Phrasing Exercise - Jason Klobnak Music

Phrasing Exercise

Last week’s post was on the importance of targeting the end of the phrase and it reminded me of a fun and challenging exercise I use to make sure I’ve got the end of the phrase at the front of my mind. I wanted to share that exercise with all of you in this week’s post. If this is your first time visiting the site-welcome! If you’re curious to know how I came up with the note choices in the examples below-check out my Digital Store where you can get more information on two improv books I’ve written that will help!

This is a very simple exercise to describe, but one that can be challenging as well. Remember that this is an exercise and not how you should improvise on the bandstand (although you can use it if you so choose).

  • The end of your phrase (or idea) becomes the first note of your next phrase. You can change the first note of the next phrase as much as a whole step away to create variety. This continues through the entire chord progression.

Sounds simple, right? However, thinking about it and doing it are two different things. The further along the song’s progression the more difficult it becomes because it forces you to think ahead and not always start your phrases the same way (i.e. always starting on the 3rd of a chord). Let’s take a look at some examples. Below is our first phrase with the last note circled.

We know that the “G” is our last note of the phrase. Depending on what the chord progression would be next determines whether we start on the same note “G” or if we need to move a half-step or whole-step away. Let’s take a look at an example that shows the first phrase going into a second while keeping the “G.”

The final example shows the first phrase going into a second phrase where we altered the starting note by a half-step.

It’s a simple, challenging and fun exercise that will help you on multiple levels. When you learn a new song/progression I would suggest you do this exercise over the changes as well. I hope you’ve found this tip beneficial and that it adds value to you (and your students) playing!




About the Author jasonklobnak

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 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).

  • Will says:

    I really like these application-type blog posts of targeting. I’d like to see more about how to connect them together over a variety of chord progressions (chords moving in fourths, 3rds, 2nds, etc) as well as different chord types. Specifically going from the previous target to the next target in cases when randomly combining approaches to various chord tones doesn’t quite work, or for balance – combining chromatic approaches with arpeggios, pentatonics. Your 3 etudes are a great help, maybe do them over a variety of standards and multiple choruses.

    • jasonklobnak says:

      Hey Will

      I believe targeting (which is more then just chromatic) works well over all types of progressions. Many of the examples I use on the site are ii-V-I’s for the sake of showing the concept. In Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose there are a few different examples of combining chromatic targeting with pentatonics as well as other tools that are covered in the book. There’s also another topic I posted under the Etudes category about the benefits of writing your own. I encourage students to find ways to build some of these concepts into an etude which, when practiced over time, eventually shows up in your improvisations. Also, if you haven’t checked out Breaking the Monotony yet, there are more etudes that combine the rhythmic concepts I use along with targeting. If I get some time I’ll maybe post a new etude over a standard.

      All the best,


    • Will says:

      Thanks. I started writing etudes recently after noticing that a lot of what I practice doesn’t seem to get into my playing, even transcribing and learning solos doesn’t seem to do it. So I continue to search for the missing link as to how to get concepts absorbed into my playing, versus a ‘deer in the headlights’ feeling when it comes time to improvise over a standard. What happens during composition is what I would call ‘problem areas’ or challenges – chords that aren’t part of a ii-V-I, multiple chords per bar, different chord movements (down/up seconds, thirds, etc), diminished chords. The concept is the same but putting a solo together that sounds good takes some work, and then I guess you hope this work comes out in your playing down the road. I’m also reworking on hearing chord tones and voice leading lines. Thanks again.

    • jasonklobnak says:

      I hear you. It does take some time to for it to translate over to your playing. Start with tools that your ear gravitates the most to and apply them first. Sing them and if you come up with a new deviation from the original…transcribe it and use it. I talk about that in a topic on transcribing yourself. I find that moves the whole process along faster.

      As far as the composition challenges it might help to think of a measure/bar as two separate parts. The first half as the resolution and the second half as the tension. The tension sets up the resolution. The tools we use are the tension piece. The resolution part is either the chord tone we’re aiming for or it is a continuation of tension to an eventual resolution. Mix in some space so the overall arc of the composition breathes and you will find a more pleasing line. That’s the beauty of writing etudes…if it doesn’t work out you can re-write it until it does.

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