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Jazz Improvisation Fundamentals Part 1: Scales

You no longer have any excuse for not learning jazz or improving it, no matter what your current level is. In this complete series of articles, Doug Stone (Assistant Professor of Jazz Studies at Louisiana State University, LA, USA) gives you all the keys to success, not missing a beat and in a very concise manner. What are you waiting for?
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To execute improvised musical phrases on an instrument, the player must be able to physically access, on that instrument, the notes they hear in their mind’s ear. An individual can develop a deep connection with their instrument and hone their ability to physically access the phrases they hear in their mind’s ear through exhaustive scale practice. I have developed a practice routine that covers the most common scale types utilized in jazz tunes.

The Major Scale

Play all Major scales, preferably through the cycle of fourths.

Cmaj7, Fmaj7, Bbmaj7, Ebmaj7, Abmaj7, Dbmaj7, Gbmaj7, Bmaj7, Emaj7, Amaj7, Dmaj7, Gmaj7.

Use non-stop, slurred eighth notes. Play them one, two, or three octaves. Or, play them full range-preferably starting on the root, ascending to the highest root, third, fifth, or seventh you can play on your instrument, then descending to the lowest root, third, fifth, or seventh you can play on your instrument, then ascending and ending on the root.

The Mixolydian Scale

Play all Mixolydian scales, preferably through the cycle of fourths.

C7, F7, Bb7, Eb7, Ab7, Db7, Gb7, B7, E7, A7, D7, G7.

Use non-stop, slurred eighth notes. Play them one, two, or three octaves. Or, play them full range-preferably starting on the root, ascending to the highest root, third, fifth, or seventh you can play on your instrument, then descending to the lowest root, third, fifth, or seventh you can play on your instrument, then ascending and ending on the root.

The Dorian Minor Scale

Play all Dorian Minor scales, preferably through the cycle of fourths.

Cmin7, Fmin7, Bbmin7, Ebmin7, Abmin7, Dbmin7, Gbmin7, Bmin7, Emin7, Amin7, Dmin7, Gmin7.

Use non-stop, slurred eighth notes. Play them one, two, or three octaves. Or, play them full range-preferably starting on the root, ascending to the highest root, third, fifth, or seventh you can play on your instrument, then descending to the lowest root, third, fifth, or seventh you can play on your instrument, then ascending and ending on the root.

ii-V-I

Play the Dorian Minor, Mixolydian, and Major scales in the context of the ii7-V7-Imaj7. Ascend on the Dorian and Mixolydian. Ascend and descend on the Major.

Dmin7-G7-Cmaj7, Gmin7-C7-Fmaj7, Cmin7-F7-Bbmaj7, Fmin7-Bb7-Ebmaj7, Bbmin7-Eb7-Abmaj7, Ebmin7-Ab7-Dbmaj7, Abmin7-Db7-Gbmaj7, C#min7-F#7-Bmaj7, F#min7-B7-Emaj7, Bmin7-E7-Amaj7, Emin7-A7-Dmaj7, Amin7-D7-Gmaj7.

 


The Ascending Melodic Minor Scale

Use the ascending version of the Melodic Minor, regardless of ascending or descending. In other words, use a Major scale with a flat third. Play all Ascending Melodic Minor scales, preferably through the cycle of fourths.

Cmin(maj7), Fmin(maj7), Bbmin(maj7), Ebmin(maj7), Abmin(maj7), Dbmin(maj7), Gbmin(maj7), Bmin(maj7), Emin(maj7), Amin(maj7), Dmin(maj7), Gmin(maj7).

Use non-stop, slurred eighth notes. Play them one, two, or three octaves. Or, play them full range-preferably starting on the root, ascending to the highest root, third, fifth, or seventh you can play on your instrument, then descending to the lowest root, third, fifth, or seventh you can play on your instrument, then ascending and ending on the root.

The Altered Scale

The seventh mode of ascending Melodic Minor. Play all Altered scales, preferably through the cycle of fourths.

C7(alt), F7(alt), Bb7(alt), Eb7(alt), Ab7(alt), Db7(alt), Gb7(alt), B7(alt), E7(alt), A7(alt), D7(alt), G7(alt).

Use non-stop, slurred eighth notes. Play them one, two, or three octaves. Or, play them full range-preferably starting on the root, ascending to the highest root, third, fifth, or seventh you can play on your instrument, then descending to the lowest root, third, fifth, or seventh you can play on your instrument, then ascending and ending on the root.

The Locrian #2 Scale

The sixth mode of ascending melodic minor. Play all Locrian #2 scales, preferably through the cycle of fourths.

Cmin7(b5), Fmin7(b5), Bbmin7(b5), Ebmin7(b5), Abmin7(b5), Dbmin7(b5), Gbmin7(b5), Bmin7(b5), Emin7(b5), Amin7(b5), Dmin7(b5), Gmin7(b5).

Use non-stop, slurred eighth notes. Play them one, two, or three octaves. Or, play them full range-preferably starting on the root, ascending to the highest root, third, fifth, or seventh you can play on your instrument, then descending to the lowest root, third, fifth, or seventh you can play on your instrument, then ascending and ending on the root.

ii-V-i

Play the Locrian #2, Altered, and Ascending Melodic Minor scales in the context of the ii7(b5)-V7(alt)-imin(maj7). Ascend on the Locrian #2 and Altered. Ascend and descend on the Ascending Melodic Minor.

Dmin7(b5)-G7(alt)-Cmin(maj7), Gmin7(b5)-C7(alt)-Fmin(maj7), Cmin7(b5)-F7(alt)-Bbmin(maj7), Fmin7(b5)-Bb7(alt)-Ebmin(maj7), Bbmin7(b5)-Eb7(alt)-Abmin(maj7), Ebmin7(b5)-Ab7(alt)-Dbmin(maj7), Abmin7(b5)-Db7(alt)-Gbmin(maj7), C#min7(b5)-F#7(alt)-Bmin(maj7), F#min7(b5)-B7(alt)-Emin(maj7), Bmin7(b5)-E7(alt)-Amin(maj7), Emin7(b5)-A7(alt)-Dmin(maj7), Amin7(b5)-D7(alt)-Gmin(maj7).

 


Intervals

Practice now the previous scales in intervals. Thirds, fourths, fifths, sixths, and sevenths. Each interval type must be played in four different variations: Ascending/Ascending, Ascending/Descending, Descending/Ascending, and Descending/Descending. Do it playing in all twelve keys on each scale:

  • Major.
  • Mixolydian.
  • Dorian.
  • Ascending melodic minor.
  • Altered.
  • Locrian #2.

Finally, begin working from scale books by Walt Weiskopf and others. There are enough scale books on the market to keep you busy and to improve for a lifetime.

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