What’s the first jazz solo you should transcribe?

Have you heard that you should be transcribing solos but just aren’t sure where a good place to start is?

Are you having problems finding a jazz solo that is not only easy to play but has tons of great jazz licks in there?

Or perhaps you’ve already tried transcribing for a bit but found it to hard and gave up in frustration?

Well, If any of these sound like you then I have an easy solution for you: Start with one of the most famous, easiest, and greatest jazz solos of all time. Start with Miles Davis’ solo on So What.  

Not only is this one of the best jazz solos of all time it also has an incredible amount of jazz vocabulary in there for you to learn from.  It’s fairly easy to play and really functions as a perfect place to start your jazz transcription journey.

I remember transcribing this solo when I was a younger musician and having it COMPLETELY change my life.

I would go as far as to say that the “jazz” I was playing before I transcribed this solo was nowhere near the real thing.  This opened all the doors for me!

Breaking Down Miles Davis

So, lets take a close listen to Miles’ solo on the video below. We will break the solo down and talk about how you can use this solo to really help your playing!  It starts at 1:31.

After you listen make sure you scroll down. I’ve included some important tips on what you will learn from transcribing Miles’ solo. 

A Few Musical Gems In This Solo

1. Learn Better Phrasing

Miles had an incredible ability to mix not only longer streams of notes together (ideas that are approx. 4 bars or more) but also mix in short ideas as well (half measure ideas, one measure ideas, etc.).

By mixing up his phrase lengths it brings a lot of texture and interest to the solo.

2. Soloing Using Triads

From 2:28- 2:41 Miles arpeggiates up and down C major triad.  Even though he isn’t thinking vertically (as in chordally) he is actually still playing inside the D dorian mode.

3. Using Upper Extensions Of the Chords

 Another way to look at the area from 2:28-2:41 where he plays the notes C, E, and G is that Miles is soloing using the upper extensions of a the Dminor Chord.  (b7, 9, and 11).

This is truly a beautiful sound and can teach you how to get more of a contemporary sound in your lines.

(For more licks that use upper extensions be sure to also check out these free lick videos Barry Harris Lick or this Turnaround Lick).  (You can also check out this video lesson that teaches specifically how to play extensions on dominant chords.)

4. Learn Rhythmic Endings 

Listen to the phrase that starts at 1:34 and end on 1:36.   Can you hear how Miles ends his lick with two eighth notes on beat 1 and the “&” of 1 (he plays two D’s there)?

That’s an incredible rhythmic tool right there.  He end alot of his licks with that two eighth notes on beat 1 and the “&” of 1 figure.

If you start working out your own licks with the same rhythmic endings I promise you they will swing alot more!

5. Improve Your Swing Feel

Miles swing feel was second to none.  There is a lot of things he does to achieve his incredible groove but one of the things that is probably the most powerful is that he plays very far back on the beat.

Your swing feel will instantly improve if you play along with Miles and try to match his beat placement.

(If you would like more resources about improving your swing feel or your groove make sure you also read this article on how to make your jazz melodies swing more).

6. Combining Different Minor Scales (Dorian, blues scale, melodic minor, etc.)

Miles seamlessly switches scales on his solo subtly bringing in all kinds of different sounds.  This is a great opportunity for you to learn to get the different scale sounds as well.

Here’s a couple examples: He plays the dorian mode from 1:38-1:45.  He plays blues scale from 2:15-2:26.

He plays melodic minor from 1:54-1:58.  If you need some more jazz scale information check out this lesson here jazz scales.

(If you want to learn more about these scales check out this blues scale lesson or this lesson on minor scales.)

7. How To Solo Over One Chord 

Most of this solo is over just one chord. 24 bars are over D minor. 8 bars are over Eb minor. There are so many situation in modern music where you will have to play over only one chord for many measures in a row.

How do you keep the solo interesting with no harmonic motion?

I did alot of funk and jam band gigs when I first moved to Chicago. Alot of time the jams we were doing would be over Dminor or E minor for what seemed like 7 million measures.

I took many of the licks and phrasing concepts from this solo and applied to my rock, funk, and jam band gigs. They fit seamlessly in these styles.

It is said that the the Allman Brothers were even influenced by this album as well.

Your Next Steps Musically Speaking

I shared with you a few of my favorite parts of this solo.  The solo is really deep and full of material that I’m sure you will find your own favorite parts as well.

Enjoy your study of this solo and watch as your jazz improvisation goes to the next level!

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Steve Nixon