Jamie Holroyd Guitar

Jamie Holroyd Guitar

3 Essential So What Improvisation Exercises

3 Essential So What Improvisation Exercises

This article teaches 3 So What improvisation exercises for jazz guitar to help better your jazz guitar soloing skills.

One of the most commonly played jazz standards is the Miles Davis classic So What.

So What is a 32 bar modal progression that switches between two key centers, D minor and Eb minor.

Most jazz standards have 1 chord per bar. The fact that So What has 1 chord for a longer duration makes it a great beginner jazz guitar tune.

Each of the exercises in this lesson have helped students learn to improvise and map out the tune on the guitar.




So What Improvisation Exercise #1 — Connecting the Two Scales


One of the most frequent questions I get asked from jazz guitar students is how are modes and arpeggios used in jazz?

The So What theme and most of Miles Davis’ trumpet solo are excellent examples of how the Dorian scale is used.

As mentioned earlier, So What modules between two different keys, D- and Eb-. The Dorian scale can be used to improvise over both of these minor chords.

Check out this article if you are unfamiliar with Dorian Scales as you will need to know them for this So What improvisation exercise.

This first So What improvisation exercise helps see and connect the two scales together.

Ascend up the D Dorian and descend down the Eb Dorian as demonstrated in the example below.


so what improvisation scales


Once you can play between the two scales smoothly, try the same exercise in a higher octave and then in different positions on the neck.

Reversing the exercise is also beneficial. For example, start with a descending D Dorian scale then go up an Eb Dorian scale.



So What Improvisation Exercise #2 — Call and Response


The So What theme features the blues call and response technique.

When playing the tune, the bassist usually plays the melody, and the piano or guitarists answers it using chords.

This call and responce technique can also be used in improvisation as demonstrated in the example.

Play one bar of single line improvisation, then play the So What chords in the next bar.


so what improvisation call and responce


Start with short blues based ideas first, and then move towards more jazz oriented phrases.

Vary the exercise by playing longer lines as the solo goes on. This could be done by playing 2 bars of single line soloing, 1 bar of playing chords.



 So What Improvisation Exercise #3 — Miles’ Solo


By this stage, you know the scales, the chords, and how to solo, so what’s next?

Miles Davis solo is one of, if not, the most identifiable jazz solo which would take several articles to fully explain.

So, the 3rd So What improvisation exercise just focuses on the first eight bars of his solo.

Transcribe the first eight bars of Miles Davis solo and answer the following questions:


1)     How often does he start on beat 1?

2)     What scale does he use?

3)     How much space does he leave?

4)     What rhythms does he use?


Use the answers to these questions to construct your own practice exercises.

For example, Miles rarely starts phrases on beat 1. So, create a So What Improvisation exercise like improvising without starting any phrases on beat 1 of the bar.

I hope you have enjoyed playing and working through each of these So What improvisation exercises.

What are some of your favorite ways to practice So What? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.


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