How to Play Jazz Guitar Intros
“I notice a lot of guitarists who are very good players but don’t seem to know some of the basic procedures of playing with a group and playing before an audience. One of the things is knowing how to take an intro” – Joe Pass
In the last couple of articles we’ve been looking at jazz guitar ending chords and progressions, and now that you have them under your fingers we are going to check out how to better our jazz guitar chops by looking at some cool and common jazz guitar intros to add to your jazz repertoire.
There are countless ways that you can take intros when playing jazz guitar and it would be impossible to discuss all of them in one article so this lesson aims to give you an insight into some of the common and interesting ones that you can use in your playing straight away.
A good intro should set up the time, feel and grove of the tune, stystically suite the song, and introduce the key.
Major Key Intros
Since most jazz standards are in major keys, let’s begin by looking at how to play some major key intros. One safe intro that you can use on just about any jazz standard is the I VI II V vamp or one of the many variations of this progression.
Most jazz players will instantly recognize the I VI II V sound which is why it’s a safe bet but a crunchier option that you can use for major key tunes is the I – bIImaj7#11 chord.
Similarly you can also play the I major triad and the bII major triad. These triads sound particularly effective with a V chord root placed in the bass as a pedal note and is often used in the last 4 bars of ‘Someday My Prince Will Come’, but you can use it in a variety of tunes.
Another hip way that we can use triads over a pedal is moving a triad down a step from first inversion, and then up again a half step. This creates a cool Phrygian type of sound, especially when moving when moving up a half step.
Minor Key Intros
Just as we need to know major key intros a good minor tune intro can also be effective and used to compliment the piece.
Again a simple and proven intro for minor tunes is also the I VI II V, but you can also add a b6 dominant 7 for an added crunch like in the example below.
Another intro you could for minor tunes is to think up a tone up from the I minor 7 chord like in the example below. Like with the major intros the I – bIImaj7 also works great and is a common harmonic movement in Wayne Shorter tunes, see the second example.
Lick & Chord Intros
Besides using just chords for an intro licks and chords can also be used to set up the feel of the tune. The following example is a typical hot club style swing guitar intro that you can use over major key swing standards.
Notice that the bop-esc lines in the first two bars grab your attention and the rhythms to the chords and bass notes in the last two bars set the feel for the tune.
Other Jazz Guitar Intros
- Last 8 Bars – Another common intro that you will encounter is to play the last 4 or 8 bars of a tune. Usually there is some kind of a turnaround at the part of the tune which is why it makes a good intro.
- Melody Variation – For copyright reasons I can’t provide any musical examples here, but on tunes like ‘Satin Doll’ and ‘Honeysuckle Rose’ there is often a variation on a couple of bars from the melody to set the tune up.
- Starting with a Dffierent Section – A cool trick that is sometimes done is starting with a different section of a tune. This can be particularly effective if the other section is a different feel. Check out Wes Montgomery’s version of ‘Nica’s Dream’ and how he starts with the bridge.
Remember to practice all the examples in this lesson in all 12 keys, with different rhythms, and over tunes that you know so that you get the maximum usage of what you learn.
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Do you have any favorite jazz guitar intros? Share your toughts in the comment section below.
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