Anticipating and "playing into" changes – help please!

La GitaneLa Gitane Llanelli, UK✭✭✭
edited September 2013 in Gypsy Jazz 101 Posts: 48
Hi folks!

My question relates to the thread started by Anthon_74 recently about playing changes, but I'm looking for something specific:

One of the many features which distinguishes the solos of expert jazz musicians like Django from struggling enthusiasts like myself is their ability to pre-empt the chord changes, so that they play smooth flowing solo lines which seem to float over the changes. In contrast, I find that I end up playing a series of licks which (on a good day) match each chord, but don’t join up very nicely or anticipate the next chord.

My brain and fingers are too preoccupied with playing the immediate lick to be able to think ahead and anticipate the next chord; let alone work out how to create a smooth transition.
Consequently, my improvisations tend to end up sounding like...well...a bunch of licks; unsubtly spliced together at the start and beginning of each new chord in the progression...

The only advice I’ve had so far is “really know your chord progressions”, but this isn’t very specific; and "learn a bunch of bridging licks, e.g. V7-1", which might help with smoother transitions, but isn't quite the same as improvising lead lines which start before the chord change.

I feel like I need to develop the cognitive "breathing space" to be able to look ahead at the same time as focusing on the present, and would be very grateful if anyone could suggest or refer me to any resources of specific exercises that I could use in a daily drill to help me develop this mystical ability.

Many thanks in anticipation



  • hanear21hanear21
    Posts: 62
    I don't have any specific exercises to point you to since I'm still quite new to the style myself. However, I think the best way to learn this is to simply start transcribing (by ear at least, you probably don't have to actually write them down) solos that you like. For example, in gonzalo's solo here: around 1:12, break down what he is playing over each chord and closely examine how he transitions as the chords change. Memorize the whole thing if you want, I did and it really helps.

    Then when you can play it, try playing over a backing track (Denis Chang's got a bunch of free 100 bpm tracks on his website that you can download). Once you can do it at 100 bpm on minor swing, see if you can work out something similar in another tune (a lot of these licks, for example, work perfectly over Minor Blues). As you get more comfortable playing them in different keys you will be able to use them more, and thus get even more comfortable with them. It will probably take quite a while to get them up to speed (still struggling with that myself), but you'll learn a ton along the way.
  • anthon_74anthon_74 Marin county, CA✭✭✭✭ Alta Mira M 01
    Posts: 561
    Hey man

    Basically, the bottom line is you need to stop thinking about licks in terms of ONE chord, but rather, 2 chords at a time. So, try this - pick a song like say 'all of me'.

    Without any accompaniment and out of time, play a lick over the CM chord, and then, at some point along the way, figure out how to connect it to a lick in the E7 chord. Once you do that, then do what you have to to the CM lick to fit it into 2 measures, still connecting it to the E7 lick.

    Repeat that process over every change in the song until you have a practice etude over the entire form, and then practice playing it with accomaniment. Then create another; and another. Try making about 3 of those for every song you're working on, re-using many of the same licks. It's a long process, but it's what's necessary in this style. AFter awhile , you will find that the practice helps you connect licks on the spot.

    This is very much like the approach taught in the gonzalo "how I learned" books.

    Also, to get out of the "lick" mentality, I would try a few things -

    1) master the above and below approach in Stephan Wrembles getting gypsy jazz books over the 3 primary major and minor arpeggio shapes. This is like gypsy scales, and will give you nice phrasing note maps.

    2) get Givone's manouche guitare' book and practice the 5 forms.

    3) as mentioned before, get Gonzalo'a books, and learn his etudes, which will help you figure out how to create your own.
    (oh, and go to Django in june if you can)
    Cheers !
  • anthon_74anthon_74 Marin county, CA✭✭✭✭ Alta Mira M 01
    Posts: 561
    Oh yes, one more thing- Dennis chang says, and I QUITE agree, tap your foot on 2 and 4 or 1 and 3 when you're playing in time so you really improve your timing.
  • Wim GlennWim Glenn oƃɐɔᴉɥƆModerator 503
    Posts: 1,244
    Try doing it on slower tunes first, e.g. on ballads you have more thinking time to focus on choosing the prettiest passing notes. Focus on going chromatically to the nearest 3rd or 7ths of the chords and continuing arpeggios from there, rather than starting the licks from root notes or fifths. Practice makes perfect and the experience with finding transitions that you like on the slower tunes will gradually leak their way into your playing at faster tempos too.
  • dennisdennis Montreal, QuebecModerator
    Posts: 2,131
    this usually tends to be a rhythmic problem. People need to internalize the rhythm as soon as possible.. when playing a song like sweet georgia brown where chords last a long time, the player needs to be fully aware of where he/she is at any given point right down to individual beats...

    players are often concerned with note choices when they should pay equal attention to the harmonic rhythm ; it is the key to good phrasing.

    The best way to do that is to regularly tap your off and NEVER go off track (it's not easy at all)... you should either tap on 2+4 (preferably) or 1+3 (lots of gypsies do this), whatever you choose, you need to NEVER go off track. I suggest practicing in front of a mirror, or filming your foot while jamming to some tunes... and if ever your foot misses a beat or adds beat, that 's very indicative of what's going wrong.

    Once you can internalize the rhythm, anticipating the chords becomes much easier.. It's a very slow process, but you need to be aware of this.
  • Wim GlennWim Glenn oƃɐɔᴉɥƆModerator 503
    Posts: 1,244
    I don't think it's a universal rule, some of the top players have a foot that goes all over the shop completely out of whack, and yet they still manage to keep good time in the hands where it counts.

    Also there's a video of 3 of the masters playing at samoreau - stochelo, fapy and lollo - and every one of those guys is tapping on 1 + 3 not 2 + 4.
  • HemertHemert Prodigy
    Posts: 264
    Barry Harris once told me NEVER to tap your foot on 2+4. He said "If you're gonna tap your foot on 2 and 4, where you gonna clap your hands?". He proceeded to demonstrate clapping and stomping your foot on 2+4 at the same time, hilarious. I think he makes that point in every masterclass he gives!

    He made a good point though: if you feel music in 2 (which you should) feel the weight of 1 and 3. It's a very good idea though to practice soloing with a metronome on beats 2 and 4 for your timing (great exercise by the way), but I would still tap on 1 and 3 while doing that.
  • Posts: 3,664
    One thing that was suggested around here was to create a line over a chord or a chord change and use that line and fit it over every chord change in the song.
    Really helps to internalize those lines.
    As to your specific question, I agree with the advice to work on creating your own etudes.

    Keep in mind that not every one of Django's solos was a brand new creation every time.
    He had "solutions to the problem" ready up his sleeve.
    He also had a genius to change them slightly harmonicly and rhythmically and make them sound new every time, besides his other gifts.
    A lot of it is, as they, say creating your language.
    Every note wants to go somewhere-Kurt Rosenwinkel
  • dennisdennis Montreal, QuebecModerator
    Posts: 2,131
    wim wrote:
    I don't think it's a universal rule, some of the top players have a foot that goes all over the shop completely out of whack, and yet they still manage to keep good time in the hands where it counts.

    Also there's a video of 3 of the masters playing at samoreau - stochelo, fapy and lollo - and every one of those guys is tapping on 1 + 3 not 2 + 4.

    yes but those guys areexceptions to the rule, in every case that i've encountered, and i've dealt with 100s through workshops/private lessons over the past 13 years; just doing this exercise will improve things tremendously as far as the OP's problem is concerned...

    furthermore, i clearly said that you can choose to tap 1+3 or 2+4 with most gypsies feeling the 1+3...

    whether one should feel t1+3 or 2+4 is not a debate worth getting into, the point is you choose one and stick to it til the end... I can actually do both with enough concentration, but i'm more used to 2+4 as it just makes more sense to me... Regardless of what barry harris may say, you will find equal number of proponents for both camps... no use debating about it, you just gotta choose and do it..

    but that argument about clapping hands is irrelevant, because when you're tapping your foot, you'll be busy playing your instrument anyway... if you're not playing anything, well yes, you can be like a drummer , tap your foot on 1+3 and clap on 2+4...
  • La GitaneLa Gitane Llanelli, UK✭✭✭
    Posts: 48
    Many thanks for the rapid responses and all the helpful suggestions folks.
    Great range of different ideas and approaches, and all sound to be very useful.
    Much appreciated.

    Now I need to spend a few years locked in my shed studying them till they come naturally...

    When I started playing this style, a friend told me
    "The first 10 years of learning Gypsy Jazz is the hardest".
    I though he was joking...but that was nearly 10 years ago ...

    Regret I won't be able to make Django in June; but will get to Samois this year
    - really looking forward to catching Les Doigts de L'Homme on the Sunday :D
    Maybe see some of you guys there?

    Thanks again

    Best wishes

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