Category Archives for Outside-In

How to Practice Licks That Don’t Sound Like Licks

It is my honor to introduce all of you to our guest contributor for our latest post, Mr. Justin Scoville. Justin and I first met at the University of Denver in 2004. Justin, in addition to being a fine jazz trumpeter, has recently started his own blog at The Jazz Daddy (which I highly recommend you check out). He comes from a rich heritage of Denver-based jazz instruction at CCJA, studied at the University of Denver and holds lucrative liberal arts degrees from BYU and the University of Colorado Denver. And (like many musicians these days) balances a family, day job, blogging, playing jazz, etc. 

Thanks to Jason for letting me pop in for a guest post!

The precocious and tragically short-lived trumpeter Booker Little recalled some sage advice he received from Sonny Rollins while rooming with the venerable tenor saxophonist in 1954:  “Sonny was a big help. For one thing, he cautioned me about becoming overly influenced by other players. ‘You’ve got to be you,’ he told me, ‘whether that’s good or bad.’” At the time, Little was heavily influenced by Clifford Brown. After taking Sonny’s challenge to heart, Booker went on to be one of the most unique jazz soloists during the late 50’s and early 60’s before his premature death.

Part of Little’s singular approach to improvisation was utilizing quarter tones and employing harmonic dissonance (influenced by his understanding of classical music) over traditional bebop harmonies. For an example of this, check out Booker’s solo at 4:30 on “Things Ain’t What They Used To Be”:

I believe Booker is a great example for us all. He spent the time to emulate the great masters that had laid the foundation of jazz, but then infused his own musical interests into what was (at the time) common jazz vocabulary.

Booker wasn’t the first or last to do this. Charlie Parker copied Lester Young, Clifford Brown copied Fats Navarro, and so on. The question is, what are you going to do with all of the cool licks you’ve learned?

Today I’m going to share three simple techniques that will help you go beyond rote imitation and start discovering your own sound. These three techniques are 1) octave displacement2) rhythmic variation, and 3) sidestepping. 

Let’s take a lick that is fairly common in jazz, like this one:

To add a little variety and challenge to my practice session, I’ll arbitrarily decide to raise or lower certain notes by an octave, paying homage to Eric Dolphy. Here’s an example:

Next, I’ll add some rhythmic variation. Throw in some quarter note triplets, triplets, and quintuplets, and voila! You sound pretty different from all of your lick-playing buddies:

Finally, some sidestepping adds a final dash of harmonic ambiguity. Here, I raised or lowered certain notes to hint at F7 Altered Dominant. Or something like that.

Well, those are some techniques I use to spice up my licks. What have you all tried? Share your comments below.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog/post. As a thank you I wanted to give you a FREE MP3 from the JKQ. Simply click the button below and fill out the short form and you’ll have it in just a few short moments!

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Unexpected

 

You have probably heard the saying that “when life gives you lemons-make lemonade.” I know it is a cliché, but it is one that has some value to those that improvise. I wrote a post a few weeks back called Fight Through that talked about regardless of what circumstances life has given you; we still have to fight through and make music. In this post I wanted to talk about something similar and make the correlation between the unexpected things in life and how we can use that in our improvisations.

Let’s face it, there are some things in life we thought would be a “sure thing.” Ask a child what they want to be when they grow up and you will get a number of different answers. Follow those children 20 years later and ask if they are doing what they wanted to do. For some…maybe. For most…probably not. Life gives us some unexpected twists and turns. Improvisation has a way of doing the same thing. We can plan and plot, but when we finally get in the moment unexpected things can happen. Someone in the rhythm section plays something unexpected and before you know it your improvisation goes in a new direction.

Most of the time when this happens it is fun and exciting. Hopefully you know the song and harmonic progression well enough that you can go to that unexpected place together. Much like life; your attitude towards the unexpected will help determine your level of enjoyment and success. Remember you are involved in the improvisation process just as much as those you are playing with. Your input helps determine the destination.

A while back there was a video of Stefon Harris doing a TED talk floating around social media sites. He and his group of musicians did an excellent job of talking about how reacting to the unexpected creates (or detracts) from the art of improvisation. Check out the video below:

I hope you have enjoyed this week’s tip and that it has added some value and benefit to your playing in some way. The holidays are fast approaching and if you are looking for gift ideas for some musicians please go to my Digital Store today and check out my books and recently CD. I am very thankful to all of you that have made a purchase or download!

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Targeting Using the Augmented Scale

Targeting Using the Augmented Scale

I wanted to share a fun sound that I have been experimenting with recently. For those that have followed this site the past 2+ years know that I am believer in the concept of targeting. This post will be looking at how you can use the augmented scale through the lens of targeting principles that I outline in my first book, Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose.

What is the Augmented Scale?

Since we have a number of people who visit this site from different levels and abilities we will take a look at what exactly an augmented scale is. An augmented scale is made up of two augmented triads that are a minor third apart. I have also heard an augmented scale called the “minor third, half-step scale,” but not very often. For most in the jazz community (or at least those that know about it) call it the augmented scale. Below is the C augmented scale:

Augmented Scale

Most Jazz educators will tell you that you can use this scale over any augmented 7th chord (for example a C7+) or a x7#11 chord (example would be a C7#11). I agree that the augmented scale works well over those so I am not disagreeing with that usage. However, like a lot of melodic/harmonic devices they can be used with targeting principles. Again, I am not going to outline what those are right now.

Targeting Using the Augmented Scale

However, let’s look at how using the augmented scale to target the “C” below in two different situations cause a unique and powerful sound over the listed progressions:

AugTargetEx1

AugTargetEx2

In my practice time I have been gravitating to this particular sound lately. I love the combination of the minor third and the half-step because of its melodic possibilities. I would invite you to try the above example in different harmonic situations where the targeted note would be a “C.” I hope you have enjoyed this week’s tip and that it has added some value and benefit to your playing in some way!

 

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Whole Tone Combinations

Lately I have been working on my whole tone scales and wanted to share an interesting sound with all of you. I am sure most of you have worked on your whole tone scales and know what they are. If not, they are rather simple and I would suggest you learn them. Since whole tone scales are symmetrical, there are only two of them. A whole tone scale is exactly what it sounds like: a scale made up entirely of whole steps. Below is an example that shows the two versions of the whole tone scale.

I did not want this post to be about whole tone licks, but rather opening a door for you to explore new combinations and the sounds that come with it. I believe far too many musicians learn their whole tone scales, a few whole tone licks and then never revisit them. When you combine the two whole tone scales together you get an interesting “outside” sound that is organized. It does not matter how you combine them. For starters, try combining them in a scale-like manner like the example below:

The above example could create some interesting digital pattern lines if you combined it with other tools like rhythmic creativity or targeting principles. Another way to combine them is by starting a line in one whole tone area and throwing part of the other in half-way through.

Or you can take standard whole tone licks and combine them together. The example below starts with a familiar whole tone lick and then ends with a descending scale of the other whole tone scale (which targets the “C”).

During the week I want to challenge you to find different creative ways to combine the two whole tone scales. Besides being a great ear-training exercise, you might find some combinations that will add a creative spark to your improvisations!

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Tritone Subs

I was having a conversation recently with someone who was having difficulty understanding what a tritone substitution was and how it can be used in improvisation. They had watched a number of videos on YouTube from someone who talked about the use of tritones in left-handed piano voicings. Unfortunately, they remained stuck thinking that was the only use of this “secret to tritones” as advertised on the video. Hopefully in today’s post we can uncover some of that secret for him and possibly others that may be stuck on the question: what is a tritone substitution?

About a year ago I made a post in my Outside-In series that covered this topic, but looked at it from a superimposition standpoint. Below is a portion from that post:

Let’s first take a look at the often talked about tritone substitution. There’s been a lot of mystery associated with this term and I hope to clear some of that up to show that it’s not as complicated as some make it out. A lot of our recent examples have been in the key of C…so let’s switch it up this week and move to the key of Eb. Let’s start with the ii-V-I in Eb:

A tritone substitution is simply taking the V7 chord and replacing it with the same quality chord a tritone (sharp 4th or flatted 5th interval) away. Instead of having Fmin7-Bb7-Ebmaj7. You now have Fmin7-E7-Ebmaj7. Notice how the root movement descends chromatically. The reason why the tritone substitution works so well is that the Bb7 and the E7 (tritone away) share the same guide-tones (the 3rd and the flat 7th of the chord):

(Quick note: anytime you have a V7 chord that lasts a full measure…you can turn it into a one-bar ii-V. This holds true for tritone substitutions.)”

As an improviser, you can take a normal ii-7, V7, I and turn it into a tritone substitution whenever you would like. Below is a quick example of what you could play:

I wrote the line so you could see it as an E7. It definitely has a more outside sound to it (which is why I talked about it in the Outside-In series). Hopefully that clears up some of the mystery that has surrounded the tritone substitution! There are a number of jazz greats that use them. Who do you like that uses them?

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Lick of the Day Practice Routine

In this week’s post I wanted to show you how you can enhance your jazz improv practice routine by using the Lick of the Day here on this site. I believe you should practice the tools necessary to be successful in improvisation on a regular basis (if not every day). One of those tools is adding vocabulary.

If you don’t have an improv practice routine I’d invite you to try this out for a few weeks. You will have a noticeable improvement in just a few weeks. On the right hand side of the homepage there is a different lick/riff/motif posted every day. The instructions below the Lick of the Day talk about the different things you can do to add that lick into your vocabulary. I know for some of you that you like to have things laid out so here is a sample practice routine you can use with the Lick of the Day:

  1. Go to jasonklobnak.com and locate the Lick of the Day. Today is March 18th, 2013. So today is the 75th Lick of the Day. Play through it (slowly at first) a few times until you get the sound in your ears and the notes under your fingers. Spend around 10-15 minutes on this.
  2. All of the licks from the Lick of the Day are in the key of “C.” Transpose it into all keys as shown in this PDF:Lick of the Day 75. Even though the example is written out I would suggest trying to do this by ear instead of writing it down. Depending on how much you do this process it can take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour.
  3. How many chord progressions could this lick fit over? There are 3 examples below (which is not all of them). This takes about 5-10 min. 
  4. Do this daily with each Lick of the Day. Over time you’ll find the ones that stick in your ear the most will be the ones that show up in your playing.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s tip and that it has added value and benefit to your playing in some way. As most of you know-the Jason Klobnak Quintet was in the studio on March 14-15th and we finished the tracking session for our album Mountain, Move. We still need to finish mixing/mastering and then print the album. I need your help in getting us there. Every book sale, Skype Lesson, clinic and donation get us closer. Go to our Digital Store today to help us finish Mountain, Move!

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Improv Tip Week # 48-Outside-In part 3

Welcome to week #48! We’re only a few more weeks before hitting the one year mark! I’ve got some exciting things to announce in the next coming days and weeks ahead so be sure to continue checking in. In this week’s tip, we’re going to continue in our series on Outside-In. We’ve been talking about how you can create outside lines with structure so they’re not random and have a flow of logic that connects with your audience. This week we’re going to look at tritone substitutions as well as superimposing a progression based off of a way Bill Evans often reharmonized ii-V-I’s.

Let’s first take a look at the often talked about tritone substitution. There’s been a lot of mystery associated with this term and I hope to clear some of that up to show that it’s not as complicated as some make it out. A lot of our recent examples have been in the key of C…so let’s switch it up this week and move to the key of Eb. Let’s start with the ii-V-I in Eb:

A tritone substitution is simply taking the V7 chord and replacing it with the same quality chord a tritone (sharp 4th or flatted 5th interval) away. Instead of having Fmin7-Bb7-Ebmaj7. You now have Fmin7-E7-Ebmaj7. Notice how the root movement descends chromatically. The reason why the tritone substitution works so well is that the Bb7 and the E7 (tritone away) share the same guide-tones (the 3rd and the flat 7th of the chord):

(Quick note: anytime you have a V7 chord that lasts a full measure…you can turn it into a one-bar ii-V. This holds true for tritone substitutions.)

This substitution is the same as what we’ve been doing the last couple of weeks in this series by superimposing chord changes. Tritone substitutions are commonplace in chord progressions and reharmonizations, but we’re going to look at superimposing the tritone substitution as a means of structuring our outside lines (i.e. the soloist plays the superimposed line while the rhythm section plays the ii-V-I). Below is a good example of how you can superimpose the tritone substitution over the standard changes:

The next example below is taking the idea of the tritone substitution a step further. The great jazz pianist, Bill Evans, was known for a lot of things in jazz. But, one of the aspects I admired of his was reharmonization techniques. Mr. Evans took an additional step in some of his reharmonizations with the tritone substitution. We can use that for our structure to go outside as well. In this past couple of weeks we talked about the 3-tonic and 4-tonic systems and how they’re connected by their V7 or iimin7 chords and also how they’re dividing the octave by major 3rds and minor 3rds. Bill Evans would take the tritone substitution (with the one bar ii-V, or Bmin7-E7 in our example above) and connect the iimin7 (Fmin7) to the tritone sub’s iimin7 (Bmin7) by ascending the quality of the chord up by minor thirds (Fmin7-Abmin7-Bmin7). That progression is below:

The final example is taking that superimposed progression above and playing lines based on that progression (while the rhythm section plays the standard ii-V-I):

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s tip and this series. You should have a good idea now of what it means to superimpose a chord progression and how we can use the idea of superimposition to play “outside” in a structured way. Always remember: You need to know how to play inside before you can outside and to connect to your audience you need to make sure you’re coming back inside at some point. Please feel free to share this tip/site via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIN, Google+ or other sites you’re a contributor. For easy social media sharing access, there are easy buttons below!

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Improv Tip Week # 47-Outside-In part 2

Welcome back to part 2 or our outside-in series! We’re going to continue in week #47 talking about some ways you can play “outside” of the chord changes while keeping your lines structured. Last week we started talking about the 3-tonic system. This week I want to expand on that concept and introduce the 4-tonic system. If you haven’t read last week’s post, I would highly suggest you check it out as a simplified foundation was laid in week #46.

Last week we looked at the 3-tonic system and splitting the octave equally into three equal parts (which forms an augmented triad). We then applied the V7 chord of each of those three equal parts: G7 to Cmaj7, Eb7 to Abmaj7 and B7 to Emaj7. However, because we’re super-imposing our changes to the standard ii-V-I, we can alter those changes in a number of different ways. In the first example below we’re going to keep the 3-tonic system how we had it last week. This time-instead of using the V7 chord of each of the 3 equal parts, we’re going to use the iimin7 chord before each of the 3 equal parts:

Notice how the diatonic pattern applied to that chordal movement creates a varied tonal pattern different then just taking the same pattern and moving it down in half or whole steps.

In the next example we’re taking the same thought process of changing the chord quality of the three equal parts, but this time we’re changing the quality of the I chord from major to minor:

You can take this process and change any of the chords qualities (major, minor, dominant, diminished, augmented, etc). As long as you continue to take the structure from outside back to inside…any super-imposition will work!

Now, let’s talk about the 4-tonic system. Much like the 3-tonic system, you take an octave and split it into four equal parts (minor third intervals-which forms a diminished 7th). In the key of C that would be: Cmaj7, Ebmaj7, F#maj7 and Amaj7. Much like what we’ve done with the 3-tonic system, you can apply the V7 chord of each of these or change up the chord qualities. For now, we’re going to keep the 4-tonics major and apply their V7 chords. The picture below shows how we apply the 4-tonic system to the iimin7-V7-Imaj7 in the key of C.

The final step is playing your structured lines on the super-imposed 4-tonic system changes over the original Dmin7-G7-Cmaj7.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s tip and it’s found some benefit to your playing! Please feel free to share this tip (and site) via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIN, Google+ or any other site that you’re a contributor. Also, be sure to check out my book (Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose) by clicking on the book on the homepage or the links above.

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