The Contrafact

What is a ‘Contrafact?’ test A contrafact is a jazz tune based on an extant set of chord changes (usually a standard) where a composer uses the chord structure of an established composition to write an entirely new composition. The Gershwin tune "I Got Rhythm" is a perfect example of contrafactual recomposition: the popularity of ‘rhythm changes’ is second only to that of the 12-bar blues as a basic harmonic structure used by jazz composers. (Paraphrased from internet sources). How will this help my jazz playing? A great reason for doing this is that you can’t copyright a set … [Read more...]

The Godin 5th Avenue Jazz Guitar Review (Feat Isn’t She Lovely)

Late last year, Matt Walsham (a talented guitarist based in Auckland who manages imports for New Zealand’s largest music goods retail chain, ‘The Rockshop’) called me and said ‘man, have I got a guitar for you to try out’. Knowing how much I loved playing jazz and how important tone, control of sound, build quality and appearance were to me, (aren’t all guitarists vain...?!) – Matt lined up a ‘Godin 5th Avenue Jazz’ for me to put through its paces. LOOK I immediately loved it, after playing it for only a few moments in the shop. I’d been given the … [Read more...]

The ‘Concept’ Practice Method for Improvisation

1. CONCEPT ► 2. METHOD ► 3. PRACTICE ► 4. INTEGRATION + CONSOLIDATION ► 5. EXPRESSION I often find when considering the ways in which we learn how to play jazz, that the notes we choose are not always the most important element of our playing, nor the phrasing or rhythms used. In fact upon discussing the jazz-learning-pathway with some of the great musicians who have inspired me, I’ve found that the biggest catalysts in their own musical development were often moments of ‘conceptual’ enlightenment; at a gig or clinic, during a lesson or even in a non-performing environment, … [Read more...]

Insights Into How To Comp Jazz Guitar

This is a transcript of an interview I did with Bazi Baker, who was completing his undergraduate degree in 2010 at the Christchurch Jazz School in New Zealand. Some insightful, pertinent questions on comping within a jazz context. 1. What are some things you feel that beginning compers are not aware of or forget to think about? Volume, dynamic, time keeping, listening to the musical environment, interaction with the band 2. Can you pin point some characteristics you like in a good comper? Someone who: feels good to play with, is sympathetic to the ideas that soloist / vocalist / … [Read more...]


A plurality exists when a chord has more than one harmonic context or usage. This concept applies to all triad and most 7th chords that are commonly used in jazz repertoire. This is great for simplifying voicings of complex chords onto the fret-board of the guitar, being a notoriously hard instrument to ‘visualise’ chords on. If you spend some time studying these shapes and relationships you’ll be able to voice chords and lines along much simpler to ‘see’ and play chordal positions, by thinking of the primary triads or 7th chords at the top of the voicing; rather than trying … [Read more...]

Kurt Rosenwinkel and Jonathan Kreisberg Transcription Study: Part 3

Here is part 3 of my studies on Kurt Rosenwinkel and Jonathan Kreisberg. I extracted 8 concepts for improvisation from my transcriptions of these two great players and then composed the concepts into my own lines (as written 'soli') over newly composed harmonic progressions. The effect that this had on my playing was massive! I really struggled with playing the same ideas over and over and so this approach helped me think of new ways of playing my (rather stale!) vocabulary, rhythmically, harmonically and melodically. Please feel free to download the PDF of my studies (Transcription, … [Read more...]

The Lion: Samson Nacey Haines Trio

The Lion is an up tempo 3/4 swing, which centers around a basic melodic theme with a lot of shifting harmonic underpinning by way of modulation and progressive chord movements. The recorded version was captured live in studio and features Kevin Field on Piano with my trio (Ron Samsom on drums and Kevin Haines on Upright bass). Kevin is a harmonic master so he tore up the changes fairly effortlessly on a 'read through' - after I'd spent the better part of 3 weeks practicing it! I hope you enjoy and as always feel free to leave comments and questions. … [Read more...]

Kurt Rosenwinkel and Jonathan Kreisberg Transcription Study: Part 2

Here is part 2 of my studies on Kurt Rosenwinkel and Jonathan Kreisberg. I extracted 8 concepts for improvisation from my transcriptions of these two great players and then composed the concepts into my own lines (as written 'soli') over newly composed harmonic progressions. The effect that this had on my playing was massive! I really struggled with playing the same ideas over and over and so this approach helped me think of new ways of playing my (rather stale!) vocabulary, rhythmically, harmonically and melodically. Please feel free to download the PDF of my studies (Transcription, … [Read more...]

Jazz Guitar Rhythm Changes Explained

Rhythm Changes ‘Rhythm Changes’ is the term given to the cyclic pattern of chords that underpinned the famous old standard ‘I got Rhythm’. Brilliant saxophonist Charlie Parker wrote many ‘contrafacts’ (same chords, different melody) over these progressions, most usually appearing in an AABA form – with slight manipulations of the basic harmony for melodic considerations. The A Section(s) I have attached a harmonic lead sheet (chords only) of a Rhythm Changes in Bb with a few included chord alterations. It is important to consider the harmony – the biggest part of which … [Read more...]

Sight Reading Jazz Melodies the Easy Way

The most important factor when learning how to sight read jazz is the application of the two fundamentals of pitch and rhythm reading within practical jazz material. Students must be able to sight read and perform musical pieces in a manner that is stylistically relevant to the context of jazz music. To this end, jazz repertoire is regularly used as a source of many different types of sight reading exercises and examples, but also for the study of jazz melody, harmony and rhythm in a practical sense. In short, songs are the format which often yields the best ideas … [Read more...]

Ear Training 101 for Jazz Guitarists

Ok friends - here are two of the ways in which I’ve focused on testing and training myself to improve my ear over the years. There’s no substitute for learning and improving your memory by repetition so always include a good healthy dose of reps in any exercise or practice routine. First, I would work on relative pitch training (i.e. being able to tell the intervallic distance of a ‘given note’ to a ‘known, played’ note). Start with interval training.  Intervals: Use your instrument to pitch test your ear, firstly by establishing a tonic note (try one lower on … [Read more...]

Ten Jazz Standards That Absolutely Every Jazz Guitarist Should Know

Below I have compiled a short list of jazz standards I believe every keen jazz student should learn. I’ve given reasons why I think these particular tunes are so valuable and would love for you to add in your favourites and if you can, write out some reasons why they are on your list. I’ll try and stick to the classics and not choose too many by any one composer, despite having some definite favourites among them. I have mainly focused on the first songs I learned, even though there are hundreds of other tunes that have since been added … [Read more...]

Bebop Soloing – a General Guide for The Beginning Jazz Student

 Work through these ideas at slower tempos and increase gradually – grading yourself at each stage of practice tempo wise and recording yourself wherever possible. Remember to think of the forward momentum of the great bop players – sit at the front of the beat until you’re killing on the faster tempos. You could ‘groove’ a bit more after your up tempo time feel is really ‘in’. A general rule is to sit forward on the tempo with your lines – ALWAYS record and listen to yourself and see where you place, especially over the top of the original artist. … [Read more...]

Podcast – Episode 5: Stella by starlight

Podcast - Episode 5: Stella by starlight Brendan: This is Podcast Episode 5. [music] Brendan: Welcome to all our listeners. Thank you for joining our podcast once again. My name is Brendan Hall and I’m joined by Dixon Nacey and today we will be talking about Stella by Starlight and also we’re gonna be talking about a very interesting blog post that we put out recently which is all about how to structure your practice so stay tuned for that and right now I’m introducing Dixon. Dixon how are you? Dixon: I’m very good. Thank you Brendan. How are you … [Read more...]

What Does Dating Have to Do with Comping Jazz Guitar?

Comping is one of those jazz terms that gets used a lot by jazz guitarists. So what is the deal with "comping", just how do you "comp" and what does that have to do with dating? 1. Watch your volume No one likes trying to play ideas over an accompanist that won’t shut up; you cannot think. Be aware of your volume, enough to sit nicely underneath the soloist, no more. Exaggerate comping at a low volume. And if you are prone to exhibitionism, video yourself and play back to your jazz teacher, partner or favorite antagonistic friend and ask … [Read more...]

Jazz guitar practice routines uncovered (a letter to a friend)

So here's a reply I wrote to a youtube friend after we had some to'ing and fro'ing around what things were best to practice. I sent him my practice routines, examples etc - then he asked 'but what do you actually get to practice nowadays. Here was my answer! Practice Blog to a friend I choose one or two specific things to practice each session. Because of the nature of my lifestyle, with so much work on and teaching, gigging, travelling and family, the sessions may be quite short but almost every night I get an hour or two. And … [Read more...]

How to create effective Jazz Solos using Spacing and Pacing

Two very important techniques for improvising that can be useful in building dynamic, structure, solo arc, contour and giving ‘breath’ to a solo are ‘SPACE’ and ‘PACING’. Spacing Few students who work on improvising play with space as a big consideration. I think it’s because we get very ‘cerebral’ as jazzers, learning so much about harmony and rhythm that we forget to leave the space which makes a line or melodic idea beautiful in the first place. Space gives your playing effectiveness. It gives your phrases and lines more shape and it gives you time to listen to and … [Read more...]

Ask Dixon Anything!

Thanks for visiting the Q and A post. I have set up this post especially for you! Here's the deal. I want to know your questions. The topics and subjects and the struggles you are facing on the Jazz Guitar journey. Think of it as your ultimate question and answer post! Here some focusing questions if you need help... What are you struggling with right now as a Jazz Guitarist? What are the topics or lessons you need clarification on? If you could ask me anything what would it be? Please leave your thoughts, comments and questions below... … [Read more...]

How to get the most out of transcribing solos – in 10 steps

Here are some ideas I put together for students wanting to learn difficult solos onto their instrument. This is a thorough, precise method that really works if you want to get the most out of your transcriptions. It may take time but the rewards will be huge! Listen Listen to the chosen solo over and over until you are able to sing the notes with all the articulations and nuances. (You can also consider searching for different arrangements, artists versions, stylistic variations, etc but it is not imperative – just listen to the tune as much as possible at this … [Read more...]

How to practice Jazz Guitar and improve your golf swing in 3 easy steps

Following on from my previous post "Tips on creating a solid jazz guitar practice routine" - I thought I would take things a step further by actually telling you how to practice jazz guitar in a structured format. Here I have chosen three different sets of material that I would work on, over three separate 1 hour 30 minute long practice sessions. Yes you need to commit some solid time to practice jazz guitar! It's like developing a good golf swing, you need to develop the muscle memory consistently over time to master jazz guitar. If you have ever stared … [Read more...]