing track using the voicing you chose earlier.
- Listen back to the recordings
- [Jamming] Jam over the backing track and now freely jam using the ideas you wrote earlier and any ideas you may already play.
- Repeat steps 1-8 with the next chord or another voicing for the same chord.
Hope you found this blog post helpful.
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Now, I’d love to hear from you.
How do you practice jazz guitar?
Do you have any favorite exercises that you’ve learned?
Leave your answer in the comments below! Remember to share as much detail as possible so that we can all learn from one another. Your insight may help another guitarist from across the world.
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*This post is expanded from the original post on FB on May 17, 2015, 2:59pm*