I remember myself struggling with jazz improvisation. It was so complicated! My teachers demanded that I played tensions, substitutes, superimposed chords, while I was having a hard time just keeping the form…
During my travels in Europe, I played with gypsy guitarists and learned from them. One of the most important things I learned was that making music can be simple. There are a few chords, three shapes to remember, and that’s all! Well, it’s not all, but all the rest is the interesting stuff – embellishments, trills, sound, feel, rhythm… MUSIC!
This method of improvisation became the core of my playing. Playing music became simple: connecting all the arpeggios, tensions and substitutes I knew to one easy formula.
Let’s begin this lesson by learning all the basic triad shapes and inversions…
Major Triads & Inversions [1:00 in the video]
Here are the major triads and inversions you need to learn:
Minor Triads & Inversions [6:17 in the video]
These are the minor triads and inversions you need to learn:
Fast Enclosure Exercise [3:54 in the video]
This is an enclosure exercise for the second inversion of C (C/G). You start with a diatonic note above the chord tone, then play the chord tone, then a half step below the chord tone and then the chord tone again. You do this for all notes of the triad.
Improvising over All of Me
Step 1 [6:55 in the video]: play an accompaniment using only triad shapes (play a triad for each chord). During chord changes, use chord voicings that are close to each other so that you’ll play all the chords in the same area on the fingerboard.
Here are the chord changes of the A part of All of Me:
And here is an example of triad voicings you can use over All of Me:
Step 2 [7:55 in the video]: improvise over the All of Me chord progression using these triad shapes. At first, try to stay in the same area on your fingerboard as shown above. Then start improvising all over the fret board using only these shapes. Play simple – even one or two notes per chord. Just to make sure you keep the form.
Step 3 [9:32 in the video]: add the half tone approach. For each note of the chord, use a half-step approach: play a chromatic note half a tone below to lead into the target chord note. Improvise using this idea. You can play the chromatic note either on the beat or off the beat. Playing the chromatic approach off the beat gives more tension to the music. Django uses this idea a lot.
Step 4 [9:55 in the video]: add enclosures by playing a diatonic note over the chord note and a chromatic note below. Listen to Django’s Minor Swing solo for an example. In his first phrase, he uses the diatonic (of the scale) approach above the target note and a chromatic approach below the target note. In Django’s solo, the target note is A, which is the root for Am and the 5th for Dm, which is the next chord.
Step 5: Connect all the other skills you have (arpeggios, licks…) to those simple shapes. See the melody within those simple shapes so you can always get back to it in the middle of your improvisation.
This method can become the core of your visualization of the fingerboard…
Do you use triads in your solos? Let us know how in the comments below…