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?
Jason Klobnak is a versatile trumpet player that has been performing as an active musician, author, clinician, composer and educator. His band, J's Ruckus, is Denver's blend of Post-Bop, Soul, Gospel, and Hip-Hop. They perform infectious and up-lifting originals for audiences hungry for a memorable live experience. J's Ruckus released their latest album, Suck Less, in March of 2020 and their first EP, Sermons, in July of 2019. Both were recorded live in front of an audience. Suck Less was recorded to a packed auditorium at Arapahoe Community College's Waring Theater in Littleton, CO. Sermons was recorded in front of a sold out crowd at the Soiled Dove Underground. The JKQ (the Jason Klobnak Quintet/Quartet) is Mr. Klobnak's Hammond B-3 centered groups. The JKQ released their third full-length album in March of 2018 called Friends & Family. It has been very well reviewed, on numerous Top 10 lists for Jazz radio stations across the country (including Denver's KUVO 89.3FM which named it May 2018's CD of the month), and in Jazzweek's Top 100. Each composition was written for specific family and close friends (that might as well be family). Their second album, New Chapter, was recorded in part thanks to the Pathways to Jazz Grant from the Boulder County Arts Alliance. In 2015 and 2016, New Chapter was in the Top 75 on the Jazzweek charts and on the Top 10 playlists for over a dozen radio stations worldwide. Their first album, Mountain, Move made the Best Recordings of 2013 list from AllAboutJazz.com by C. Michael Bailey. His very well reviewed Christmas single, Hark the Herald, in 2016 as part of a creative project with musicians James Roberson and Nathaniel Kearney Jr. Besides the JKQ, Mr. Klobnak is a B.A.C. (Best American Craftsman-custom trumpet), Denis Wick (mouthpiece and mutes) and Westone Audio endorsed artist (ES20 and Tru Customs). Mr. Klobnak has played and recorded for numerous groups ranging from jazz, soul/R&B, indie-rock/pop and gospel. In addition to performing, he has also written two improvisation-based books called Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose and Breaking the Monotony and is currently an adjunct professor and brass instructor at Arapahoe Community College. Mr. Klobnak holds a bachelor degree from Drake University (Des Moines, IA) and a Master’s degree from the University of Denver, Lamont School of Music (Denver, CO).
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