Chord-Tone Practice

In an earlier blog I noted the potential un-musicality of the popular chord–scale approach to jazz improvising. But there is an additional issue about this approach: i.e. the need to build skills from firm foundations, which this quote from Berklee makes clear:

‘… for beginner and intermediate-level players, the chord-scale approach has a potential downside. Many students begin studying chord scales early in their musical education and attempt to apply the knowledge acquired immediately on their instruments. Unfortunately, this often happens too soon in the student’s development as an improviser–before he or she has learned how to shape an appealing improvised melody by ear on a chord or chord progression using only, or mainly, chord tones.’ source

As a precursor (and possible antidote) to chord-scale theory, try improvising on chord tones instead, then incorporate this approach into your improvisations, as many great players do. Here’s an initial exercise to try:

Chord tone practice 01

Modes #2

Here’s another exercise on the common jazz modes, this time those using one b

Modes using one b

However, remember that the key signatures of modal music should refer to the appropriate major or minor scale, in order to establish the tonic: e.g.

F major = b
C mixolydian = C major (i.e. no flats or sharps) but with accidentals changing B to Bb
D minor = b
D dorian = b but with accidentals changing Bb to B

etc.

Modes #1

Modes #1

Here’s an exercise on the common jazz modes using one #

Modes using one #

However, remember that the key signatures of modal music should refer to the appropriate major or minor scale, in order to establish the tonic: e.g.

G major = #
D major = ##
D mixolydian = ## but with accidentals changing C# to C
E minor = #
E dorian = # but with accidentals changing C to C#

etc.

Modes #2

Early Jazz Practice

Following on from an earlier blog about typical approaches to melody in early jazz and swing, here are three simple examples, with parts for instruments in C, Bb and Eb. These and other examples to follow are adapted from tunes and solos by W.C Handy, King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Johnny Dodds, George Lewis, Sidney Bechet, Benny Goodman and many others. Always swing the quavers (8th notes) unless otherwise indicated.

We’ll start with the unelaborated arpeggio of a major triad. These ‘bugle calls’ are common.

ex02


Adding intervals 6 & 9 (=2) to a major triad is typical, creating the major pentatonic scale. Additions are shown in red.

ex03


Adding interval p4 to a major triad was rare at the time, but here it’s used as an auxiliary note in the first beat of bar 3. More typically, 6 and a b3 are added, the latter being a blue note. No more colour-coding: learn to spot the melodic elaborations for yourself. Borrow these approaches for your own improvisations and compositions. Their use goes way beyond early jazz alone.

* Play the quavers straight in the third beat of bar 2.

ex06

These examples and many more are available as iBooks with audio backing:

for instruments in C at link
for instruments in Bb at link 
for instruments in Eb at link

Continue reading Early Jazz Practice

Chords in Context

Learning to improvise can be confusing, with advice ranging from ‘just trust your ear’ to ‘see that chord, play this scale’. The first approach takes a lot of experience, while the second is an over-simplification of harmonic progression. Chords exist in context, and it’s the context that tells you what a chord signifies both melodically and harmonically. For example, these three progressions start with the the same chord (C major), yet each progression signifies a different scale or mode for improvising, songwriting or other forms of composing:

Ex 1

01

Ex 2

02

Ex 3

03

N.B. These progressions are not necessarily in the original keys of the song examples given

 


But there are many more possibilities. The triad of C major is found in all of these scales and modes:

C major and its different modes, e.g. D dorian, A aeolian, G mixolydian, F lydian
F major and its different modes, e.g. G dorian, D aeolian, C mixolydian, Bb lydian
G major and its different modes, e.g. A dorian, E aeolian, D mixolydian, C lydian

E harmonic minor: E F# G A B C D# E   (e.g. Celia Cruz, ‘La Vida Es Un Carnival’)
F harmonic minor: F G Ab Bb C Db E F  (e.g. Muse, ‘Exogenesis’)

F melodic minor: F G Ab Bb C D E F   (contemporary jazz – same up as down)
G melodic minor: G A Bb C D E F# G  (contemporary jazz – same up as down)

The same is true, of course, for the other 11 major triads, with appropriate transpositions of the relative scales and modes. So when you practice a major triad arpeggio, think of the many different harmonic contexts that it may occur in. Elaborate the chord notes with those various melodic possibilities. Here is an exercise to get you started:

Ex 4

maj-arpeggios-elab

 


As with any major triad, the same minor triad may appear in many different harmonic contexts. The triad of A minor, for example, occurs in all of these scales and modes:

C major and its different modes, e.g. D dorian, A aeolian, G mixolydian, F lydian
F major and its different modes, e.g. G dorian, D aeolian, C mixolydian, Bb lydian
G major and its different modes, e.g. A dorian, E aeolian, D mixolydian, C lydian

A harmonic minor: A B C D E F G# A   (e.g. Busta Rhymes, ‘I Know What You Want’)
E harmonic minor: E F# G A B C D# E   (e.g. Grant Kirkhope, ‘Klungo’s Theme’)

A melodic minor: A B C D E F# G# A   (e.g. John Williams, ‘Binary Sunset’)
G melodic minor: G A Bb C D E F# G   (e.g. Temples, ‘The Golden Throne’)

N.B. Not necessarily the original keys of the song examples given

The same is true, of course, for the other 11 minor triads, with appropriate transpositions of the relative scales and modes. So when you practice a minor triad arpeggio, think of the many different harmonic contexts that it may occur in. Elaborate the chord notes with those various melodic possibilities. Try this exercise to get you started:

Ex 5

min-arpeggios-elab

Now try those last two bars against a Gm chord. This effectively heightens the chord of Gm to Gm 13(#7) through melody alone.



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Improvising Early Jazz

In an earlier blog I outlined the common chord types found in Early Jazz and Swing. Here are the typical ways that those common chords are elaborated through melodic improvisation. You will need a reasonable understanding of scales, chords and intervals to follow these illustrations. Naturally, these examples may be transposed to any key.

improv-ex-01

Note that adding 6 and 9 to a major chord creates a major pentatonic scale.
Adding a flat 3 creates the major version of the blues scale.

improv-ex-02

improv-ex-03


As jazz developed after the 1930s, improvisation increasingly relied on techniques based on scales. But other styles of music continued to use the same elaborations of chords, as outlined above. So, the following phrase would work in Boogie Woogie of the 1940s, or in later Rhythm & Blues, Rock & Roll, Skiffle and Country, etc.

improv-ex-04



These extracts are taken from the author’s free iBook: Early Jazz Theory, David Burnand, 2013.  https://itun.es/gb/3ECVN.l



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Early Jazz Harmonic Theory

Despite the stylistic changes that occurred as New Orleans and Hot Jazz developed into Swing, early jazz demonstrates an underlying unity of approach to the melodic interpretation of harmony, and one which continued within Boogie Woogie, R&B, Rock ‘n Roll, Skiffle and Country music, even if modern jazz took a different route.

Chords underly the structures of tunes and improvisations in early jazz and swing. Most of the chord types found in jazz of the 1920s and 30s may be derived from a standard 7-note scale. For example, using only the notes of C Major, we can produce the following chords.

 

 

ej-ex_01

ej-ex_02

ej-ex_03

Note the similarity between Major 6 and Minor 7 chords: e.g. F6 is an inversion of Dm7.

 


 

Let’s carry on building the common chords found in early jazz and swing, while still limiting ourselves to notes of the C Major scale, for now.

ej-ex_04

Note the similarity in content of these five chord types.

 


 

Now we need to leave the confines of a standard 7-note scale in order to create four more chord types found in early jazz. In some contexts, these derive from the minor mode and the influence of the Blues: i.e. think of D# as Eb in the key of C Minor.

ej-ex_05

Note the similarity of content in each pair of chords above. Also note the construction of the Bo7 chord, which shares its content with diminished 7s built on D, F and Ab. Similarly, G+ shares its content with two other augmented chords, B+ and D#+, for reasons that should be obvious. If not, then I recommend you brush up on your basic music theory.


These extracts are taken from the author’s free iBook: Early Jazz Theory, David Burnand, 2013.  https://itun.es/gb/3ECVN.l

In a later blog, I explore the typical ways that these common chords are elaborated in early jazz improvisation.

 



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