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map it out

Map It Out part 2

Last week we looked at mapping out a plan of attack when looking at a new chart or chord progression. We’re going to take the same chart (Stand Firm which will be on my album Mountain, Move later this year) and go further into the progression mapping out a plan. Last week we looked at some different options on the first two chords of the vamp/intro. In today’s post we will take a look at the remainder of that section. Below is the part of the piano part:

We talked about how the first two chords of the intro/vamp are the same chord quality just a whole step a part. This continues until the 7th and 8 bar. It takes the same chord quality and moves up a half step then an additional whole step (Dmin11 to Ebmin11 to Fmin11). Similar to last week’s map we can take pentatonic  pairs and move them up a half step and then another whole step as shown below:

From there you can develop a road map of where you might want to go. Below is the full intro/vamp:

You can use whatever tools you want. I’m using pentatonics for these examples because they’re simple and contain great melodic possibilities. I’ve listed two different option paths you could take through the vamp/intro section:

  1. Eb major pentatonic -> F major pentatonic (repeated 2x) -> F# major pentatonic -> Ab major pentatonic
  2. Bb major pentatonic -> C major pentatonic (repeated 2x) -> Db major pentatonic -> Eb major pentatonic

Obviously there are a number of different combination paths you could choose, but like I mentioned last week I think it’s best during your first run-through of a new chart to find the path that has a nice linear path.

Next week we will take a look at the “A” section of this chart and continue mapping out a plan. If you haven’t already done so, I’d like to invite you to check out my Digital Store where you can get more information on my books (Targeting: Improvisation with Purpose and Breaking the Monotony), Skype Lessons and information on how you can help be a part of the Mountain, Move recording project. Also, don’t forget to check back daily for the Lick of the Day that is in the upper right corner of the site!

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map it out

Map It Out

Map It Out

In today’s post I wanted to give you a sneak peak at one of the songs that’s going to be on the album (on Mountain, Move that you can check out HERE) and talk about mapping out a plan of attack for improvisation. If you drive your vehicle from one destination to another often enough you will get familiar with how to get there and what alternate routes can be taken if there is traffic or roadblocks. The same is true for improvisation. If you’ve played the same chord progression often enough-you know how to get around. However, if you are in a new city (or have a chord progression that’s unfamiliar) you may want to map it out or have a GPS guide you.

We are going to take a look at a song called Stand Firm. The progression is not something that I think would be difficult for the vast majority of players out there. However, for our purposes we will start simple. Below is the intro and A-section to the song (from the piano part).

For me…the less I have to think about when navigating something new the better.  Don’t get bogged down with too many options to start. The more familiar I become with something the more I can expand my options. When you’re driving in a new city you want to know how you get from point A to point B. You’re not too concerned on the first trip or two about alternate routes. I like to take the same approach to mapping out new chord changes.

When I map out a new chord progression I will look for commonalities between the chords. Are there key areas or centers? Can multiple chord changes share the same or similar pattern? If there are commanalities I will explore those avenues first. For instance, in the intro to Stand Firm the  first two chords in the vamp are a whole step a part. So I might look for melodic device options that are a whole step a part. I could use two pairs of pentatonics that are a whole step a part. I could use chromatic targeting devices where the targets are a whole step a part (check out Targeting: Improvisation with Purpose for more info on that one). There’s a number of different ways you can use the whole step a part idea.

I like pentatonic scales because they’re simple and they are full melodic possibilities. Below is how I might map out part of the intro:

 

You’ll notice that above the Cmin11 chord I wrote in a few examples. The Eb and Bb major pentatonic scale as well as Cmin (which is a reminder to think in a C minor key area). Over the Dmin11 is the F and C major pentatonic (along with Emin key area reference which should be Dmin…as a trumpet player sometimes it’s hard to shut off transposing, sorry). All of those options show that I could potentially use whole step pentatonic pairs (Bb to C and Eb to F major).

I would continue this process throughout the whole progression and find what avenues would support a logical flow. Just like voice leading on chordal instruments you want to look for the closest relationships. That means finding devices that are a 1/2 step, whole step, etc. away from the other device. It doesn’t mean that’s the only way you can improvise over the changes, but it gives you a good start to get familiar with changes. Once you do get familiar, you can expand your options.

Next week we will continue to map out some more options on the intro as well as the rest of the form. Let me hear from you, though. What melodic devices/options would you use over the intro?

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Record Yourself

Welcome everyone! In today’s post I want to talk about recording yourself. You may be wondering, “why would I want to do that?” Keep reading and I’ll show you some benefits that come along with recording yourself. I truly hope this post will add value and benefit to you and your student’s playing. If this is your first time visiting this site, welcome and please feel free to have a look around. I would also like to invite you to check out my books (Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose and Breaking the Monotony) at my Digital Store.

Do you ever have moments when you feel like things are going great in the practice room, yet when you get the bandstand things just are not working out? There could be a number of reasons that happens. However, unless you make a habit of recording yourself you might be attempting to fix the wrong issues.

When should you record yourself? The answer is anytime you’re playing! Record yourself practicing, rehearsing with the band and on the gig. Take note of everything that went well, what didn’t go well and what you need to fix. You don’t have to be hyper-critical over everything (let’s face it…NO ONE is or plays perfect), but take an honest assessment of where you were at in that moment in time. Recordings don’t lie and give you instant feedback. Anything that can make a recording will work. In today’s smart phone technology, most phones have a recording memo device that will suffice for most self-recording needs. There are options from very affordable to pretty expensive.

What are some things to listen for in a recording? Here’s a few below:

  • Ideas. From an improvisation standpoint did your ideas (lines, phrases, etc) make sense? Did they flow in a conversational way or did they wander? You might even find that you were grasping at an idea in the moment, but never quite got it right. Figure out what that was and work that idea out.
  • Technical Issues. Tone, articulation, flexibility, etc. Often times what we hear in our head or behind our instrument is not at all what comes out the other end. Again, recordings don’t lie. If you hear technical errors you now know what can be worked on during your next practice session.
  • Communication. This is more for recording yourself on the gig. How was your interaction with the other musicians on the stage? Where you having a one-way dialogue or were you a musical conversation with your band mates? I think there’s a time and place for both, but the recording will show you if it was at the right time or not.

I know it can be tough to listen to yourself on a recording. It is a sobering experience. However, if you practice what needs to fixed you will progress faster as a musician. I suggest you start recording yourself if you haven’t already. What are your thoughts? Do you record yourself? If so, what are some insights you have learned from doing it? Finally, take the average of your recordings. You’re never as good as your best recording, but you’re never as bad as your worst.

Speaking of recording, I’m hoping to try out the new Zoom Q2HD which does high quality audio and HD video soon. If I get the chance to pick one up, I will do a review for those that might be interested.

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End of Phrases

Thanks again for stopping by and checking out the site! If this is your first visit here, I would like to welcome and invite you to browse around and take a look at some of our past posts as well as my book (Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose and Breaking the Monotony) which are both available at my Digital Store.

Those that have been following know how big I am into the concept of targeting (or aiming at a goal note with purpose). In today’s tip, I wanted to talk about the concept of targeting and the importance of the end of the phrase. I believe if we focus on how we want our phrase to end before we start it-we will find that our ideas will not wander because we’re aiming at a goal ( in this case the end of the phrase) with purpose.

Students often struggle with wandering in their early stages of learning how to improvise. Their phrases/ideas start out great, but they aren’t sure how they will end it. Instead of making a musical statement, they have a run-on sentence (or paragraph for that matter) that lacks cohesiveness.

I find I have more creativity if I build my ideas backwards. If I know where and how I’m going to end my phrase, I now have different options of how I’m going to get there. Let’s take a look at a quick example. The idea below is what we will use as the end of our phrase:

The end of the phrase is targeting the 5th of the Cmaj7 chord. It has a definitive end. Now I have options of how I’m going to get to the ending phrase. Below are a few different options that you could choose from:

The above are just a few of the many options available going to the end of the phrase ( in addition, this tip opens up more creative options to the beginning of phrases too). This process is done in real-time and is something that you have to develop. However, the end result of this practice will pay off. You will find that you (and your students) will be making more cohesive musical statements and there will be less wandering. I hope you’ve enjoyed this tip and that it adds value and benefit to your playing in some way!

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Improv Tip Week #45-Analyzing Lines Series 6

Welcome back everyone to week #45 and our continuation of analyzing lines series. If this is your first time here-welcome! Please feel free to check out the site. Also, a big welcome back and thanks for returning friends! This week we’re going to look at the 2nd chorus of Sonny Rollin’s improvisation on Tenor Madness from his album, Tenor Madness with John Coltrane (1957). I think Sonny’s entire improvisation on this tune is worth checking out, but there’s some interesting things we can learn and apply to our improvisations that I’d like to look at from his second time through this tune (based on the Blues).

Below is the 2nd chorus:

The first thing I’d like to look at with you is something that we briefly covered in last week’s line from Lee Morgan. That’s the concept of using diminished/altered targeting techniques (for more info, check out my book Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose). However, when I see the line below, I see the whole line (not just beat 4) using this idea. Personally, I see this line as “thinking in G” as opposed to the Bb7 that’s occuring at the moment. I teach my students that it’s all about where we’re going (or targeting). Again, I can’t answer for Sonny Rollins. But, this is how I see it and would apply it to my playing:

The next two are examples of chromatic targeting. In both of these instances below they happen to target the 5th of the chord. The first example is a fairly standard chromatic targeting device. While the second example is great for the chromatic targeting principles, I love how Sonny Rollins takes the simple idea and transposes it down a whole step to fit the changes. Teachers I’ve had have called this sequencing.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s tip and hope that it adds some value to your playing and improvisations. Please feel free to share this tip/site with your friends, students and colleagues. There are even some quick share social media buttons below for your convenience. If you haven’t already, I’d like to invite you to check out my book (Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose). There are some great reviews that keep getting updated in the Reviews tab above. I hope you get the chance to enjoy it as much as others have!

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Improv Tip Week #44-Analyzing Lines Series 5

Welcome to week #44 where we’re going to continue our analyzing lines series. I didn’t want to stop our current series, but I did want to take a brief detour last week to talk about setting goals because I felt it was important to bring up. Especially since most students are on the last leg of their final semester of the year (at least in most of the US school systems that is). There’s no day like today to put a plan in place for reaching our goals.

This week’s line is from another trumpet great, Lee Morgan. This line is found in the first chorus of his solo on the Eb-Blues of Blue Train from John Coltrane’s Album-Blue Train (Blue Note 1957):

One of the first things I notice in the beginning of this line is the chromatic targeting of the Ab (flat-3rd) on the Fmin7. I can’t tell you exactly what Lee was thinking in his mind, but I see the first part of the line as an F-minor line (disregarding the C7 and thinking of both bars as Fmin7):

Probably the most interesting part of this line is what Lee Morgan plays over the Bb7. I’ve heard some educators talk about this particular line as a Bb7 diminished lick or an altered-dominant lick. I don’t disagree with those at all, but if we’re going to look at a line and break it down for our own use…we need to dig a little bit deeper. When I look at this, I notice a B-minor triad with some chromatic and diatonic embellishments. It’s almost as if Lee was thinking about side-slipping the line up a half-step (which causes the line to hit the b9, #9, b13) to B-minor. Again, this is my opinion. But, take a look and tell me what you see:

The next thing I notice is something that I spend an entire chapter on in my book (Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose). This is one of the many lines I see players doing that caused me to write about this concept in my book. If you would like to know more about it, check it out. But, you’ll see that Lee is using part of a diminished (or altered) scale to target the 3rd of the Eb7:

Finally, the last part of the line is a good old-fashioned major pentatonic line that works great over the blues:

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s tip and have found some of the above beneficial to your own playing. Please feel free to share this tip with your friends, students and colleagues. For your convenience, there are even buttons for quick sharing to social media sites most of us use. Also, if you haven’t already-take a look around the site to check out my book, reviews, Skype Lesson, videos and past posts!

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Improv Tip Week #42-Analyzing Lines Series 4

Welcome to week #42 where we’re continuing our series on analyzing lines. This week, we’re going to look at a line I was checking out while listening to Cannonball Adderley. It’s off his Them Dirty Blues album and is a song written by his brother (Nat Adderley) called Work Song. Like I mentioned last week: we’re breaking down these lines so we can find what makes it “click” so we can re-create something similar in our own playing.

Below is the line that I wanted to break down from his solo. This line occurs in his second chorus on the 6th bar:

I almost don’t want to state the obvious, but Cannonball shows that you can take something as simple as a descending chromatic line and make it sound great all in how articulates it:

While Work Song is not a typical blues, it is definitely played with a lot of blues elements and style. The Adderley brothers inflect the blues into many of their improvisations to great effect. This line contains a great example that sometimes inserting the blues sounds great even though it doesn’t fit chord/scale theory. Some may argue that this particular line is something else, but to me it is essentially a blues lick with two additional chromatic passing tones:

The last part of the line that I look at is how Cannonball uses targeting principles to connect his line. This shows that Cannonball was targeting the 3rd of the C7(#9) and the 5th of the Fmin7. For more information on how to creatively target notes (whether chromatic or other devices), check out my book Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose. What has always intrigued me about Cannonball Adderley is that when he would use chromatic targeting-it was almost always with great rhythmic variety.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s tip and the latest in the analyzing lines series. Please feel free to share this tip/site with your friends, colleagues and students. There are links below for quick sharing access to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.

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Improv Tip Week #41-Analyzing Lines Series 3

I hope you’ve been enjoying this current series on analyzing lines. This week, after listening to Charlie Parker’s Scrapple From the Apple, there was one line that I kept hearing that to me is a definitive Charlie Parker lick. I heard it repeated at least twice in this solo, but have noticed him playing it in others as well. So this week I wanted to take a look at this simple line and hopefully reveal it in a new light so you can construct similar shapes and lines in your playing.

Below is the line that I’m talking about. In his first chorus on Scrapple From the Apple I hear him end two of his “A” sections with this particular line:

There are a few things that I notice right off the bat with this line that I wanted to share. Hopefully you’ll notice this as well and look for this fundamental shape in other lines that you hear. First, the essential notes of this line are a descending F-major triad:

The line, once filled with some rhythmic interest, is essentially built off of an arpeggio. The last four notes of the line (which works great as a short blues riff by the way) is a fragment of a Fmaj7 arpeggio (without the 3rd). I work with some of my younger students to find creative ways (whether that’s with targeting principles, rhythms, etc) to make a line based off of different inversions of a triad. That’s their skeleton structure that they can build upon.

For instance, you can see how Charlie Parker uses some chromatic targeting on the 3rd (the “A” of the F-major triad) to build off of the triad.

Now, I’m not saying that Charlie Parker was thinking in terms of connecting parts of a F-major triad together. However, when I break down this line-this is what I see. It’s also how I can simplify a harmonic passage in my mind while improvising over a set of chord changes. As an exercise, trying playing lines similar to this in different inversions of the triad. You’ll notice that this particular sound is used a lot by musicians!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s tip! Please feel free to share this with your friends, colleagues and students via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ or any other site that you’re a contributor. If you haven’t checked it out yet, be sure to click on the link on my book Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose for more ways you can creatively target notes in similar ways that were mentioned above. It’s available in an E-book format (English and Spanish) as well as nicely printed/bound version (English only).

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