The Healthy Woodshed: Tips for a Preventing Injuries and Pain When Practicing Jazz Guitar

The Healthy Woodshed: Tips for a Preventing Injuries and Pain When Practicing Jazz Guitar

A few months ago, I had a BIG problem.

Hands tired. Backaches. Migraines. The works.

What was going on? I needed to get some help….

So, I detailed my troubles in an email I sent out to my readers a few months ago:

“What I’ve been worried about: I’ve been seriously clocking up the hours doing some intense jazz guitar practice and study lately. Coupled with time spent at the computer doing website maintenance etc. means I’ve been spending long hours sitting in my studio and my back is starting to give me grief. I’ve been reading about the dangers of excessive sitting, which has really got me thinking about how to have a more healthy approach to work.

Do you have any ideas for keeping your body in tip-top shape when needing to practice for long hours? I would love to get your thoughts!”

The response to this email was overwhelming.

Many guitarists from around the world replied and gave me loads of helpful ideas to relieve tension and pain​ for both inside and outside the practice room.

I benefitted so much from their suggestions that I thought it would be helpful to share the responses with you.

(Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor or healthcare practitioner, and any of the comments expressed by myself or the contributors in this article are merely opinions of the authors, and do not constitute medical advice.)

Ken Niehoff

“Hi Greg, thanks for your teaching. I’m a health trainer and use my knowledge of exercise, nutrition and psychology to help individuals achieve a healthier lifestyle.

I only practice guitar standing up or leaning on something high. I use my computer and read on my iPad standing up. You just have to get used to it and you will. Standing with my electric guitar for practice did cause a problem that I solved. Holding a heavy guitar is a pain and mine is just over 6 lbs. I practice all my jazz on a short scale (23in) classical guitar with a cutaway that weighs 3 lbs.

When I have to work up something for performance (not lately) I make sure to switch to the performance guitar. This choice is easy on my hands and shoulders.

Walking around the block between bouts of heavy concentration is a good idea and I recommend keeping it up. For better fitness and using less time I recommend doing something that completely gets you out of breath: fast squats to exhaustion or fast stair walk or run. If you live on a hillside, fast walk or run up the hill. You could add a set of push-ups or some other weight exercise once in a while. Use your imagination for ways to get out of breath. Come back and hit your studies. I recommend doing this one time per hour but you will still need to stop sitting so much. You can get out of breath out in as little as one minute.

Take care, Ken”

~ Ken Niehoff MS

I took on Ken’s suggestions and ended up using my Yamaha Silent guitar as my main instrument for practice. This guitar is incredibly lightweight due to having no body, which really eased up the strain on my back whilst standing with a strap. I’m also doing the brisk walk up my local hill daily as Ken suggested.



Rusty Smith

“Thanks for reminders about how to practice. I am almost 70 and need to be careful in my practicing. There were times I would practice 6-8 hours in a day but only one day a week. The other days were an hour or two. The routine that worked for me was to never practice more than 45-50 minutes. Then get up and take a 10-minute break. Didn’t matter if I was in the middle to something I thought I should complete. Seemed to refresh me in a way that allowed many hours of practice and I also became more productive. ~ Rusty”

Following Rusty’s advice, I looked into ways to manage time and came across the Pomodoro technique which is an excellent way to manage time and encourage breaks – find out more about it here.


“Hi Greg,

Back problems – I have a lot of experience in this department. In the past, I have had regular bouts of backache, to the point where I would expect it every 2 weeks or so.

I’m actually a drummer/percussionist, and moving gear, driving to gigs, sitting for hours at a kit, standing with a foot on the vibes pedal etc. all has resulted in back problems over the years.

I have previously used chiropractic for when I have a really bad knot in my back, but though it gave some immediate relief, it wasn’t really treating the underlying problem. I actually wouldn’t recommend chiropractic as it’s expensive and in my experience, it doesn’t work long term.

I have found the best relief for immediate back pain is Ibuprofen (an anti-inflammatory over the counter drug in the UK) and putting a ‘Theraflex’ ice-pack wrapped in a tea-towel under my back and lying down for about ten minutes at a time.

I have also more recently started Pilates which seems to be helping for inner core strength, as does swimming. But, the best help I have had is from my fiancee who is a therapist, who has observed me moving and suggested ALWAYS bending from the knees when bending down. Before I would just lean over to pick something up, now I don’t, and it has really helped me keep my back from going into spasm.

So, in brief: improving core strength, swimming (good all round support), avoiding sitting awkwardly or for long periods and good moving and handling all helps. As does a good mattress! 

Now it is extremely rare that I get back ache, and when I do, it is less severe, and lasts for far less time.

Hope that helps!

Best wishes,




Peter King


I have encountered similar challenges of prolonged sitting (not just playing guitar but my day job) and started having back aches and gluteal pain. The important concept to grasp is that the problems need to be proactively addressed since flexibility and tolerance for mechanical strain lessens with the aging factor. I am in the medical field and my wife is a physical therapist both of which have given me more insight into the problems. What is absolutely essential is to maintain core muscles that support the spine (back muscles and abdominal muscles). They will weaken with prolonged disuse and could lead to more serious problems including herniated discs and degenerative disease. Here is what I have done that has markedly improved things:

1)      Using a strap is essential (I am mainly a classical guitarist and the left foot on a stool was killing me!). I can now play with both feet even. I even play the classical guitar standing and occasionally walk around and play.

2)      Strengthen core muscles: swimming is the absolute best way to do this. I swim 3 days a week. Regular walking (4-5 miles) is another way.

3)      Light weight lifting focusing on axial muscles

4)      Stretching. This should include gluteal muscles, quads and hamstrings—because they all feed into the core muscles.

5)      Regular breaks while playing—every ½ hour get up and walk around etc.

6)      Stand up desk. I got mine from This is an adjustable desk that sits on top of a regular desk. You can raise it to multiple different levels depending on your comfort zone. You can collapse the desk at any time and use it as a regular desk (takes less than 5 seconds)

7)      See a physical therapist to get more formalized exercise/stretching approaches. One or two visits should suffice.

8)      Be religious about doing all of the above. One or two times a week will do no good. do something every day.


Peter King”

After reading Peter’s email, I took the plunge and purchased a standing desk – this has been a real game changer for back pain.

Mark Jobin

“As a computer technician I spent most of my time sitting and started to develop some lower back pain. I started practicing yoga again after a break of some 30 years and I found it made a real difference. I do about 3/4 of an hour 3 times a week – mostly stretches, not the pretzel-like postures. ~ Mark”



Last But Not Least, ‘D.D’…

“Dear Greg,

As I have grown older my back has started hurting due to the sitting position with left leg raised while holding my classical guitar.  I practice about 2 hours each day.  Believe me, the best thing you can do is to take a good walk between your sessions or after them.  After my practice sessions, I take a brisk 2 km walk.  I do this every day, even if it is raining, snowing, hot as hell, etc.  I am in my 70’s and not only does it relieve my back pain, it is good cardiovascular exercise as well. 

Now that I am studying jazz, I often will stand and wear a strap around my Fender stratocaster.  I chose the strat because I love playing blues as well as jazz. You look to be in good shape – so take it from an old guy, don’t forget to exercise.  I know how busy you must be developing these lessons for us and I greatly appreciate them. 

And one final thing: DO NOT RUN. It is bad for your knees particularly if you run on asphalt.  Walking, on the other hand, is much easier on the knees and back.  Less impact stress on the spine. Swimming is also a good option if you can get access to a pool.

Besides walking, I do a number of yoga exercises for my back after a practice session.  One is to get on the floor and bring my legs up to my chest and hold them for a few seconds and then release the legs back to the floor.  There a number of websites where you can find yoga exercises for lower back pain and spine.  I do a number of the poses found on the website: 

Keep up the good work and thanks again for everything you have done to help me and others learn the elements of jazz.~ D.D”

Thanks to D.D’s suggestions, I’ve prioritized a short yoga routine in my daily regime, and I’ve been getting fabulous results. I also practice meditation daily as well.


I hope this post helped give you ideas on how to make your practice room a healthier and happier one. A huge thanks to all the contributors who gave their permission to publish their tips.

It’s important to take your physical health seriously if you’re practicing many hours on an instrument.


It not only helps you to feel better but also enables you to focus more, which will help the music and ideas flow much more easily during a jazz guitar session.

Over to you – what other thoughts or suggestions would YOU like to contribute to this topic of ‘The Healthy Woodshed’? Leave a comment below with your thoughts…

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Why Do YOU Play Jazz Guitar?

Why Do YOU Play Jazz Guitar?

You love the infinite creative possibilities.

You’re inspired by greats like Joe Pass or Wes Montgomery.

That unique, special feeling you get when you’ve finally mastered something incredibly challenging.

Or simply the fact that jazz guitar sounds cool and you love the music.

Why do YOU play jazz guitar? Whether it’s for winding down at the end of the day, keeping your mind active, jamming with other musicians or otherwise…

What motivates you to keep plugging away at this wonderful instrument, one lick at a time?

I thought it would be fun to start a discussion on my website about this.

Leave a comment below about what your key motivations are for learning jazz guitar.

I’m really interested in seeing what you have to say about this – let’s get the conversation started…


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Interview with Mark Whitfield, The Man Himself

Interview with Mark Whitfield, The Man Himself

It’s finally here:

As the final post in the series on jazz blues guitar I’ve featured this month, I’m honored to welcome critically acclaimed jazz guitarist Mark Whitfield, in this exclusive interview.

Simply put, this was one of the best conversations about jazz guitar I’ve ever had, and I was thrilled that Mark had time in his busy schedule for our conversation.

mark-whitfield-graceThis interview also includes the title track off Mark’s brand new album, Grace  his 15th album as a bandleader and first release for 7 years.

A truly family affair, the new album features his two sons, Davis Whitfield on keys and Mark Whitfield Jr. on drums, as part of the Whitfield Family Band. I highly recommend checking it out! Get the album here>>

Watch the video version of the interview below, or click the link in the yellow box to download an audio only version, so you can listen to it ‘on-the-go’:


Cool Bonus: Don’t have time to watch the whole interview? Get access to an audio only version you can download by clicking here…


About Mark Whitfield

Mark Whitfield is one of the most highly regarded jazz guitarists alive today.

Throughout his career, he’s collaborated with legendary artists including Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey, Quincy Jones, Ray Charles, Herbie Hancock, George Benson, and many others.

In 1990 the New York Times dubbed Whitfield “The Best Young Guitarist in the Business”. Later that year, Warner Bros. released his debut album The Marksman.

I reached out to Mark after working on a transcription from one of the tracks from this album: The Blues From Way Back, a jazz guitar blues I’ve been featuring lately on this website.

(Check out the full transcription I did of Mark’s solo from the Blues From Way Back here and a breakdown of essential licks from the solo here.)


In the interview, you’ll learn about…

  • Mark’s special relationship with the blues, and how he’s naturally been drawn to incorporating it into his jazz style.
  • Mark’s journey with jazz guitar, studying at Berklee College of Music, sessions at the Blue Note in New York, and beyond
  • Mark’s thoughts on how to learn jazz guitar to make solid progress, regardless of the time you have for practice.
  • The essential ingredients of an effective and rewarding jazz guitar practice session
  • How Mark met Joe Pass as a young man, leading to one of the most important (and unusual!) jazz guitar masterclasses he ever had.


Album’s and Resources Mentioned By Mark:


Thanks for Checking This Out!

To share your thoughts:

  • Leave a note in the comment section below.
  • Share this show on Twitter, Facebook, or anywhere else you hang out online.

Special thanks to Mark Whitfield for joining me this week. Find out more about Mark Whitfield via these links:

Until next time!


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The Blues, from Way Back by Mark Whitfield (Part 2): Signature Licks Explained

The Blues, from Way Back by Mark Whitfield (Part 2): Signature Licks Explained

This post is part 2 of our investigation into Mark Whitfield’s jazz guitar solo from The Blues, from Way Back.

In this video lesson you’re going to learn 4 cool-sounding jazz blues guitar licks from Whitfield’s recording, so you can solo over a jazz blues like a pro.

(Part 1 of this series was a demonstration of a complete transcription of this solo, that you can download for FREE from my website by clicking here.)


About Mark Whitfield

Mark Whitfield is one of the most highly acclaimed jazz guitarists alive today.

 <p><br /></p>Throughout his career, he’s collaborated with legendary artists including Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey, Quincy Jones, Ray Charles, Herbie Hancock, George Benson, and many others.

In 1990 the New York Times dubbed Whitfield “The Best Young Guitarist in the Business”. Later that year, Warner Bros. released his debut album The Marksman, and The Blues From Way Back is a track off this landmark recording.


4 Jazz Blues Guitar Licks

Check out a demonstration video of the 4 jazz blues guitar licks from The Blues, from Way Back below.

Then, read on for explanations on how they work and tips to get the most out of them in the woodshed.


Cool Bonus: Get access to a FREE print friendly PDF version of The Blues, from Way Back licks by Mark Whitfield, complete with notation, TAB and analysis.


Hint: Fast forward the video to the time code (in green) to get to the spot in the lesson that demonstrates each step below.

Jazz Blues Guitar Lick #1 (See video at 0:56)




You can’t get much more bluesy than this lick.

This one kicks off with a slide into the 6th of the chord, which is followed by the root – giving it that tasty major blues sound.

This is followed by one of the most important elements of jazz blues vocabulary – the slide from b3 (the ‘blues note’ in a major blues scale) to 3.

The final part of this jazz blues guitar lick outlines the C7 chord of the harmony. However, note that this lick sounds pretty cool over nearly all the changes of a jazz blues without transposition – meaning you can treat every chord in the blues progression as C7. You can hear me doing this when I play this lick along with the backing track in the video above.

So, experiment playing this lick over different chords in a jazz blues progression instead of only on the I7 chord.


Jazz Blues Guitar Lick #2 (See video at 1:35)




Whereas the last lick had a major blues sound, lick #2 is distinctly minor blues in its quality.

The first run in this lick is easy to understand – it’s based on a minor blues scale (1, b3, 4, b5, 5, b7).

Like lick #1, this one finishes on a triplet figure outlining a C7 arpeggio. You can also use this lick on every chord of a blues progression without transposition and it will (usually) sounds great.

Notice how the first part of the lick is tense with a double time feel, but the final phrase is a slower rhythm and more relaxed.

This is an important concept to bring into your solos – the interplay between tension and relaxation.

To give the solo this tension/relaxation interplay, Whitfield mixes traditional blues sounds with sophisticated bebop approaches. The next 2 licks are great examples of jazz bebop vocabulary at its finest.


Jazz Blues Guitar Lick #3 (See video at 2:35)




There’s a lot going on in this lick.

A chromatic scale begins the line, which then moves to a commonly used bebop pattern.

My buddy Matt Warnock from calls this bebop pattern a ‘4123 finger pattern’, as that’s the finger pattern it makes on the fretboard if you play the pattern on one string only.

Following this, a series of various enclosures highlight key chord tones of the harmony.

To get nitpicky – there are 3 different types of enclosures in this lick. The first is a chromatic enclosure (marked Enc) – where you play a note 1 fret above and then and then 1 fret below a target tone.

The next is a diatonic enclosure (D.Enc), where you do the same but rather than playing chromatically, you base the enclosure on the diatonic scale pattern of the given harmony.

The final enclosure is known as a diatonic chromatic enclosure (D.Ch.Enc), which is a mix of the above 2 enclosure types. In this context, it gives a strong harmonic minor sound to the line, as the C# is the raised 7th of Dm.

You thought that one was complicated. Wait till you see the next one…


Jazz Blues Guitar Lick #4 (See video at 3:25)




This lick is the most advanced and can be a bit tricky to get under your fingers, but it’s well worth it.

The first bar is full of strong bebop sounds – here we have a 3 to 9 arpeggio followed by a 7b9 sound, and again we see a 4123 bebop finger pattern – the same as what was used in lick #3.

Bars 2 and 3 have an interesting series of triads outlined: C – Eb – Ab – and Db.

Can you guess what’s going on here?

These triads are tritone substitutions of a I – VI – ii – V progression in the key of C – namely, C, A7, Dm, and G7. Each of them is substituted for their tritone equivalent.

This series of tritone substitutions (i.e. based on a I – VI – ii – V) is known as the ‘Ladybird’ progression – based on the closing chords of the jazz standard of the same name.

You could say the harmony is ‘elaborated’ here – instead of a straight C7 chord being outlined, a I – VI – ii- V turnaround is implemented instead to create more movement in the harmony.

“But!” (I hear you say) “…the harmony is on G7, not C7! Explain yourself!”

Here’s the answer:

The harmony is anticipated from the next bar.

Here, Whitfield is essentially thinking 1 bar ahead in the harmony. This is a technique used since the days of Charlie Christian to create a feeling of forward motion in a solo.

In summary – the harmony is elaborated, tritone substitution is applied to the elaborated harmony, all while anticipating the harmony of the following bar (phew – that was quite a mouthful).

Make sense? I hope so.

Having trouble printing out the above licks? Get a free print friendly PDF version by clicking here…


Tips For Practicing Jazz Guitar Licks


  • Make sure you learn the lick from memory as soon as possible – jazz should almost never be read from a page if you can avoid it.
  • Learn the lick in every octave and in every position on the fretboard (I use the CAGED system to navigate the fretboard).
  • Sing the lick as you play it on the guitar.
  • Play along with a backing track that is playing the chords the lick is based on (these are written above each lick).
  • Experiment with the lick to see if it can still sound good in other situations – e.g. if the lick is a major lick in C Major, does it work over the relative minor (Am), and vice versa?
  • Put on a backing track of a standard chart (e.g. a jazz blues, Autumn Leaves, All The Things You Are, etc), and practice soloing with the lick wherever you can throughout the chart.
  • Play the lick over and over but attempt to vary it slightly. I call this the ‘morphing’ technique. Alter the rhythms, mix up the order of notes, change the length of the lick and so on.



These jazz blues guitar licks are great examples of how to get a classic jazz blues sound into your solos.

Jazz blues requires a certain level of bebop vocabulary to give it the right jazz flavor, so experiment with these approaches to get that essential mix of tension and relaxation into your playing.

*Stop Press:* In an upcoming post I’ll be interviewing the man himself, Mark Whitfield, who’s going to share the story of his journey with jazz guitar as well as some tips to help aspiring players like you get more results in the woodshed.

I look forward to telling you all about it very soon – stay tuned!

Let me know what you think about today’s article on these jazz blues guitar licks by leaving a comment below…

Greg O’Rourke

BMus (Hons), ANU


Special thanks to Mark Whitfield for giving me permission to publish these excerpts on my website.

Photo By Bill Morgan Hartford, CT, USA – Mark Whitfield 1, CC BY-SA 2.0,

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The Blues, from Way Back by Mark Whitfield (Part 1): Transcription and Analysis

The Blues, from Way Back by Mark Whitfield (Part 1): Transcription and Analysis

I’ve got something special to share with you today.

To kick off this month’s series on jazz guitar blues, you’re going to learn a complete transcription of highly acclaimed jazz guitarist Mark Whitfield’s solo from The Blues, from Way Back: a track from his classic debut album, The Marksman (1990).

In today’s post, you’re going to learn:


  • The reasons why studying transcriptions is so important for any jazz guitarist
  • How to play the complete transcription of Mark Whitfield’s first solo from the recording of The Blues, from Way Back
  • A general overview of the types of approaches and concepts Whitfield uses in this solo.

Cool Bonus: Get access to a FREE print friendly PDF version of The Blues, from Way Back transcription by Mark Whitfield, complete with notation, TAB and analysis.


First, let’s have a brief discussion on why to learn a transcription in the first place…


Why Learn a Jazz Guitar Blues Transcription?

Learning transcriptions of master players is one of the most important things you can do as a jazz guitarist.

The reason?

It gives you a complete all-around jazz guitar workout.

Here’s how it works:

  • Usually transcriptions are tough technically, so learning a transcription is a great way to build up your technique.
  • You’ll learn a wealth of jazz vocabulary that fits well together, giving you plenty of new ideas to bring into your own playing.
  • Learning a transcription is the best way by far to train your ears – especially if you transcribe a recording from scratch.
  • By playing a transcription along with the original recording it was transcribed from, you’ll get a sense of how to add shape to your own solos – i.e., how to structure the rise and fall of a solo in order to tell a captivating musical story.

The last point is particularly important.

If you just learn jazz guitar licks in isolation, without listening to the lick in the context of the full solo it came from, you won’t get a well-rounded picture on how to the lick effectively as you improvise.

Here’s the thing:

Even if you end up only delving into a few licks from a transcription after you learn the full solo, these licks act as a kind of ‘trigger’ in your mind for the general vocabulary and approaches contained in the complete transcription.

So, learning a transcription is a very effective way to learn a huge amount of jazz vocabulary in a short space of time.

Convinced? Good. So let’s now dig into the transcription itself…


The Blues, From Way Back

The Blues, from Way Back is a track from Mark Whitfield’s debut album The Marksman, which catapulted him to international recognition in the 90s after he graduated from Berklee College of Music.

Why did I want to transcribe this recording?

This solo is probably the best example of jazz guitar blues I’ve come across, so I was keen to study this one intensely in order to get a more authentic jazz blues sound into my improvised lines.

Here’s the original recording of The Blues, from Way Back on YouTube:

What I particularly like about this solo is how seamlessly Mark Whitfield weaves traditional blues ideas between sophisticated bebop vocabulary.

Learning this solo has also been a great technique builder for my own playing.

Both the bluesy licks and the bebop lines are classic pieces of vocabulary that are really worthwhile to work into your own playing.


Presenting The Complete Jazz Guitar Blues Transcription!

So here it is:

The complete transcription of Mark Whitfield’s first solo from The Blues, from Way Back.

Watch the video to get a demonstration of the fingerings I used to play the solo, then read through the notation and TAB of the transcription below.

(Hint: If you want a print-friendly PDF of the transcription, click here to access it now).

Note: Fast-forward the video to 5:00 in for a close-up slow-motion view of my hands as I play the solo (if you need a closer look at the fingerings in action).



















Backing Track:


Having trouble printing out the above transcription? Get a print-friendly PDF version by clicking here…

You may be scratching your head as to what some of the annotations are in the analysis below the notation, so here’s what they all mean:


  • 4123 = Bebop finger pattern using 4123 fingers in that sequence
  • Aalt = A Altered Scale
  • AN = Approach Note
  • ANT = Harmonic Anticipation
  • APhrDom = A Phrygian Dominant Scale
  • BN = Blues Note
  • C7arp = C7 arpeggio
  • Chr = Chromatic Approach Chord
  • Chrom = Chromatic notes
  • CMajBl = C Major Blues Scale
  • CMinPent = C Minor Pentatonic
  • CMixo = C Mixolydian
  • App = Double Approach Notes
  • Ch.Enc = Diatonic Chromatic Enclosure
  • Enc = Diatonic Enclosure
  • DStop = Double Stops
  • Enc = Chromatic Enclosure
  • LN = Lower Neighbour Note
  • PN = Passing Note
  • Q = Quartal Voicing
  • UN = Upper Neighbour Note

Also, you may have noticed that I play entirely fingerstyle on the video, but Mark Whitfield uses a pick on the original recording.

A confession…

My plectrum style simply wasn’t up for the job of playing a solo as difficult as this, so I resorted to using my more secure fingerstyle technique for this one.

Feel free to use either a pick or fingerstyle to play this solo depending on what you’re most comfortable with.


Tips for Learning a Transcription to Get Great Results

There’s no doubt about it:

When you study a transcription like this, it’s crucially important to practice it in an effective way.

Here are some tips to ensure you end up getting the sounds of the transcription into your own playing when you improvise:


  • Memorize the transcription – don’t just read it off the page! Learn the transcription just one small phrase or even one bar at a time, and memorize it as you go. You’ll learn it faster, and assimilate the sounds into your ears much more than if you read a whole page at a time and then try to memorize a whole chunk at once. You’ll find that if you memorize as you go, you’ll memorize it much faster and more securely that way.
  • Listen to the video (especially Mark Whitfield’s original recording of The Blues, from Way Back). Don’t just try to emulate the notes and rhythms, but also the sound, feel and phrasing that he uses in his playing. This is all the stuff you can’t notate on a page but is one of the most important benefits of learning a transcription: learning how to shape and ‘speak’ your phrases in an authentic way.
  • Once you can play the transcription through, circle licks and patterns that appeal to you in the solo, and practice incorporating them into your own improvisations.
  • Practice improvising on a blues backing track in the style of the transcription you’ve just learned – this is a great way to bring your own original voice to the material.

One more thing:

Pay close attention is to the fingerings that I’ve given in the TAB – it matches the fingerings that I play on my video. Getting a workable fingering is one of the most crucial aspects of being able to sound fluent on your instrument.


Vocabulary Ideas Used in The Blues, from Way Back

Let’s look at some general points on the ideas Whitfield uses in his solo to create interest. Start experimenting with these in the woodshed, as they are classic jazz blues vocabulary ideas:

  • Sliding from b3 to 3 – this is a well-known blues cliche but Whitfield does it so much throughout the solo it helps give that classic blues sound throughout.
  • Harmonic Anticipation: Whitfield often anticipates a chord in his solo before it appears in the rhythm section. This is a simple way to create interest and forward motion in your playing and is a technique that’s been used since Charlie Christian. In particular, Whitfield often anticipates the I7 (C7) chord when the harmony is still on V7 (G7).
  • Harmonic Generalization – This means using the same lick or idea without transposing it over various key centers. This is an easy way to create tension and interest.
  • Alternating C Major Pentatonic/Blues and C Minor Pentatonic/Blues – using these two distinct harmonic colors is another classic blues idea that helps to keep the interest going in this solo.
  • Motive Repetition – Whitfield reuses a lot of phrases over and over throughout the solo in various ways – can you spot them?
  • Alternating between fast tension and slow relaxation – Most of the double time lines you can see in this solo are classic bebop vocabulary. The solo creates tension by using these elaborate double time lines. This tension is then released by following the double time lines with more simple pentatonic and blues lines. This helps to maintain interest, excitement, and variety.



As you can see, there’s a wealth of jazz vocabulary to be unearthed in The Blues, from Way Back solo by Mark Whitfield.

But we’ve only just scratched the surface…

Once you’ve learnt the whole transcription, it’s time to take some key lines and concepts out of the solo and incorporate them into your own playing in a deeper way.

That’s what part 2 of this series will be all about.

In my next upcoming post, I’m going to dig deeper into a few of the licks out of The Blues, from Way Back solo, look at how they function and give you tips on how you can incorporate them into your own playing.

I look forward to working on these with you then – stay tuned… :-)



Greg O’Rourke

BMus (Hons), ANU

Special thanks to Mark Whitfield for giving me the permission to publish this transcription on Find out more about Mark at his website,

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Quick Video Lesson: The Amazing Line ‘Morphing’ Technique

Quick Video Lesson: The Amazing Line ‘Morphing’ Technique

I wanted to share with you this week a video of a technique that I use all the time in my own practice of jazz guitar improvisation, called the ‘line morphing technique’.

This technique is an easy way to get more creative ‘juice’ out of lines that you learn or transcribe.

What ideas do YOU have for topics on jazz guitar practice you would like me to create? Let me know by leaving a comment below or emailing me at



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Get my New eBook: The Easy Guide To Chord Melody Guitar


356 Page Guide to Complete Chord Melody Mastery!


I’m pleased to announce that Matt Warnock of Jazz Guitar Online and myself have spent this year co-writing a comprehensive guide on arranging chord melodies and how to master the art of chord soloing, entitled The Easy Guide To Chord Melody Guitar.

This brand new eBook is a complete A-Z guide on creating your own great sounding chord melody arrangements for trio and solo guitar situations, and you’ll also learn how to chord solo (i.e., improvise with chords) like a pro.

To find out more about the book and to get your copy, click here>>

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