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Jazz Improvisation Fundamentals Part 4: Internalizing Chord Changes

In this last article, Doug Stone (Assistant Professor of Jazz Studies at Louisiana State University, LA, USA) shares how you can improvise over anything. Apply it to your favorite songs and enjoy them more than ever.
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I recommend practicing the following process on chord changes to any tune. Ultimately, you need to be able to do this on the tunes without looking at a lead sheet ‚ÄĒ truly learn the chord changes. I believe it is beneficial to start the process with scales and then draw the chord tones out of the scales. The more chord progressions learned using the process, the quicker and easier it will become to do it.

The Process has been adapted from Jamey Aebersold’s Jazz Handbook. Its steps are:

Whole Notes

  1. Play the first note of each chord/scale in whole notes.
  2. Improvise using the first note of each chord/scale. Simply add improvised rhythms, making sure to change notes when the chord changes.

Three Notes

  1. Play the first three notes of each chord/scale: quarter-note/quarter-note/half-note.
    1. Ascend on each measure.
    2. Ascend on the first measure, descend on the second measure, then alternate up and down for the whole form.
    3. Descend on the first measure, ascend on the second measure, then alternate down and up for the whole form.
    4. Descend on each measure.
  2. Improvise using only the first three notes of each chord/scale. Make sure to change notes when the chord changes.

Five Notes

  1. Play the first five notes of each chord/scale: eighth/eighth/eighth/eighth/half.
    1. Ascend on each measure.
    2. Ascend on the first measure, descend on the second measure, then alternate up and down for the whole form.
    3. Descend on the first measure, ascend on the second measure, then alternate down and up for the whole form.
    4. Descend on each measure.
  2. Improvise using only the first five notes of each chord/scale. Make sure to change notes when the chord changes.

Full Scale

  1. Play the whole scale in eighth notes.

    1. Ascend on each measure.
    2. Ascend on the first measure, descend on the second measure, then alternate up and down for the whole form.
    3. Descend on the first measure, ascend on the second measure, then alternate down and up for the whole form.
    4. Descend on each measure.
  2. Improvise using all the notes of the scale. Make sure to change notes when the chord changes.

Chord-Tones

  1. Play scale degrees 1, 3, 5, 7 of the scale in eighth notes.
    1. Ascend on each measure.
    2. Ascend on the first measure, descend on the second measure, then alternate up and down for the whole form.
    3. Descend on the first measure, ascend on the second measure, then alternate down and up for the whole form.
    4. Descend on each measure.
  2. Play scale degrees 3, 5, 7, 1 of the scale in eighth notes (1st inversion).
    1. Ascend on each measure.
    2. Ascend on the first measure, descend on the second measure, then alternate up and down for the whole form.
    3. Descend on the first measure, ascend on the second measure, then alternate down and up for the whole form.
    4. Descend on each measure.
  3. Play scale degrees 5, 7, 1, 3 of the scale in eighth notes (2nd inversion).
    1. Ascend on each measure.
    2. Ascend on the first measure, descend on the second measure, then alternate up and down for the whole form.
    3. Descend on the first measure, ascend on the second measure, then alternate down and up for the whole form.
    4. Descend on each measure.
  4. Play scale degrees 7, 1, 3, 5 of the scale in eighth notes (3rd inversion).
    1. Ascend on each measure.
    2. Ascend on the first measure, descend on the second measure, then alternate up and down for the whole form.
    3. Descend on the first measure, ascend on the second measure, then alternate down and up for the whole form.
    4. Descend on each measure.
  5. Improvise using 1, 3, 5, 7 of each chord. Make sure to change notes when the chord changes.

Practicing What You Have Learned

  1. Write down and improvise running scalar eighth-note lines with chord-tones on down-beats, connected by non-chord-tone and chromatic notes on up-beats. For example:
  2. Repeat the entire process in all keys.

The following list has a few tunes that I recommend to practice following the process I have previously explained:

  • Blues¬†(Anonymous).
  • Doxy¬†(Sonny Rollins).
  • Lady Bird¬†(Tadd Dameron).
  • Tune Up¬†(Sonny Stitt).
  • Groovin‚Äô High¬†(Dizzy Gillespie).
  • Four¬†(Miles Davis).
  • How High The Moon¬†(Nancy Hamilton-Morgan Lewis).
  • Rhythm Changes¬†(Anonymous).
  • Autumn Leaves¬†(Joseph Kosma and Jacques Pr√©vert/Johnny Mercer).
  • Blue Bossa¬†(Kenny Dorham).
  • There Will Never Be Another You¬†(Harry Warren and Mack Gordon).
  • What Is This Thing Called Love¬†(Cole Porter).
  • Have You Met Miss Jones¬†(Richard Rodgers and the lyrics by Lorenz Hart).
  • I Love You¬†(Cole Porter).
  • Alone Together¬†(Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz).
  • Softly As In A Morning Sunrise¬†(Sigmund Romberg and Oscar Hammerstein II).

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