Podcast: The Magic Of Solo Guitar

Podcast: The Magic Of Solo Guitar

Podcast: The Magic Of Solo Guitar

On today’s Podcast, Carl Orr,  FretDojo’s current Artist In Residence, shares his insights into the magic of chord melody and the power that comes from tapping into the strength of guitar as a solo instrument.

Check out the podcast here and listen to Carl’s story, as well as some very moving chord melodies he plays throughout the show:

Join FretDojo’s online jazz guitar academy here

Carl Orr

Carl Orr

Carl has performed and recorded with some of the finest musicians on the planet including Billy Cobham, George Duke, Ernie Watts, Randy Brecker, Gary Husband and Bennie Maupin.

He is a regular at London’s legendary Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in his own band and as a member of drummer Mark Fletcher’s supergroup “Fletch’s Brew”.

Carl has taught guitar at The Australian Institute of Music, Brunel University, Middlesex University, London Centre Of Contemporary Music and The Academy of Contemporary Music.

A prolific composer, Carl has recorded eight albums as a leader and is featured on albums by Billy Cobham, Fletch’s Brew, Geoff Eales and Nathan Haines.

His latest album, Forbearance is a dramatic departure from his jazz and fusion recordings of the past and with the aid of producer Tim van der Kuil and arranger Grant Windsor, Carl has crafted a truly unique acoustic guitar-based album exploring pop, rock, folk, Americana, and classical styles.

He regards his music as his public contribution to creating a peaceful, harmonious world.

“It is not enough for me for my music to merely be a manifestation of the chaos and disharmony of the world, but instead it must be a potent influence on creating peaceful relationships between people. My aim is to make the listener feel calm, optimistic and invigorated.” ~ Carl Orr


Greg O’Rourke:

Hi, and welcome to the podcast. Greg O’Rourke here. We’re very lucky at the moment to have Carl Orr as the Artist In Residence here at FretDojo. He’s been busy recording shows lately with a whole host of guest artists that he’s planning to bring on the show in the near future. Today though, I’d like to share with you a very intimate solo session from Carl, all about his journey with solo chord melody, and how it’s impacted his relationship with the guitar as he’s gone through his musical journey. I really hope you enjoy today’s show. I really enjoyed listening to this one, myself. You’re in for a real treat, and quite a moving look at what chord melody can do for your playing.

Speaking of chord melody, a quick heads up that at this time of this recording, we’re actually releasing a brand new FretDojo course all about chord melody essentials. This is called the 30-day Chord Melody Challenge. There should be a link to get the course on the FretDojo homepage at www.fretdojo.com. If you’re interested in checking that out, go to that page to enrol. It will be open for this week, at the time of this recording. So, hope you catch that. But anyway, this is a very special show from Carl Orr, and I really hope you enjoy this session.

Carl Orr:

Hi, this is Carl Orr, Artist In Residence at fretdojo.com. I just want to talk about the magic of chord melody guitar, solo guitar. This has always been a big part of my life. The first live guitarist I ever saw was the esteemed classical guitarist, John Aaron. This was in a church in Newcastle in the north of England in 1971 or ’72. I don’t know what he played. He just played this hour lunchtime recital of mesmerising music, and I was really taken in by the unique quality of a solo guitar.

In this case, it was in the classical context, but there’s something about solo guitar, the struggle of the person doing it. There’s a kind of noble struggle to get from one end of each piece to the other without making a mistake, without falling off, and there’s a kind of intensity about that, which is very compelling. I always was very drawn to that kind of thing.

Indeed, my first guitar lesson, which was just a few months before, was actually a lesson in very rudimentary chord melody playing. I remember the first thing we did at our first test, and I still remember how to play it. It was an arrangement of the American folk song, My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean. It went like this. Pretty cute.

Right from my very first guitar lesson, I was aware that the guitar was a self-contained instrument that could create interesting music by itself. I remember my mom listening to me practising . She said to me, “You’re very lucky playing the guitar because you can make a complete sound.” She said, “Some other instruments, like the bass for example or the clarinet, you can’t make a complete sound. Whereas the guitar, you can be completely self-contained.” And she said, “I understand why you’re so keen on playing for long stretches of time, because you’re making this self-contained sound.” Anyway, I was always very fond of that.

I went on to study classical guitar with my teacher at school, a man named Mr. Paul Kay. He went through classical repertoire with me. I knew right from the beginning that it wasn’t really what I wanted to do, but I always loved classical guitar music. We did pieces by Fernando Soares in particular, I remember quite a lot, and Bach. I was always greatly attracted to Bach. I remember my absolute amazement when I could play this famous Bouree by Bach, the one probably most people know. You know that one. I remember being amazed that I could do this kind of complex thing with these independent lines going. It really got me interested in playing in an unaccompanied way.

By the time I was 14 or 15, I was showing some interest in jazz. I think I was 15 when my dad bought me a book of solo jazz guitar arrangements by the Australian guitarist, Don Andrews. I remember opening up this book and just opening up the first page and just starting to play this song. I was just amazed that something that sounded like jazz was coming out of my guitar. It was his arrangement of How About You, which I don’t remember completely, but it was something like this. Something like that. I was just shocked to hear myself playing something that sounded so much like real jazz and I was hooked from then on.

Then I became aware of Joe Pass. He would play solo electric guitar. He made these famous albums, virtuoso albums. Played solo electric guitar. Great, beautiful arrangements with great solos in them. Sometimes he would play on the classical instrument, which I was playing. It was quite revealing for me to see the classical instrument used in a way that had nothing to do with formal classical repertoire, but was in a very informal, individualistic way, in a very jazzy sort of way.

He didn’t sound like he was using conventional classical technique; he sounded like he was maybe using bare flesh rather than fingernails. But it was a great sound and I loved the intimacy and the quietness of it. It was so quiet you could hear his foot tapping. He sounded like he maybe had bare feet or socks. You could just hear this foot in a sock just gently tapping time. He was so quiet you could hear this gentle tapping of a sock underneath it. Really great stuff. I just loved that kind of quietness and intense kind of intimacy of that.

I grew up in Australia and when I was in my early twenties, the great Ike Isaacs moved to Australia. He’s a great solo jazz guitarist and a mentor to many people including most famously, Martin Taylor, who’s gone on to become one of the leading solo jazz guitarists in the world. Ike was a delightful man. He was so gregarious and just wanted to be friends with everyone. He was very likeable, quiet-spoken, highly intelligent man with a fantastic sense of humour. I just remember this combination of Ike’s warmth, and his fascinating stories, and his sense of humour, and his wonderful guitar playing.

He had been a successful studio guitarist in the ’60s and ’70s in London, played on lots of pop records. He enjoyed his work, but it’s quite a hard job, quite a stressful job. He said that thanks to having an understanding wife, a lovely lady named [Moira 00:10:26], he was able to come home from a long day in the studio and do what he loved to do best, which was to play his solo guitar arrangements of standards and his original songs. He became a real master of that and a world authority on that. He went on to finish off his performing career as a member of the great Stephane Grappelli’s band, but he always had this solo guitar passion underlying everything.


If you’re keen to have a structured, step-by-step approach to learning jazz guitar, it might be worth checking out my online learning system, the FretDojo Jazz Guitar Academy.

Here’s what you get when you join up:

  • Detailed step-by-step video lessons on new classic jazz tunes and essential jazz guitar skills added to the club website each month. Includes listening recommendations, demonstrations of the melody, analysis of the harmony, and detailed explanations on how to solo over the tune.
  • Key improvisation concepts and techniques for soloing, and classic licks and example solos that relate to each tune, so you can continue to expand your jazz vocabulary and have more options when it comes to soloing.
  • Detailed comping ideas to suit the style of each jazz standard covered
  • Lessons on how to make chord melody and solo jazz guitar versions of tunes featured – play a complete jazz standard completely on your own like Joe Pass!
  • Members only forum – A worldwide community of jazz guitarists from all around the globe.
  • Regular workshops, masterclasses, and Q & A Sessions – get direct answers from me on anything holding you back in the practice room. Replays of all sessions are available to access for all members even if you can’t make it live.
  • Massive searchable database of jazz licks and soloing concepts – the ultimate idea “grab bag” for your solos.
  • Optional monthly challenges where members participate to get feedback on their playing, reach new milestones and be eligible for cool prizes.

Go here for more info: https://www.fretdojo.com/signup-offer


Carl Orr:

I met him when I was 23. We were talking and I said, “I can’t really do solo guitar very well.” He said, “Well, you just need a few guidelines.” And he said, “Just think of a song that you know. I said, “Well, I’m learning how to play Duke Ellington’s Prelude To A Kiss.” He said, “Well, do that then.” And I said, “Well, I don’t know what to do.” And he said, “Well, first of all, play the melody and just play the bass note under the melody.” So, I did that. Let me try and remember this.

And I just did that. I probably didn’t do it very fluently, but he said, “Yeah, that’s it. That’s where you start. Play the melody and play the bass note of each chord under it.” Then he said, “Okay, now flesh it out a bit.” So I tried it.

He said to me, “Play the melody clearly, play the bass note clearly, and just grab whatever notes you can in between the melody note and the bass note. That’s basically all you need to know about playing solo guitar.” At least it’s all you need to know to get started. So, that was a great introduction for me. Every time I do a solo guitar arrangement, I’d just say to myself, “Get the melody nice and strong, play the bass note, and grab what you can in between.” It’s a great way to approach it.

Anyway, as time went on, I neglected my solo guitar chord melody playing very much and really pursued my passion for being a virtuoso improviser, which I doggedly worked very hard at for a long time. They say life begins at 40. When I was approaching 40 … When I was 39, I felt myself changing quite a bit. One of the things that changed was my desire to play chord melody guitar, to play solo guitar was reawoken. I suddenly found myself playing little classical pieces that I’d learned as a kid and figuring out little chord melody arrangements. The whole intimate side of playing the guitar just would not be ignored anymore.

I was making an album at the time and I recorded a couple of solo original pieces. Since then, it’s been growing and growing. And then in the last few years, it’s been something that I do every day. I start my guitar practise every day with about 45 minutes to an hour of solo guitar, which can be anything from that little Bach piece that I played earlier on, to arrangements of jazz songs and pop songs in a jazz chord melody style. For example, I do an arrangement of Carol King’s So Far Away. I’ll play a little bit of it for you, like this kind of thing.

I love doing things like that. Just adapting songs and do them in this jazz chord melody style. This is something I do every day. Actually, unless I do play some chord melody guitar every day, I do feel a bit weird. It kind of grounds me. There’s something about the sensation of making all the sound yourself, which is very satisfying. So yeah, I do that every day. As I said, I feel a bit lost if I don’t do it. Every time I practise, I play solo guitar for, as I said, 45 minutes to an hour, and then I pick up my electric guitar and work on some technical stuff and improvisation. But it’s always the chord melody and various solo guitar things that get me started every day. Anyway, I think it’s a unique area of musical satisfaction.

I’m not somebody who’s, like what you would call a real guitar head. I’m somebody who’s interested in music in general, whether it’s Beethoven symphonies or Bill Evans playing the piano, or Ry Cooder playing slide guitar, or Bonnie Raitt singing a beautiful song. I don’t really care about musical styles and I’m not really that bothered about whether the guitar is part of what I listen to or not. I would love to listen to Glenn Gould playing the piano or Yo-Yo Ma playing the cello. That’s great. But increasingly, the guitar is very important to me. I’ve always practised a lot, but it’s something about playing solo guitar that just brings the guitar so close to you because it’s right next to your body, and it’s kind of vibrating.

Probably the most important thing the great Ike Isaacs said to me. He looked at me really seriously in the eye and he said, “Carl, the guitar is your friend.” It took me a long time to really figure out what he meant by that. But I think what he really meant was, if you play chord melody guitar, concentrate on, at least some of the time, playing solo guitar. The guitar really becomes your friend in a way that’s utterly unique.

Last year, I played with a wonderful pianist called Jesse Milliner, who is well known for playing with Larry Carlton and Lee Ritenour and many other people. He looked at me and he said, “You’re so lucky playing the guitar.” And this guy’s a master pianist. I said, “Why am I lucky playing the guitar?” He said, “Well, you get to hold this instrument and you embrace it.” He said, “No piano player gets that sensation from their instrument.” And I thought, “Wow, that’s something I’d never thought of before.” So, enjoy your chord melody playing. Remember, the guitar is your friend. Have a great time with your friend.

Greg O’Rourke:

Wasn’t that an amazing look at solo guitar? I really enjoyed listening to Carl’s story then, especially when he was talking about that book he found of Don Andrews, because Don Andrews was actually one of my earliest and most important guitar teachers, myself. And so, it’s cool that Carl and I have that connection there. I really hope you enjoyed this session. Make sure that you check out my website fretdojo.com. As I mentioned at the start, there is that chord melody challenge course that’s being released this week. If you’re keen to learn a few techniques to get some chord melody approaches into your guitar playing, then it might be worth a look. Okay guys. Well, until next time, thanks very much. My name’s Greg O’Rourke. I look forward to sharing another episode of the FretDojo podcast with you soon. Bye for now.

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4 Great Chord Melody Jazz Guitarists Part 4: Joe Pass

4 Great Chord Melody Jazz Guitarists Part 4: Joe Pass

4 Great Chord Melody Jazz Guitarists Part 4: Joe Pass

“Joe Pass looks like somebody’s uncle and plays guitar like nobody’s business. He’s called ‘the world’s greatest’ and often compared to Paganini for his virtuosity. There is a certain purity to his sound that makes him stand out easily from other first-rate jazz guitarists.” ~ New York Magazine, 1979

Last but certainly not the least, we now reach the last part of this 4 part series on the great chord melody players.

This guitarist impacted the jazz guitar world in a way no other player has.

Joe Pass is probably the most famous jazz chord melody player and one of the greatest and most prolific jazz guitarists of the 20th century. He was the most well-known mainstream jazz guitarist since Wes Montgomery.

Whether it was single note soloing, chord melody, solo guitar, or comping in the rhythm section, Joe was a master of all.

If you’re going to study only one chord melody guitarist in detail, choose Joe Pass – as his approaches to chord melody pretty much defined the style.

Read on to learn about his career as well as 3 classic Joe Pass chord melody licks to add to your chord melody toolkit.

Interested in arranging your own chord melodies? Check out my free eBook: Get a free copy of my how-to guide on creating cool chord melody arrangements on guitar by clicking this link now >>

Joe Pass’ Life & Career

Joe was the son of Mariano Passalacqua, a Sicilian-born steel mill worker.

On his 9th birthday, Joe received his very first guitar, a factory model bought for $17.

As early as 14, Joe was getting gigs and playing with people well beyond his years.

A few years later he unfortunately developed a heroin addiction and spent much of the 1950s in prison. Thankfully, he subsequently overcame his addiction and returned to his guitar playing in a big way.

Joe Pass ended up having a very high profile career, including long-term collaborations with Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson, as well as being a sideman to Louis Bellson, Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan and others.

Joe Pass’ Journey to Solo Jazz Guitar

Joe’s career took some interesting twists and turns along the way.

First, check out this rare video of a young Joe Pass, early on in his career:

As you can see in this video, Joe is playing mainly single lines only. His single line solos are classic bebop at it’s finest, principally inspired by Charlie Parker and Django Reinhardt.

However, as his career matured Joe Pass gradually made a transition into focusing on solo chord melody guitar. He abandoned his guitar pick altogether, favouring a fingerstyle technique instead.

The landmark Virtuoso series of recordings signified this turning point in Joe’s career. Listen to these recordings as they are a good representation of his approach to chord melody.

Here’s the thing:

Some players get put off by Joe’s guitar tone in the Virtuoso recordings, and I agree that it’s a bit rough at times.

But if you look past that and listen to his ideas, you will really hear some truly groundbreaking stuff – Joe Pass took solo jazz guitar to a whole new level on these albums.

The challenge with an entirely solo jazz guitar concert is keeping the audience engaged and interested.

Joe Pass achieved this by using a potpourri of approaches in his arrangements: walking bass lines, extended virtuosic single note runs, surprising key changes, tasty chord phrases, and more.

His playing synthesized all of this into an exciting and expressive musical form.

The Jazz Guitarist Everyone Wants To Be

Joe Pass was a trailblazer when it came to solo guitar playing, and defined the style that has been emulated by countless players since.

Some may think that Joe Pass’ ideas are cliched – but remember that he came up with many of these cliches in the first place.

Joe had such a strong sense of melody. The melodic lines in his solos are incredibly sophisticated but are always accessible to the listener – the mark of a great jazz player.

He was very adept at using simple ideas and standard chord voicings, but using them in highly creative ways.

The feeling you get from listening to Joe Pass is that you don’t need to have a lot of ideas in your playing to make it sound convincing, you just need to use a few ideas very creatively.

3 Joe Pass Licks

Joe Pass’ chord melodies always put the melody line at the forefront. The main purpose of the chords is to support this.

Joe’s typical chord melody technique was to harmonize the melody with drop 2 and drop 3 chords.

I find Joe Pass’ style to be more technically demanding than that of Ed Bickert or Lenny Breau, but it’s essential to study in order to learn how to apply more stock standard chord voicings to a chord melody context.


Joe Pass Lick 1

In this first lick, you’ll see pretty standard voicings, but listen out for the skillful voice leading to and from each chord.

Mmm…that voice leading is as tasty as chocolate…

Listen & Play:




Joe Pass Lick 2

This next chord phrase is one that Joe Pass would typically use when accompanying a singer during a vocal break.

Note the use of the chromatic approach chord in bar 1 and the movement from natural tensions to altered tensions in bar 2.

And I’m sure you’ll recognize a typical Joe Pass cliché in the final bar:

Listen & Play:




Joe Pass Lick 3

The melodic figure on the first two beats of the next lick is a classic Joe Pass arpeggio phrase.

Once again you can see the chromatic approaches in this lick, movement from natural to altered tensions, and a heavy use of drop 2 chords:

Listen & Play:




Classic Joe Pass Recordings and Resources

Joe Pass left a huge legacy of recordings. Below is a selection of some of my favorite examples of Joe Pass’ chord melody style:

There’s also several Joe Pass books available covering many aspects of his wonderful guitar style – standard textbooks for any jazz guitarist:

I hope this article has got you interested to learn more about Joe Pass’ chord melody playing, whose ideas and approaches has inspired countless guitarists – and will continue to inspire many more in the future.

*Stop Press* New Chord Melody eBook Out Now!


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>>


Chord melody is one of the most satisfying ways to play jazz guitar.

Not only does it make your soloing more interesting, but you have the ability to play all on your own without a band – an essential skill for any jazz guitarist.

As you can see, each of these four jazz guitarist’s styles give you an idea of the multitude of directions you can take with your own chord melody adventure.

So, check out the players and the resources mentioned in this series of posts, and give chord melody a try if you haven’t already!

I hope you enjoyed these articles, let me know what you think by leaving a comment below…

Greg O’Rourke, BMus (Hons), ANU

4 Great Chord Melody Jazz Guitarists Part 3: Lenny Breau

4 Great Chord Melody Jazz Guitarists Part 3: Lenny Breau

4 Great Chord Melody Jazz Guitarists Part 3: Lenny Breau

“Lenny Breau is the greatest guitar player in the world. If Chopin could have played the guitar, he would have sounded like Lenny Breau.” ~ Chet Atkins

If I had to pick one player out of the pantheon of jazz guitarists who was the most creative, spontaneous and dynamic, the clear choice for me would be Lenny Breau.

Although his life was cut short by an untimely death, and his history was peppered with personal difficulties and drug problems, he achieved great artistic heights with jazz guitar, and his innovative approaches to the instrument have influenced countless guitarists since.

In this post, you’re going to learn some of Lenny Breau’s key approaches to chord melody jazz guitar, as well as get a background of his life and influences.

Let’s get into it!

Interested in arranging your own chord melodies? Check out my free eBook: Get a free copy of my how-to guide on creating cool chord melody arrangements on guitar by clicking this link now >>

Lenny Breau’s Life & Career

Born in 1941 in Maine, USA, Lenny’s parents were Harold “Hal Lone Pine” Breau and Betty Cody: professional country and western musicians.

After starting playing guitar at age 8, Lenny ended up being the lead guitarist for his parent’s band at the age of 14.

But, it didn’t last.

Around 1959, Lenny left the band after his father chastised him for using jazz lines in his lead playing – and actually slapped him in the face for it!

This event shaped Lenny’s destiny, as he then went to seek out local jazz musicians to collaborate with instead.

The rest is history.

Lenny ended up being a regular session guitarist for CBC radio and CBC television and even ended up having his own TV show, The Lenny Breau Show.

During his career, Lenny befriended Chet Atkins and the pair did many collaborations. Here’s an example:

Lenny Breau’s later career was mainly spent performing, teaching, and writing for Guitar Player magazine.

Lenny died in 1984, aged only 43, but left a huge legacy that should be studied in detail by all jazz guitarists.

An Original, Innovative Approach to Chord Melody

Blending many styles of music such as jazz, country, classical, Indian, and flamenco guitar, Lenny had a highly evolved fingerstyle technique that reached rare levels of virtuosity.

Check out this track of All Blues, which showcases Lenny Breau’s playing at its finest. This is from Live at Bourbon Street – my favourite Lenny Breau album:

As you can hear, Lenny’s playing is totally different to any other jazz guitarist you may have heard.

You might be fooled into thinking there are two guitarists onstage, instead of one.

This is why:

Lenny wanted the guitar to sound like a piano, with a pianistic ‘left-hand’ style comping and ‘right hand’ melodies.

This resulted in an entirely new approach to playing chord melody.

“I approach the guitar like a piano. I’ve reached a point where I transcend the instrument. A lot of the stuff I play on the 7-string guitar is supposed to be technically impossible, but I spent over twenty years figuring it out. I play the guitar like a piano, there’s always two things going on at once. I’m thinking melody, but I’m also thinking of a background. I play the accompaniment on the low strings.” ~ Lenny Breau

Complete Spontaneity

If jazz guitar was a martial art, Lenny Breau would have been a true kung fu master.

The reason?

Lenny is completely spontaneous and uninhibited in his soloing – you can tell that very little of his improvisations are premeditated in any way. Lenny responded dynamically to whatever his other band members were playing at the time.

This is what I like most about Lenny Breau.

He encapsulated the jazz ideal: spontaneous, original, and energetic musical expression in the present moment. This is what we are all aiming to get to of course, but few truly make it there.

Lenny proved that it can be done.

3 Lenny Breau Licks

As mentioned above, Lenny approached chord melody jazz guitar as if he was playing a piano, with the ‘left-hand’ (lower register) comping and the ‘right-hand’ (higher register) featuring elaborate melodic lines.

Not an easy feat, but Lenny developed clever approaches to get this effect, which the following licks demonstrate.


Lenny Breau Lick 1

Listen & Play:




Notice the types of chords that Lenny is playing in the lower registers throughout this lick.

As they are only 2 notes (usually the 3rd and 7th of the given harmony), it enables him to be very melodic with elaborate single line phrases in the upper voice.

Because of this clever three note voicing technique (i.e. 2 notes in the comping and 1 note in the melody), it freed up Lenny’s hand to play much more melodically than if it was being ‘strapped down’ by holding down too many notes (e.g. if he were to use drop 2 or drop 3 voicings instead).

Also noteworthy is some hip sounding offbeat comping in the lower register.

Trust me, it’s a lot easier to play than it sounds.

The 2nd bar features classic bebop vocabulary: a C#dim7 arpeggio (which is a 3 to 9 arpeggio of A7b9), followed by an A altered scale which creates tension in the melodic line.


Lenny Breau Lick 2

Listen & Play:




Here’s another example of a similar approach with three note voicings.

In the first bar, you can see Lenny slide into the comping with a chromatic approach towards the end of bar 1

This is followed by an elaborate single line that uses a 43241 bebop finger pattern in bar 2.

One of Lenny’s hallmark techniques was being able to hold long notes in the melody line while comping with offbeat figures in the lower register, giving the illusion of playing two guitars at once. You can see this in action in bars 1 and 3.


Lenny Breau Lick 3

Listen & Play:




To beef up a single line, Lenny Breau would often comp with three note voicings on every melody note, as this final lick demonstrates.

This is another textural effect you can add to your chord melody toolkit.

Also, note how the chords are anticipated on the offbeat to bars 2 and 3 (labelled ‘Ant’ in the notation).

Chord anticipation is a technique that was one of Lenny’s favorites – as it, in his own words, “gets the music to swing more”.

Lenny Breau Recordings and Resources

Lenny Breau left a large legacy of recordings; unfortunately, they are of varying quality.

But, by far my favorite is Live at Bourbon St. (recorded 1983) that features bassist Dave Young, but here are some other noteworthy recordings to check out:

  • The Velvet Touch of Lenny Breau – Live! (1969)
  • The Hallmark Sessions – (recorded 1961)

To get more on the life and background of Lenny Breau, check out the book One Long Tune: The Life And Music Of Lenny Breau by Ron Forbes-Roberts.


Lenny Breau’s chord melody techniques are excellent to study for chord melody beginners. They are relatively easy on the fretting hand yet still sound very effective.

That means that you can get started right away arranging swinging chord melodies that sound great.

To learn Lenny’s techniques in more detail as well is some other easy arranging techniques, check out this guest post I did recently for Jazz Guitar Online, Chord Melody Made Easy.

I hope this article has inspired you to check out more about Lenny Breau’s legacy.

Lenny was an astoundingly creative guitarist and an inspiring musician, despite the many challenges he faced in his personal life.

Studying his recordings has made a huge impact on my own playing, so I encourage you to do the same.

*Stop Press* New Chord Melody eBook Out Now!

Don’t forget, my new eBook, The Complete Guide To Chord Melody And Chord Soloing, has just been released!

If you want to learn the easy way to chord melody mastery, get your copy by clicking here.



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>>

In the next and final installment of this 4 part series on great chord melody players, you’re going to learn about perhaps the most famous jazz guitar chord melody player that ever lived.

He certainly needs no introduction. Do you know who I’m talking about?

I’ll see you in the next post!

Greg O’Rourke, BMus (Hons), ANU

4 Great Chord Melody Jazz Guitarists Part 2: Ted Greene

4 Great Chord Melody Jazz Guitarists Part 2: Ted Greene

4 Great Chord Melody Jazz Guitarists Part 2: Ted Greene

Have you ever heard of the Chord Chemist?

In part 2 of this special series entitled 4 Great Chord Melody Jazz Guitarists, you’re going to learn about a jazz guitar chord melody player who made a lasting impact on the jazz guitar scene.

Ted Greene is who I’m talking about, who many believe advanced solo jazz guitar to its highest point of development.

Ted was obsessed with chord voicings, and actually wrote a hefty instructional book entitled Chord Chemistry, which is the most comprehensive manual of guitar voicings ever published.

He was relatively unknown to the general public outside of jazz guitar circles, but Ted Greene’s contribution to the understanding of the guitar is profound.

His one and only album, Solo Guitar, recorded in 1977, is considered by many to be one of the most important solo jazz guitar albums ever to be recorded – it’s the duty of any aspiring chord melody player to check this one out.

Ted was an unbelievable musician, as you’ll hear in the examples below.

Interested in arranging your own chord melodies? Check out my free eBook: Get a free copy of my how-to guide on creating cool chord melody arrangements on guitar by clicking this link now >>

Ted Greene’s Life & Career

Ted was born in Los Angeles in 1946 but grew up in White Plains, New York. He began his study of guitar at age 11 and was quickly hooked.

Not exclusively being a jazz player, Ted, in fact, played and mastered many styles of music.

As his career matured, he tended to either play solo guitar gigs or accompany vocalists, as he found bands too limiting.

But most of Ted’s focus was that of an educator, writing a comprehensive series of instructional books on guitar harmony, chord melody and single note soloing.

Most of Ted’s day-to-day life was devoted to teaching his many students – there was always a long list of guitarists eagerly waiting for an opening in his jam-packed schedule.

Ted Greene’s Chord Melody Style

I want you to experience Ted Greene’s playing directly, rather than just me talking about it – so here it is!

The following performance of Send In The Clowns is from Ted Greene’s album, Solo Guitar.

This is my favorite track from this album. To be honest, whenever I listen to it I get tears in my eyes. Ted’s music is powerful and very moving.

Solo Guitar Transcription

Rather than just go through a few licks with you in this article, I have something even better.

How cool is this – I found complete transcriptions of Ted Greene’s album, Solo Guitar, free to download online at The Ted Greene Archive (tedgreene.com).

Click here to go to tedgreene.com to access the PDF transcriptions now!

When studying the chord melodies of Ted Greene, it’s best to learn a complete transcription of one of his recordings like this one – it will give you a good overall sense of his techniques and ideas when it came to solo guitar chord melody.

Ted Greene and…Bruce Lee?

Ted Greene is one of those rare musicians that has completely transcended style, and in a utterly non-contrived way.

Listen to the video of Send In The Clowns above and ask yourself: is it jazz? Is it classical? Is it film music? Is it pop or rock?

I think it’s, in fact, none of these – Ted’s style is something entirely new.

Ted’s playing brings to mind the thoughts of Bruce Lee, a philosopher that really inspires me.

(You can probably tell that from the design of this website… :-)

Bruce Lee was critical of martial artists rigidly applying themselves to just one style, as it essentially boxed in a practitioner and put limits on their understanding and ability:

“Absorb what is useful, discard what is not, add what is uniquely your own.”

“Don’t get set into one form, adapt it and build your own, and let it grow…”

~ Bruce Lee

In the context of jazz guitar, I think Ted Greene managed to achieve what Bruce Lee was talking about here.

Ted transcended the limitation of style, and in doing so created his own personal approach.

To use Lee’s words, he added something that was uniquely his own.

A Master of Harmony

I think one reason for Ted Greene’s incredible skill was his supreme knowledge of Western harmony.

Ted was an avid reader of nearly any book of music theory, and was skilled in distilling complex concepts into easy to understand principles for his students – concepts that could, in fact, be applied to any style of Western music – not just jazz.

If you want no better example of his ability to combine and transcend style, check out this video of Ted improvising spontaneously over Autumn Leaves at one of his workshops at the request of a student – combining classical baroque music and jazz!

Intellectual appraisal aside, the thing I really love most about Ted Greene is that his playing is painfully beautiful – it’s like a window into his soul.

After all, his encyclopaedic knowledge of chord voicings wasn’t a means to an end, it was just the foundation upon which he created a unique, personal and wonderfully expressive sound.

There has been no other guitarist quite like Ted Greene and I don’t think there will ever be another like him in the future.

Further Ted Greene Resources

As I mentioned above, Ted only recorded a single album – Solo Guitar (1977) – but this is required listening for anyone interested in chord melody, and particular solo jazz guitar.

It would be worth checking out Ted’s jazz guitar instructional books. They are a complete resource in itself for any jazz student:

If you’re looking for a great read, check out the book by Ted’s wife Barbara Franklin, entitled My Life With The Chord Chemist: A Memoir of Ted Greene, Apotheosis of Solo Guitar, which recounts Ted’s early life and development as a musician, as well as an insightful narrative of the 13 years prior to his death.

Something I found when I was doing the research for this article was this page on a tribute website, Memories of Ted, with real life stories about Ted Greene by his many guitar students. Reading these stories paints a picture of not only of an extraordinary musician but, most importantly, of Ted’s kind and generous heart.

Finally, check out the resources at tedgreene.com, which has a vast archive of lessons and recordings by Ted.

I hope you enjoyed this exploration into the world of Ted Greene, one of my all-time favorite chord melody guitarists.

Let me know what you think about this article by leaving a comment below!

My New eBook, The Easy Guide To Chord Melody Guitar – Out Now!


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>>

That wraps up the second installment of this four-part series on the great jazz guitar chord melody players.

Next week, you’re going to learn about Lenny Breau, one of my own key influences when it comes to chord melody playing.

I’ll see you then!

Greg O’Rourke, BMus (Hons), ANU

4 Great Chord Melody Jazz Guitarists Part 1: Ed Bickert

4 Great Chord Melody Jazz Guitarists Part 1: Ed Bickert

4 Great Chord Melody Jazz Guitarists Part 1: Ed Bickert

In the second half of the 20th century, four of the most exceptional chord melody guitarists emerged on the jazz guitar scene.

In this four-part series of posts, you’re going to learn about these important players lives, their style, and how they each of them made a huge impact on jazz guitar as we know it.

You’re also going to learn classic licks and transcriptions of these players so you can incorporate their ideas into your own playing.

As you’ll discover, chord melody allows for a lot of individual expression and creativity.

Each of these players had a groundbreaking approach to chord melody with a sound totally unique to their own.

Let’s see what’s possible with chord melody guitar, starting with one of my favorite players, Ed Bickert.

Interested in arranging your own chord melodies? Check out my free eBook: Get a free copy of my how-to guide on creating cool chord melody arrangements on guitar by clicking this link now >>

Part 1: Ed Bickert

Though he was not well known, I consider Ed Bickert to be one of the trailblazers of jazz guitar.

I’ll go even further to say that Ed Bickert is one of the greatest jazz guitarists the world has ever seen – I think his name deserves as much recognition as Joe Pass or Wes Montgomery.

The reason?

Bickert had very innovative approaches to chords and chord melody playing, as you’ll see in some of the examples below.

Ed Bickert’s Life & Career

Ed Bickert was born in Manitoba, Canada, to a family of farmers. His parents were musical, with his father being a fiddler and his mother a pianist.

Deciding to pursue music instead of farming, Bickert quickly established himself as a success, becoming one of the top jazz and studio guitarists of the scene in Toronto in the 60s.

But Bickert’s real lucky break came when he was introduced to Paul Desmond by Jim Hall, (Ed and Jim were friends), which led to several collaborations between Desmond and Bickert.

Bickert continued to play until the early 2000s, when he then retired.

Unlike other jazz masters, Bickert quietly pursued his art and didn’t overtly seek fame or success.

I think this is one of the reasons why Bickert developed such a uniquely personal style, as genuine as it is groundbreaking.

Now, let’s check out some of his playing.

Ed Bickert’s Style – Smooth As Silk

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.

But a video is worth a million.

So, check out this video of Bickert playing in a trio of the classic jazz standard Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me as a fine example of his silky smooth style:

(By the way, if you want to learn Ed Bickert’s solo off this track, click here for a closeup video walkthrough I found on Youtube and click here for a video of the notated transcription)


If I was only allowed to choose one player to emulate in a trio setting it would be Ed Bickert – laid back yet refined, I could listen to him all day long.

As Bickert plays a solo he often interchanges between single line, chord stabs and full chord soloing, skilfully creating interest and variety as you can hear in the video above.

What I love most about Bickert’s playing is his unique approach to chord voicings: easy on the hands, but very sophisticated.

Bickert was the master of implying harmony with chords.

His chords give the impression to the listener of many more notes being played in the voicings than what is actually there.

For jazz guitar, it’s usually only practical to play three or four note chords, so you need to make sure you get the most ‘bang-for-your-buck’ out of the chord tones for each shape you hold down.

Bickert’s voicings live on the upper structures of the harmony: he rarely plays the root or 5th in his chords and often uses quartal approaches.

Here’s the thing:

If you try to play Bickert’s voicings unaccompanied, they can often seem quite dissonant and unrelated to the given harmony.

But, in the context of a trio, they blend in beautifully – giving a warm, listenable, and attention grabbing sound to your comping and chord solos.

3 Ed Bickert Licks

No more armchair jazz guitar! It’s time for you to get to work now.

Get started by learning the following 3 licks in the style of Ed Bickert, which are strong examples of his key ideas.


Ed Bickert Lick 1

Listen & Play:




This first lick, based on a I – vi – ii – V turnaround, features colorful chord voicings at every turn.

Notice the skillful ‘smooth as silk’ voice leading that Bickert employs in this lick as he moves from chord to chord.

Also noteworthy is that all the chords in this lick are rootless voicings.

The reason?

If you’re playing in a trio, the bass player is usually playing the root notes, freeing you up to play more colorful tones on top.

Whilst this lick might sound a bit strange unaccompanied, try it along with the recording and it will make sense.


Ed Bickert Lick 2

Listen & Play:




In this lick, Bickert employs open strings to great effect.

Bickert liked using chord clusters, i.e groups of notes very close together. Employing open strings results in a chord cluster which can be otherwise be too tricky to play on guitar.

Again you’ll see the use of entirely rootless voicings, with Bickert playing exclusively in the upper structures of the harmony.

Also, notice that deliciously smooth voice leading that Ed Bickert is renowned for.


Ed Bickert Lick 3

Listen & Play:




I love this one.

The first chord is a sub of the iim7 chord, becoming a V/V7.

There’s also lots of chords in this lick with a b13 tension, giving it a really hip sound.

As this lick finishes on a I7 chord in the harmony, it’s a good one to use for a jazz blues progression.

Great Recordings of Ed Bickert

This list isn’t exhaustive, but is a good place to start checking out Ed Bickert’s playing at his finest:

  • Paul Desmond & Ed Bickert – Pure Desmond (1974)
  • Paul Desmond Quartet Live (1975 )
  • Out of The Past (1976)
  • Ed Bickert with Don Thompson: At the Garden Party (1979)


Despite being the musical equivalent of a ‘hidden yogi’, Ed Bickert is a master musician and essential study for any serious chord melody jazz guitarist.

His chord voicings are sophisticated yet easy to apply, which will give you a dynamic sound in your chord melodies and will help break you away from the more stock standard drop 2 and drop 3 chord voicings.

I encourage you to find out more about this fabulous player, one who should be more well known to jazz guitarists everywhere.



My New eBook, The Easy Guide To Chord Melody Guitar – Out Now!

My New eBook, The Easy Guide To Chord Melody Guitar – Out Now!


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.

We’ve heavily referenced Ed Bickert throughout this book, so check it out if you’re keen to learn more about this genius of jazz guitar.

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

I hope today’s post has inspired you to learn more about Ed Bickert. Let me know what you think about this article by leaving a comment below.

In the next installment of this 4 part series, you’re going to learn about a guitarist known as the ‘Chord Chemist’. Do you know who it is?

Keep a lookout for the upcoming post to find out!

Greg O’Rourke, BMus (Hons), ANU

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