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By Rhys Lett

Movin Wes – VCE Music Solo Performance Guitar

Wes Montgomery was a revolutionary jazz guitarist. He popularized jazz guitar in the era following early innovators like Charlie Christian. His playing style wrote the textbook of jazz guitar.

Movin Wes is in the single note category of the VCE Music Solo Performance guitar exam. You are required to play at least one song from this category.

For assistance with VCE Music contact the Eastern Suburbs School of Music via the contact form on the right of this page or by calling Rhys on 0421 705 150.

Movin Wes – Equipment

To capture the sound of jazz guitar archtop guitars are used. Archtops are hollow like an acoustic guitar but have a mostly solid top with F holes. Use the neck pickup if the guitar has a selection switch. This will give you the smoothest tone. Jazz guitarists also roll off the tone control of the guitar. Rolling off the tone creates a warmer sound. Set the tone control to about half way.

Your amp tone need to be clean and pure. Single note sounds need to have clarity. Chord sounds should not break up into distortion. Some reverb can be added to help the ambiance of the notes.

To get closer to the Wes Montgomery sound use your thumb to play. The sound of playing with a pick creates more treble, sharper attack. Your thumb flesh will make a more smoother and mellow tone.

movin wes

Wes Montgomery performing on a beautiful Gibson archtop.

Movin Wes – Structure

Movin Wes follows the typical jazz song arrangement structure. Jazz songs are commonly structured by playing the song melody twice followed by solos then finishing the song by returning to the melody. The melody is referred to as the “head” in jazz. These features can be found in the structure of Movin Wes:

Intro – piano plays a bass line that can be doubled by the guitar. This uses power chord and octave shapes.

Head – guitar joins playing the melody line in ocatves. Octave playing is a trademark of Wes Montgomery’s playing style.

Solo 1 and 2 – the octave runs Wes Montgomery made famous. He stays with this technique for two runs through the 12 bar blues.

Solo 3 and 4 – soloing becomes chordal. Wes uses block chord playing to create the solo parts of these two passes through the 12 bar blues song form.

Head – return to the octave melody to finish the song.

Movin Wes – Techniques

To help your performance of Movin Wes you should practice these technical exercises:

  • octave playing.
  • using your thumb to play notes and chords.
  • extended jazz chords like dominant 9, 11 and 13.
  • A flat Mixolydian scale on 6th and 5th string.
  • 12 bar blues chords in the key of A flat.