Video Workshop: The BIG Secrets of Jazz Guitar Improvisation

with Greg O’Rourke, Pro Jazz Guitarist

145 Comments

  1. Greg O'Rourke

    Hi guys, please leave any comments or questions you have about this video below. By the way, to look at the other videos in this 3 part series, click here for Video #2 and here for Video #3.

    Cheers, Greg

    Reply
    • Ed

      What you are saying makes so much sense. I play by ear and make phrases according to what I am hearing and feeling at the moment. I do know some theory, but for some reason I can’t correlate modes.

      Reply
      • Greg O'Rourke

        Thanks for your thoughts Ed! Yes I think the music needs to be felt first and foremost. The theory can help but you we shouldn’t put the cart before the horse so to speak!

        Reply
    • robert

      For whatever reason, I can’t seem to get the video to play. Nothing happens.

      Reply
      • Greg O'Rourke

        Hi Robert,

        If you’re having trouble playing the video, try these steps:

        – Try using a different browser, e.g. if you’re using Internet Explorer, try using Chrome or Firefox
        – Make sure your browser is up to date to the latest version
        – Try refreshing the page after you’ve done the above
        – If it still doesn’t work, try using a different device, e.g. try your laptop if you are using your phone. Hope this helps!

        Reply
        • Bob

          Works great in my Firefox.

          Reply
    • Alan Voss

      Hallelujah! I know theory inside out. I can improvise boring stuff around a single scale. But I am totally lost with anything meaningful. On piano I can improvise quite satisfactorily because it’s all there in one simple layout. Your approach is a real eye-opener for me. Really looking forward to the remaining videos. Well done, Greg

      Reply
      • Greg O'Rourke

        Thanks for the feedback Alan! You’re spot on here – as you say, piano is all laid out in front of you. However, the layout of the fretboard on guitar is not intuitive for improvisation, as this is a major roadblock for soloing on guitar. The next video will get into how to apply all the concepts covered in this video on to the guitar

        Reply
        • donnelly(Donna Lee)

          I am so looking forward to your next video Greg. I get the brain example…yet I am hoping to unscramble all the possibilities in this brain of mine :) looking forward to the next video
          Thank you

          Reply
          • Greg O'Rourke

            Great to hear you enjoyed this video! Yes look out for the next one as we’re going to do a deep dive on how to apply all of this to soloing over a common progression. Stay tuned…

    • bill

      Hi Greg- the video keeps freezing- not able to watch it

      Reply
      • Greg O'Rourke

        Hi Bill, this may be due to your internet connection. Try stopping the video for a couple of minutes to give it time for it to load up, then it should work fine.

        Reply
    • Rob

      Greg,

      Thank you for the introductory comments. The link to learning language makes a lot of sense – practice relevant phrases, build on them to provide further communication and improve further by developing the accent and rhythm of the language. Looking forward to the forthcoming videos.

      Best wishes.

      Reply
      • Greg O'Rourke

        Hi Rob,

        Thanks for your thoughts – the jazz as a language metaphor is one that is often used, but it is nevertheless an excellent framework and metaphor for building improvisation skills. Video #2 should be on its way soon!

        Reply
    • Donald Hahne

      Greg,
      Good explanations on the direction I need to adopt to becoming a improviser without so much stress.

      Don Hahne

      Reply
    • Robert Green

      Hi Greg. What a great way to approach jazz improvisation…..I’m already feeling less fearful about

      improvisation, and am looking forward to your next video. Thank you so much for sharing your

      hard-earned knowledge with us!

      Rob

      Reply
      • Greg O'Rourke

        My pleasure Robert – glad you enjoyed this one!

        Reply
    • Tom

      Hi Greg.

      Very good. Looking forward to the upcoming videos. Makes sense. Practice, practice, practice. Repetition, repetition, repetition.
      Theory is necessary for the musician. Comping is necessary as well. There is more to learn.
      So this is good for me. Right where I am at. Want to be able to improvise much better than I do currently.
      Maybe a series on comping later?

      Thanks your time Maestro!

      Reply
      • Greg O'Rourke

        Hi Tom, thanks for your nice feedback! The next video is going to tie in theory, comping, and improvising all together… ;-) I’ll see you then!

        Reply
    • Chuck Hicks

      Looking forward to next video. Sounds like a process that most of us stragglers can use.

      Reply
      • Greg O'Rourke

        Thanks Chuck – this process isn’t just for stragglers – this is what EVERYONE uses! ;-)

        Reply
    • Dallas Selman

      Can’t wait to see the rest of it. I am reminded a bit of the four volumes that Herb Ellis put out, and because I love Herb I bought them all. He presented the idea that scales, modes and arps would get the toss for learning purposes, in favour of chord “shapes” around the notes of which the improvisation is woven. But following a cursory explanation of the shapes idea – by using examples of scales and arps (LOL), and a few simple chord shapes – each volume is chock-a-block with lengthy transcriptions of entire jazz- blues compositions. Daunting to say the least. For the purposes of the student, he was unable to attach the concept to the material, I think because it was just something he did so easily, so organically, and all the time – he thought it would be easy for the rest of us. I still have the volumes and I still love Herb though, but it was frustrating as hell.

      Reply
      • Greg O'Rourke

        Great comments Dallas, I think you’ve raised something that is often an issue with pursuits like jazz guitar. Sometimes players that have reached a certain level of mastery forget what it’s like to be a beginner, and don’t realize that there is that disconnect. I think this is the biggest challenge for any teacher – to be aware of and overcome this obstacle of one’s own expert knowledge.

        Reply
        • Dallas

          ….the overweening reality of my 16 linear feet of compressed jazz guitar lesson matter is that I still can’t play shit!

          Reply
          • Bob

            LOL :-)

    • robert

      Thank you for this. It makes so much sense! It’s the clearest and most concise description of the process (and how not to do it) I’ve ever heard.

      Reply
      • Greg O'Rourke

        Thanks very much for your feedback on the video Robert! I’m happy with how Video #2 has turned out, I’ll let you know when it’s coming out.

        Reply
    • Lawrence

      Thanks Greg, you make improvization appear achievable. You keep opening my mind..

      Reply
      • Greg O'Rourke

        Thanks Lawrence! It is definitely achievable – if you have the right recipe, you can bake the cake so to speak :)

        Reply
    • Carlisle Hugh

      Great approach.

      Reply
    • Greg Elliott

      Very interesting Greg

      Reply
    • Richard Key

      HI Greg, I like the analogy with learning a language,and improving your vocabulary. Not sure that my old brain can cope, but I am determined to persevere.,
      Cheers,
      Richard

      Reply
      • Greg O'Rourke

        Thanks for your comments Richard – if there’s one thing I’ve learned in life so far, it’s this – NEVER give up! :-)

        Reply
    • Dave Evans

      This makes a lot of sense! I’ve always believed that it’s easier to learn from doing something than just theorizing doing something.
      Looking forward to this!

      Reply
    • Elie

      Thnx Greg for these information abut jazz guitar improvisation

      Reply
    • David Locke

      Hi Greig,

      Thanks for the video.

      I appreciate that this is only the first one, however, what I can’t get my head around is that when you are improvising over a chord progression, how can learning tons of vocabulary help you remain congruent with the chords.

      So if you were in a jam situation and you have been practising your vocab, you would feel confident that the licks are going to sound good IF the guys are playing the same chords you have been using as a backing. But what about spontaneity? How can you ensure the licks you are learning can be applied to any chord progression?

      If in a jam I encounter a chord that doesn’t fit with my practised vocab/licks, what can you do to utilise what you already know?

      Thanks
      David

      Reply
      • Greg O'Rourke

        Hi David,

        Thanks for checking the video out and for your great question.

        My response would be that if you were playing in a jam situation and different chords were being used to what was on the backing track, these would simply be substitutions of the standard chords. They must be, because if they aren’t the band is either playing very outside or they are actually re-harmonising the tune. So in this situation it would be likely that the band would just be doing substitutions.

        The thing about substitutions is that the vocabulary that you’ve studied will generally still work pretty well over a substitution (it might sound a little bit outside at times, but that’s cool because that’s what makes jazz sound hip). If your ears can recognise the substitutions then by all means you can try to mirror them in your soloing, but the ironic thing about that is that if you do what the band does all the time it can actually start to sound a bit boring – the cool tension in jazz often occurs when the band is doing something slightly unusual compared to the soloist or vice versa.

        When it comes to spontaneity, ironically the strongest way to be spontaneous is to have mastered some core vocabulary ideas. This gives you the raw material you need for your own improvisations. A lot of players miss the step of acquiring vocabulary, and then they get the ‘deer in the headlights’ feeling when they go to solo at a jam session. The reason? They don’t have enough starting points to make clear statements in their improvisation. So yes, it’s very important to have worked on some of the key vocabulary ideas in jazz, it really does create the foundation for your development as a jazz improviser.

        Reply
        • David Locke

          Greg this is a great reply. You are bang on with your advice about just playing within the chords and how stale this can become. I’ll relax a little and try to be a bit more adventurous. I also defo think I need to practice my vocabulary more as I do sound too ‘scaley’ sometimes.

          I appreciate your very comprehensive answer. Best regard David

          Reply
          • Greg O'Rourke

            My pleasure David. Yes remember that scales are not melodies. Scales are more like what the alphabet is to music. The alphabet is important to know of course, but we don’t use the alphabet to communicate – we use words and sentences! Melodies are more like the musical words and sentences.

    • Mark

      Looking forward to your next videos.

      Reply
      • Greg O'Rourke

        Thanks Mark – see you in the next one!

        Reply
    • Michel

      This makes a lot of sense. I am learning jazz guitar improvisation with a private teacher. I have learned almost all the scales but i can’t hardly use them. I think i got overloaded with information. I know which notes to use but can’t figure how to make a good sounding solo.

      Reply
      • Greg O'Rourke

        Glad to hear this makes sense Michel – I have seen this too many times where teachers have overloaded their students with way too many scale and arpeggio patterns before they even try a simple improvisation. As I said in this video, you don’t need to learn a whole dictionary in order to speak a language – you just need to know the keywords and phrases. Jazz is exactly the same.

        Reply
    • Peter

      Your theory on thinking and playing in lines instead of chords and scales is an eyeopener indeed.

      Reply
      • Greg O'Rourke

        Thanks Peter! The thing about chords and scales is that, although they are important to know, they don’t necessarily imply a strong melody. That’s what lines are – basically short, useful melodies. If you use melodies when you solo, you are much more likely to have a melodic solo!

        Reply
    • Vince Arter

      Looking forward to the next video. Really like the aporoach. Adding visual to audio on the guitar reinforces the learning process. Thanks.

      Reply
      • Greg O'Rourke

        Hi Vince, great to hear you liked this approach! Yes I’ve always found videos a lot easier to learn from than just from things like method books – you can see the concepts in action.

        Reply
    • pintoo mitra

      very impressive

      Reply
      • Greg O'Rourke

        Thanks so much, I appreciate your kind words.

        Reply
    • Bob

      Hi Greg,
      Brilliant analogy relating music improvisation to language learning. Both are to do with sound not with letters or notes on paper, as we can so easily think about them. And language usage is best learned by mixing and modifying useful phrases, not tacking together letters of the alphabet or phonetical sounds or words. But you first need to rote learn phrases (licks) through lots of repetition so you can subconsciously draw upon them at the moment of improvisation?

      Reply
      • Greg O'Rourke

        Thanks for your kind feedback Bob! Yes you are correct – you do need to learn at least a few phrases very deeply for them, and the general ideas contained within them, to be instantly accessible. The reason? Because you need to be able to draw from them effortlessly in the heat of the moment in an improvisation. And if you learn licks the right way, you’ll find that it becomes a very natural process to spontaneously improvise a line that, although based in part on an idea you already know, is a completely new and creative idea that is distinctly your own. But to get there, it’s important to practice these in a way that they are deeply memorized, but also creatively worked with as well.

        Reply
    • David Sibley

      Hi Greg,

      I just want to thank you for explaining in a very articulate easy to understand way how to make improvisation sound good.

      I think that the knowledge of scales, modes, arps is critical as a foundational set of principles it is overwhelmingly complex to try to have access to all of this mental process in the moment.

      I think many teachers and music college need a common language to explain in great analytical detail what’s happening, read into this what you may!

      I believe your approach as a 4 step process is the best ( non egotistical or over complicated) explanation I have come across. You are a star thanks

      Reply
      • Greg O'Rourke

        Thanks for your positive feedback and thoughts David. I couldn’t agree more what you were hinting at here – regarding the over analysis that tends to happen at music colleges. Although it can be helpful to analyse, you can definitely take this side of things too far. Joe Pass always emphasised that you need to keep your thinking simple when it comes to improvising, and with good reason. The simpler that you can think, the quicker you can think. and if you can think more quickly, you can improvise more easily, creatively, and get into the flow of the music more.

        Reply
    • Bruce S Bouck

      Hey Greg,
      Excellent observations, always love your work. As you commented in your presentation, you understood the theory… and I also had an excellent theoretical background, but the concept of the ‘language’ came later. You mentioned briefly that the lines you were playing were learned by transcribing solos… and that is the crux of the difficulty, that’s hard, tedious work. But, that is where you learn the language, i.e. how does Joe Pass say “Dm7 G7 Cmaj7”?

      Thanks for taking the trouble to do all this

      Reply
      • Greg O'Rourke

        Thanks for your thoughts Bruce, much appreciated! Yes traditionally all the great players have transcribed solos in order to acquire vocabulary. If you have the time to do this it is a good exercise in a lot of ways. I think the main benefit is that it essentially forces you to repeat and hear the vocabulary many times in the process of transcription, which means that you’re more likely to memorise it.

        However, there is a shortcut I think. You can do the same process with lines that have been written down by someone else, you just need to take the time to memorise them and you will get a very similar effect in a much shorter space of time. A lot of players go down the ‘transcription by ear’ road because they had no reading skills.But I don’t see anything wrong with leveraging reading, as long as you ensure you memorise the vocabulary and make it your own. I talk about this in more detail in a recent blog post I did on my website: https://www.fretdojo.com/transcribing-without-transcribing/

        Reply
    • Fred

      Greg,
      I really appreciate the link between learning a language and improvisation, it makes a lot of sense. Emphasis on repetition was a good insight for me, since my biggest problem with learning licks is being able to remember them; I am probably just not engaging in enough repetition. Thanks for the reminder about how important this is!

      Reply
      • Greg O'Rourke

        Great to hear that you got this insight Fred. One of the biggest oversights I find in jazz guitar students is they don’t realize the importance of truly memorising material. Rote repetition is definitely an aspect of this, however on the other hand there are ways to work creatively with material which can also result in stronger memories of it as well. Remember that for something to be memorised you need to make it memorable – so being creative with the material is not only important for generating ideas but also for the material to ‘stick’ to your long term memory more deeply.

        Reply
    • Robert

      Cannot wait for video #2. thanks Bob

      Reply
  2. John

    Since all licks are made up of smaller groups of notes or sequences, should we not start with the smaller sequences?

    Reply
    • Greg O'Rourke

      This is such a great question John. Regarding starting out with smaller sequences, I think the issue with that approach is that the sequences are too small to make longer musical phrases. Of course you could link them together to make longer ones, but that can sometimes sound a bit unmusical and too pattern based. It’s also adds a layer of complexity. Learning micro phrases does have a lot of merit to it but I think first you should learn longer lines to get long, robust phrases into your playing. Once you’ve done that, you can extract smaller phrases.

      Something I’ve noticed in my own playing though is that by learning the longer lines really well, the shorter phrases tend to spontaneously come into my soloing anyway.

      Reply
  3. Richard Ripperger

    Really appreciate your and MW’s ability to clarify and simplify!

    Reply
    • Greg O'Rourke

      Thanks very much for your kind words Richard!

      Reply
  4. ricco

    Interesting stuff. You may have cracked something with the visualisation of those pathways.
    Let’s see how it will pan out for the fingers. Exciting!

    Reply
    • Greg O'Rourke

      Thanks Rico! Yes this lesson was all about the overall approach, but the next one is going to get nitty gritty into the actual step by step process for how to build improvisation on the fretboard securely. Can’t wait to share it with you!

      Reply
  5. Frank Saunders

    Hi Greg, I haven’t seen the other videos yet but I agree with this approach for the most part. The part which I’m sure your going to get into is more complicated non diatonic chords which don’t lend themselves to licks. That’s why I currently am working on arpeggios in one position so you have chord tones as targets which anchor solo to the shifting non diatonic harmony. By focusing on a 4 bar. Phrase and a small arpeggio frag you train your ear and fingers to make transition between seemingly strange chords .I think this is what bill leavitt is implying in berklee vol 3 where there is emphasis on arpeggios in 5th position.anyway looking forward to other videos. Cheers,frank

    Reply
    • Greg O'Rourke

      Hi Frank, this is a great question. The perspective I’m going from here is for people that are still struggling to build the foundation in their improvisation skills. What you are saying here is definitely correct, but I think the issue is that a lot of aspiring jazz guitarists go too far into high concepts first, without building a secure basis for their ears, and their fingers. The result is that they get information overload and end up thinking too much about what they’re playing rather than having internalized some strong vocabulary. Learning some really strong stock lines deeply sets you up for being able to get more into the advanced concepts you’re referring to later on. Thanks for your thoughts!

      Reply
  6. Chris Hatzis

    Hi Greg, great stuff as always. Much appreciated thanks!
    What do you think about learning through pattern repositories, e.g. the “Repository of Scales and Melodic Patterns” by Yusef Lateef? Would it help to try to internalize patterns behind the melodies in addition to the licks? What should be the balance between the two? Cheers, Chris.

    Reply
    • Greg O'Rourke

      Hi Chris, this is a really good question and I get this asked a lot by my students. I think this approach is problematic as a melodic line is usually not based on just one straight pattern. It is a combination of many patterns and approaches all at once. By just learning isolated patterns, you will be missing something crucial – the overall sense to crafting a good melody. To make an analogy, I am interested in organic gardening, which places a lot of emphasis on soil improvement through the use of a compost, rich in many nutrients – rather than just applying a single chemical nutrient like nitrogen to the soil in isolation to other nutrients.

      Definitely some pattern work is useful, but it shouldn’t take priority over internalizing strong melodies.

      Reply
  7. Ang

    I’m not sure my brain at age 55 can memorize a number of jazz lines. However, I may be incorrect? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Greg O'Rourke

      Hi Ang, a great question. Good news – I have a student that is 84 years old and able to memorize lines. You might find that the first few are difficult to remember (just like learning your first set of words in a new language is difficult) but after that it gets much easier. It’s like a muscle that you train rather than an ability that decreases as you age. When I was younger, one of my most important guitar teachers Don Andrews (who was a jazz player) was one of the most switched on guys I’ve ever met of any age, and he was in his late 70s at that time.

      I think its important that you find ways to work out your memory muscle especially as you age, as there’s evidence that it could ward off degenerative brain disease later in life. And jazz guitar is definitely great for working out the mind.

      Reply
  8. Jeff

    Greg.

    I look forward to learning more. I am a beginner and still getting comfortable with fundamentals thinking improvisation is way in the future. Getting a start on that would make my playing and learning even more exciting.

    Reply
    • Greg O'Rourke

      Hi Jeff! I’m glad you’re checking out this video series as its all the things about jazz guitar improvisation I wished I’d knew when I was first starting out. Keep your eyes peeled for video #2 (should be sent out in a couple of days)

      Reply
  9. dave

    great food for thought! It has been a struggle for me for a while

    Reply
    • Greg O'Rourke

      Hi Dave, thanks very much for your kind feedback! Yes a lot of people do struggle with improvisation, and for a long time I struggled with it as well, but once you have the right method in order everything can start to fall into place very quickly. See you in video #2!

      Reply
  10. Don Porter

    Hi Greg,

    I’m keen to find out what you have to say in your next videos. The saxaphonist of Miles Davis acclaim, Bill Evans makes the same argument in his course. I practised several of his lines in all 12 keys in every conceivable position on the guitar neck until I felt I knew the lines inside out. I blended them, etc. I cannot remember a single one of those lines now, and they never come directly into my playing. I’ve learned my arpeggios in all keys all over the neck, my triads, fourths – none of these efforts seem to garner a reliable, repeatable series of improvisational habits, but they probably do add to the number of things I can draw on.

    I’ve tried motives in all keys, and tried to bring them into different tunes. I’ve tried singing my lines before playing them and while playing them. I’ve tried quotes from bebop tunes and tried to apply them to other tunes, and chord progressions. I’ve transcribed, analysed and deconstructed jazz lines. A have a reasonable ability to target chord tones, join them up chromatically, and be melodic. None of these efforts have made me sound like a good jazz performer.

    I think I’m making good progress but often still suck. The two things that are working best at the moment are: working on my time-feel and learning to solo better to one chord, two chord and then three chord vamps rather than taking on complex key changes. Sticking to one concept at a time in a solo also seems to pay dividens. Playing heads and trying to integrate them into my solo also helps a lot, as does studying standard blues tunes as apposed to jazz blues. I have started working on short sections on tunes, such as the first few bars of All The Things You Are but haven’t done this for a long enough time to see results. Something that would probably improve my solos would be mapping out the general melodic direction and deciding in advance a few ideas to incorporate.

    To sum up, its a lot of work!

    Cheers,

    Don.

    Reply
    • Greg O'Rourke

      Hi Don,

      Thanks for your comments – I think in this case I would really need to hear you play to see where things are at with you. As I only read your comments rather than hearing your playing, I would only be guessing as to what could be the cause of your issues with improvisation. However, something stuck out at me when I read your comment – it seems like the big problem here is being able to retain the material you’ve learned in the past. Here are some potential causes:

      1) – You may be trying to learn too many things at the same time
      2) – You may not be spending enough time on one lick, idea or concept long enough to internalize it.
      3) – You may not be revisiting material you have learnt often enough.

      These are all common problems in approaches to practicing improvisation, but I would be particularly wary of #2 – not spending enough time on one lick to internalize it. Licks can be very deceptive to learn because they are short, but because you need to learn the pattern anywhere on the fretboard AND in different fretboard positions, they can take longer than you think to internalize them.

      Be careful also with mindset – if you think something needs to be a lot of work to achieve, it usually is. The way we think creates our reality.

      Reply
  11. danteow

    greg,
    great approach, thks for this enlightening piece of out of the box view to improvisation,
    makes alot of sense… fabulous approach and kudos to u, great guitar master.

    i m looking very much forward to your next video as i can never find the right rhythm non can follow
    chord changes, let alone targetting chord tones and maintaining the flow of musical melodic phrases…

    Reply
    • Greg O'Rourke

      Hi there,

      Thanks for your kind feedback, I am very humbled :)

      You’ve raised an interesting issue here – sometimes people approach learning jazz in a very ‘neat and tidy’ way – as if you need to match up a line to a chord progression perfectly. However, this isn’t the case. For a ii – V – I progression, any of the material will still sound good over just a single I chord, or a ii chord, or a V chord. Furthermore, you can anticipate playing a ii – V – I line before the band plays those chords, or even delay it until after the chord progression starts by a couple of beats. Playing with when you start playing melodic phrases like this is MUCH easier, and often sounds more hip than rigidly trying to tie them perfectly to a chord progression all the time.

      Reply
  12. JL

    hello Greg, you punt the finger on the problem…a jazz student guitarist need to be helped step by step until the time he “understands”…. he needs a “plan”…but nobody wants to give him any plan, just theory, licks, sclaes and all this sort of things and so it is such a paralysing effect, what you have in your brain cannot go through your fingers…JL from France

    Reply
    • Greg O'Rourke

      Hi JL,

      Thanks for your thoughts! Yes it sure does takes a lot of time to turn all the material into a logical, step-by-step sequence. Unfortunately not enough jazz teachers take the time and effort to do this.

      Reply
  13. marc venrooij

    Hi Greg

    i´m looking forward!!!!!

    great
    greetings Marc
    Netherlands

    Reply
    • Greg O'Rourke

      Hi Marc – Great to hear! Wow – all the way from the Netherlands!

      Reply
  14. Keith

    Hi Greg – You’ve whetted my appetite now with this first video, so I’m hoping that some kind of breakthrough idea will appear to me during the next two, so I don’t end up – as Don Porter remarks above – practising all kinds of jazz vocabulary devices as well as licks but finding I don’t recall them in the moment, lose my way, and end up feeling stuck. Best wishes – Keith from Eastbourne, UK

    Reply
    • Greg O'Rourke

      Hi Keith,

      Thanks for your comments and yes I’m just putting the finishing touches on Video #2 at the time of writing. Check out my reply to Don’s comment above for ideas about retaining the material you learn for jazz guitar. As for losing your way and feeling stuck, make sure you watch Video #2 – it will answer all your questions… :-)

      Reply
  15. Sebastian Tiano

    I think this is what has been happening for me within Active Melody: at the outset, I didn’t understand pentatonics and I couldn’t flat-pick. I’ve learned a lot without realizing it AND I have regained my love of playing! I attribute this to the teacher; he approaches lessons in an apparently simple, almost parent-child way. e.g. “Put your pinky on the 2nd string, 5th fret” Why does this work? I watched young Thai children walk to the corner store every day—a 7yo, 2 6yo, 2 4yo—the language the older kids taught the younger had a specific purpose, got repeated every single time, and got them ice cream, cold drinks etc. Also, when I taught working adults the syntax needed for speaking and understanding English, they were just like kids—eager, afraid sometimes. We set the classroom up like a cafe (vs. the deadly auditorium rows) and started talking with each other with me as coach. Whenever they freaked out, I reminded them of the day I called a very nice Chinese woman ‘pubic hair’ because I mispronounced her name—they laughed once again—I apologized once again and the fear was gone.

    Reply
    • Greg O'Rourke

      Hi Sebastian, great to hear from you! I think you’ve raised such a pertinent point here – the jazz scene can be very intimidating for a lot of people. The result? They get into a fear based mindset when they approach practicing it. And if you’re in that state of mind, it becomes very difficult to learn effectively.

      Reply
  16. tai aguirre

    Thank you very much Greg…..amazing at the timing of your concept. I just started to look at this approach because i was getting sick and tired of my solo playing. AWESOME stuff bro. One question I have: if there might be a good book which will list TAB- notes of either SAX or Guitar solo lines? Something of yours? Mil Gracias!

    Reply
  17. Jordi

    I understand that you propose learning licks instead of learning scales, modes or patterns.
    Now, how can you play a lick and be attentive to the change of chords or of tonality (when you have to modulate in a piece)

    Reply
    • Greg O'Rourke

      Hi Jordi – great question. This will be all covered in detail in video #2 – so make sure you watch it!

      Reply
  18. Rich Getsinger

    Hi Greg, Thank you so much for putting this workshop together – I’m finding your approach and explanation to be very illuminating. Like you, I’m coming to jazz improvisation from a classical guitar background. With a classical piece I would study/analyze it with the goal of trying to inhabit the piece and bring it to life. Technique learned in one piece could be transferred and useful in another, but never the actual musical phrases. It’s more of a ‘silo-ed’ approach, which for me was not conducive to learning improvisation. Like an actor, I was learning a role, not a language. As I came to jazz and improvisation, I found myself not knowing where to start, or how to carry on once I did get off to a feeble start… Your material has been so helpful, not just the “nuts and bolts” aspect of learning specific phrases, but in learning how to learn.
    Greatly appreciate your insight and guidance!
    Rich
    Maryland, USA

    Reply
    • Greg O'Rourke

      Hi Rich, thanks so much for your kind comments and feedback! We have a lot in common – I come from a classical guitar background originally myself before I moved into jazz playing. The transition was tough as the learning approach is very different and you feel like you’re back to square one in a lot of ways. I think you’ll find this approach I’m going through particularly useful as it covers a lot of things that classical guitar training misses.

      Reply
  19. Mike

    Thanks Greg. I have always been taught that when the chord changes the scale changes. There is a great course on Coursera from Berkley Sckool of Music on this subject (Jazz Improvisation) focusing on 10 essential scales to learn- 7 modal scales + 3 others. I agree it is complicated and since it is taught on a vibrafone is much easier to visualize than on the guitar. However, it seems to work extremely well from a theroretical point of view. I’m looking forward to what you have to reveal here as possibly a shortcut and a quicker way to get improvisation under my fingers.

    Reply
    • Greg O'Rourke

      Hi Mike, thanks for your comments! Yes I’ve seen that Coursera course. Yes it does work in theory. But in practice, it doesn’t. At least it won’t unless you add some other key ingredients to the mix. Especially for guitar, as things aren’t laid out so cleanly on the fretboard as it is on a vibraphone or piano. Video #2 is going to get into a detailed look at all these aspects in detail.

      Reply
  20. matt

    Thanks for sharing your ideas with us. They are much appreciated. Looking forward to the next video lesson.
    Matt.

    Reply
  21. Daniel Day

    Thank you Greg, I enjoy your approach and knowledge!

    Reply
  22. Hans

    If only it would be this simple. Realy hope so. Can’t wait to watch your next video.
    To me it makes sense !

    Reply
    • Greg O'Rourke

      Yes – it is that simple. The problem is though is that students often approach jazz guitar thinking that it has to be hard…because it’s jazz. And because they think like that, that’s the reality they create.

      Reply
  23. Bob

    I’ve been struggling with this for some time . What you are saying makes allot of sense, maybe the answer I’ve been looking for.

    Reply
    • Greg O'Rourke

      Thanks Bob – sometimes it’s just one ingredient that’s missing from your approach that can be the difference between struggling with soloing to being a confident improviser. The next video will go through all the ingredients you need in detail

      Reply
  24. Sydney

    great stuff Greg

    Reply
  25. Denis

    Hi Greg
    I’m a “recovering” classical guitarist too. Your approach is very interesting to me. Thanks.

    Reply
    • Greg O'Rourke

      Hehe your use of the word “recovering” I found quite amusing Denis :) I think that there is a lot of good stuff to be learned in classical guitar (especially for solo jazz guitar), but the problem is a lot of this fundamental knowledge to understanding the layout of the fretboard is not emphasised in classical guitar. Perhaps because it’s possible to play a pre-composed piece by just following the music. The ironic thing is, is that if the Four Elements were clearly covered in classical guitar style, I think it would actually help you to become a much BETTER classical guitarist (not just a jazz guitarist), due to being able to securely navigate the fretboard and understand the way the harmony is laid out. Thanks for your feedback Denis!

      Reply
  26. Jimi

    Very interesting video Greg. Thank you for your efforts and your clear understanding of this life-long process. Oddly enough i realized i could play better lines when i started to create my own chord melodies. It gave me more confidence, it opened new worlds and it helped me to memorize standards more efficiently.

    Reply
    • Greg O'Rourke

      Hi Jimi, glad you found this video interesting. Now this is interesting the point you’ve made here about chord melody – and I refer to this in video #2 – make sure you check it out!

      Reply
  27. dave hallas

    hi greg, very interesting, always wanted to be able to play a little jazz, looking forward to the next lesson, thank you regards Dave.

    Reply
  28. Mark

    Totally get it, looking forward to the next instalment, thanks for sharing this knowledge with us.

    Reply
    • Greg O'Rourke

      My pleasure Mark! Glad this approach resonated with you.

      Reply
  29. Lou

    Hi Greg,
    I have had the experience of learning a second language ( English as it happens ) and if I had to rely on the grammar and ‘rules’ I would still not know how to engage in a smooth and meaningful conversation. English is not the most intuitive of languages.
    The way to learn is to listen and repeat. And repeat etc etc
    Your concept is so spot on !!
    It seems that unless you have had to struggle with the jazz language, like yourself knowing that you were fluent in classical guitar,
    you can’t understand the frustrations that afflict many of us.
    Once again, thank you for your insights, your direct approach and the generous sharing of your gifts.
    Looking forward to Video 2 !

    Reply
    • Greg O'Rourke

      Hi Lou, loved the analogy you gave here. There has been way too much focus on the ‘grammar’ of jazz, especially for students trying to establish fundamentals. To learn a language, you need to speak the vocabulary. To learn to play jazz, you need to play the vocabulary. And repeat it enough times so it sticks, as you say. Thanks for your kind feedback – see you in video #2!

      Reply
  30. Rodger Clemons

    Our stories are similar Greg. I ended up as an instrumental music teacher, band director, in the public schools. The Saxophone was my main instrument. All of the theory came quite easily for me and still does, but being able to speak the language of jazz has always been a different animal. Your approach makes so much sense. I’ve taken this approach to improvisation some before, so I needed to hear someone of your stature say it again. Thank you so much for reinforcing these concepts, I needed this. I’ve got a lot to learn in this wonderful field of music, being a willing, hungry student has never been the issue. Now to the woodshed.

    Reply
    • Greg O'Rourke

      It’s an absolute pleasure Rodger – happy practising!

      Reply
  31. nicholas

    aha ! bravo Greg !

    I almost gave up on improvisations and look forward to your next video lessons — it reminds me of Occam’s razor: when you have two competing theories: simple and complex, the simple will do always!

    Lesson was beautifully discussed and explained like no one else before — anywhere !

    LOL, makes want to take a break going through the technical challenges of a E minor Bach prelude and fugue that I am working on the moment and dive deep into your forthcoming lessons on jazz improvisations.

    So I have to learn more lines to have available a raw material palette to work with …and learn how to transcribe too and somehow overtime I will stitch together a melodic idea effortlessly?

    I have to start some where methinks.

    thanks

    Reply
    • Greg O'Rourke

      Thanks for your feedback Nicholas! Perhaps you could even take some ideas from your Bach prelude perhaps? As Bruce Lee said “Use whatever works, and take it from wherever you can find it.” ;-)

      Reply
  32. Fred

    Greg, thanks for this insightful video! When I first started learning to play blues and rock many years ago, I learned by playing along with records and then assimilating what I was copying into my playing, mixing different components from different musicians and licks to create my own. I did not realize until seeing your video that I was going through exactly the process you described! A real eye-opener! I know from early experience that this works, but over the years have somehow forgotten about it. I am looking forward to seeing your other videos and applying this to my recent efforts to learn to play jazz guitar. Well done!!

    Reply
  33. nicholas

    Just found an awesome book by Mr Weiskopf: Intervallic improvisation: the modern sound that makes a lot of sense.

    So instead of thinking in scales eg for Dmi7; you mention the D dorian scales ( d,e,f,g,a,b,c,d) you can extract from this triad pairs; F maj, G maj triads. Now everyone knows triads easy to recall the shapes instead of looking at your scale diagrams to identify chord shape

    Reply
  34. Bill

    Hi Greg many thanks for your video how nice it is to leave the complications behind and get on with the nuts and bolts great theory cheers Bill

    Reply
  35. Fred Richard

    Although I like jazz I have had no deep desire to dwell into this field. After listening to you in video #1 I can’t wait to see what we are going to get ourselves into. It looks promising and exciting. Waiting for video #2. TKS

    Reply
  36. alvaro

    Yeah, I you think too much, you get lost. This works also in sports. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Greg O'Rourke

      My pleasure Alvaro! Yes any training discipline would work in a similar way to this.

      Reply
  37. Luc

    Hi Greg, the first time I am impressed by a teacher her online,,,,I understand what you want to bring over to us, want become better guitarists. I will follow the video’s, thanks for sharing your knowledge . Warnock I do know also but he uses another approach IMO.
    grtz, Luc (Belgium)

    Reply
    • Greg O'Rourke

      Thanks Luc, I am very humbled by your kind feedback on this video. Cheers, Greg

      Reply
  38. Sydney

    As always your thinking is clear and concise. There is too much left brain in jazz theory. Just look at Birelli to realize how he expresses himself.
    Thanks Greg.

    Reply
    • Greg O'Rourke

      Thanks very much for your kind comments Sydney – much appreciated! Agreed, the way jazz is taught is often way too analytical. Although a bit of analysis can be useful, if it overtakes everything else it can stifle the soul of the music.

      Reply
  39. Randy

    Ok, I’m onboard! Granted I’m a way slow learner, but I have had excellent success (so far) with your Chord Melody book. And anything that can help me move beyond my left brain and into my right-side brain sounds great.

    Reply
    • Greg O'Rourke

      Great to hear Randy! I’m thrilled that the Chord Melody book has brought you success. Yes these methods I outline in this video series has been very effective for many students who have worked with me.

      Reply
  40. Brian Aucoin

    Hi Greg. I’ve just arrived recently to same conclusion you have introduced in this lesson. There are seems to be lots of ways to cross pollinate including rhythms and joining fragments etc. It seems key is to know the licks really well go technique doesn’t get in the way. Looking forward to next video.

    Reply
    • Greg O'Rourke

      Hi Brian – interesting you came to the same conclusion recently. When I started using these methods my single line improvisation rapidly started to improve. These techniques can really simplify learning improvisation into an easy to understand process.

      Reply
  41. Vagelis Germanos

    Hi Brian! Greetings from Athens, Greece!.I like your way of approaching society (and each one of us, separately), using jazz guitar improvisation! It is like a useful mind game! Looking forward to your video #2!

    Reply
    • Greg O'Rourke

      Thanks Vagelis – I appreciate your kind feedback!

      Reply
  42. Matt

    Greg,
    Thanks so much for sharing this great information with us. Can’t wait for the next lesson.
    Matt

    Reply
    • Greg O'Rourke

      My pleasure Matt! If you liked this one, I think you’re really going to enjoy the next video. It puts all the theory outlined in this lesson into practice.

      Reply
  43. Danny Barcenas

    Thanks for the enlightening tips They surely encourage mediocre & beginners like me God bless you mate

    Reply
    • Greg O'Rourke

      My pleasure Danny – I appreciate you!

      Reply
  44. Danny Barcenas

    You’re an inspiration for beginners like me I certainly am a slow learner but never give My friends are following you’re site Thank you so much Greg God bless

    Reply
  45. paul mahoux

    Thank you very much for such a smart and clear explanation.

    As a teacher myself, this is a great resource.

    With admiration and gratitude ^ ^

    Reply
    • Greg O'Rourke

      Thanks very much Paul – I appreciate your positive feedback on this lesson. Cheers, Greg

      Reply
  46. H. Sebastian Tiano

    I hadn’t intended to listen to this video (again), but ‘fell into it’ and ‘got it’ this time. thank you for your efforts, Greg.

    Sebastian Tiano

    Reply

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