Soul jazz is a musical style coming from the 60’s and 70’s, bringing in the sounds of blues, soul, jazz, gospel, swing, R&B, and funk to create a danceable, fun genre played by organ trios in it’s heyday. Modern soul jazz artists such as Snarky Puppy, Medeski Martin & Wood, Questlove, D’Angelo and others have all put their own spin on it, and TrueFire’s Fareed Haque has prepared his new course, Soul Jazz Survival Guide, to help you get started playing this popular genre.

The free soul jazz guitar lessons presented here are a sampler of what you need to get going, working through different techniques to nail the sound, and then ending with a funky soul-jazz tune featuring the rhythm and lead parts to help you put it all together. Let’s get groovin’…

Mixing Major & Minor Blues – Overview

Now this is where it starts to get fun. If the C major blues scale gives you all of the sweet notes in C major, the C minor blues scale gives you the funky sounds. So, anywhere you have C major, try adding in C minor pentatonic licks. Similarly (and this can start to get confusing, so try not to think about it, but just look at it on the guitar neck…it’ll make more sense that way) the A minor blues scale will give you lots of funky sounds, if you want to add in some sweet sounds, throw in some of the notes from the A major (F# minor) blues scale.

Adding the Major 9th – Demonstration

Download the tab, notation, and jam track for this soul jazz lesson on TrueFire.

The 9th on the other hand is a sweet tone. Have fun with this one and combine it with the major and minor third to create some cool phrases. Bend into and out of this one as well!

Adding Chromatics from 7th to 9th – Demonstration

Download the tab, notation, and jam track for this soul jazz lesson on TrueFire.

Starting to sound more and more like jazz, innit? Before you get too excited about the notes, keep in mind that much of what we call soul jazz is about the rhythm and phrasing, and of course swing of the lines. So, don’t just practice the notes, focus on matching the rhythmic feel of the players you love. Listen hard, is the feel ahead of the beat? Behind the beat? Swinging? If so, how much swing? It’s all about how the notes sit in relation to the rhythm section. Experiment until you start to get the feel you want.

Rhythm & Comping Approaches – Demonstration

Download the tab, notation, and jam track for this soul jazz lesson on TrueFire.

Rhythm and comping approach: Keep in mind that rhythm guitar playing, or “comping” (accompanying) in jazz and funk music, is primarily a rhythmic role. Funk is not as simple as it might seem. The music is actually pretty darn deep. Methinks Bach would be a funk musician if he was alive today. Funk especially is a very contrapuntal music. This means that bassline, drum pattern, keyboard part, horn parts, vocal parts, and guitar parts all interlock, different lines harmonizing, “bouncing” off each other and building a dance groove.

So, what is a “part”? Typically, we’re referring to a repeating figure that is rhythmic, melodic, and creates a counterpoint to the other parts. Check out James Brown to get an idea of this. The great Joe Zawinul once told me to play a guitar part, “Never change it, but never play it the same way twice!” Confusing, huh? The idea here is to find a line that creates a good counterpoint with the bassline and other parts and play simple variations on your part without ever losing the melodic and rhythmic essence of the part.

Typically, rhythm guitar goes along with the hi-hat in funk and the snare in jazz. In soul jazz, we’ll find ourselves somewhere in between. Use simple chords, often just the guide tones (3 and 7 are fine, sometimes 3, 7, 9 is fine). Check out Grant and Wes and Pat and George and Kenny! Simple chords and simple repeating rhythms. One of the most common mistakes young funk and jazz guitar players make (and bassists, drummers, and keyboard players for that matter) is that they confuse funk for just randomly whacking away at repeating eighth or sixteenth notes. Funk is subtle, contrapuntal, and powerful music. Don’t disrespect this music. Pay attention to the details!

Lab Rat – Overview

This funky little jam moves between C9 and Eb9. Check out the rhythm part carefully. There is some C9, some C7#9. Often, we’ll be using the 9th (really the same as the 2nd but an octave higher), the #9 (or #2), same as the minor third (b3) as well as the major third in our chords.

Lab Rat – Rhythm Performance

Download the tab, notation, and jam track for this soul jazz lesson on TrueFire.

The ghosted/muted chords and notes are as important as the non-ghosted notes. Make sure that even the muted notes have a clear attack. Just to be clear, it’s almost impossible to transcribe this kind of thing using standard notation. Even though Glen Morgan has done a nice job here, it’s still not going to get you where you want to be…you’re going to have to listen, watch, and imitate from the video. Also, full disclosure, there are a ton of mistakes in this take. But it’s pretty funky, and that’s what makes it right, mistakes and all. Fixing the mistakes might make it correct, but correct isn’t funky now, is it? Don’t let that producer, or engineer, or music teacher, or your mom make you fix it ’cause it isn’t correct. But do fix it if it ain’t funky! Sometimes that little bit of rushing and dragging – if it feels good – is part of the funkiness…and don’t let Mr. or Mrs. Uptight-y tell you otherwise.

Lab Rat – Lead Performance

Download the tab, notation, and jam track for this soul jazz lesson on TrueFire.

So, one of the reasons I chose this example is that it moves between two related keys. The chords are basically C7 and Eb7. Since we’re using both major and minor pentatonics, what’s the link here? Think about it…work it out. Give up? Okay:

C major pentatonic and C minor pentatonic go with C7. Eb major pentatonic and Eb minor pentatonic go with Eb7. Okay? So now, what’s the common element, the link? Take a close look at Cm pentatonic – C, Eb, F, G, Bb, and now take a look at Eb major pentatonic – Eb, F, G, Bb, C. Notice anything? Anything at all? Oh! Oh! Oooh! It’s the same notes! Dang. So, you could use Eb major pentatonic the whole way and it would work fine. Well, pretty good, except like a sandwich with salt and no peppa’, it’d be boring and bland. Your call, your choice.

Don’t forget to get the rest of the course on TrueFire! You’ll find even more techniques and performance studies to get you up to speed. Check it out now!