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How to Develop a Jazz Solo (First Steps)

Welcome to episode 256 where today I walk you through some different steps for beginning to develop a great jazz solo. A common mistake I hear is beginning a jazz solos with lots of notes and a myriad of ideas, rather than using call and response and a thematic building ideas. I show you actionable steps you can take to start bringing your solos to life.

Listen to episode 256

Okay, what was wrong with that solo?

There is something horribly wrong with that solo and what was wrong with it was, right as soon as it was my turn to solo, I came out of the gate just playing as many notes as possible, just trying to fill up as much space as possible. 

And guess what, it probably sounded boring. It probably didn’t spell the chord changes as well as I could have. It just didn’t sound that musical. It was just a lot of notes regardless of whether they are the right notes or not. 

So, the big question is, how do we develop really awesome jazz solos?

Well, that’s exactly what we’re going to do today. We’re not going to do what I just did. We are going to make really awesome jazz solos that sound great. 

In this episode:

1. Start with simple rhythms using only one note per chord

2. Slowly add more rhythmic complexity and additional notes to your idea

3. Create rhythmic and melodic phrases and practice “carbon copying” them over different chords as an exercise

4. Use direction of your lines to help manipulate your motific ideas 5. Manipulate your rhythms to create more space

Important Links

1. Learn Jazz Live 2021 Virtual Summit

2. LJS Inner Circle Membership

Brent Vaartstra
Brent Vaartstra is a professional jazz guitarist and educator living in New York City. He is the head blogger and podcast host for which he owns and operates. He actively performs around the New York metropolitan area and is the author of the Hal Leonard publication "Visual Improvisation for Jazz Guitar." He's also the host of the music entrepreneurship podcast "Passive Income Musician."


  1. Sorry – way too complex for me. One question I’ve not seen addressed: How to handle sight reading changes, not knowing the tune. No time to analyze, think or try ideas – just, for instance, sitting in on bari, unfamiliar tune is called, it’s a bari feature with just chords for 32 bars. YIKES. I had to tell the leader – give it to somebody else – I can’t cut it.

    • “One question I’ve not seen addressed: How to handle sight reading changes, not knowing the tune.” It seemed to me that that’s exactly what BV was addressing with his “one note” method: no talk of the melody at all, just talk of the chords (which one can be reading from the chart without knowing the tune).


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