If you’re looking to improve your solo chops, you’re not alone. In fact, it’s a topic Chad LB regularly covers in his masterclasses.
To help make these masterclasses more accessible, Chad and his quartet created an interactive masterclass to give you some practice playing with a virtual ensemble. This masterclass is a super helpful resource that you can come back to anytime!
We’re going to share some pieces from this Soloing Techniques masterclass—two tricks to play better solos, and you can follow along with the video here to play along with the quartet and nail some of these concepts in real time. Remember, you can always rewind, change the speed and pause when you need to!
What’re we waiting for? Let’s get playing.
Using rhythmic devices
A major piece in improving your solo technique is using rhythmic devices. When you’re soloing, it’s easy to make the notes you’re playing the primary focus. After all, shouldn’t you be keeping up with the chord changes, watching your voice leading, and all the rest?
Well, yes, but rhythm is equally as important. You know the saying “it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it?” Well, think about “it’s not what you play, but how you play it!” Your rhythm is a key piece to making your playing unique and fresh.
One great exercise is to take one rhythm and change up the notes you’re playing. This ties in to playing and developing motivic themes, all while working on your rhythm.
Here’s a triplet-based rhythmic device from the masterclass that we use on a jazz blues.
When we get into the major ii - V - I in bar 9 of the jazz blues form, we’re using the same rhythm that we’ve used throughout the chorus. But we’ve added in some chromatic approach notes to get into the minor third of this minor seventh chord. Then we play 5, 7, 9, and go back to the root.
In the next measure, we do a diatonic enclosure of the third, then we play 5, 1, and 7.
By repeating this rhythm in the chorus, we get to try out different devices for making the same rhythm sound good throughout the form.
But you’ll notice the same rhythm doesn’t always work verbatim. If we use the same exact phrase on bars 9 and 10, but we apply them to the first two bars of the form, it wouldn’t sound nearly as good.
Likewise against bar 5 and 6, you’ll see that it doesn’t line up that well, either.
Let’s check out that rhythmic device from a more rhythmic perspective.
Looking at this chorus of triplet phrases, which is one of the rhythmic devices used in the masterclass, it uses a call and response form. You can see that measure one and two are almost the same, but measure two has a variation at the end, which ends on an accented quarter note instead of two eighth notes. This creates a call and response effect, but posing a question at the end of the first phrase and giving an answer at the end of the second.
You’ll notice throughout the chorus that we continue this repeated two-bar phrase rhythmically but change the notes each time—like what we talked about earlier.
It’s important to note that the purpose of this exercise is not to just solo exactly like this. When you’re improvising, you don’t want to take the same rhythm and apply it to every measure over and over again. But this is a great way to practice and will help make you solo a lot better by developing skills and techniques to improve your playing.
What a lot of people don’t realize is that these sort of improvisational games and call and response exercises are great for improving your improvisation and can help you hear these nuances in your head while taking a solo.
Now it’s your turn! As part of the Soloing Techniques Masterclass package, you’ll get to try several of these play-along exercises with Chad and his quartet.
You can either play along with Chad and work on nailing his solo or you can improvise your own with the rhythm section comping along.
We also have a slowed down version of the masterclass included so that you can get to know the material at a learning pace and a performance pace. As you get used to these rhythmic devices, you’ll be able to be more fluent and spontaneous.
Next, we’re going to move into another part of the masterclass that focuses on line construction!
Using enclosures into chord tones
Our second trick for playing better solos is using enclosures into chord tones. If you’ve been following us for a while, we’ve covered enclosures and approach notes in a few of our blogs and PDF packages.
Chord tones are the foundation of a melodic line, and in fact, you can solo using only chord tones, and it works fairly well. So when we use enclosures that target chord tones, you can add a bit more flavor to your playing.
Enclosures are just a string of notes that “wrap around” your target tone by using notes above and below it.
Most of the time, you’ll want to target a chord tone on a downbeat. This sounds the most stable and melodic.
You can also play more outside the tonality, which we cover more in-depth in the masterclass.
One thing to keep in mind, though, the better you get at playing inside, the better you’ll be at playing outside, once you have better control over tension and release.
Just as you can have diatonic enclosures, you can also have chromatic enclosures. Some of the jazz greats like Charlie Parker would use this all the time. They’re like mini devices for tension and release.
Check out this exercise from the masterclass where we get into doing enclosures into the third of every chord in a blues.
When you check out bar 4, you’ll see how these enclosures work for tension and release.
We’re going to do three-note chromatic enclosures into every chord, which means that we’ll play a few notes that sound very tense against the chords—like an E against an F7 chord, a G# against a Cm7 and a C# against an F7. But when we put these into the context of the enclosure, you’ll notice they sound very melodic.
So what we do in the masterclass to get you comfortable with this is to play an enclosure into every single chord tone on every single chord of a blues—that means enclosures into root, third, fifth, and seventh through the whole form.
This exercise is one of the best ways to bring this concept into your playing. Being able to use chromaticism in a melodic way is what tends to separate a professional player from a developing improviser.
So if this is something you’d like to go deeper into, make sure to check out our Soloing Techniques masterclass to get the chance to play with Chad anhttps://www.jazzlessonvideos.com/masterclassesd the virtual quartet. We cover topics like range expansion, phrasing, line construction, rhythmic devices, motivic development, time feel, and more!
We’ll see you next time!