How to play JAZZ on the mandolin

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 Using 3rds and 7ths in Improvising

Don't like the way your solos sound?  Want to give your lines more of an authentic Jazz sound?  Using thirds and sevenths is one way of accomplishing this.

Before we look at how to use this in improvising lines, let's look at the sound of thirds and sevenths.  Below is the spelling (notes that make the chord) of three common Jazz chords


Major Seventh = 1  3  5  7

Dominant Seventh = 1  3  5  b7

Minor Seventh = 1  b3  5  b7


Notice that 1 and 5 are common in all these chords.  As such, they don't help define the true "color" of a chord sound.  Thirds and sevenths are the notes that define the quality of a chord and give it a unique sound.  Lets hear this by playing thirds and sevenths with the root, in these examples.


G Major 7

3 and 7 for G Major 7

Play the third and seven individually a few times, the together.  After that play the root (1) then the 3 note chord.  Do this a number of times until the sound of this chord is internalized.


Internalize the sound of G7 and Gm7 using the same process.



3 and 7 G7



3 and 7 Gm7


After you internalize these sounds, notice the G or root note, does nothing to define the sound of the chord.  The third and seventh are the true color notes.  As these sounds are basic build blocks of Jazz, it is very important to be able to hear and recognize these notes instantly. 

Before we learn to use them in soloing, lets look at common circle of fifths progressions. Sweet Georgia Brown in the key of F uses this circle of fifths progression:


D7     >     G7     >     C7     >     FMaj7


Find the thirds and sevenths for each of these chords.


3 and 7  D7 G7 C7 FMaj7


An important observation!  The third and seventh in the D7 chord descend by one half step (one fret) and turn into the seventh and third of the G7 chord.  This happens again going from G7 to C7.  When we go from C7 to FMaj7, the third in C7 (note E) becomes the seventh in FMaj7.  The seventh in C7 descends one half step to become the third in FMaj7.  Reread this paragraph and look at the above music example until you can follow it.


We can use this descending sound of thirds and seventh to help tie this progression together and make a logical Jazz sound solo.  See the example below.


D7 G7 C7 FMaj7 solo using 3rds and 7ths


These are very typical lines heard in 50s era Jazz solos.  Notice how they use the thirds and sevenths to move logically to the next chord?


Experiment on your own using these thirds and sevenths.  You'll find some great Jazz sounds tha is sure to spice up your improvising!


Pete Martin  Rich Levine

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