One interesting feature of writing a blog is that you get information about the search terms which people have used to get to your site. One of the most popular search combinations that finds this site is ‘gypsy jazz scales’ so I thought I had better post my view on this subject:
There are no scales in gypsy jazz
Of course without qualification this might seem a little extreme but I am sure that if all novice gypsy jazz guitarists started from this premise then they would get going a lot faster, I know that I would have saved a lot of time learning any sort of jazz guitar style if I had initially ignored scales but it is especially relevant to gypsy jazz guitar.
If one looks at the general pattern of notes played in gypsy jazz the overwhelming pattern is of arpeggios with chromatic decoration – by that I mean the standard arpeggio notes of a chord, e.g. C E G for a C major chord, with other notes just above and below them.
Take a very common, and great sounding, Django lick which just consists of the three note of a major arpeggio (or more strictly major triad) and the notes a semitone below each of these – B C, Eb E, F sharp G, B C – that sounds like authentic gypsy jazz doesn’t it? It is very easy to see how this relates to the C major chord on the fretboard especially if you start on the B at the 9th fret on the D string and so it is very easy to see when you might use that lick simply by playing through the chords of the tune. If instead you analysed these notes in terms of a scale you would get – root, minor third, major third, flattened fifth, perfect fifth, major seventh – which doesn’t make any sense at all.
So my advice to any gypsy jazz guitarist just starting out is to ignore scales and practice lots of arpeggios. The triads – root, third and fifth are a good starting point and then later add major sixths (sevenths don’t feature much in gypsy jazz, especially minor and major sevenths). You have to be careful how you choose to play the arpeggios, the temptation on the guitar is always to start on the bottom string and work across the strings but in gypsy jazz many arpeggios in solos will start on higher strings and go up and down the fretboard rather than across. For this reason it is best to get one of the excellent tuition books that are available and start from there. At the moment I am getting a lot of use out of Robin Nolan’s Essential Gypsy Jazz Licks which contains many of the most important decorated arpeggio patterns but I will be reviewing some alternatives to that on the site soon.