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Harmonic Major

In this week’s post I wanted to talk about a scale that does not get a lot of mention in improvisation classes, but it one that is quite effective and easy to learn. That scale is the Harmonic Major scale. Some of you may be wondering, “Wait a second Jason…harmonic MAJOR? I have heard of the harmonic minor scale, but what is the harmonic major scale?” Well, I am glad you asked! Before we take a look at the harmonic major scale, let’s take a look at the more common harmonic minor scale.

The harmonic minor scale is a minor scale that has a lowered (flat) 6th scale degree and a major 7th scale degree as shown in the example below.

C harm min

There has been quite a bit written about this scale and its uses. However, we are going to look at the harmonic major scale. The harmonic major scale is essentially a major scale with a lowered (flat) 6th scale degree. The C-harmonic major scale is shown below.

C harm maj

The harmonic major scale, like every other scale, can be used over various harmonies. One of my favorite uses is over V7(b9) chords. If you take the harmonic major scale and start on the 5th scale degree (if in C…that means you would start on the G), it fits perfectly over the V7(b9) chord. Another way to think about it is if you have a V7(b9) chord, you can use the harmonic major scale a perfect fourth up from the root of the V7(b9) chord. You get the b9 of the V7 chord, but none of the other alterations that are found/heard when you would use a diminished or altered scale.

The example below is a line based off of the C harmonic major scale played over the G7(b9) chord:


I personally like the sound between the flat-6th and major 7th. The scale still has an exotic texture to it-yet still has that familiar major feeling at the same time. I hope this tip has added some value or benefit to your playing!

For more information on how you can use the harmonic major OR harmonic minor scale to creatively target notes in your improvisations you can check out my book Targeting: Improvisation with Purpose or Breaking the Monotony at my Digital Store.

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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!


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 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!





map it out

Map It Out part 3

Welcome to part 3 of the Map It Out series. If this is your first time visiting this site I’d like to welcome you to check out the previous posts on this topic as well as a number of other categories you can find on my blog. Also, be sure to check out the Lick of the Day as well as my Digital Store.

Last week we finished mapping out a plan for the intro/vamp section. This week I wanted to take a look at the “A” section of Stand Firm.











The first chord of the “A” section is an Abmaj9. If that were the only chord to the “A” section then we could use just about anything that was in the key area of Ab major. However, you’ll notice in the 7th and 8th bar that there is a Dmin7(b5) and a G7(b9). Those are not in the key area of Ab major. When you see something out of the key area you know you need to do some quick investigating to find the relationship.

Any time you see a chord progression that looks like the two types listed below-they are some form of 2-5 (and the “5” chord can have any type of alteration applied). 2-5’s and 2-5-1’s outside of the original key area are temporary modulations or setups for key changes:

  • Xmin7 to X7 = a major 2-5 (which may or may not resolve to the one chord)
  • Xmin7(b5) to X7(b9) = a minor 2-5 (which may or may not resolve to the one chord)

If we take that information and look at the Dmin7(b5) to G7(b9) in Stand Firm we know it is a minor 2-5. Where would it resolve? To some form of C (typically a C minor). How is the C minor related to the Abmaj9? It’s the 3rd of the Abmaj. So the minor 2-5 in bar 7 & 8 is a minor 2-5-1 of the 3rd scale degree of the original key area. Because we go back to the Abmaj9 we know we’re not changing keys so it  is a temporary modulation.

This means we could apply some form of C minor to the Abmaj9 chord (this can give the chord an Abmaj9(#11) sound) and simplify our initial options. 





Over the minor 2-5 itself we can use a number of different options. However, since we’ve been talking about simplifying our options in this Map It Out series and using pentatonics-let’s look at some pentatonic options over the minor 2-5. Over the min7(b5) you can use major pentatonics based off of the b6 or the b5. Each one gives a slightly different sound then the other. Another option is to use the F-insen pentatonic scale (insen pentatonic based off of the b3). For more information on that I would invite you to check out previous posts on pentatonics on this site.

Over the 7(b9) you can use major pentatonics based off of the b9, #9 or #11. There are a number of different pentatonic (and non-pentatonic) options you can use for these, but that could turn into a completely different topic altogether. You can use the melodic minor scale, pentatonic scale, diminished, etc.





I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s post on mapping it out. Next week we will finish mapping out Stand Firm and looking at the “B” section. For more information on how you can use various pentatonic scales to creatively target notes in your improvisations I would highly recommend you check out Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose which is available at my Digital Store.




Contemporary Composition part 5

Welcome to the last part of our Contemporary Composition series! I hope you’ve enjoyed this series and it sheds some light into different ways you can compose contemporary charts. This isn’t the only way to write, but I hope you found some parts (or all) valuable and useful to your writing and/or improvising!

In part 5 we are going to take about the final edits of the chart. This is the part of the composition process I suggest you make final melodic or chordal edits as necessary. If something doesn’t sound right or the way you want it…this is your opportunity to change it.

In this part of the process I will take a deeper look at the chords I’ve chosen. I will ask myself if these current chords fully support the melody or if I make a slight change-will it improve it? For instance, if I have a straight major 7th chord…does it sound better as a major 7th or major 7th (#11)? Does a Bb7 sound good or does a Bb7(b9) improve it? If it does, then make the change. If it doesn’t…leave it alone.

The last part of the process is deciding where to put rhythmic hits or punches. These are accents that the rhythm section can play (melodic notes or chords they play in a rhythmic pattern). A few examples of what this might look like are below:

While singing and reading through the composition-ask yourself where rhythmic hits or punches can be added to the composition. This can create a sense of depth and maturity to the chart. If it doesn’t need any-then leave it alone. However, to me, I find charts that have rhythmic hits or punches sound more put together then those that don’t.

Be careful that you don’t over-write with the rhythmic hits. Too much and the chart can lose it’s balance. In the case of Back and Forth, I had spots where I heard a catchy rhythmic pattern that fit in the space where the melody was static. However, when I played through the chart it made it too busy. So I kept the rhythmic hits simple. During the melody, the rhythm section plays a hit on beat 4 of the second measure. To me, it was all the chart needed.

This is the link to the piano part to Back and ForthBack and Forth Piano

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series. I plan on doing more posts about writing and composing tips in the future. If you haven’t already, please be sure to check out my books (Breaking the Monotony and Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose) at my Digital Store.




Contemporary Composition part 4

For those that have been following this series on Contemporary Composition, I premiered the song we’ve been constructing here at a concert on 9/24/12. The video of that performance is below. If this your first time visiting this site or series, please feel free to have a look around. If you go to the pull-down menu (categories) you can find our other posts.

In part 4 we will look at the overall form and creating contrasting sections. There are almost an infinite number of choices in deciding your overall form. Do you want an intro? AABA? ABA? ABAC? Intro-A-B-interlude? etc. For Back and Forth I wanted to keep it simple. I knew I had a 12-bar A-section. I personally like the AABA form because the melody gets repeated so the audience can remember the melody. This makes my B-section my contrasting section.

To create a contrasting section, you can go through the whole writing process (part 1-3) again or you can do something else. My A-section was already built with a non-traditional/non-functional way of writing. So I decided to make the B-section traditional/functional harmony. When I think of AABA forms…the most famous that comes to mind is the rhythm changes form. So I decided to make my B-section the equivalent of the rhythm changes B-section (Back and Forth is in Db, so that makes the first chord of the B-section an F7). I wont go into the “how-to” write B-sections of rhythm changes because they’re explained very well on other sites you can check out (here is pretty decent explanation on Wikipedia).

My B-section now looks like this: F7, Bb7, Eb7, Ab7.

In part 5 we will finish putting the chart together by tweaking chords and creating rhythmic hits. If you haven’t already, please be sure to check out my books (Breaking the Monotony and Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose) at my Digital Store.


Contemporary Composition part 3

Welcome back to part 3 in our Contemporary Composition series! In part 3 we will talk about how I go about choosing the meter, harmonic rhythm and melody. I hope you’ve enjoyed this series and that it adds value and benefit to you!

Let’s take a quick look at the chords that we chose from part 2: Db6/9, Amaj7, Bbmin7 & Bmaj7. There is no magical formula for determining the meter…you just need to make a decision! Do you want it in 3/4, 4/4, 6/8, 5/4, etc.? You can make your decision on the style (i.e. swing, straight-eights, latin, etc.) and go with a meter choice. I’ve decided that for Back and Forth that I wanted to make it 4/4 swing.

The next step is either choosing the harmonic rhythm (when and how often the chords happen in time) or creating the melody. Some charts I choose to work with the melody first and others the harmonic rhythm. In the case of Back and Forth, I chose to start with the melody first.

To do the melody, I sat down at the piano and played through the chord progression slowly and let it influence my melodic decisions. While playing through the progression, I will sing ideas that come to mind over the changes. These are my first attempts at improvising over the changes. I will take some ideas and throw out others. I will do this over and over until I come up with something concrete that I can sing more then once over the progression. If your ears like it…keep it! There was a short melodic fragment that kept sticking that I decided to keep and transpose through the changes. It looked something like this:

This became my melodic fragment that I used throughout the composition and decided to transpose through the progression. Now I need to decide the harmonic rhythm. Do I want the changes to happen on every bar, every other, or? I played through the melodic fragment over and over and wanted the melody to help suggest the harmonic rhythm. To me, the melody suggested the C# in the second bar be held out before the phrase repeated. This ended up creating a series of 3-bar phrases. This made my “A” sections into a 12-bar form. I now have my “A” section created.

In part 4 we will look at the overall form and creating contrasting sections. If you haven’t already, please be sure to check out my books (Breaking the Monotony and Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose) at my Digital Store. Tonight (9/24/12) I will be premiering Back and Forth at Dazzle Jazz Club. If you’re in town, come check it out! We play from 7-9pm.





Contemporary Composition part 2

Welcome back to our series on contemporary composition! In part 2 we will be looking at how we can decide which of our chord options stay and which ones we throw out. If you’re not sure what we’re talking about, check out last week’s post (Contemporary Composition part 1) for more information.

The next part of this process is something that you have to choose. Each person will have their own opinion and there could be a hundred different ways the progression could come out. We first have to pick a chord from our first set of chords. In the case of Back and Forth, I chose the Db6/9 chord. I personally like the quasi-major sounding quality of the chord. It’s not a major7th chord, yet not minor or dominant either. The Db6/9 is our starting point that we will build the progression from.

The next step is deciding: what chord should it go to next? To make that decision you need to sit down at the piano and play the two chords back to back (or plug the progression into some sort of sequencer like Band-in-a-Box or iRealbook OR have a friend who plays piano). Let’s review again what our chord options are for the second chord:

So we would play Db6/9 going to E7sus, or Db6/9 going to Fmaj7, etc. This is a very personal decision. You may like the sound of the Db6/9 going to a specific chord and not so much to others. In the case of Back and Forth, I liked the harmonic movement from the Db6/9 to the Amaj7.

You then continue this process through the remainder of your chord sets:

At this point you may start to have some creative ideas running through your head of what the progression sounds like. However, you may run into some options that sound “ok” to your ears, but yet don’t quite have the movement you’re looking for. That’s alright…you can borrow from the chord sets before or skip to the next one to find the right sound.

In the case of Back and Forth, I didn’t particularly like the options from the 3rd set (meaning I wasn’t liking Amaj7 going to one of the chords from that set). Instead, I ended up skipping ahead to the 4th set and using options from there. I liked the movement from Amaj7 to Bbmin7.

Then, for some reason I felt like there needed to be a 4th chord to add to this progression so I went back to the the 3rd set and didn’t like the options (Bbmin7 to x, x, etc). I decided to pick from the 4th set again. I liked the movement from Bbmin7 to the Bmaj7(#11), but liked it event better when I dropped the (#11) and made it a straight Bmaj7 (Bbmin7 to the Bmaj7). Remember, it’s all about finding a progression that your ears like and gravitates towards.

This is how I came up with the progression Db6/9, Amaj7, Bbmin7, Bmaj7 for Back and Forth. You will notice that it does not have the typical functional harmony movement (i.e. V-I), but rather jumps around in a non-functional way.

In part 3 we are going to continue building the composition by choosing our meter, harmonic rhythm and melody. If you haven’t already, please be sure to check out my books (Breaking the Monotony and Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose) at my Digital Store.