Continuing in our series of ear training site profiles…
Jazzguitar.be is a particularly multifaceted resource for any jazz musician, but it’s a goldmine for guitarists at a beginning to intermediate stage of jazz training.
Featuring a dense list of lessons—from basic, general theory to advanced chord and scale concepts specific to the guitar—and a handful of solid transcriptions, not to mention an active forum full of expert advice on every jazz guitar topic under the sun, it’s well worth a visit.
Just like any in-depth resource for jazz theory, however, the seemingly infinite torrent of new skills and information can become a little overwhelming, so this review will aim to highlight some of their features that are more relevant to ear training.
What You’ll Learn
It’s necessary to distinguish right off the bat that this review will deal with the material presented in the site’s articles and lessons. As mentioned above, they also have some great forums that offer, in some cases, more detailed and personalized explanations, along with tons of user-posted exercises and transcriptions. Go check out the lessons first, and then just browse the boards—odds are high you’ll find something that’ll help you.
Now, here’s why I’d recommend this site even if you don’t play guitar: the articles, which are all relatively short and easy to read, each have a tight focus on a specific musical concept. Whether you’re looking for insight on modal theory, improvising over dominant chords, experimenting with exotic scales, or anything in between, you’ll find an approachable lesson that breaks it down for you. Simply put, there’s a lot to learn. But that’s where that intimidating flood of info starts to threaten progress…
How to Use it for Ear Training
The inherent difficulty with a long list of specific theory lessons is understanding how it all fits together. Surely it would take a genius to sift through all these rules on your toes while you’re trying to improvise! But if you approach it as more of a toolbox and less of an encyclopedia you’re trying to digest, it’ll be easier to start implementing elements of what you learn into your current practice routines.
Take, for example, their lesson on the Lydian Dominant scale and tritone substitution. The natural impulse is to read the article in order to extract the information—what formula builds a Lydian Dominant? What chord symbol implies its use? When should I substitute chords using the tritone method? These are all questions that need answering, sure, but from an improvisational perspective, how it feels is going to be more important anyway. And from a logical perspective, that’s an awful lot of information to swallow… and that’s just a fragment of a single lesson out of dozens!
Instead of expecting yourself to remember every technicality, think of the lesson’s text as a commentary on its examples. Read it a couple times so you start to grasp what’s going on, but as soon as you can, pick up your instrument and play the exercises. This will help the information click in a more intuitive way—at the end of the day, you might still have trouble articulating exactly what makes the Lydian Dominant different from the melodic minor, but you’ve at least learned how it sounds, and more importantly, how it feels. The rest of it will come with practice.
And while a specific lesson may seem largely focused on one category of practice, like improvisation or comping, when you approach it with this perspective, it’s essentially ear training in its simplest form. It would be great to know exactly which chromatic tone to add at any moment in order to evoke exactly the mood you’re looking for, but very few people can actually do that in a truly spontaneous setting. Ultimately, good improvisation relies on a good ear, and a good ear means one that recognizes the “color” of the Lydian Dominant as effortlessly as you might recognize a friend walking by you on the street. So all the technical information they present, helpful as it can be, should take a back seat to simply playing the idea itself, over and over, until you could whistle it absentmindedly.
And if you already know everything they have to teach about jazz theory (congratulations, first of all!) there’s always that forum to go to for even more awesome stuff. There you’ll find discussions oriented towards emulating the style of certain players, the techniques behind solo chord-melody and walking bass lines, and several other active sub-forums.
If you’re a musician and you’re interested in expanding your theory knowledge or your improvisational skills, I’d recommend giving this site a careful look.
But I have a genuine warning to leave you with: it’s one of those “black hole” sites. If you start browsing, you risk getting sucked into it for ridiculous lengths of time………
All things considered though, I’d say the positives outweigh!