Music Theory and Gypsy Jazz

GregHBGregHB New YorkNew
edited May 2007 in Gypsy Jazz 101 Posts: 47
Hi everyone. I would like to ask a question about manouche soloing and comping. How necessary do you think it is to learn how to apply theory in order to play this style? While I do know some theory, if I try to think about that stuff while soloing, the results are often disastrous. For instance, I've tried soloing just using chord tones and I just can't seem to process the information fast enough to make anything really musical happen when doing this. So now I'm trying to rely solely on my ear. Any feedback on how others approach this issue would be greatly appreciated. Thanks - Greg


  • MichaelHorowitzMichaelHorowitz SeattleAdministrator
    Posts: 6,154
    I wouldn't worry too much about theory with this style. In most cases it will just confuse you, because trad. Gypsy jazz has very strict usage of a few types of scales and arpeggios. 90% of what the average jazz theory book teaches is geared towards bebop and other forms of jazz. So you spend lots of time worrying about modes of the melodic minor instead of learning some good django phrases.

    I'd just transcribe solos and work on the standard patterns, which appear in the Gypsy Picking and Gypsy fire books.

    I wrote a couple of lessons with most of theory you'll need to know for Gypsy jazz:

    Lesson 4: Gypsy Theory Part I

    Lesson 5: Gypsy Theory Part II

    Don't get me wrong...theory is a great asset. But for most people who have limited practice time, it's just too tall an order to be spending lots of time learning theory AND trying to practice guitar. Since this style is a relatively simple form of jazz, you don't need to know that much. It's much more about good technique and phrases.

    good luck!

  • HCPhillyHCPhilly Phila. PA✭✭✭✭
    Posts: 147
    Michael's answer was spot on. As he says, most of the theory books are for playing bop and post bop styles and won't help you much.
    Also, it seems that some of the great Gypsy Jazz players probably don't know theory, they work out out a lot of ideas. Chord tones are a really good place to start, Michael's recommendations plus Wrembel's "getting into Gypsy Jazz,' will point you in the right direction. I'd suggest learning transcribed solos, and deconstructing them. You can start to add tones
    outside of the chord shapes, [a common one is 1 2 b3 5 two octaves]
    and also upper and lower neighbors, which are covered in the above
    materials. Your goal is to ingrain the material so well that you can "run " the arpeggios with minimal thought. [The piano theory books by Joel Levine make this point well, although most of the theory wouldn't
    be really useful to you]. Maybe some of us could contribute some transcriptions that include analysis. More and more I'm seeing that so much of good soloing is placement and phrasing, which Django, Stochelo, Dorado, Tchavolo [lot's of o ending names!], and the rest are masters of. Where you place the notes goes a great way in making for good tension and release, which also involves targeting dominant 7 chords, etc.
    Look at how much space there is in Django's solo on "Blues Clair.
    Hope that helps.
  • GregHBGregHB New YorkNew
    Posts: 47
    Thanks alot guys. That was really helpful. I have to admit, I've been slacking on the Gypsy Picking book but starting working with it again yesterday and immediately ordered the Gypsy Fire book after Michael's comment. That should keep me busy for a long time. It does seem that if one digests phrases that are widely used, the question isn't so much of what to play as it is of where and how to play what is already in your vocabulary. Thinking about it this way will probably eliminate many complications. Thanks again. - Greg
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