New - Play-a-long Tracks

While playing with other people is by far the best possible way to practice and improve, it can be hard to do all of your practice in public or at least with other people listening. Play-a-long tracks, whether in the Music-Minus-One or Jamey Abersold variety, are limited in their effectiveness because there is no give-and-take. Still, they can be helpful when woodshedding a new tune or trying to get your head around some changes.

But, the biggest problem with the current commercially available options, Abersold, etc. is the rhythm section playing. There is nothing even remotely resembling a pre-bebop swing rhythm section anywhere. Personally, I find it very difficult to achieve the sounds I'm going for in when playing along with a band that is rhythmically and harmonically incompatible.  

Eventually, I think I will probably record and release a proper album of play-a-long tracks with the Campus Five's rhythm section, but for now, how about some guitar-only rhythm tracks to practice with?

I've used the tracks at for years, but I find the "Le Pompe" feel they have makes me play much more Django-y, and while I do enjoying playing that way, I have a hard time expressing more "american" ideas when playing over such a backing. 

A word of advice on using play-a-long tracks, i find it helpful to play the melody of the song before diving into soloing over the changes. Often times the melody helps make sense of any interesting changes, and can lend insight to possible melodies and voice-leading, rather than mechanically running through the changes. I've provided three choruses on each track so you'll have space to play the melody before having two whole choruses to develop ideas over. 

Here are four tunes: All of Me, Limehouse Blues, Rosetta, and Tea for Two:

All of me - playalong by campusfive

Limehouse Blues - playalong by campusfive

  Rosetta - playalong by campusfive

Tea for Two - playalong by campusfive

And just for the heck of it, here are a couple takes of me playing over the tracks. FYI, all of these were recorded with my new Blue Yeti microphone - I specifically got it to facilitate recording stuff for the blog, examples, lessons, etc. The guitar is my Eastman AR805 with Martin SP 80/20 strings and a 2.5mm Wegen Pick. 

All of me - playalong with lead by campusfive

Limehouse Blues - playalong with lead by campusfive

Rosetta - playalong and lead by campusfive

Reader Mail: The Four-Beat Ideal vs. Rhythmic Variation (Part 1)

[in the interests of actually putting content up more often, rather than being so precious about it, I've split this up into two articles, and I'm gonna have to add the example clips soon, rather than waiting for them to be ready before I post this.]

YoungWoo Joh, from Orlando, FL recently sent me an email asking me about the interaction of rhythm guitar and piano. Specifically, he was wondering how not having a piano would, could or should change what he does as a rhythm guitarist in his band (the instrumentation of which is clarinet/sax, trombone, guitar, bass, washboard and vocals). He writes: 

 "I had originally just been chunking through the changes (a la 4/4 rhythm guitar), but I've come to feel that lacking both a piano and third horn makes it feel like something is missing. In response to this, I've made my (guitar) playing a little more rhythmically creative, though always going back to the 4/4 as the basic rhythm. In addition to that, I've slowly been working up my chordal vocabulary (inversions and extensions) in order to imply movement and for the occasional fill.

The thing is that all of this is sort of being done experimentally, and I was hoping you could give me a little more insight on what else I could be doing on guitar to help fill out the sound." 

Let's see if any of this helps….


The Four-Beat Idea vs. Musical Reality

The four-beat pulse of Swing is an essential and defining characteristic, differentiating it from earlier and later forms of jazz. Rhythm guitar is one the three instruments in a band that is (generally) solely devoted to this pulse (along with the string bass, and and the bass drum). I've argued in the past that the firm foundation of that pulse, is what makes syncopation in swing music really POP and stand out. So serving that goal is the primary mission.
That being said, the reality is that no rhythm guitarist is without occasional rhythm variation. Whether added 8th note shuffles here and there, or more specific rhythmic figures (either in concert with figures in the band, or in contrast to them), these are all part of playing musically, rather than technically or mechanically. 
In the gypsy-jazz tradition, for example, the standard comping pattern, "le pompe" has 8th note shuffles by default ("a-short, LONG, a-short, LONG" or "a-one, TWO, a-three, FOUR"). Moreover, Django himself often played very distinctive rhythm counterpoint to what's going on in the band. [example "World is Waiting for the Sunrise" 1949]
In the American tradition, playing so boldly was much less common. But guitarists like Al Casey in Fats Waller's band can be heard playing accents and variations. [EXAMPLE]

Just because you can, does that mean you should?

If we take service to the four-beat pulse as our prime directive, then generally it is wise to concentrate on that pulse, and eschew additional accents. 
That said, I think rhythmic accents and variations in service of being musical are important and welcome, so long as they do not distract or detract from the beat. The problem comes when there is too much variation, or when variations and accents just aren't musical. The key factors are the number and kind of instruments in the band, and the rhythmic figures being played elsewhere. 
The more instruments there are in the band, the less room there is for rhythmic variation. For example, in the American Swing-Rhythm Guitar tradition, you find a consistent emphasis on the straight four beat rhythm than the gypsy-jazz tradition. Generally the american rhythm guitarists of note were found in bigger bands, not quartets and quintets. 
But even in smaller groups, american rhythm guitarists had much less rhythmic variation than in the gypsy jazz tradition. But of course, in the american tradition it was pretty uncommon to see more than one guitarist in the band. Django almost always had at least one, but often two rhythm guitar players in his bands beside himself. I would argue that Django was free to comp so wildly because the beat was being so firmly established by the other guitarist(s). 
So with more instruments in the band there is less room for rhythm variation, though in a small group, having multiple guitar players can free up one to add accents without the same fear of losing the beat. 

Coming up next...

So in part 2, I'll pick up with hitting musical accent figures with the band, and talk about interacting with YoungWoo's particular instrumentation in the next installment. 


Leapin' Lester: the Bad Plus transcribes Lester Young

When working on my electric single-note playing, I've been really focusing on Charlie Christian for over a year now. I've been learning some of his solos, but even more so I've been trying to internalize his phrasing - to get in his headspace. To do that, it's useful to see where a person comes from.

Charlie Christian was a huge Lester Young fan. It clearly shaped both his phrasing and compositional approach to soloing. What better way to get inside Charlie's head than to learn some of Lester's solos.

Lester's most lauded and analyzed solo is his two choruses on "Lady Be Good" from 1936, recorded with a Basie small group credited as Jones-Smith Inc. The solo became almost a jazz etude - something that musicians learned as a part of their education.

A couple years ago, I took a lesson with Howard Alden at jazz festival we were both playing at, and that solo came up. Howard has transcribed and forgotten more tunes and solos than anybody, but he said he'll always know Lester's choruses on "Lady Be Good."

On gig with my big band a couple years ago, we had to play an extended version of the song "Lady Be Good" for a dance contest. Dan Barrett was playing with us, along with our regular lead trombone, Dan Weinstein. I signaled to have either one of them take a chorus, and they both stood up and played both choruses of Lester's 1936 solo in unison.

I'm going to be honest here and say that I have never been particularly good at transcribing, mostly because I don't have the patience. I found Lester's 1936 solo in Gunther Schuller's "The Swing Era" along with a full analysis of the solo.

I was planing to post the transcription when I stumbled upon a blog called Do the Math. Do the math is the product of Ethan Iverson, pianist of the Bad Plus - darlings of the modern jazz scene for their blend of jazz tradition and indie rock ethos. Clearly, the thoroughly modern music of the Bad Plus is not the reason I bring this up on the swing guitar blog.

Last year, for the Lester Young Centenial, Ethan wrote a suite of posts about Lester. Two of the post are particularly amazing. The first I noticed, is a tribute to the 1936 "Lady" solo. But even more than transcribing the solo, Ethan also transcribes 16 other "Lady" solos for comparison - two from Coleman Hawkins, one from Chu Berry, two choruses from Herschel Evans, a couple from Charlie Parker, and the rest from Lester himself.

The second post I want to highlight, is a Lester listening session / interview with Lee Konitz. Ethan and Lee listen to 18 Lester Young solos - ALL WITH TRANSCRIPTIONS and commentary! Amazing. Personally, I can't wait to learn Lester's chorus on "Jumpin' at the Woodside" from 1938.

Once I work out some of the fingerings, I'll post some transcriptions with tab.

If you absolutely must: making electric guitar work for Swing Rhythm

Electric guitars do not work for Swing Rhythm Guitar.

Let me say that again. Electric guitars DO NOT work for Swing Rhythm Guitar.

Amplified electric guitars have way too much sustain, plus they overamplify bass strings. What you end up with is mud, and not the crispness of an acoustic archtop. That inherent lack of sustain is part and parcel of getting properly short notes. Plus, the overemphasis on bass frequencies makes the possibility of playing too loud almost impossible to avoid.

But sometimes, even for a total rhythm guitar geek like me, you have no choice. Here is the best possible advice I can give for making the best of it.

Making Electric Guitar Work for Swing Rhythm

1. Roll down the volume knob

When playing acoustically, you would generally be hiting the strings fairly hard. Roll the volume knob down so that you can play as hard as you normally would, without being to loud for the band. Basically you want to avoid altering your right hand technique as much as possible, so change up the amount of signal going to the amp.

2. Consider rolling off some of the bass

Depending on the situation, you may not be able to do this but, rolling off some of the bass frequencies of the amp can be helpful. Electric guitars and amps over amplify bass frequencies - it's one of the things that makes electric guitars sound, well, "electric." Since you are trying to ape an acoustic sound as much as possible.

Generally, if I'm stuck playing rhythm on an electric guitar, it's because I'm playing mostly lead guitar all night. In that setting, I wouldn't want to compromise the lead tone, so I just make due.

3. Emphasize the D and G strings, and avoid the low E and A strings

I have in the past emphasized and urged the use of classic three-note Allan Reuss voicings. As I may have mentioned previously, there is something out there called the "one note theory" - which holds that after the Swing-era, Freddie Green leaned heavily on single-note and two-note voicings, on the D and G strings. These evolved from playing standard 3 note voices and leaving out the bass note.

I'm prefer to stick to three-note voicings normally, but switching to two-note voicings is a great workaround for the bass frequency problem.

UPDATE: Here's a simple example of how to change 3-note voicings to 2-note voicings just by leaving out the bass note:

Swing Time Feel: Rhythm Guitar Technique

Hopefully you’ve read the last post about Swing-Era Time-Feel, and if not, stop and go read it and listen to the examples first. Ok, now that we have that out of the way, today’s post will be focused on the left-hand and right-hand technique necessary to achieve the right sound for Swing-Era Rhythm Guitar

The sound

As we discussed in the last post, the unique rhythmic feel of the swing-era involves the chunky, pumping, four-beat rhythm.


It’s important that each note be separate and distinct from the next. Short, fat little round notes. But, you don’t want them to be so short as to be choked.

Left Hand Technique

The left hand is the most important part of the equation, since the left hand is responsible for how long fretted notes ring. You’ll want to “pump” your fingers for each beat; pressing down only as much as is necessary for notes to sound, and releasing only as much as is necessary to mute the strings. Your fingers will never completely leave the strings.


Notice how each note is even, and there is no particular accents. There is clear separation between each note, but the notes were not choked, or stunted.

Right Hand Technique

Picking technique is also important. You’ll want to avoid emphasizing the low E string, because it can easy buzz against the fretboard if you hit hard. Rather, you should emphasize the D and G strings. These notes do the real work, anyway. As far as picking position, there are two schools of thought. Some prefer to just strum away over the end of the fretboard, basically where a neck pickup would be, if you had one. See, just look where Freddie Green is pickin':

Others alternate between the neck pickup area on beats 1 and 3, and the bridge pickup area on beats 2 and 4. I generally strum in the neck position, because I like to really keep the beats even, however I will alternate if there is a really heavy shout chorus, and I want to even further accentuate the back beat.

Guitar selection

A quick note on guitar selection. Much of the sound signature sound of swing-era rhythm guitar is tied to the instruments used – the acoustic archtop. Acoustic archtops have just the right amount of sustain, so getting the right time-feel is second nature. Selmer-style “Django” guitars come in at close second, and then flattop acoustics. Electric guitars, even hollow-bodied ones will have way too much sustain when plugged-in and amplified through an electric guitar amplifier. In a pinch, it can be done on a hollow-body electric, but there you will have to change up your technique a bit to compensate. More on that particular problem to follow.

*By the way I'm just playing a I-vi-iiV7 pattern in Bb, and my strings are kinda dead.

Rhythm: Three note chords - Why?

Because of a comment on another post, I realized that I hadn't cover why the classic swing rhythm guitar voicings are three notes.

Consider the rhythm guitarist in a swing band: Allan Reuss in Goodman's Band, Freddie Green in Basie's, etc. It's you and your acoustic archtop versus 10 to 13 horns. You have to cut through and still provide the pulse. The answer is a three note chord.

While it might seem counter-intuitive that playing less notes will be heard better than more notes, but you have to think about being a knife. In a big band, the bass player, bass drum, the trombones and the left hand of the piano are below you, and the trumpets, saxes, cymbals, and the right hand of the piano are above you. In between all of these voices is a small notch - that's where the rhythm guitar goes. By filling that notch, and not trying to play any other notes, you're acting as knife, slicing through the mix.

If you play higher and lower notes, they'll just get lost in the mix of the other instruments. But the notes (especially on the D and G strings) can cut through the band. Think of that space as a hole in enemy lines - you need to get a small special forces squad through unnoticed, not try to cram a battalion through. Playing more notes in a big band just muddies things up. It blunts the rhythmic impact (which is really the primary thing), and it results in a lot of wasted effort.

Acoustic archtop guitars happen to have their natural peak in the mid-range on the D and G strings, between the 5th and 10th frets - basically prime rhythm guitar chord territory. By focusing on that region, you get the best return on your efforts.

When people talk about Freddie Green playing only or two note chords, he would basically be fingering the classic three note voices, but not fully pushing down the bass string, and/or or the G string. He would be focusing on the D and G strings for the maximum punch and cut.

I generally stick to the classic three note voicings for 90% of playing. Sometimes, in a bigger band, I'll drop the bass string. And sometimes, in a trio setting, I might add a fourth note, but I also might not. By focusing on only playing those three notes, it is also easier to check the rhythmic snap needed for the style.

Approaching Minor Keys, pt.1

I've had many friends who have begun trying to play swing guitar after coming from a rock/pop background, not a modern jazz one. "Minor Swing" is a popular tune to start with, but many players without a jazz background can't figure out how to approach soloing over the chords.
Specifically, it's the minor pentatonic scale that is the backbone on much rock and blues that doesn't fit. The main culprit of this is the 7th scale degree (in Am, the G note) - it just doesn't fit over swing or early jazz minor songs. And there's good reason: the V7 chord.

Going back at least as far as Bach, classical music did not use the standard v chord of a mino key (key Am: A-B-C-D-E-F-G; a V chord based on this scale would be an E minor7: E-G-B-D). In classical music a V chord is always a DOMINANT 7 chord (in Am, an E7 chord: E-G#-B-D). There is pavlovian response to hearing the G# note it that chord, which demands that it be resolved to the A note.
With the G# note being so important, makes sense that the minor pentatonic scale doesn't fit with it's G natural note.

In classical and in early jazz and swing, they don't use the minor pentatonic scale, or the "natural" minor scale - which is just the normal notes of the key (in Am: A B C D E F G). Instead, they both use a minor scale with a raised 7th (in Am, a G# note). There are two minor scales that contain a raised 7th that are used extensively in early jazz and swing, the harmonic minor and the jazz minor.

The harmonic minor scale dates back to at least Bach, and has a particularly "European" sound (at least to my ears). It is a natural minor scale with a raised 7th (in Am: A B C D E F G#).
The jazz minor is comparatively younger, and has a more "American" sound (again to my ears). It is a natural minor scale with both a raised 7th, and a raised 6th (in Am: A B C D E F# G#).

By "American" and "European", I'm really getting at the distinction between the gypsy-influenced hot jazz of Django, and the less classical sounding playing of American swing musicians, like say, Charlie Christian. Charlie was more likely play more raised 6ths and feature them as an important note in his phrasing. Django was at least equally as likely to play either a regular or raised 6th, and perhaps more likely to play the regular 6th. American pre-bebop jazz harmony often voiced a minor i chord as a im6, which contains the raised 6th. But it should be noted that even if there is a raised 6th in the harmony, the soloist can also use the regular 6th, as Django did, even though it technically shouldn't fit.

In all harmony, some notes are "functional" in the sense that they are guide tones important to voice leading and chordal movement. Other notes are not, and there for they can be approached less strictly. The 7th scale degree is clearly a functional note, whereas the 6th scale degree is not. That's why you can often play either 6th with no problem, but that natural 7th just doesn't sound right.

Even modern jazzbos have a hard time approaching pre-bop minor key tunes. When Miles Davis released "Kind of Blue" in 1959, he ushered in a new era of modal jazz, specifically based on the Dorian mode, with "So What", being the chief example.

The Dorian mode is a natural minor scale with a raised 6th (like the jazz minor), but NOT the raised 7th (in Am: A B C D E F# G).. The sound of the Dorian mode is based on a minor7 chord as the tonic, and there for the regular 7th scale degree fits. Many modern jazzbos have forgotten the older-style sound of pre-bop, and just ignorantly play Dorian over everything. I avoid musicians like that like the plague.

As a early jazz/swing style musician, one should learn both the harmonic minor and jazz mimor scales like the back of one's hand. Part 2 will feature some musical examples.

Here are the scales in question with the i and V chords built on those scales.


Great Link: Playing Swing and Sweet Music Of the 1930s and 1940s

Here's a great link that talks about the rhythm style of the 1930's-1940's. The point-of-view of the article is clearly of a frustrated bandleader that has to deal modern jazzbos all the time. Still, the philosophy is pretty much dead on.

Playing Swing and Sweet Music Of the 1930s and 1940s

Playing Swing and Sweet Music Of the 1930s and 1940s 


Essential CDs for Swing Guitar


Pioneers of Jazz Guitar (Challenge) - This is a 24 track collection of Eddie Lang, Carl Kress and Dick McDounough playing in solo and duo settings. These are examples of the original jazz guitar tradition. All jazz guitar starts here.

Hittin' on All Six (Proper) - This $20 dollar, 4-CD set is a fantastic value, AND it's an essential collection of early jazz guitar. It has a pretty scattershot sampling of some artists, but has so many great tracks, and many that you'd otherwise have to buy a whole CD to get one track. Plus the liner notes are informative and the personel is listed on everything. NOTE: Since it's been discontinued, you might have to search around the internet a bit to find it - but it's totally worth it.

Swing to Bop: Guitars in Flight 1939-1947 (Hep) - This collection has a bunch of lesser known guitarists, while not duplicating too many tunes that are easily found elsewhere. Allan Reuss's solo on "Pickin' for Patsy," Al Casey's solo on "Buck Jumpin'," and the early Les Paul tunes are all indespensible.

Charlie Christian: The Genius of the Electric Guitar (Columbia Legacy) - The complete Charlie Christian / Benny Goodman studio takes - all of them. The liner notes are fantastic, and the rehersals and unreleased takes are very illustrative.

Charlie Christian: Complete Live Recordings (Definitive) - This 4 CD Box Set is all of the CC airchecks and jam sessions at Minton's. Add this to the Columbia box and you've got all of CC's recordings, except for his random sideman work with other artists such as Lionel Hampton, Edmund Hall, etc. Plus, it has my absolute favorite version of "Stardust" from a 1939 jam session. 

Oscar Aleman: Swing Guitar Masterpieces 1937-1957 (Acoustic) - This 2 CD set contains the most Oscar Aleman recordings available outside of Argentina. For those unfamiliar, Oscar was an Argentine contemporary of Django Reinhardt, who also played in Josephine Baker's band. He's a creole finger-style version of Django, and totally badass. Here, go listen to this in the mean time.

Good Songs to Start With

This is another updated post from the old blog....

There was a thread on the Django Swing Page forum - - about good songs for beginners. I thought I should put something here about good songs to start with for players new to the style. Some of these good for practicing leads, some better for practicing rhythm, and most for both.

Here are some suggestions:
Bb Blues (PDF)
Bb Rhythm Changes (PDF)
Minor Swing (PDF) / Dark Eyes (PDF) / Blues en Mineur (PDF)
Honeysuckle Rose (PDF)
Rose Room (PDF) / I Can’t Give You Anything but Love (PDF)
Rosetta (PDF)
Dinah (PDF) / Lady Be Good (PDF)
All of me (PDF)

Here’s a little explanation as to why these can be helpful:

Blues: This is clearly something every jazz musician needs to know backwards and forward. Of course it is a good place to start since it contains only 3 chords at its most basic level.

Rhythm Changes: Now, this song does have a lot of chords during the A sections, but more often than not, I just consider them to be 8 bars of Bb when soloing. The ability to play over the most simple of changes is far more important in the long run, than being able to mechanically run through complex changes. Playing 8 bars of a single chord is a great way to make yourself play melodically. Changes create interest – when there are no changes you have to create the interest.

Minor Swing / Dark Eyes / Blues en Mineur: Each of these is a variation of a minor i-iv-V progression. You could basically play though the entire song with the harmonic minor scale. But you can also use arpeggios throughout. Either way, it is good training ground to balance chordal movement and scale-based playing.

Honeysuckle Rose: A great example of playing V-I tunes, like Sweet Sue, or You Rascal You. V-I is a very simple move, but since its so obvious and entirely diatonic it can be hard to play something that doesn't sound cliche or corny. Step one is to embrace the corny, and then move on. The bridge is also a classic set of movements, which will come up time and time again. I7-IV is classic as is the II7-V7. The best part is that all of the changes go by fairly slowly – only every 2 bars.

Rose Room / I Can’t Give You Anything but Love: Another song with classic movements you find all of the time. Both have a I7-IV-iv movement which is very classic. Additionally, each has a II7-V7 section, and I-IV7-ii-V movement as well. Again, here the chords don’t go by too fast.

Rosetta: More classic changes. I-V+-I-IV7-II7-V7-I. Each of these changes is classic. These changes do go by a bit faster. The bridge can basically considered a 4 bars of Am, then 4 bars of C going back to F.

Dinah / Lady Be Good – The A section is another lesson in I-V movment (although Lady has that IV chord). Each bridge has more common movements. Lady has a classic IV-iv-I movement along. Dinah has descending line cliche - i.e. the vi-vimaj7-vi7-vi6 movment (say, Em, Em/D#, Em/D, Em/C) - which is sometimes used in Lady Be Good as well (taking the place of the two bars of A7 during the bridge).

All of Me: This is the most complicated of the list. See my earlier post about the breaks down all of the changes. Again, the changes only come every two bars (mostly).

Some final thoughts:
I know when I started, so many modern jazz tunes have changes that go by 2-per-bar, and move in unfamiliar or novel ways. I found that I couldn't play melodies, but just mechanically run through the changes. Once I started playing the swing/hot jazz style, I found that the simpler and more conventional changes of the style allowed me to play melodies instead of simple hoping to get through the changes. Now I can handle more complicated changes because I know how to play melodies, not just run mechanical lines.