Smooth Jazz Guitar

my blog

Well, as the title states, why do it? I, after all, I'm the man known for volume. I like to shred on guitar, whether it be hair parting blues licks through my Mesa Boogie amp, or blistering post bop lines at nose bleed tempos, to the point of one disgruntled club owner asking me if I had something wrong with my hearing and my cheeky reply of, "ehhh?", as I cupped my hand around my ear.

So why go through the process of making a cd on the mellower side, one that is soothing rather than one that starts forest fires. Well, I’ll tell you, this is an age of noise and volume, from the din of auto traffic, to the BLUUUUUUU! of the triple dipple sized woofers in the cars you occasionally pass at a stop sign that crack your eyeglasses and teeth. This noise is not only present in sound but in our everyday living and the rip roaring chaos of today’s world with the ever presence of war, famine and crime. There is noise on a sonic and spiritual level present everywhere. So, back to the topic at hand, why make a cd like this? Throughout my many years of playing and composing and countless gigs of every imaginable genre, I occasionally have come up with a tune that was based on a rare commodity these days, S-I-L-E-N-C-E. This is where these compositions have started as a basic component. Now, this is not simply silence as the absence of sound. This is the silence one experiences out west in the wilderness, where all you hear is your own breath and a light breeze in the far background. This is the silence you experience when you looked into your loved one’s eyes and speak to each other without words. When you finally accomplish something you’d set out to do that had been years in the making and the feeling of personal fulfillment, that is the silence I refer to here. The tunes on my latest cd, “Above the Clouds” have this silence as their basic building block. Each one of these tunes have a story and a set of fond memories connected with them. So, the inevitable question once again, why make a cd like this? Well, actually, I don’t think I could have made other than a cd as this. The real lasting works of art, whether it be a painting by Monet, a composition of Mozart’s, or a wind sculpted canyon for that matter all have silence in their form and makeup. I am proud of this cd and I feel it will bring you the pleasure which only true spiritual silence can bring.


I will lay out here a simple program which if followed exactly will have you improvising like the greats in a very short time!
1) Take a solo of one of your favorite players on any instrument. Learn the solo exactly (spend time on this, even if it takes you weeks.) Spend a little time each day moving ahead a bar at a time. Do it in short spans of time, say 10-15 minutes and then totally withdraw from it the rest of the day, but do this daily. Continue until you have the whole solo down (write it out if you are able to).
2) Now analyze the tune in its entirety. Learn every chord change and really do a thorough study of the logic of the progression and the melody. Learn the lyrics if it has any. Work out all the scales involved with the chords and completely analyze the solo you just learned against this data.
3) Now comes the fun part. With what you've learned from having done (1) and (2) above, start soloing on the tune. Use a metronome and start at a slow tempo and really say something. Gradually increase the tempo until you can fluidly improvise and play a solo that makes sense. Don't rush this step at all, continue to the point you feel totally confident soloing on the tune.
4) Next, tape yourself soloing on the tune. Listen to it and critique your solo and work on any weak points and then tape again. Do this over and over till you are confident in your abilty to solo on the tune and this is backed up in your estimation by the tape.
5) Now for the finishing school part of this discourse: Having made a tape that you feel is competent, take the original solo by your favorite player that you learned. Listen back and forth to your solo and his/hers and compare the two solos for quality, not for carbon copying, etc, but for cohesiveness, content, excitement level, compositional structure,etc. Practice soloing on the tune with what you've learned from the comparing and when you are ready, retape another solo and compare it to your chosen original soloist. You could have a second musician whom you feel is competent listen and compare the two solos but it isn't really necessary. Do this until in your eyes, your solo is as "good"
as the master's solo.
The final product? A greatly increased ability to improvise. Try it again with a soloist of a completely different genre. You soon will be a master yourself.
Okay! I'm very interested in your progress with this program. Feel free to email me with any questions or successes.
Greg Smith (March 30,10)

I base my improvisational approach on the famous saying by Charlie Parker, " First really learn your instrument. Then, forget all that sh-t and just play!"

I take that to heart. I have worked for hours on end, year after year to really learn every note on the guitar neck. Technique wise I mainly have stressed alternate picking, but I also incorporate a good deal of slides, hammer-ons/pulloffs and sweep picking. I don't put a lot of attention on technique anymore other than to warm my fingers and hands up.

I listen to all kinds of music, especially but not limited to jazz players. I listen to harmony and progressions, attempting to work out the logic of them, as well as the lines played through these harmonies. I try to analyze the rhythmic ideas of the melodic lines as I listen. Somrtimes I don't do any of this, I just sit back and let the music affect me emotionally and spiritually.

When I solo, I kind of just reach for a melodic idea and it usually just pops out at me to shape how I want. In interacting with other players while I'm soloing, I generally respond to the drummer first, then the bass player and last to the person playing chords behind me. I try to build solos using a lot of space and bringing the solo up to a peak of excitement musically, but, I don't analytically do all this, I just let it flow and create itself. It's very helpful to sing along with my solos, audible or not, as this tends to make for a more melodic solo and adds continuity to it.

It is very important to develop a compositional flow to your solos and there is no better way to do this than to learn as many tunes as you can, and these can be jazz standards or pop tunes. Bill Evans, the great jazz pianist said he'd work on one tune for weeks and totally break it down, take it apart and learn every nuance of it. This is an excellent thing to do; learn the melody, all the harmony, work out the scales to play over the tune, re-harmonize it, play it in different keys, the works. Its very important to know where you are at all times in relation to the tune so that you can create superimposed harmonies or melodies on the tune but always be able to resolve it back to the simple changes at any time. This is probably the most important thing to work on,don't cut it short.

When I get in a musical rut, I find a solo I like by one of my favorite players( not just guitar by any means) and I either transcribe the whole solo on paper or I work out the whole solo so I can play it verbatum on my instrument. This is very valuable as it opens up your hearing for both the sounds in your head and through your ears. I have a guiding rule I follow regarding this point: there is a lag in time from when a musician hears something in his head or through his ears to the end point when he duplicates it enough to be able to execute it on his instrument, and any drill, exercise,etc which reduces this lag is theraputic musically. It is important to sort through the many approaches there are to this to hone it down to the ones that work( I have given a few here that have worked for me and I will write further articles on my website for other valuable techniques of this type). I will pass on one very specific exercise I came with: Take a simple key and a very slow tempo where you can play a simple melody in tempo without a mistake( slow it way down if you have to). Now, start a very simple melody or nursery rhyme and play it through. Before you finish it, think of another simple melody and without a break in time, go right into it when the first melody is done. Then do the same with another and another and keep going with no break in tempo- go for a half hour or more if you can. I tell you, it's murder at first! But this simple little exercise does wonders for cultivating a flow which will greatly increase your soloing in a compositional manner. Try it!

Ok, This lays out some of my ideas and approaches to improvisation. Realize you are creating new universes of sound- have fun with it!

Best, Greg Smith

So.... what makes Clapton's solos sing, Hendrix's solo's burn, Charlie Parker's solo's sizzle? The key ingredient---- A lyrical, vocal quality to their playing. Do this: put on one of your favorite solos on any instrument and listen carefully a few times. Then, put on some Stevie Wonder or Pavoratti or Sarah Vaughan and listen again very carefully. Do you notice the lyrical/ vocal similarity of the flow of your favorite soloist and how it has a similar quality to the aforementioned vocalists? This is the the key and it separates the men/woman from the boys/girls as regards their soloing. Is there any thing you can do to help achieve this quality? Well, read on......

I came up with a drill of which I got the basic idea from master jazz educator Jamie Aeborsold. It goes like this:

Play one of your favorite chords on a guitar or keyboard and sustain it. Now, listen "in your head" and let a melodic phrase flow out( keep in relatively short to start, 1-2 bars max). Now, attempt to sing that phrase and work back and forth till you can sing it and remember it. Next step: find the notes on your instrument. Spend some time doing it to the point it is really right under your fingers. When its done, give your self a pat on the back, this step is done. Notice the free flowing lack of rigidness of this line you've created.

Repeat this drill many times and when you can do it rapidly and easily increase bit by bit the length of the line, add another chord, etc. Don't worry about scales, etc. just let the little bit of music flow out and trap it first in your voice and then in your fingers. Do this for a week every day and I'll guarantee improvement in your soloing.

Okay! I'm very interested in your feed back on this, let me know how it's going.



Now that I have you in here, here goes, I've been playing guitar now for 45 years and I've amassed a lot of information on guitar playing, jazz, rock, blues, technique, music theory, various other styles, arranging, composition, improvisation, etc, etc, etc.....

So, let me help you out! Send me the questions that you've always wondered about in any category regarding music, and I'll put in thru the old noggin and see what I can come up with for you, or if I don't know the answer I'll make up something very convincing sounding! ( this last comment is a joke of course!)
So, get them questions flowing and see if you can stump the band, namely, me!


Greg Smith

So, another blog entry from yours truly-hot off the press. So, why do you play music? I'm serious, I want to know. Write me and let me know your inner most feelings on the subject.

As for me, I can state without reservation that when I don't play I feel like half a person.There is a completeness that I feel when the ideas are coursing thru me and out my fingers onto the strings that nothing else in life comes close to. There are definite sensations involved but it is not just a body sensation, its more a sensation I experience as a spiritual being. Its a feeling of instantaneous creation such as the same creation that goes into making the world around you. When I'm really plugged into it and soloing on a high level, its like there is no space separating me from the members of the audience listening and we are all one in the overall creation in progress.

Yeah!! Fun stuff to talk about! So let me hear some of your feelings on the subject.



Before you get the idea this is going to be a droll dissertation on the subject of percussion and subdividing beats, have another thought. This is a fresh look at time and how to utilize time to realize your dreams as an artist or as a successful human being for that matter.


So right into it. Have you ever had a feeling of overwhelm trying to work out how the heck you were going to be able to achieve the ability to solo fluidly on your instrument on any tune? Or how would you ever be able to memorize all the tunes your band plays so you didn't have to have your head buried in a chart on stage? Or, one of the predominant one these days, how could you ever get down all the technology to be able to create a successful internet marketing strategy where you weren't stuck on the computer all day 'stead of playing your instrument or writing songs? I'm sure you've thought of your own " How will I ever.." at this point. Well, how about a simple, practical, down to earth approach utilizing time as your friend, rather than a reminder of how old you're getting? So,read on.....


Here's the drill, very simple with a specific example: Confront all you have to learn to be successful using the internet for marketing. You have SEO, Blogging, Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, etc, etc. Its daunting! Well, view it like this: if you spent, say, 30 minutes every day on the subject, that quickly adds up to 3.5 hours a week and 14.5 hours a month. Putting that kind of time into this activity is going to put you quite ahead of the game don't you think?

My own example: I'm convinced( have been for a long time) that the best way to learn jazz, blues, rock, etc is the time honored way of picking the exact solos of t your favorite players off the recordings. I did a project about 10 years ago where I took 10 of my favorite jazz guitar solos and I spent 20 minutes a day to learn them, no more, no less. Presto! In one month, I had duplicated each one perfectly, had totally analyzed them and my playing ability shot out the roof. Simply by taking causative control over that unwieldy commodity called Time, I won over the usual defeatist attitude one can get into in learning a challenging subject.

Well, go give it a shot! Apply it to any endeavor in your life and reap the benefits. Let you know how it goes!


Greg Smith

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