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Guitalele Jazz: How to Approach this Style on the Guitalele [2021 Guide]

Apart from a few YouTube videos, you probably won’t find many dedicated guitalele jazz resources.

Why?

The guitalele has not historically been a popular instrument in jazz.

That said, bringing uncommon styles to an instrument can produce fun and interesting sounds.

Thus, I’m not surprised some people are interested in playing jazz on the guitalele.

The genre features a bit of several different styles like ballads, blues, spicy rhythms, colorful chords, and swinging solos.

In fact, many who play an instrument sooner or later get exposed to the richness and diversity of jazz.

Have you wondered how to get started with jazz? Then this is the right post for you.

Pick up your guitalele and let us enter the jazz realm!

Beginner Jazz Chords – Seventh Chords on the Guitalele

Are you already playing songs on your guitalele? Then you are ready to take it to the next level and learn a useful set of chords that will get you started with jazz.

Jazz uses a “spicy version” of the basic major, minor and dominant chords you are already familiar with. These are what music theory calls the seventh chords!

We are going to take these chords and we are going to add a seventh to them.

Major Chords: Add a major 7th

Minor Chords: Add a minor 7th

Dominant Chords: Add a minor 7th

Therefore, once you add the seventh, the results are the following transformations:

Your standard F major chord will become FMaj7

Your usual Fm (F minor) chord will become Fm7

The dominant seventh chords you already know like C7, F7 or A7 stay in the same positions.

Dominant seventh chords are used in many genres, not only in jazz.

This chart sums it up pretty well. I am using F as the root of each chord in this example. But you can use it with any other root note you want.

Original Chord
Notation
Jazz Chord
Notation
F Major (1-3-5)
F
F Major Seventh
(1-3-5-7)
FMaj7
F Minor (1-b3-5)
Fm
F Minor Seventh
(1-b3-5-b7)
Fm7
G Dominant Seventh
(1-3-5-b7)
G7
Same
Same

Now we will introduce two new chords: the diminished and the augmented chords.

Diminished and augmented chords are dissonant, meaning that the sound may be harsh when played in isolation. However, they can bring new life to your chord progressions when used proficiently like in a jazz context!

Diminished & Augmented Chords

Diminished chords are minor triads with a flat 5, resulting in the 1-b3-b5 formula.

Diminished chords can be notated with the symbols “°” or “dim”. For example, F diminished can be written as either F° or Fdim.

Augmented chords are major triads with a sharp 5, resulting in the 1-3-#5 formula. Also, they are notated as either “+” or “aug.” For example, the F augmented chord can be written as either F+ or FAug.

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Diminished & Augmented Chords With a 7th

You can continue to jazz up diminished and augmented chords by adding a seventh to each.

To augmented chords, we add a minor 7th.

To diminished chords we can also add a minor 7th, resulting in the half-diminished chord. You can think of this chord as an m7 chord with a flat 5.

To diminished chords we can add a diminished 7th, resulting in the diminished seventh chord.

For instance, FAug turns into F7#5.

Fdim may turn into Fm7b5 – minor 7th added, half-diminished chord.

Fdim may turn into F°7 – diminished 7th added, diminished seventh chord.

Now we add these new chords to our chart:

Original Chord
Notation
Jazz Chord
Notation
F Major (1-3-5)
F
F Major Seventh (1-3-5-7)
FMaj7
F Minor (1-b3-5)
Fm
F Minor Seventh (1-b3-5-b7)
Fm7
F Dominant Seventh (1-3-5-b7)
F7
Same
Same
F Augmented (1-3-#5)
F+ or FAug
F Augmented, 7th added (1-3-5#-b7)
F7#5 or F7+
F Diminished (1-b3-b5)
F° or Fdim
F Half-Diminished (1-b3-b5-b7)
Fm7b5
F Diminished (1-b3-b5)
F° or Fdim
F Diminished Seventh (1-b3-b5-bb7)
F°7

With this new set of positions, you are on your way to playing many jazz tunes out there!

Note how we did not add open chords here. The idea is that you have chord shapes that you can easily move all over the neck.

This will enable you to play jazz in any key!

Basic Comping Patterns

The best way to put these new chords to use is to take a jazz tune and play it!

Jazz repertoire has enormously famous tunes that are played over and over in creatively different versions by different players.

What is a jazz standard? It is a popular jazz tune which is often called in a jazz session.

There are great jazz standards to quickly get you started in jazz.

Let’s begin with Bag’s Groove by Milt Jackson:

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The first thing to do is to determine the chord shapes we are going to need to play this tune:

And the next thing we have to figure out is how to play accompaniment to it, a process commonly known as “comping.”

The following rhythm pattern will get you started.

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This is the Charleston rhythm, one of the most recognizable comping patterns in jazz. As you can see, it fits perfectly well to comp one-chord-per-bar jazz standards like Bag’s Groove

Now, let’s make the chords fit the Charleston rhythmic pattern:

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As you can see, all that you have to do is apply the chords you know into the Charleston rhythm, and that’s it! Now you are ready to begin comping your first jazz tunes.

The process is as follows:

  1. Learn the chords of the tune.
  2. Play the chords along with the Charleston rhythm.

Basic Jazz Solos

The main features of jazz music are rhythm and improvisation.

The Charleston rhythm covered the rhythmic section.

Now let’s take a look at jazz solos!

You need to learn a few scales in order to start improvising.

Jazz is based mostly on the blues, you can start to create your first solos by using the major/minor pentatonic and the blues scales.

Major and Minor Pentatonic Scale

This a five-note scale that you can use to comp blues-based jazz tunes like Bag’s Groove.

The pentatonic scale has five notes, you have five different positions you can use:

Major Pentatonic Scale Positions:

Minor Pentatonic Scale Positions:

The squared dot indicates the tonic of a given key. Use the major pentatonic scale for major-key tunes, and the minor pentatonic scale for minor-key tunes.

Major and Minor Blues Scales

The blues scale is just like the pentatonic scale, but adding a sixth note called “blues note”. The name comes from the deeper bluesy feeling it adds to the melodies.

Throw in those blues notes when you want your melodies to sound more like jazz guitar giants like Charlie Christian or Wes Montgomery.

Major Blues Scale Positions:

Minor Blues Scale Positions:

Swing Rhythm

Swing rhythm consists of playing eighth notes in a way that the first one is longer than the second one. This creates a long-short rhythmic pattern that is commonly known as “swinging eights.”

In order to create jazz solos, you need to swing them!

Check out this small solo, applying swinging eights and the minor pentatonic scale over a Charleston rhythm minor blues:

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All you have to do now is create some interesting and swinging combinations using your scales, and you will end up with a nice jazz solo like this one:

Jazz solo over Bag’s Groove:

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Basic Chord Substitution

An important aspect of jazz is color, created mainly through good use of harmony. In fact, you can add variety to any tune by substituting one chord for another, something that changes the “color” of the harmony. The idea here is to provide an alternate sound to support the same melody.

Color creates contrast and adds variety to your guitalele jazz comping.

Here are the basics:

  1. Major chords can be substituted with major seventh chords, and the other way around. F major is substituted by FMaj7.
  2. Minor chords can be substituted with minor seventh chords. Dm is substituted by Dm7
  3. Dominant chords can be substituted with dominant seven chords. A major dominant is substituted by A7.
  4. Dominant seventh chords can be substituted with diminished seventh chords that are an ascending major third apart. G7 is substituted by B°7.

Keep in mind that all of these substitutions also work the other way around, just like in the major chords example.

Chord Substitutions Applied

As an example, check the following chord progression:

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Now substitute some of these chords to add some color.

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Like the result? This is what jazz harmony and comping is all about. By adding different rhythms and playing with the harmony, you can create unique guitalele jazz sounds.

In the previous example, the substitution works because the chords here share at least three notes in common with their replacement chord.

In fact, the substitution chords are so similar to each other that the very nature of major, minor, or dominant remains unaltered, even when the root note is changed. This technique allows your accompaniment to sound good, even if you change the chords.

Each guitalele player will have its own preferences on which substitutions are more suitable for certain jazz tunes.

Be sure to try all the substitutions, and let your ears and musical taste be the judges in this decision!

Jazz Standards for Guitalele

Let’s apply the jazz material we have learned in a new tune!

This one is Summertime, a tune by George Gershwin:

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Follow these steps to play this jazz standard on your guitalele:

  1. Check the key of the tune.
  2. Learn the chord positions.
  3. Learn the scales within the key.
  4. Use a comping pattern.
  5. Create a solo within the key.

Check the key of the tune.

In order to find out what’s the key of a certain tune, look for sharps or flats symbols in the key signature, and check the first and last chord. In this tune there are no sharps or flats in the key signature, and the first and last chord is A minor. Thus, we can assume Summertime is in the key of A minor.

Learn the chord positions.

In this tune, Summertime uses the following chords: Am, Dm, Bm, E7, and C

Here are the chord positions:

Learn the scales within the key.

As you can see, Summertime is in the key of A minor, therefore we will use the A minor pentatonic or the minor blues scales.

Use a comping pattern.

We will stick to the Charleston rhythm

Create a solo within the key.

Here’s an example of a guitalele solo for Summertime

(solo – tabs+audio)

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Conclusion

Of course, one blog post isn’t going to tell you all you need to know about guitalele jazz.

But I hope this post got your feet wet in this genre and how you might apply it in the context of the guitalele.

And like I mentioned, since jazz isn’t common on the guitalele, there aren’t many dedicated jazz resources for this instrument.

But if you’re willing to transcribe jazz resources for the guitar, you’ll have plenty of resources to work with, like this popular book on jazz guitar.

If you have more questions about guitalele jazz let me know in the comments!

I’m no expert, but I’m happy to try to help!

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