Video Workshop: The BIG Secrets of Jazz Guitar Improvisation (Part 2)

with Greg O’Rourke, Pro Jazz Guitarist

77 Comments

    • Jack Wells

      Hi Greg, I’m excited to try this approach, I’m a newbie, is there other material I could get to dwell into this further? This is a very good lesson. Thank you Greg.

      Reply
      • Greg O'Rourke

        Hi Jack, glad you liked this lesson! Yes – Video #3 will show you a way you can extend the concepts you learned in this video to any key, any chord progression, and any vocabulary – there’s a special announcement in that video regarding this. So make sure you check it out!

        Reply
    • Ed Hamilton

      I was blown away by your video. I am a retired engineer and all my life logical processes have been my road map. Your video is an outstanding and logical approach to Jazz soloing. You have re-energized my desire for Jazz Guitar. I have spent so much time learning scale patterns, music theory, chords and neck anatomy, but not really playing. I am now excited about changing my process with your logical approach. Video 1 & 2 are great really looking forward to #3!
      Ed Hamilton

      Reply
      • Greg O'Rourke

        Hi Ed, I am very humbled indeed by your encouraging comments about this video. My Dad is an engineer, so perhaps there’s something running in the family :-)

        Reply
    • Dallas Selman

      If Herb Ellis had just taken the explanation of his concept in his “All the Shapes You Are” series a little further by providing something like Greg’s recipe for assembling the shapes and lines into a unified whole, the seemingly infinite universe of jazz guitar instruction would have been an easier realm to master when I started in on it 10 years ago. At that time I knew there was something more in Herb’s “shapes” methodology (or Joe Pass’s for that matter), but I just could not winkle it out. I must revisit.

      Reply
      • Greg O'Rourke

        Thanks for the great feedback Dallas! Yes Herb’s approach was spot on, but the problem is because those books are so full of information important concepts like that can easily get unnoticed.

        Reply
    • LB

      Hello Greg,

      Thank you so much for the lesson! I have two questions regarding the note choices for lick #1.

      Bar#1 (Em7 chord): You use a D# note twice. I can understand the first one as being a part of an enclosure but I can’t explain why the second one was chosen.

      Bar#2 (A7 chord): What is the logic behind using an A# and a C note?

      I really appreciate it. Thanks!

      Reply
      • Greg O'Rourke

        Hi LB, my pleasure! Re: Bar #1 – oops – I had a mistake in the notation and TAB there, the second one should have been a D natural. I’ve uploaded a new version of the video with the correct notes and TAB (you may need to refresh your browser to see the updated version).

        Re: The first D# – a great question. Often jazz lines will imply the V of the chord that’s currently in the progression. So this D# is the 3rd of a B chord, which is essentially the V of Em7. Can you see the B triad that’s in that line there at that point? Using a V over a chord is a great way to produce mild tension and interest in a line.

        Bar #2: Another great question – think of the A# as Bb. This is the b9 of that chord. The C natural is the #9. It’s very common to use these tensions over V7 chords in lines.

        This raises an interesting point here – jazz lines have lots of twists and turn in them like this that you can’t get just by studying plain scales and arpeggios. It’s all these little bebop tricks that lines contain that have the real flavour of jazz, this is why the ‘reverse engineering’ method using lines works so well to build vocabulary.

        Reply
        • LB

          Thanks for your detailed response, I retain this info much better when I can track the logic all the way. And you’re so right when you say these twists and turn are the real flavor of jazz. Yes indeed, this is what I’m trying to learn – the bebop mindset behind the note choices.

          Wow, ‘implying the V of the chord’ is a whole other level of jazz coolness. Same goes for the sharpening and flattening of the 9.
          So in addition to visualizing the chord I’m playing over, I will also keep in mind all of its extensions (and the V of the current chord). Hopefully this won’t result in info overload for me, lol. I hope there’s time to touch on this in the next lesson.

          You’re the Best! Thanks

          Reply
    • Paul

      Hi Greg,

      Using the chord-based method to aid remembering positions/ licks seems like it’s going to work really well. I know this is going to work for me really well. What about substitutions and altered dominants etc (i.e. Beyond using 7th chords), Is it a case of also relating licks to them too, if you see what I mean?

      Reply
      • Greg O'Rourke

        Hi Paul – thanks for your comments! This is a really good question. Yes – ANY lick you transcribe or learn, my advice would be to relate it to a shape you can easily visualize on the fretboard. Altered sounds come up very often in lines, so it’s good to know a few standard altered chord shapes. It’s really up to you – e.g. for the A7 part of lick #1 in the video, you could visualize a basic A7 chord as demonstrated and look at the altered tensions in that line as being embellishments on that chord shape, or otherwise visualize a shape like an A7alt shape in that spot. Take advantage of whatever chord shapes you are already familiar with and it’ll work really well.

        Reply
        • Paul

          Cheers for the advice Greg, I’ll do just that! Brilliant videos by the way- a great way of simplifying this much-coveted branch of music!

          Reply
    • Paul Mallstrom

      Great lesson Greg! I’ve always learned lines but never really visualized them over chord shapes. That really puts target
      notes into perspective as part of the new chord I’m visualizing. Thank you!

      Reply
    • Ian

      Hello Greg

      I would not normally post comments on line. I would like to say that I found the information in the video really helpful. For years wondered about the mystery of playing guitar and this seems to open up that mystery for me. I particularly found the section on taking the chords from the scale interesting. I will have to review the video to try to get the information to stick. I am looking forward to the next installment. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us all.

      Reply
      • Greg O'Rourke

        Thanks Ian, great to hear you found this video helpful. Cheers!

        Reply
    • robert

      Excellent video, Greg! I think you’ve nailed it here. I’m a professional guitarist, and I’ve been playing for a very long time, but in recent years I’ve realized that my greatest passion is for improvisation, and it’s where I’d like to spend the rest of my guitar-playing life, if possible. However, I’ve been frustrated in attempting to do this, because all the technique, fretboard knowledge, and understanding of theory I’ve gained over the years hasn’t resulted in my being able to express spontaneously what I know is inside me. It’s felt like some kind of disconnect, and frankly, I was beginning to think myself incapable of ever making this connection. But what you say here makes so much sense, and I know for a fact that when I attempt to improvise, I’m not even attempting to see chord shapes; instead, I’ve been thinking scale patterns. And invariably, that means I’ll end up resorting to tried-and-true licks I’ve played before which I know will work—and that’s not improvisation; it’s just playing what you practice! There’s a lot to think about here, and I greatly look forward to your third video. Thanks again!

      Reply
    • Richard Pearen

      That was very well explained. Thanks Greg. I will take it to a chart I am working on.

      Reply
    • Tom

      Hey Greg,

      Great video. I’ve learned many scales and chords. Not all but enough to get by. This has to be the first time I’ve been introduced to this approach. Very logical as other have mentioned. Seems like there is no choice but to learn chord soloing and licks. I struggle a lot in this area. I have a great jazz book with lines and licks. Not to concerned there. Just have to put the time in.

      Thanks

      Reply
    • Jeff

      Hi Greg

      On your first Em7-A7-DM7 lick it looks like you have a C natural in your A7 bar. Maybe I’m confused but that would be a flat third and the A7 is major. There is also a flat 9 (flat 2) just before it so there is something going on there that I don’t see.

      Reply
      • Greg O'Rourke

        Hi Jeff, thanks for your questions. The C natural not a b3 – it’s a #9. Yes technically the notation would imply b3 but that’s because it would look a bit strange to write B# on a lead sheet. Yes you’re right there is also a b9 there. So this lick uses in part the altered scale, this is a often used sound over V7 chords.

        Reply
    • Jackson Ordean

      Gosh, I feel like a dork, but I thought I heard that lick before, but with the b7, not the maj 7 for the 2nd note??? Maybe my ear is just being too sensitive to the tension of the maj 7? I guess I could have skipped writing this…I’ll just go ahead and play it ‘my’ way with the b7 and choose to believe the analysis was good for me in the long run even if I’m not ‘hip’ enough to use a maj 7 there.

      Your playing, your teaching, your offerings are awesome, and I don’t want this ‘minor’ detail to appear to detract from the great job you’re doing! Thanks!

      Reply
    • Peter

      I enjoyed this seconden video !
      IT actually confirms a great part my teachers way of teaching improvisation.
      He gave me the advice only learning simple chord, scale and fretboard basis. Then start playing in a simple chord progression. Now I realize we missed one building block what you call the vocabulary. So I restart now with some simple melody phrases.
      Thank you and looking forward for the next video.

      Reply
      • Greg O'Rourke

        Thanks Peter! Yes, the missing link is often the vocabulary. The good news is that if you already have the scale/chord patterns worked out, it’s just a simple step of adding vocabulary ideas in the context of seeing how they relate to the scale/chord shapes. This ensures that you’ll always know where you are on the fretboard, AND sound musical thanks to strong vocabulary ideas.

        Reply
    • Michael Beckford.

      Really enjoyed this lesson Greg,
      Thank you very much.

      Reply
      • Greg O'Rourke

        Thanks Michael! I have been very humbled by all the positive feedback on this one. See you in Video #3!

        Reply
    • Ken

      Greg really great info here that will take some real practice to get in comfort zone. I really appreciate you knowledge and hope I can digest what seams simple until you try it . Please keep up the great job of helping out us frustrated players . Thanks a million Ken

      Reply
      • Greg O'Rourke

        Glad you found value in this lesson Ken – and to be honest, it IS quite simple. That’s why it works. Too often players make things seem far more complicated then they need to be. See you in the next video!

        Reply
    • Vince Arter

      Thanks. I am an old guy with years on R&B but also on melody harmonization. Learned 5 chord qualities on 6th, 5th and 4th string bass/roots years ago along with solid theory and can harmonize without a problem but have been hung up on melody and a bit hard to break the habit. Really liked the chord shape for improv. Will check out the next video. Thanks.

      Reply
      • Greg O'Rourke

        The ‘chord shape for improvisation’ concept is very effective, because it essentially leverages knowledge that you already know. Most intermediate level players would have a good knowledge of chords over the fretboard already, and so it’s easy to take these shapes you’ve already learned and use them as navigation tools for improvisation.

        Reply
    • carol

      This arrived at the perfect time in my studies. I have been working as a therapist and I really get the neuropathway concept. I have been putting the pieces together for a little bit now on putting chord tones together in one position in my free time. Big connections here in ye olde noggin. many thanks Greg!

      Reply
      • Greg O'Rourke

        Great to hear Carol! Definitely sounds like you’re on the right track :-)

        Reply
    • Robin

      Yes very good approach. It’s more or less what I try to do but you clarified it so I know what to work on.

      Reply
    • Fred

      Greg,
      Thanks for sharing this. I am excited to try linking chord shapes to scales and improvisation. It sounds like of those “keys” that one might discover on their own eventually, but it was a real Aha! moment when I saw it in your video!

      Reply
      • Greg O'Rourke

        I remember when I saw this approach for the first time as well, and it just hit me – ‘THIS is it! This is the way to never lose your place on the fretboard’. The reason this works so well is because it uses material that most guitarists would already be familiar with (common moveable chord shapes) and associates the new information (licks and phrases) to them. This is how the mind memorizes information most efficiently, by associating new material with material already embedded in long term memory.

        Reply
  1. Grady

    Excellent presentation! You make it sound so simple but doable.

    Reply
    • Greg O'Rourke

      Thanks Grady! That’s right. It IS simple. It IS doable. You just need those 4 elements and combine them, step by step.

      Reply
  2. Alan

    This was the ‘putting it all together’ instructional that’s missing from so many books and videos. I look forward to trying it out.
    Many thanks Greg.

    Reply
    • Greg O'Rourke

      My pleasure Alan, I’ve found as a teacher the hard thing is to boil things down to the core principles, but that’s what is so needed when it comes to jazz guitar, as there are too many instructional books and videos out there that are volumes of endless amounts of disconnected material.

      Reply
  3. Frank Saunders

    Nice Greg, enjoyed video and your thinking as a jazz guitar synthesist.I can see how you can help a lot of people with your approach.

    Reply
    • Greg O'Rourke

      Thanks Frank! Nice – ‘jazz guitar synthesist’. Never thought of it that way but I’m pleased to have the new title bestowed on me! ;-)

      Reply
  4. Alan Voss

    I loved Video 1. Love this one too and the associated Youtube you released a day or two ago.
    What really strikes me is that not only is your information excellent —BUT–
    you are recommending something that is every bit as important. That is, breaking the whole process into smaller, more manageable chunks — AND — with the extremely important benefit of creativity and enjoyment Brilliant, Greg
    Human nature being what it is, the sense of achievement and enjoyment in the process are far better than overload and not feeling you are getting very far.
    I am 75, retired with lots of hobbies. Now that I see this is achievable, I am deciding which ones to ditch to really get stuck into this.
    Cheers, Alan

    Reply
    • Greg O'Rourke

      Thanks for your positive feedback on the video Alan, great that you’re digging this stuff. Interesting you picked up on this – one of my passions is ‘meta-learning’ – i.e. learning about how to learn. You just need to figure out what the most essential lego blocks are to what you’re trying to learn, then sequence them in a step-by-step order. I find it a lot of fun to think about learning things this way as it becomes more a puzzle to figure out, rather than a skill that requires some sort of innate talent. It takes a lot of pressure out of the learning process if you think like this, and also helps you learn things much more rapidly, too!

      Reply
      • Bob

        Hi Greg, I am also just getting into guitar as a “mature age learner”. Seems to me that when you don’t have so much time left to achieve some degree of mastery, it is probably at least as important not to waste time trying to learn ineffectively as it is to use your time learning productively. You are an extremely good teacher. :-)

        Reply
        • Greg O'Rourke

          Thanks for your kind words Bob, I am very humbled that you think my teaching is of value. Re: mature age learner, I think everyone regardless of age should seek effective ways of learning. The problem with ineffective approaches to learning is that not only may it take far longer to reach your goals, but it may in fact never get you to where you want to be as a player. Effective learning approaches are both quicker AND actually help you achieve your desired outcome – rather than being an obstacle to success.

          Reply
  5. Mark

    Having spent years and hundreds of pounds on books that never really took me past the classical guitarist that occasionally noodled up and down the fret board on a major or pentatonic scale I have high hopes that this will finally really help me to get somewhere with improvisation. Really enjoying it so far, bring on video 3! Thanks Greg

    Reply
    • Greg O'Rourke

      Great to hear you’re enjoying these videos Mark and that it’s given you a direction for building you’re improvisation skills!

      Reply
  6. bill

    really good stuff Greg. I think this series will extremely popular. and very useful. I have played for years and still trying to improve. this is certainly one of the best lessons I have ever seen. thank you.
    Bill

    Reply
    • Greg O'Rourke

      Wow Bill – I am very humbled, I am so glad to hear you think this series has value. I appreciate you!

      Reply
  7. Julian

    You are really helping those of us who have been stuck in the mire of fretboard knowledge and technique – albeit essential – to get beyond that stage to the fun stuff which we wanted to get to when we first started playing all those years ago. Such ‘boiled down’ teaching as yours – obviously based on years of authentic personal experience and deep reflection – is so very important in this age of (often very poor quality) information overload. Thank you so much. Keep up the great work guru!

    Reply
    • Greg O'Rourke

      Hi Julian! Thanks for your kind comments – I’m so glad to hear that you’re finding my teaching helpful.

      Reply
  8. Ken

    Hi Greg,
    I really think this approach will help me, I will of course have to manage my lifelong challenge of a poor memory which at age 73 is not getting better. I’m down to doing each step 100 times instead of 10 times like my friends, but that just means I get to play guitar for longer, right!

    Reply
    • Greg O'Rourke

      Hi Ken, thanks for watching! Everyone has different natural abilities for memory retention, but think of it more like a muscle to work out, through learning things like jazz vocabulary it will strengthen that muscle. Each time you learn a new line you’ll find it will be a little easier to remember it than the last one you learned.

      Reply
  9. Krys

    Many Thanks, Greg. Last 10 years I have been practicing scales and could not start improvising. Tried tons of books and videos without much success.
    Struggling a bit with changing notes in a lick, as losing track of where I am (Which chord) when changing notes. Mostly changing rhythmic values as replacing notes itself doesn’t sound good.

    Reply
    • Greg O'Rourke

      My pleasure Krys, thanks for watching! Re: varying a lick – I think this sort of thing starts to happen more naturally when you reach a ‘critical mass’ of vocabulary. It’s not easy to do this if you only know a couple of lines, so if you’re finding trying that is not getting results at this point I would put more of a focus on accumulating more vocabulary – but remember to clearly relate it to the chord/scale layout of a fretboard area when you learn your lines. If you do this in a single position for a while you’ll find that the material in the different lines will start to naturally connect with one another.

      Reply
      • Krys

        Thanks for a great advice, Greg. I’ll learn more lines before I’ll try to vary them. They need to be solid first.

        Reply
  10. Rob

    Thanks so much Greg, for a great, inspiring lesson. I’d already given up on ever
    being able to improvise but now you’ve given me new hope and a clear direction
    to follow. This is much appreciated!

    Reply
    • Greg O'Rourke

      My pleasure Rob, that’s awesome! I’m so glad to hear this video has given you a direction to develop your skills.

      Reply
  11. Jimi

    Thank you Greg for this second video so informative. I completely agree with you that the modal approach can be confusing , especially for beginners. You focus on what made the great musicians great… being able to listen to some licks and be able to reproduce them.
    The most difficult task arise however when you realize that a lick is only a lick. The power of study is to be able to forget also all these materials and when you have to improvise in front of your friends or audience you have to say something ( which is not a lick, but your spirit of the moment ). Your video shows also this step : when you mix the 2 licks you really start to be yourself…

    Reply
  12. Kent Andersson

    Nice concept! This might take my play a step further – I suck at jazz guitar BTW. Guess I shouldn’t get concerned over getting stuck in one position with this method… I tend to get stuck in same position when I play. I sound less bad when I’m in familiar territory but, since I’m focusing on less relevant problems, it bothers me. It looks really corny playing in one position. Guess you’ll address that in your next video…

    Reply
    • Greg O'Rourke

      Hi Kent! I would make sure you know each position rock solid before you start to move between them, so I wouldn’t rush to quickly into shifting between positions. Wait until it feels really natural in a single position.

      Reply
  13. Matt

    A lot of great info in this lesson, Greg. Many thanks for sending it to us. It’s much appreciated.
    Matt.

    Reply
  14. Sebastian Tiano

    Can you make the d-scale and the chord shapes mentioned in this video downloadable?

    Thanks,

    Sebastian

    Reply
  15. tai aguirre

    Hi Greg. You have really hit the nail on the head for me bro! After all these years of playing….and frustration, I feel much more confident in re-starting my approach to improvisation. Many thanks again. I am absolutely looking forward to your 3rd video.

    Reply
    • Greg O'Rourke

      Thanks Tai! I’m so happy to hear this video helped you out.

      Reply
  16. Johannes

    Hi Greg
    first of all: great job on those videos! i enjoyed watching them.
    Like “Dallas Selman” already mentioned. Your approach resembles that of Herb Ellis – i watched him talk about that concept in a video tutorial before. It was quite a good tutorial also.
    The Video is called: “Herb Ellis Swing Jazz Soloing & Comping ” and you can find it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pzVDRpRU7t4
    about 7 Minutes in he talks about this concept.
    about 11 Minutes in he talks about the importance of singing whatever you are playing – great tip as well! “That way you are using the guitar to express the music that’s in you, in your head” – great advice :D

    Anyway, my question would be: how to figure out the parent scale? in a major 2-5-1 it would be the 1 major scale.
    But how about in other settings? would i just use a major scale for a major chord, the 7th scale for a 7th chord, or a minor scale for minor chord regardless of the chord before or after? Or the scale of the entire tune, like using some pentatonic shape? i am sure the answer can be as complex as one wants it to be.
    but is there a simple answer as a starting off point?

    Thanks for all your great effort!
    best wishes from Germany,
    Johannes

    Reply
    • Greg O'Rourke

      Thanks Johannes! In response to your question – jazz tunes often change keys several times throughout, so you often can’t just use a single parent scale for an entire tune. Look for major or minor ii-V-I progressions as they usually indicate the current key. The parent scale is based on the key you are currently in, and whether it’s major, minor, or modal. For major, you would use a major scale of the key. For minor, sometimes it’s debatable but I find it easiest to think of the harmonic minor scale of the key. For a modal tune, often there are lots of scale choices that would sound ok, but you would refer to the melody of the chart to see what modal tendancy the tune would have.

      This answer can get more complicated though as if you start looking at chord substitutions, there are many potential parent scale choices for a progression, depending on how you are treating the progression at the time. Stick to what I mentioned in my above paragraph though first to get a grounding in the basics.

      Reply
      • Johannes

        Thanks Greg,
        I think with this approach it really will become manageable.
        Parent scale + chord shapes (emphasis on guide tones for changes) + colorations (#’s and b’s of 9 and 5) + licks on top of those shapes.
        Last but not least: don’t forget to have fun :-)

        It’s easy – but you had to spell it out for us. Thanks!

        Reply
  17. Fred Richard

    Well you’ve got me hooked.

    Reply
  18. Derek

    I can relate to all the above comments, I have spent the last 7 years reading jazz theory , workng on scales etc and still feel miles away from being able to play jazz gutar. This small series is the missing lesson to put all that work into perspective. Thanks Greg not only for this lesson but all your previous postings.

    Reply
    • Greg O'Rourke

      My pleasure Derek, and I am thrilled to hear that you have found this series so useful. Cheers, Greg

      Reply
  19. Robert

    So many years of lessons and you have made it come together in just a few minutes of your very knowledge time. Cannot wait for more. thanks Bob

    Reply
    • Greg O'Rourke

      It’s really cool when that happens sometimes, isn’t it? ;-)

      Reply

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