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Simplifying changes

TwangTwang New
edited May 25 in Licks and Patterns Posts: 146

I've been working on soloing over After You've Gone this week and have been trying to simplify the changes using mainly my ear to tell me what I can play or miss out.

The changes in the last 16 bars are pretty relentless and I'm certainly not up to playing over them as written but I've got it down to this as an exercise in getting it as simple as possible:


G/ G /Em/Em

G/ G / D7/ D7

G/ G / G/ G

I was wondering what others thought of this, whether I'm doing what most of you are doing or have I missed too many chords out. You may have some great advice or ideas that I have overlooked. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

I do have some understanding of harmony but sometimes its not obvious to me what the transition (none essential) chords and what the destination chords are.



  • TwangTwang New
    Posts: 146

    I don't think I'm getting away with the G in bar 6 . Too many notes are clashing with the original chord B7. Namely major against minor 3rd. G B D against B Dsharp Fsharp

  • edited May 25 Posts: 27

    If you spend some time practicing the quick change from G to B7 you can find some great lines that aren’t too difficult. You can also play Em7 over the G, so it ends up as Em7 B7 Em Em. Which is maybe easier to think about.

  • dennisdennis Montreal, QuebecModerator
    Posts: 2,111

    The difficulty of improvisation is that there are so many approaches, and often it’s a blend of approaches. Everyone has their own blend.

    The reason I say this is that if you think too much strictly in terms of simplifying with various related substitutions, the solo will most often lack melodic substance, because one of the most important considerations is the overall flow of how you connect chords, which means voice leading.

    Django definitely used a lot of substitutions, for instance a simple Am shape to work over C, D9, Am, F, etc... but it ‘s always in service of the context.. for example if you take Lady Be Good where it goes G C7 G, a typical approach would be G Gm G. where only one note changes B to Bb back to B.

    There are also two kinds of subs:

    1) the subs that aren’t really subs because the chords are related : for example if you play Em over G , you’re essentially playing G6. Vice versa G over Em, you’re playing Em7

    2) substitution that start to stretch the imagination because they are no longer directly related to the chord. In this category, it’s a spectrum where some you can see a close ressemblance, but there are cases that really go far out. In your example you have G over A7, which I would put in the lower end of this category.. G over A7 is essentially Asus4, which is a sound that Django did use a lot in the 40s, and it’s a very typical bebop sound too. One that really starts to stretch the imagination would be Db over A7 which some jazz players do use (pat martino, wes montgomery for instance) because they’re essentially thinking Bbm. Bbm is the II chord of Eb7 which is the tritone substitute of A7 haha. Wes uses that device in his composition 4 on 6 which is a reharmonization of Summertime... So Db over A7 actually has a very wrong note: Ab which is the major7 of A7.. theoretically wrong, but the jazz artists are purposely creating dissonance that eventually gets resolved.

    All this to say, the imagination is your limit, but you have to be able to justify your choices, and a lot of the best players justify their choices by context which often means considering the melodic flow and voice leading as they connect chords.

    Probably not the answer you were looking for but i can’t think of any good player who purely uses substitutions for the sake of substitutions

    My best advice is to study solos of players you like to see what they are thinking, and then to try to see the overall context of what they are thinking (voice leading)

  • TwangTwang New
    Posts: 146

    Many thanks Dennis

    It is the answer I was looking for because I’m quite isolated as a gypsy jazz learner here in the uk. There’s barely a festival here anymore!

    You have given me an insight into how (gypsy jazz) improvers think and goals to aim for.

    I suppose as an inexperienced improvisor I am not under any illusions about my abilities and I’m not going to set the world alight with my soloing. All I want to do, what I yearn for! to be able to join in, to participate. To not be standing on the sidelines in a jam cos I can’t begin to improvise over most of the repertoire. So I’ve been looking to simplify the tunes to try to get to that stage in the shortest time possible. I want be authentic, I want what I do to be stylistically and harmonically acceptable. But I aint gonna be Stochelo any time soon. I have a Rino lesson I bought on soundslice and he said “don’t chase the changes” which resonated with me.

    There doesn’t seem to be a structured way to learn which gets you playing from the get go. Maybe thats why some players shun soloing and stay with rhythm only. It feels like you have to be really good just to make a start.

    I am a classically trained musician with a music degree etc and also teach professionally. My students can learn a tune in the first term and do a concert (often to audiences far larger than some of the top gypsy jazz artists play to haha) They can then build from there, its a straight forward path. Kids can pick up an electric guitar, learn a few power chords and get together with some mates and start gigging the local pubs in no time. As a gypsy jazz guitarist I think it takes a long time and a lot of work etc to pull this off.

    I’m not moaning, I love learning this music and remember something you said recently which was how important it is to enjoy the process and not to focus too heavily on the end results (i think you said that?)

    BucoBill Da Costa Williams
  • TwangTwang New
    Posts: 146

    The only A7 I can see in the last 16 is bar 8 and I’m playing an e minor over it? Falling into you first category i think (7, 9 and 5th)

  • BonesBones Moderator
    edited May 26 Posts: 2,882

    Interesting discussion especially for me since I am not really a lead player and always looking for ways to simplify complex, rapid changes. That said take anything I say about lead with a grain of salt.

    First I would say that a lot of those chords go by pretty fast so hitting the unique notes might not be that easy. Like switching from E note (in the Am part) to Eb for that one quick bar of Cm. If you can get it great but...would anyone notice if you didn't??? That whole first line is really functioning as Am leading back to G anyway. Like a II chord followed by V(b9 if you think about the Eb note).

    So the first line could go from:



    Am/Am/D7/D7 (or just play Am6 or Am7 the whole time)

    As Denis and King CB said, in the next line the Em is the relative minor for G. Plus B7b9 is really similar to D7b9 (basically a diminished) so that is all revolving around the key of G so the next line could just all be G major especially at a fast tempo.


    G/ B7 /Em/A7

    just becomes:

    G/ G / G/ G

    For that matter, at fast tempos you can just stay on C when it switches to Cm just don't dwell on the E note.

    Of course a skilled lead player would probably have nice lines to play over all those changes but maybe those of us who don't have massive chops can skitter our way thru with simplifications and still sound 'ok'?? I tried this over the changes and it sounds a little bland at slow tempos but probably a good starting point for a novice at faster tempos and I don't think the "wrong" notes would be glaring esp at up tempos if you don't "land" on a wrong note. At least it could get you thru a jam in a pinch and then as you get better you could add more color, try to hit the changes closer, etc.

    It's kind of like when I was first getting into jazz and people always said that in rhythm changes the bridge is the hardest part. I never understood that because the chords in the A section change so much faster but in reality you can just play the I chord or I/V over the whole A section and that is probably basically what most people do anyway (or add some blues ideas or whatever).

  • TwangTwang New
    Posts: 146

    I’m really glad you waded in here Bones! I’m gonna study what your saying tomorrow with my guitar in hand. At the moment I’ve had a couple of large cognacs so not quite up to it 😁 VSOP!

    what I would like to tentatively add is that, at the moment, in order to sound even half decent I’m trying a kind of cut and paste lick approach. So I’ve learned a small handful of major, minor and dominant licks. They are burned onto my brain and I’m slapping them every tune I can memorise. To do this effectively it is really really helpful to simplify the chord changes.

    I can disguise them by rhythmic displacement, altering rhythm, repetition etc

    they never seem to sound the same anyway

    I sound better than I really am

    Am I a fake improvisor? A lot of players might say so 😁

    I,m having a ball with this approach and it’s even encouraging me to fill in the gaps with my own ideas (gasp!)

    but i need simple changes to do this

  • BonesBones Moderator
    Posts: 2,882

    Well again take whatever I say with a big grain of salt as I'm very much a novice solo player. But your approach sounds similar to a way that I've heard others talk about. More tools in the box the better I guess. I'm taking a similar approach but I have a heck of a time absorbing/memorizing licks so my playing is mostly just arp based. I hope to some day be able to incorporate more licks to spice it up a bit. Likewise I'm having fun with this approach and in the end I think that is the bottom line because if it isn't fun I won't want to sit down and play. Fortunately with the covid isolation I have a lot of playalongs to use and I'm coaching my son on rhythm so lots of opportunities to play in my "spare" time.

    Oh and the other part is learn the head (or your personal arrangement/improv of something close to the head).

    Have fun!

  • Posts: 2,783

    I've heard Jimmy Bruno says once that he never plays a II chord in a II/V, he plays only V.

    There's C van Hemert video out there where he goes over that topic, simplifying the changes to a song. If I find it I'll post.

    My shortcut for a long time, and I still do that sometimes, is just staying in the key. You need to have your ear guide you to the sweet notes over the various sections of the tune though. I tried teaching some people this hack and found out myself that it doesn't really work if you play any random note in the key.

    But I've heard Joscho say that over rhythm changes type of tunes he's soloing in the key. Others said it too I believe but I remember him specifically say it when asked how is he playing over these songs. He simply said it's going too fast to really specifically address each chord.

    My old jazz guitar teacher Tony in Chicago said something good about the rhythm changes. Something like you don't need to chase every chord, play a few notes over I then take a breath until II/V, then next time skip the I chord until II/V then next time just play over the VI chord etc...

    What I do now over difficult changes is I slow the heck down of the song so I can play and develop the ideas as I go through the song. I'll put the specific parts of the song on the loop and develop the line/s that work over those changes. Then I notice at least some of it pops up in my playing in a jam or a show.

    By the way copy and paste licks you know is a perfectly valid approach. I don't think you can get to the next level without doing that. And even at the very top level there's still that in varying degrees.

    Every note wants to go somewhere-Kurt Rosenwinkel
  • billyshakesbillyshakes NoVA✭✭✭ Park Avance - Altamira M10
    Posts: 250

    By the way copy and paste licks you know is a perfectly valid approach. I don't think you can get to the next level without doing that. And even at the very top level there's still that in varying degrees.

    Isn't that the basis for the whole Van Hemert system? Learning licks over certain chord types?

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