I'm diving into Jazz, both with guitar and trumpet, and I'm looking for that typical jazzy sound when traveling from lows to highs (and opposite).

How were Miles and friends achieving it? What techniques do you recommend?

Note : I'd like to make this question a real reference for future visitors, with the more thoughtful ideas and techniques you know (and turn it into a community wiki if it goes well).


10 Answers 10


While is very tempting to approach improvisation focusing on phrases and licks, your solo may sound very awkward if you play unrelated chunk of melodies/ideas without thinking about beginning/development/ending. One aspect I love - and judge to be very important - about jazz improvisation are 'motifs', and you can't really apply that to a single phrase.

Anyways, great jazz phrases to me have a lot of requirements - above all I would say timing, taste and originality... but also language, context, attitude, articulation... and there's an infinity of tricks, as you pointed out.

To be a good improviser I would say one needs fluency, a great vocabulary. That takes a lot of time and practice.

My recommendation is: develop you ears, understand harmony, transcribe and play a lot. Learn with the masters! Transcribe stuff and incorporate into your own playing - that happens naturally.

And, probably the best advice I could give: less is more.

It's normal to play a bunch of notes as you're practicing scales, arpeggios, licks, etc. But eventually you will get tired of some things you play and will avoid to sound mechanic and redundant. Cut off the clutter and keep only the better ideas.

  • 3
    And then you have to be careful not to get in the habit of patterning your riffs around your breath. You can often hear your average journeyman jazz sax player quickly run off one breath's worth of notes, stop to take a breath, run off another breath's worth, stop again, and so on. It sounds unmusical. Plan your breathing around your music, don't plan your music around your breathing.
    – BobRodes
    May 1, 2014 at 19:40

I've been searching online, talking with musicians about this, and here are some techniques I retained, with some interrogations :

Get out of scales from time to time

Totally off-scale, no limit (really?)

Play a riff and play it elsewhere

For instance and play it off one half-tone higher, and then come back / play it a half-tone higher again

Ascend and descend a scale with intervals

For example, 5th by 5th by moving along the scale,

Use chromaticism

With moderation though!

Change modes

Make use of others modes (eolian, mixolydian...)

Try other scale

Like Bartok scale, ethiopian scales... moving on the 4th or 5th scale, relatively to the tone (maybe too common?)


You know what you should do is learn jazz tunes. Learn the heads on the standards then worry about improvisation. It is limitless what can be done in the Jazz world but you have to know fundamentals. Your second post is too general, so I am assuming you need to learn standards and listen to a lot of Miles and look at transcriptions of his playing. Start with a good theory book or take a theory class. Try https://www.coursera.org/ they have free online classes and one coming in two weeks on Jazz.


Here are a few things that jazz players play over a dominant chord and give a 'jazzy' sound

Let's say the chord that is being played is G7. What you can play is:

  • G#o Arpeggio (G# is b9 of G7, so that note can also be added in the chord)
  • G# auxiliary diminished scale
  • If the chord is G7#5, you can play the whole tone scale.
  • If the chord is G7(alt) (which means b5/#5, b9/#9), you can play G alt Scale.
  • Fmaj7 (the notes that make Fmaj7 are the tension notes of G7 -> the 7th, 9th, 11th, 13th of G7)
  • Am7 (same as above, but with the 9th, 11th, 13th and then G)
  • Dm7 (same as above, but with the 5th, 7th, 9th and 11th of G)
  • 3
    From my experience, you would never find a Natural 11 on a Dominant chord in Jazz. Generally speaking, if there is an 11 involved in a Jazz chord voicing on a Dominant chord, it will be a #11. Other than that, nice answer, +1 Apr 18, 2014 at 16:54

Play triad notes of the chord on strong beats.. on weaker beats play scale tones.. on the weakest beats play any random notes you want to lead into the other notes. Rhythm is very important to melody.


Aside from knowing your theory and understanding what notes go with what chords, the answer is in your question. Phrasing. Phrases, just like spoken language. Breathe, pause, accent, get quiet, get loud, shift rhythms. Don't just ramble through run-on sentences of notes. Learn to sing in your head or out loud as you play. Rhythm is so import and to phrasing. Especially with guitar, breathe like a horn player. After years of formal jazz study, thinking of it like spoken phrases is what broke me out of trying to always play right notes, to playing the music and making art out of it.


The jazz sound involves:

  • reharmonization of the chord progression. particularly, harmonizing with tensions, secondary dominant chords, and non-diatonic passing chords
  • hitting the basic chord tones on the strong beats (beats 1 and 3)
  • using the leading tone and other chromatic tones to approach the basic chord tone on the beat

so, to achieve this sound, you need to understand harmony and understand how to reharmonize musical passages


Some more tips from Jazzology:

Here are some notes that can be added to a chord to give a more 'jazzy' sound.

Major triad:

  • add 6th and 9th
  • add M7 and 13
  • add #11 to either of the above for extra dissonance

Minor 7th (works as ii):

  • add 9
  • add 11 and/or 13 above the 9th for extra dissonance

Minor triad (works as i):

  • add 6 and 9
  • add M7
  • add 9 and/or 13 above for extra dissonance.


  • add 9 and/or 13

Dominant 7th (works as V7):

  • add 9 and possibly 13
  • add b9 and possibly b13
  • add #11 to either of the above for extra dissonance.

Diminished 7th:

  • may add the note a whole step above any chord tone.
  • diminished chord extensions do not usually receive numbers

Half Diminished 7th:

  • add M9
  • add 11
  • add M13 for extra dissonance.

If you are talking about improvisation, every jazz musician must get to know how to get the phrases. Everybody is different.

You should know what jazz types are you. Swing, ska, blues-jazz, fusion, rock-jazz, etc, you can choose more than one, so it'll make you unique. Then you choose your favorite artists. Perhaps if you chose blues-jazz, you can pick Jimi Hendrix for blues and Count Basie for jazz, you can combine that two into you. Try to cover their songs, try to cover Jimi Hendrix's song in Count Basie's style maybe.

I'm a rock-jazz guitarist, sometimes I do bend my string, shred, sweep-picking in my acoustic guitar while playing jazz. You can try that.

About how you improvise, you can remember one of your favorite artist's licks, you may insert that lick on another song that you're playing with. Jazz improvise/phrases is about the player's mood, taste, time, articulation (if the players shred, he/she won't stop talking in real life). You can be different at day and night. Maybe at night, you're calm, smooth, but at the day, you're shredding all the time. Instead of shredding all the time, a guitarist that I don't remember said: "Improvisation is just like speaking, you need to breath, you need to put your emotion in your instrument.".

Maybe that's enough to answer this and inspire you.


Reharmonization of the chord progression so as to provide different target tones for your improvisation. That's what it boils down to. I recommend you learn reharmonization techniques.

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