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6 Ways To Build Melodic Jazz Guitar Solos

In this week’s reader question article, which was submitted through my Facebook Page, I am going to tackle the subject of how to build melodic jazz guitar solos from a motivic standpoint.

Though this question was raised this week on Facebook, it is one that I get on a regular basis from students that are trying to expand their playing and want to bring more motivic vocabulary into their solos, but just don’t know where to start.

Below are six ways that I like to use when developing and expanding on a motive when improvising.

Check them out and see which ones sit well with your improvisational concept, then try and take each exercise to a tune or progression that you are working on in the practice room to see the real-life applications of these concepts.

Have a question or comment about this lesson? Visit the Melodic Jazz Guitar Solos thread at the MWG Forum.


Melodic Jazz Guitar Solos – Altering the Fingering


The first way I would explore any motive on the guitar is to learn it across the fretboard, in as many positions as I could find.

One of the ways I like to do this is to start the motive on as many strings as possible. You can see this approach in the example below.


Melodic Jazz Guitar Solos 1


Melodic Jazz Guitar Solos – Rhythmic Transposition


As many of you know, I am a staunch supporter of applying rhythmic variation to all practice room items.

So, it is not surprising that I would recommend taking any motive and transposing it around the bar, so that it starts on each possible 8th note and not just the first beat of the measure.

You can see this technique in the example below where I start the motive on beat one, then in the next occurrence on the & of beat one, then beat two and so forth.


Melodic Jazz Guitar Solos 2


Melodic Jazz Guitar Solos – Retrograde Variation


The next technique that I like to use is to play the motive backwards, which is called retrograde in the musical world.

Doing so allows you to “hide” your motive a bit as you use the same idea twice, but by playing it backwards you are not directly repeating yourself in each phrase.

This is a little tough to do at first, but it is a great way to expand your jazz guitar soloing ability while sticking to a single motive as the basis for your lines.

Here is how that would look with the motive we are exploring in this article.


Melodic Jazz Guitar Solos 3


Melodic Jazz Guitar Solos – Chaining Technique


You can also connect two versions, either exact or altered, of your motives to create an idea that is twice as long, but that is based on a single idea.

In the example below, I have used a tie, since the first and last note of the motive are the same, in order to connect the forward and backwards versions of the idea within the span of a full bar.

This is a great way to develop longer motives that are based on connecting the same motive to itself, rather than bringing in new melodic material to the equation.


Melodic Jazz Guitar Solos 4


Melodic Jazz Guitar Solos – Altered Rhythm


Besides moving the motive around the bar in a rhythmic fashion, you can alter the length of each note in the phrase to expand it in your soloing.

There are no real rules for this technique beyond saying that you can stretch or contract the rhythms used in the motive however you wish, just sticking to the same order of notes to keep things connected.

In the example below I have written out some ways that I would vary the motive in this fashion, but the sky is the limit with how far you can take this idea in an improvisational setting.


Melodic Jazz Guitar Solos 5


Melodic Jazz Guitar Solos – Scale Patterns


Motives often make for great scale and arpeggio patterns, and so one way to expand them in your playing is to run them up and/or down the scale or chord that you are currently soloing over.

In the example below you can see how I took the motive and applied it to each note in a Dm7 arpeggio.

Try taking this idea to common chord progressions such as ii-V-I’s, the Blues and other standards in the practice room.


Melodic Jazz Guitar Solos 6


Learning to create and develop a motive is a vital part of any successful guitarist’s improvisational pallet.

By making time for motivic study in your practice routine, and learning how to expand and develop them in your solos, you will be able to take your improvising to new levels of excitement and audience engagement in no time.


Do you have a favorite way to build melodic jazz guitar solos? If so, please share it in the comments section below.

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1 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pingback: Sizzling summer jazz | Guitar Lessons – Jazz on April 14, 2012


  1. Eduardo (Portugal), April 11, 2012:

    Thanks a lot Matt !!!

    Great ideas !! Very useful !!


  2. Matthew Warnock, April 11, 2012:

    No problem, glad you liked the article. Abs

  3. peter, April 16, 2012:

    Surely this should be “motifs” not motives-otherwise a good lesson.P

  4. Matthew Warnock, April 16, 2012:

    Thanks Peter, in music we use the term motive, not motif, it’s not what you’d expect but it’s the tradition.

  5. Steve, April 20, 2012:

    Awesome. Love the ‘chaining technique’ and altering the rhythmic duration. Am I wrong or is this all very Jim Hallish? Thanks for sharing!

  6. Matthew Warnock, April 21, 2012:

    Steve, for sure, Jim uses this approach all the time. He is a master at taking a short idea and stretching it out for a long period during his solos. It’s amazing what a guy like Jim can do with one idea!

  7. Az Samad, June 16, 2012:

    Great post Matt! This totally connects with a chapter I was reading in Jim Hall’s book Exploring Jazz Guitar where he was explaining about how the melody in Waltz New relates together. Thank you!

  8. Matthew Warnock, June 16, 2012:

    Thanks Az, glad you dug the lesson. Yeah Jim is great for developing motives in this style, very melodic player!

  9. Art, September 2, 2012:

    Great article, very clear and well written. Thanks a heap!

  10. Matthew Warnock, September 2, 2012:

    No problem, thanks for checking it out Art!

  11. Matthew Warnock, October 22, 2012:

    Thanks Amelia, glad you dug the article and it was helpful! I don’t mind missing some of Oz this time, just means I have to come back again! :)

  12. Amelia, October 22, 2012:

    Thanks Matt for all those ideas. I now understand what you mean about applying a motif to a scale or arp. I like your example where all your strong beats are in fact the D min 7 arp.
    Hope you have an awesome time in oz and NZ. It’s a real pity you don’t have time for Queenstown where the beautiful lakes and mountains are, and the fjord faces for bungee jumping hehe.

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