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Thread: Gypsy jazz improv problems.

  1. #1
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    Gypsy jazz improv problems.

    So I've been playing on my cheap as all hell Richwood selmer replica guitar (which buzzes when I hit the third octave C on the high E string), and I've gotten stuck.

    So far, I've been figuring out songs by myself through listening to Spotify and figuring out the chord progressions/melody lines/solos. I started off with a simple song named "Tanta til Beate" by Lillebjørn Nilsen, which is a really simple 1-4-5 in G minor. Then I started listening heavily to Stochelo Rosenberg (whom is an absolute monster player), and figured out the chord progression to "Sunny", "Double Jeu" and "For Sephora". I also figured out the melody lines to all the songs, and went over to Django Reinhardt to figure out "All of me". The last song I've figured out is Karlov by Ulf Wakenius/Jon Larsen.


    Now, I see that just about all progressions in "traditional" gypsy jazz are either 1-2-5s (often in D minor), or 1-3-6-2-5 (like Sunny), and they tend to exchange just about every other chord with dominant versions (e.g. the E7 in For Sephora "should be" an E major, but is an E7 leading into A7), and they use a lot of dominant "in-between" chords, which seem to be tritone subs.

    What I'm struggling a LOT with, is the improv. I've sat down and written out licks I found to sound really gypsy-like. From watching youtube videos of Stochelo, one of Django and a few of Joscho Stephane, Jimmy Rosenberg etc, I've figured they use a lot of 2nps ascending/descending arpeggio patterns, often with a major or minor 6 included. So I wrote down basic first position major and minor 6 arpeggio patterns, mostly with the 1, (m)3, p5 and (m)6 going up and down in octaves, as well as symmetrical diminished and whole tone licks.

    The regular diminished scale seems to be used a lot too (especially in Karlov, which seems to have a good chunk of it's main theme from the start as a pure diminished melody). The chromatic scale is used a lot, so I've written down that as well, + a couple of stereotypical Django licks I've heard everywhere (like the very first lick from Move by Andreas Öberg).

    Now, I'm really stuck, hahah. I've always played helluva scalar, and it seems like I can only do that once in a while without losing the "gypsy flavour" of my playing. And when I try to follow the chords heavily and not just use my ears, I end up playing the basic first or third inversion arpeggio patterns of the chords, with a few added colour notes around. What I end up with, is playing mostly variations of the exact same things all the time, with some dim or min6/maj6 arpeggios here and there.


    I don't really know what to do. Learning songs by ear has been reaaaally helpful, and my ears have grown a LOT the past month (not literally, of course). I'm still really new to this genre, and I know that it takes time. I just feel like I need to know _something_. Chord theory, arpeggio construction, whatever! :P

    I've always used "box patterns" to construct melodies, and I can sing while playing what I sing without missing a note (within my vocal range). I've gotten a _lot_ better at constructing arpeggios from these box patterns, and I like the sound I get from doing this. I've figured how to e.g. improvise various versions of a B dim arpeggio, sliding into G major, then sliding into A minor going into an Am9 sound over a regular E major7 chord, and it sounds good to me!

    I don't know, I just wish there existed a Real book for Gypsy standards, hahah. I can't seem to figure out all the "in between" chords, and I think learning how to do this on the fly would boost my improv ability a good lot.

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    If you're not familiar with the site you might check out www.djangobooks.com - they sell lots of instructional books and have a forum dedicated to gypsy jazz.

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    Thanks! Been there before, and the instructional stuff seems kinda steep in price.

    There's a DVD with Stochelo, but it costs like 60-70 dollarsm which is too much imo.

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    I think you're on the right lines, and have obviously been doing a lot of the right kind of work.

    (Personally I would always refer to Django for this stuff, and not any of his followers, however good. It's a question of how "authentic" you want to sound, or whether you feel it's OK to let the genre mutate and develop, if later players add ideas and expand on it. It's one of those tricky questions in jazz: you want to learn the rules of the genre, because you love the sound, but at the same time jazz is about moving forward all the time, not preserving the past in aspic. It's a difficult balance, because on the one hand you can be disloyal to the memory, or plain wrong genre-wise, while on the other you can too hidebound to the past. In a sense, gypsy jazz is perhaps better treated as a folk music - with traditional idiomatic moves handed down and preserved as well as the ear will allow - rather than a form of jazz, which ought to have given way to the next movement by now.)

    Anyway...

    You sound like you've got much (if not all) of the essential language. What I would do is stop looking for more scale or arpeggio formulations, and start to look at phrase construction and melodic-rhythmic ideas. (IOW put down the microscope.)
    Note-by-note transcriptions of Django ought to be top of the list here (IMO) - but don't analyse them in terms of scales and chords, so much as rhythms, melodic intervals, articulations, etc.
    Even with very limited raw material (eg dim or m6 arps), there's a hell of a lot of melodic invention you can do. One simple strategy I'd use (and I was lead guitarist in a Django band for a couple of years, albeit not a terribly successful one ) is to include a lot of chromatic moves, beginning with half-steps below chord tones. I always used to work from the chords, adding easy pentatonic notes and chromatics, and never really used scalar playing. (I didn't think of it that way anyway.)
    I didn't copy Django solos, and the only one I remember transcribing in full was "Undecided". But I copied enough (I thought) to emulate his feel. I "got the vibe", and followed that using my intuition. We weren't exactly aiming at pure authenticity (the rhythm player in the band had built his own Maccaferri copy, but I just used a standard Guild F30), and we weren't playing to committed gypsy jazz fans. We just loved the music, and did what we could.

    PS: my avatar is Django's left-hand, showing him having a joke with the photographer. (I like to remember not to take this stuff too seriously,)
    Last edited by JonR; 10-27-2010 at 12:54 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JonR View Post
    I think you're on the right lines, and have obviously been doing a lot of the right kind of work.

    (Personally I would always refer to Django for this stuff, and not any of his followers, however good. It's a question of how "authentic" you want to sound, or whether you feel it's OK to let the genre mutate and develop, if later players add ideas and expand on it. It's one of those tricky questions in jazz: you want to learn the rules of the genre, because you love the sound, but at the same time jazz is about moving forward all the time, not preserving the past in aspic. It's a difficult balance, because on the one hand you can be disloyal to the memory, or plain wrong genre-wise, while on the other you can too hidebound to the past. In a sense, gypsy jazz is perhaps better treated as a folk music - with traditional idiomatic moves handed down and preserved as well as the ear will allow - rather than a form of jazz, which ought to have given way to the next movement by now.)

    Anyway...

    You sound like you've got much (if not all) of the essential language. What I would do is stop looking for more scale or arpeggio formulations, and start to look at phrase construction and melodic-rhythmic ideas. (IOW put down the microscope.)
    Note-by-note transcriptions of Django ought to be top of the list here (IMO) - but don't analyse them in terms of scales and chords, so much as rhythms, melodic intervals, articulations, etc.
    Even with very limited raw material (eg dim or m6 arps), there's a hell of a lot of melodic invention you can do. One simple strategy I'd use (and I was lead guitarist in a Django band for a couple of years, albeit not a terribly successful one ) is to include a lot of chromatic moves, beginning with half-steps below chord tones. I always used to work from the chords, adding easy pentatonic notes and chromatics, and never really used scalar playing. (I didn't think of it that way anyway.)
    I didn't copy Django solos, and the only one I remember transcribing in full was "Undecided". But I copied enough (I thought) to emulate his feel. I "got the vibe", and followed that using my intuition. We weren't exactly aiming at pure authenticity (the rhythm player in the band had built his own Maccaferri copy, but I just used a standard Guild F30), and we weren't playing to committed gypsy jazz fans. We just loved the music, and did what we could.

    PS: my avatar is Django's left-hand, showing him having a joke with the photographer. (I like to remember not to take this stuff too seriously,)
    Thanks! I always love reading your posts. They're always so informative, yet light-hearted!

    If this style has taught me anything this far, it is that you always get better sounding solos when you base yourself on the chords instead of the fitting scales. I've always based myself on the root, found the appropriate scale depending on the chord symbol (e.g. min7 = dorian, aeolian, minor pentatonic, basically any scale with a minor 3rd, p5 and min7), then just improvised starting on various scale degrees, like the seventh or flat five.

    Now I have to find the chord, "see" the approprate arpeggios, where each chord tone resides and kind of follow that... fast! It's so difficult, and my old habits always tend to take over and make me run like Yngwie through 50 notes before I stop and think "wow, I'm really lame right now"! :P

    Tried using the CAGED system even more than before, but it only does so much improv-wise.

    Maybe I should go back to Django and base myself on just that. His solos aren't nearly as terrifying technique-wise as Jimmy Rosenberg, Angelo Debarre or Stochelo, but his sound is most excellent. And he's their original standpoint as well, so... hit the sources of your idols, and all that... :P

    I've commented on your avatar before, actually! How was it a joke from Django? Did he use his hand condition as an excuse to flip the bird, or what? :P

    And how long did it take you before you felt that you sounded "good" in this style, instead of mediocre and with fourty different unwanted genres going through your solos?

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Jan View Post
    I've commented on your avatar before, actually! How was it a joke from Django? Did he use his hand condition as an excuse to flip the bird, or what? :P
    Who knows? His two good fingers were obviously very strong and flexible, so that hand pose could be a mixture of a joke and showing off. A gag anyway.
    Quote Originally Posted by The Jan View Post
    And how long did it take you before you felt that you sounded "good" in this style, instead of mediocre and with fourty different unwanted genres going through your solos?
    All I'd done before the Django band was blues, folk and rock'n'roll - and maybe a little vintage jazz. But hardly 40 genres!
    It was a long time ago, and I approached it almost the way a kid might - without thinking of it as difficult, just a lot of fun.
    The chord sequences were mostly pretty simple, and I generally got away with the same kind of thing I'd done in other styles: working from the chord shapes, adding the 2 extra pentatonic notes, adding bluesy approaches (b3-3), short chromatic runs (3-4-#5-5). Little else. For the fancier chords (m6s, m7b5s, dim7s) I'd stick to chord tones.
    For more complex tunes (like Nuages), the chords alone were enough, as most of them were 9ths (containing 5 notes each).
    Of course, I played the melody of all the tunes we covered (unison with the violin), so that was always a good reference point. Between the melody, the pentatonics of the chords, and the bluesy chromatics, there's not a lot else to be done.

    I'd been playing for 7 years by that time, and had always been hooked on melody. I don't think I ever transcribed guitar solos - as such - before taking on Django. But what I had done a lot of was transcripton of vocal melodies, guitar instrumentals, melodic guitar riffs (including Chuck Berry intros), and fingerstyle folk and blues. I had a good vocabulary to draw from, IOW - a good understanding of melodic intervals and phrasing. I never learned scales, as I think I said - just lots of different ways of playing chords and tunes, all over the neck. And I never found soloing difficult.
    I mean, technically I had huge shortcomings! (and my ear was never very good either.) But in terms of knowing what to do, no problem at all. It was all just common sense to me. I think that must have come from my addiction to both melody and rhythm, because my harmonic knowledge was extremely sketchy - I never really knew what all those jazz chords meant, I just played them and saw how they joined up.

    I wouldn't want to suggest that emulating Django is easy! Faking one's way through it is pretty easy. But he was unique, IMO. Those players you mention may be able to play things that sound technically more complicated, or faster (they have 4 good fingers, after all!) - but I've never heard anyone, in any genre, with Django's incredible rhythmic drive, that can make you jump out of your seat, and few with his enormous sensitivity of articulation, that way he effortlessly combined delicacy and powe; and of course perfect taste in phrasing. As I've said before, he shines out of those 1930s recordings as if he did it all yesterday, while all around him sound as old as they are. When he's not playing, it's just safe 30s swing jazz. As soon as he starts - wow, the whole thing gets turbocharged.
    There's that amazing contrast in "Undecided", where his brilliantly conceived opening solo segues into the vocal, and you suddenly realise: ****, this stuff is 70 years old! It doesn't sound dated at all until she starts singing. It all just deflates - kept alive to some extent by those chromatic interjections between the vocal phrases and dissonant chords, like they're kicking her in the *** (and she's oblivious).
    Last edited by JonR; 10-27-2010 at 10:12 PM.

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    That's a coincidence! I'm starting my seventh year of playing guitars in 2011! And I've mostly played rock, metal, country and general guitar wankery, hahah.

    I'm the exact opposite, however. Technically, I haven't come over any shortcomings. I lift weights too, so my grip can hold and lift 440lbs pretty well. The grip strength made playing a Selmer-styled guitar easier than it normally would be, I guess. My fingertips wanted to die often, though. I used to only play the electric, but playing fast hasn't been hard neither on the acoustic nor electric.

    My ears have been pretty well developed as well, I guess. I've always had it easy in recognizing intervals and scales, with some problems in hearing the min/maj 6 once in a while.

    I usually don't have a clue about what to do though. I guess it's a question of experience, but I feel that playing over more than 2-3 chords is hard as bawls! I lose track when I start going all over the neck, and then I just mesh into an "ear training exercise" in finding the right note to the right chord without knowing where I actually am on the fretboard!

    Undecided is a most excellent song btw! Going to figure it out first thing tomorrow! The solo lines are amazing, and I can totally see what you mean. Django was a pioneer, and this style is the most interesting one I've followed for forever. I'm having insane fun and totally enjoying myself in every single chord I play!

  8. #8
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    Actually, one thing I've had a problem with lately...

    My picking hands index fingers' distal joint (the last joint right before where the nail starts) cracks constantly. It started the last couple of months, but it's getting really annoying. I use jazz 3 picks, and place the pick directly into the space between the thumb and last joint.

    Anyone had this happen before?

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by JonR View Post
    I think you're on the right lines, and have obviously been doing a lot of the right kind of work.

    (Personally I would always refer to Django for this stuff, and not any of his followers, however good. It's a question of how "authentic" you want to sound, or whether you feel it's OK to let the genre mutate and develop, if later players add ideas and expand on it. It's one of those tricky questions in jazz: you want to learn the rules of the genre, because you love the sound, but at the same time jazz is about moving forward all the time, not preserving the past in aspic. It's a difficult balance, because on the one hand you can be disloyal to the memory, or plain wrong genre-wise, while on the other you can too hidebound to the past. In a sense, gypsy jazz is perhaps better treated as a folk music - with traditional idiomatic moves handed down and preserved as well as the ear will allow - rather than a form of jazz, which ought to have given way to the next movement by now.)

    Anyway...

    You sound like you've got much (if not all) of the essential language. What I would do is stop looking for more scale or arpeggio formulations, and start to look at phrase construction and melodic-rhythmic ideas. (IOW put down the microscope.)
    Note-by-note transcriptions of Django ought to be top of the list here (IMO) - but don't analyse them in terms of scales and chords, so much as rhythms, melodic intervals, articulations, etc.
    Even with very limited raw material (eg dim or m6 arps), there's a hell of a lot of melodic invention you can do. One simple strategy I'd use (and I was lead guitarist in a Django band for a couple of years, albeit not a terribly successful one ) is to include a lot of chromatic moves, beginning with half-steps below chord tones. I always used to work from the chords, adding easy pentatonic notes and chromatics, and never really used scalar playing. (I didn't think of it that way anyway.)
    I didn't copy Django solos, and the only one I remember transcribing in full was "Undecided". But I copied enough (I thought) to emulate his feel. I "got the vibe", and followed that using my intuition. We weren't exactly aiming at pure authenticity (the rhythm player in the band had built his own Maccaferri copy, but I just used a standard Guild F30), and we weren't playing to committed gypsy jazz fans. We just loved the music, and did what we could.

    PS: my avatar is Django's left-hand, showing him having a joke with the photographer. (I like to remember not to take this stuff too seriously,)
    hi guys

    I would like to ask you for a favour. Can you recommend good system of learning that I can use for learning gypsy jazz? What should I do first , what should I learn later? Can you learn soloing in this style by learning by heart django's solos?

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by rafapak View Post
    hi guys

    I would like to ask you for a favour. Can you recommend good system of learning that I can use for learning gypsy jazz? What should I do first , what should I learn later? Can you learn soloing in this style by learning by heart django's solos?
    It's the same answer I always give (for almost any kind of music, but especially vernacular music like gypsy jazz), and it's - listen to the originals.
    Django (and the Hot Club Quintet) IS the original - the genre didn't exist before him, he (they) invented and defined it. So it springs from their particular approach to the (American) popular music of the day. This was (then) called "swing" or "hot jazz".
    Django and Grappelly did take some inspiration from Americans Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang, but of course brought their gallic-gypsy heritage to bear on it. (In fact, Venuti and Lang had European heritage themselves - both were Italian-Americans.)

    So I'd start with getting some charts for the songs the Hot Club covered. The chord sequences are usually pretty simple, but make sure you learn the tunes too. These songs are not often included in the famous jazz Real Book series (which tends to focus on later periods), but there are books of Django tunes of course - and not just the songs they covered, but the tunes they wrote too. With the latter, you can argue the combination worked the other way from the pop tunes they covered: gypsy tunes, played in an American hot jazz style.

    There's actually a whole site dedicated to django books:
    http://www.djangobooks.com/
    More here:
    http://www.free-scores.com/boutique/...heet_music.htm
    http://www.amazon.com/Django-Reinhar...p/0879308370#_
    I don't know any of those books myself, but any could be worth getting (the "Definitive Collection" looks good) - as long as you can listen to the original tracks concerned.


    Only learn solos for tunes where you know the melody and chords by heart already. And I wouldn't bother with learning solos by heart. Certainly listen to them enough that can you begin to sing along with them, so you absorb the feel and the kind of phrasing. And of course transcribe if you really have no idea what he's doing. It's crucial to check how his notes align with the chords - but equally crucial is the rhythmic feel that governs where he places the notes, and things like dynamic stress: that's best learned by lots of listening and getting it in your blood.
    But remember that any one of his solos was just how he happened to play one day, on that one tune. Next day - maybe even on the next take - he'd have played a different solo. (But of course he would still have sounded like Django!) IOW, the notes alone are kind of beside the point.

    The most important aspect of that music - IMO - is the driving 4-beat rhythm. Django was an incredibly powerful rhythm guitarist as well as an inspired soloist. If you can command that kind of rhythmic drive - making it swing - more than half your work is done, I'd say.

    EDIT: don't tell anyone, but I just found this book FREE on googlebooks
    http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=K...20book&f=false
    You only get the first 56 pages, but that means lots of great exercises in his style, and analysis of just a few solos. No tab, unfortunately, but that's because it's designed for The Serious Musician .
    Last edited by JonR; 12-14-2010 at 11:11 PM.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by JonR View Post
    It's the same answer I always give (for almost any kind of music, but especially vernacular music like gypsy jazz), and it's - listen to the originals.
    Django (and the Hot Club Quintet) IS the original - the genre didn't exist before him, he (they) invented and defined it. So it springs from their particular approach to the (American) popular music of the day. This was (then) called "swing" or "hot jazz".
    Django and Grappelly did take some inspiration from Americans Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang, but of course brought their gallic-gypsy heritage to bear on it. (In fact, Venuti and Lang had European heritage themselves - both were Italian-Americans.)

    So I'd start with getting some charts for the songs the Hot Club covered. The chord sequences are usually pretty simple, but make sure you learn the tunes too. These songs are not often included in the famous jazz Real Book series (which tends to focus on later periods), but there are books of Django tunes of course - and not just the songs they covered, but the tunes they wrote too. With the latter, you can argue the combination worked the other way from the pop tunes they covered: gypsy tunes, played in an American hot jazz style.

    There's actually a whole site dedicated to django books:
    http://www.djangobooks.com/
    More here:
    http://www.free-scores.com/boutique/...heet_music.htm
    http://www.amazon.com/Django-Reinhar...p/0879308370#_
    I don't know any of those books myself, but any could be worth getting (the "Definitive Collection" looks good) - as long as you can listen to the original tracks concerned.


    Only learn solos for tunes where you know the melody and chords by heart already. And I wouldn't bother with learning solos by heart. Certainly listen to them enough that can you begin to sing along with them, so you absorb the feel and the kind of phrasing. And of course transcribe if you really have no idea what he's doing. It's crucial to check how his notes align with the chords - but equally crucial is the rhythmic feel that governs where he places the notes, and things like dynamic stress: that's best learned by lots of listening and getting it in your blood.
    But remember that any one of his solos was just how he happened to play one day, on that one tune. Next day - maybe even on the next take - he'd have played a different solo. (But of course he would still have sounded like Django!) IOW, the notes alone are kind of beside the point.

    The most important aspect of that music - IMO - is the driving 4-beat rhythm. Django was an incredibly powerful rhythm guitarist as well as an inspired soloist. If you can command that kind of rhythmic drive - making it swing - more than half your work is done, I'd say.

    EDIT: don't tell anyone, but I just found this book FREE on googlebooks
    http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=K...20book&f=false
    You only get the first 56 pages, but that means lots of great exercises in his style, and analysis of just a few solos. No tab, unfortunately, but that's because it's designed for The Serious Musician .
    thanks jon

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    gypsy guitar- oval hole and D hole

    hi guys

    what gypsy guitar with oval hole is best for and what gypsy guitar with D hole is best for? Is it true that the first one is designes for solos and the latter one for playing accompaniament with chords? which would you recommend to buy?

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    Quote Originally Posted by rafapak View Post
    hi guys

    what gypsy guitar with oval hole is best for and what gypsy guitar with D hole is best for? Is it true that the first one is designes for solos and the latter one for playing accompaniament with chords? which would you recommend to buy?
    Learn first buy after. I mean, a good guitar player can play is style on any kind of guitar and make it "sound" in the style. The sounds are in the head...

    The one to buy is the one you take in your hand and feel good whit. You fell good whith here ? She souds good ? She's the one for you !

    Sorry for not helping ...

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by rafapak View Post
    hi guys

    what gypsy guitar with oval hole is best for and what gypsy guitar with D hole is best for? Is it true that the first one is designes for solos and the latter one for playing accompaniament with chords? which would you recommend to buy?
    The D hole was the one with the resonator, designed to make it louder, suggesting it woujld be better for lead than rhythm - so I always assumed that must have been the one Django played. Turned out he usually played the small hole, and you see his rhythm players using a D-hole.
    As this site says, the D-hole had problems, and the small-hole version was preferred:
    http://www.lutherie.net/bckgrnd.html

    In most photos Django is playing a small-hole - this below is the only picture I've found of him with a D-hole, and he looks like a young man there: so probably he chose that one early in his career, but moved to the small-hole later. (And this could just be posed for the camera with a guitar someone handed to him.)


    In this film (1939, the only good film of him in existence) you see him with a small-hole, and both the rhythm players with a D-hole:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-iJ7bs4mTUY
    - draw from that what you will!

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