Free Jazz Guitar Lessons

Building Melodic Vocabulary
By Chris Standring

Hi there - I get many emails from people who are a little overwhelmed with theory and harmony who say "I've been playing a good long time but I still can't sound good playing over chord changes. I just get stuck!"

There is a very simple answer to this and I pretty much tell everyone the same thing. You must learn vocabulary! Too many people get bogged down learning scales, modes and arpeggios. These things are fine, trust me, you can't go wrong with them and the more you know, the more you know, but they may not help you play through chord changes. The reason is that nobody ever plays a scale from root to root throughout a solo. Nobody plays an arpeggio from top to toe as a solo for that matter. These things are fantastic for you to get the sounds into your head. In order to play in the key of G, we must know how the scale of G sounds and how those scale notes relate to chords etc, but to simply practice a scale up and down will never make you sound good in a solo situation.

So then what the heck is vocabulary you ask? Well, it's everything I'm going to show you in my video master class. I will show you melodic lines ascending and descending in five positions,

devices you can use in a very practical sense. Yes they come from scales and arpeggios but they are phrases you can utilize in many different chordal situations. In other words, you are learning a language.

Learning scales is a little like learning new words from a dictionary. It's always good to know the definition of a word, but a clever word on its own means nothing. Put 16 words together and you have a phrase that means something. It's exactly the same in jazz. A scale or arpeggio on its own means nothing. Arrange those notes in a certain way and we now have a phrase, just like in spoken language. And it is these phrases that we must amass.

But learning phrases again, is not the end either, because we must be able to seamlessly tie different phrases together, just as in spoken language. It must be seamless, so we can have a conversation without stuttering.

So the question now becomes, "how can we seamlessly tie phrases together without it sounding like we are simply pulling phrases out of a hat. How can we sound conversational? In other words, how can we become fluent improvisers?"

And this is what we will discuss in depth.

There are three resources that we need to draw from in order to really tie phrases together and effortlessly be able to play music over chord changes.

1) Vertical phrases, shapes and patterns
2) Horizontal scale movement
3) Visualizing chord tones and associating scale notes with them.

You must continue to build a growing library of things to draw from. To do this you must devour transcribed solos, and just as importantly, transcribe solos yourself that peak your interest.

I talk extensively about horizontal movement in my 'Play What You Hear' program and you may be very familiar with this if you are working through that course. Playing scales horizontally on individual strings gets us out of the rut of clichés. Now as I have mentioned, patterns are great, and we are learning plenty, but you must be able to transition between them fluently, and horizontal movement on individual strings can help us do that. It can get us from point A to point B effectively.

Finally, being able to visualize very clearly the chords we are playing over the fretboard is extremely important. Not only that, being able to associate scale notes and chord tones, in a visual sense, relating them to any given chord at any one time will allow us to target strong notes, and just as importantly, help us avoid bad ones and perish the thought, wrong ones.

So in this lesson I want to talk about how we might adopt new vocabulary to our existing vocabulary. What I would also like to emphasize is that we can say a great deal with very little. We don't need to have a lifetime's supply of licks in order to say something heartfelt, or even clever. The ticket is to deliver what you know with passion and conviction. So let's jump in here and look at some examples…

In this first example we are going to look at two phrases and seamlessly work them together so they sound like one phrase.

Take a look at Chris Standring's "Jazz Guitar Video Masterclass Volume 1". For an in depth look at how this program can drastically improve your jazz guitar playing. More here .

About the author

Chris Standring is a contemporary jazz recording artist who performs throughout the USA and Europe regularly. He has enjoyed much radio airplay with several albums, opening up a busy touring schedule. His music appears on many compilation CDs also. Visit him on the web at


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