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Jazz Guitar Lessons

Bach to the Future Continues

Wes RD Wraggett

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Jazz guitarist Wes RD Wraggett discusses the techniques used by J.S.Bach and how they can be applied to jazz guitar. Welcome to Part 2 (of 5).

This series will discuss the techniques used by J.S.Bach and how they can be applied to jazz guitar. For sure many jazz musicians have done arrangements of Bach’s work throughout the years out of love and respect for his music. Bach and his contemporaries were the first western ‘jazz’ musicians in those Church organists of the time were expected to be able to improvise when needed, and of course, J.S.Bach gained his fame for his improvisatory prowess. Many associate him with remarkable contrapuntal technique but very often overlook is his mastery of harmony and the use of non-chord tones in establishing remarkable tapestries of interlocking lines. Check out lesson one in the series.


Another type of imitation is Canon, a form that is based on one voice beginning and another one (or more) following after a period of time, which could be few beats to a number of bars.

Many of you will be familiar with the term from the very famous piece, ‘Pachelbel’s Canon in D major’. Fundamentally you have a leader/follower arrangement that can modulate at some point or not as the case requires. For guitarists this can bring up two major issues;

  • 1 – playing two lines at once: if you’re a plectrum player this can be difficult to do, 
  • 2 – time required to apply this technique: a fast tempo and lots of changes is a situation where this will not work well, especially with one player. A moderate to slow tempo with few chord changes will be the ideal situation for this technique to work.

The follower line can be in a different octave but ideally it should be the same pitches as the leader however it can be a transposed version. It is also possible to add chromatic adjustments if the chord changes require it but generally the line should remain intact. Once you have established the leader/follower relationship it can be continued or broken off in a musically conclusive way at any time considering that we are not trying to create an academic canon here. Needless to say, this technique can be effective but can be difficult to pull off with one player (which is the idea here) and will only work in certain circumstances.

In the example below I have taken the first half of the A section of ‘The Days Of Wine And Roses’ (H.Mancini) to give a hint of how this could be used. As you will see I have made a couple of chromatic alterations in the follower to accommodate the harmony. While I have not tried to use the tune in the solo I’ve tried to get the rising/falling curve of it in. Also, there is no need to carry this idea throughout the solo as a small ‘taste’ can make the point. This example can be accomplished using a pick and careful fingering.

In the previous example there was a 2 bar lag in this one,‘Desafinado’ (A.C.Jobim) it is only one bar and I have tried to follow the ‘wave’ shape of the melody.

The last example uses ‘They Can’t Take That Away From Me’ (G.Gershwin) has a distinctive repeated note rhythm which is used in the solo. There is a modification in the canon towards the end and while it is unlikely you would repeat the solo exactly on the repeat I have done so only for structural clarity.

Using Canon like material in a solo is difficult but it is not impossible under the right circumstances. Of course in an ensemble situation canon between instruments can be highly effective, so see if there is an opportunity somewhere in your repertoire to try this useful technique and give it a go.

In the upcoming sections, Wes will go into Pedal, Bi-part Counterpoints, etc. Stay tuned.

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