Visualizing the Pentatonic and Targets

Visualizing the Pentatonic Scale and Their Targets

Have you been following along on the Improvisation Thursday Facebook Live events? If not, you can click HERE to check out the previous week’s videos highlighting who they’re for, how I believe they can help you, and where to start. If you came to check out the visuals you can scroll to the bottom. But, if need a quick synopsis of what we’ve discussed-here you go:

  • They’re for beginner Jazz improvisation students
  • They’re for any level of improvisors that have been frustrated with their progress up to this point and want a different perspective
  • They’re for educators looking for a better way to start out their students

What is Targeting?

  • Targeting = aiming at a goal note with purpose. This can be on a micro scale (from chord to chord and guide-tone to guide-tone) or on a macro scale (key areas and longer phrases).

What makes good targets?

  • When thinking micro: the guide-tones. Traditionally the 3rds and 7ths of chords because they help define the quality of the chord. However, these can be expanded to include the root, 5th, and extensions
  • When thinking macro: they key center’s 1, 3, and 5. For example, if we have a progression (or part of one) in the key of C; our target notes would be C, E, and G (1st, 3rd, and 5th of the key). I prefer to teach the macro approach to beginners because it’s easier to find and hear. This also gets the beginner thinking horizontally (melodically) instead of vertically (harmonically). Those targets also end up being other guide tones as well.

Caught Up? Great!

Visualizing the Pentatonic Scale

As I mentioned in the Facebook Live video, it may benefit you to visualize the pentatonic scale less like a scale and more like a collection of pitches. While working with a student recently (thanks for letting me share Noah!) we found that this can help get you out of thinking in terms of dots on a page and more towards the letter association. If numbers work for you too…go for it! Here’s how we’re visualizing it:

If you “stretch out” the scale to the full range of your instrument it might look like this:

If it helps to think of where your octaves are than we can include a line also:

This is where visualizing the layout and having the targets marked was helpful for Noah:

This will prove even more helpful as we start to expand our tools to get to our targets AND keeping the pentatonic as a melodic “home base.”

Jason Klobnak Joins the B.A.C. Family!

Klobnak Joins B.A.C.

Klobnak Joins B.A.C.

I am absolutely thrilled, honored, and incredibly excited to share that I am now an endorsing artist for the B.A.C. (Best American Craftsman) company based out of Kansas City, MO (USA)! Mike Corrigan and the staff at B.A.C. do an amazing job creating some of the best brass instruments in the world. Everything is done in their shop in Kansas City and is handmade with the finest craftsmanship and detail.

I met Mike and a few of his staff at NAMM 2017 (National Association of Music Merchants) in Anaheim, California in January. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with just about every trumpet they had at their booth. I was the guy that kept trying their trumpets, went away and tried others, and then kept coming back like a lost puppy. After some conversation in Anaheim and later over the phone; I officially joined the family! It is an honor to be on the same roster as great musicians like Delfeayo Marsalis, Kenny Rampton, Kevin Williams, Jim Pugh, Michael Ray, Paul Nowell, Marcus Lewis, and a host of others.

Be sure to check out B.A.C’s website at CoolIsBac

To see Jason’s other Endorsements click Here.




Jason Klobnak Joins the Denis Wick Family!

Klobnak Joins Denis Wick

Klobnak Joins Denis Wick

Klobnak joins the Denis Wick family! I am absolutely thrilled, honored, and incredibly excited to share that I am now an endorsing artist! Denis Wick (London) makes some of the best mouthpieces, mutes, and accessories for brass players around. While I have been performing and recording with the Denis Wick adjustable cup mute for almost 20 years, I have never had the opportunity to really check out their mouthpieces until January of 2017.

I met Mary and a few other Wick artists at NAMM 2017 (National Association of Music Merchants) in Anaheim, California in January. I had the pleasure of trying out a few of their mouthpieces and there was an instant comfort, yet familiarity that I fell in love with. I have made the switch over to the American Classic 3C (and Classic 3E when I need something a little brighter) and they keep surprising me every time I put them in my trumpet. I can color the sound, yet still have the comfort and endurance to make it through an entire night of R&B/Soul music without feeling shot the next day. I would gladly recommend any of the fine Denis Wick products to students and colleagues.

So, I have officially joined the family! It is an honor to be on the same roster as so many great musicians that perform all types of brass instruments.
Be sure to check out Denis Wick’s North American site at DANSR.COM




Not Your Ordinary Drones

jazz drones

Not Your Ordinary Drones

I want to talk about drones, but not your ordinary ones. Other sites and musicians have talked about the benefits of warming up with drones, exploring shapes and intervals. All of this is great and something I personally use now and then too. If you haven’t explored this area before I would suggest you at least try it. It’s an amazing way to open up your ears and explore music’s various layers.

If you’re sitting there thinking, “I’m still not sure what you mean by drones. Aren’t those the remote control things you fly around to annoy your neighbors?” Well, yes. But, not this topic. Here’s a great YouTube example of trumpeter Ingrid Jensen talking about how she uses a drone:


“A musical drone is a harmonic or monophonic effect or accompaniment where a note or chord is continuously sounded throughout most or all of a piece.” – Wikipedia

Instead of rehashing what others have already talked about, I want explore some other ways we can use a drone through the lens of targeting. Targeting is aiming at a goal (note) with purpose. It’s one of the central points of how I improvise and teach improvisation. While it’s great to explore a scale, intervals, or free-improvisation with a fixed pitch (drone)-I have found that beginners and intermediate musicians often have a hard time hearing the note they are aiming for.

What to Use

There are a number of great tools that create a drone. Ingrid Jensen mentioned her device in the video above. You can use just about anything that will create a sustained pitch. I have used a piano with the sustain pedal, computer software (garageband, Logic Pro, etc), YouTube (which has a WIDE range of options that you could spend hours searching), or one of my favorites: iReal Pro

Beginners and intermediate improvisors have to be intentional with what they practice. It’s too easy to get distracted and let your imagination go on a tangent. That’s ok when it’s time to explore and foster creativity. But, students need to hear where their line is going. What does it sound like when you are targeting the 3rd of major chord? How does that sound different when you’re targeting the 3rd of dominant chord? What about minor? If a student can learn to hear what targeting sounds like it opens up the creative mind to be able to explore it in real-time. This is why I like using iReal Pro because you get to choose not only the harmonic situation (major, minor, diminished, etc), but you get to do it while keeping time and locking in with a rhythm section that won’t slow down or speed up.

Here’s how I use iReal Pro as a drone:

  • create a new song using the blank template
  • pick a chord type that you need to work on (major 7th, dominant, minor 9th, etc)
  • type that chord in the first measure and set up whatever repeat function you desire
  • set the repeats 30x
  • pick a tempo and feel (swing, bossa, etc)
  • work on first targeting the root in as many ways as you can imagine with various tools with GOOD rhythm (for more info on those tools you can check out Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose).
  • Once you’ve felt like you’ve fully explored the root move on to the 3rd, 5th, 7th, and other extensions (9th, 11th, 13th)
  • Now move on to the same chord type, but in a different key.
  • Apply what you just did to a song or harmonic progression you’re working on

All of the above is good practice for any musician. It will get you to focus on the sound of targeting so you can hear where you’re going. This will also give a student plenty of practice!

Thank you for checking out my blog! If you’d like to join my mailing list I would love to send you a complimentary MP3 from my band. CLICK HERE and in a few short steps I’ll send it over!





What to do when you are the "red-headed step-child" of your scene

Every Jazz scene (and other genres too) has them. Maybe you’re one of them or you know someone who fits the description. They are the musician that’s not originally from the scene. They weren’t born there or haven’t grown up in the local school system (or didn’t recently go to one of the local universities). For whatever reason, they’re in the scene now and trying to fit in.

I’ve been there and I want to encourage those that fit this description, give you some advice on how to handle it, and maybe even raise some awareness for those that would be considered locals. This is also perfect for people who are new to town and wanting to get into the scene.

Some things to consider first. This advice won’t help you if:

  • You’re a jerk. If you’re always putting other people (or venues) down and no one is calling you for gigs and/or hangs-then you might be a jerk. It has nothing to do with how good you do or don’t play. It’s because you’re a drag to be around. You don’t have the be the red-headed step-child of the scene. Jerks come in all types of demographics.
  • It’s your playing. This one is rough. We all have to evaluate our playing and that can be tough because some of us look at our own playing with way too much of a microscope. BUT, if your playing is not up to par it could be why you’re not getting the calls. If that’s the case-fix it. Spend more time in the shed. Get lessons from some of the top call people in town and ask for advice (not for asking for a gig). Listen to what they have to say.

If the above doesn’t apply to your situation, but you’re still the red-headed step-child:

  1. Be patient.The music business is all about relationships. If you are new to the scene-be patient. It takes time to develop a relationship with people. Get to know the musicians by going to jam sessions, going to their gigs, and hang when you get the chance. This applies to venues too. Don’t just frequent the venue when you’ve been hired to do so. You are the red-headed step-child because you’re newer to the scene than the other musicians. The longer you are around the less you will feel like the outsider. The longer you are around the deeper your relationship becomes. This takes patience and time.
  2. Be humble. You may be the next greatest thing since sliced bread. But, chances are you’re not. When you hang with people in your scene, be humble and spend more time talking about them or whatever conversation is being made. When asked about you and your playing remember to keep it honest and save the bragging for when it really matters (on the stage).
  3. It’s not going to be fair. Put your big boy/big girl pants on. Life isn’t fair and we have to accept that fact. Whether like it or not, preference is given to local musicians who have been there longer or who have grown up in the scene (assuming they are good). They’ve been around longer than you. They have built relationships earlier than you have and that means they probably have more of a following as well. My advice: stick it out. Being a musician is a lifelong endeavor. Life happens. People move on, people move in, and venues come and go. Go back and read point 1.
  4. Ignore the local jerks. Every scene has them and you have to make a conscious decision on whose statements you give weight in your life. It’s not easy, but we have to ignore those personalities. As of this writing, I’ve lived in the Denver area for the past 13 years. I’ve been a part of the scene for a while, but still get the occasional outsider feeling from people and some venues. About 3 years ago I had someone come up to me during a jam session at one of the local clubs and say, “Who do you think you are? This is (local player’s name)’s town. You’re wasting your time.” Wow. First off, I absolutely love the local player they mentioned. I think they are an incredible musician and more importantly an awesome human being. While we’re not BFF’s, I still consider them one of my friends and colleagues. Some people are jerks and you have to do your best to ignore them. Will it hurt? Probably. But, life is a long ride if you let yourself be defined by the jerks of society.
  5. Keep moving forward. Keep working. Keep calling venues for gigs, keep playing with musicians, keep building relationships, and keep your career moving forward. There’s nothing worse than the feeling of what-if in your life. Discouragement is a feeling and feelings change all the time. The music business is a war of attrition. KEEP MOVING FORWARD!
  6. Embrace being a red-headed step-child! Healthy scenes have musicians from all over the place. While you want to continue building relationships, embrace being the outsider! You bring something unique to the scene. Believe it or not, you’re probably not the only outsider. AND, musicians who have grown up in the scene probably want to play with you. Eventually you will get to the point that you will feel like you’ve always been a part of the family!

I would love to hear from you on this. Have you been or are you currently the red-headed step-child in your scene? What advice would you give to others?

*** In real life my family has a number of red-heads and I have had the honor of being a step-child ***

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!






How Composing Can Keep You Out of Trouble

That’s right. Composing.

How CAN composing keep you out of trouble? If you’ve followed this blog then you know this is mostly about improvisation tips. But, composing can help you with your improvisation too. I’ve heard it said (and repeated) that composing is improvisation that you can edit along the way (wouldn’t it be nice to edit our improvisations in real-time? Maybe someday…).

I recently finished a new composition called Dad’s Game that will most likely be on the JKQ’s next album later this year. I wanted to show how I composed it and how I use the idea of “improvisation that you can edit.” If you want to check out more on how I compose you can check out that series HERE.

I usually start with a blank sheet of staff paper (good old analog paper), piano, and Finale open on my computer. There’s no one way to start composing and I don’t do it the same way every time, either. In the case of Dad’s Game, I woke up in the middle of the night a few days ago and had a specific rhythmic figure over a Latin-feel. This is the initial sketch:

From there I sat down with the piano and improvised various chord combinations over the rhythmic vamp. I eventually locked into what I believe was what I heard in the middle of the night (I probably should have taken better notes, but I was half asleep). After deciding on the progression I wanted to come up with the B3 organ’s left hand figure over the vamp. This is where having a strong idea of targeting concepts helped keep me out of trouble (or I could have been spending more time finding the right sound). I knew what notes I was aiming for within the rhythmic figure and it helped me come up with the final idea. Here’s the final sketch (in treble clef):

When you improvise in real-time you must have a system of navigating the chord progression. I’m a BIG proponent of targeting (not sure what I’m talking about? Check more out HERE). When you compose, you will use the same process albeit much slower. You get time to think about your various targeting, melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic options and change them if they don’t sound the way you want (i.e. you get to edit). The more you do the composing process the more solidified they become in your mind. That comes out in your playing.

  • How would you suggest to get started on this?

If you’re just starting out I would suggest writing out a chord progression you’re working on. Write out the guide tones or other targets. Compose a line of nothing but quarter notes. Play it back. Does it sound interesting with just the quarter notes? If not, edit it until it does. Once it does, add eighth notes. Sound good? If not, edit it. Once it does, alter the rhythm. Continue, rinse, and repeat.

This is an area I cover with my improvisation students (on Skype and in-person lesson). If you’ve used this process or found it helpful, please feel free to share how you compose to help your improvisation in the comments below OR feel free to share this with the social media buttons!

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!




Jason Klobnak Joins the Westone Family

I’m incredibly excited to share that I am officially joining the Westone family! While the in-ear monitor and hearing protection community is familiar with them (you should check out their artist roster-it’s a “who’s who” of the musician world), this is from their About Us section on their website:

Established in 1959, Westone Laboratories has more than 55 years of experience delivering premium in-ear solutions for critical listening applications. Westone is the largest manufacturer of custom ear pieces in the world and was the first to design and manufacture a balanced armature driver earphone. With hearing healthcare and music specialists on our research and production teams, Westone invented the most ergonomic monitor design which provides the most comfortable, best fitting and quietest earphones on the market. The largest names in music turn to Westone in-ear monitors for on-stage use, just as U.S. Air Force fighter pilots depend on Westone’s ACCES® in-ear communications system for mission-critical noise isolation, hearing protection and two-way communication. It is our experience, our products, and our people that make Westone The In-Ear Experts®.

I’m a proud user of the Tru Customs and the ES20 custom in-ears (both pictured below). The Tru Customs are perfect for everything I play from small group Jazz (especially in a loud room) to louder amplified bands where the sound team doesn’t have capability to run a line for my ES20‘s.

I have the size 20 filters which reduces overall down to 13dB. If I ever want to raise or lower that filtration I can get different filters that range from 25 down to 10. The ES20‘s are AMAZING. When I went to get the molds, my rep didn’t try to up-sell me to something I didn’t need. The ES20‘s are a dual-driver system. The clarity is exceptional and the fit is spot on. I really love their Flex Canal technology. A body temperature-reactive, semisoft earpiece canal additive that stays firm at room temperature for ease of insertion and then softens at body temperature, allowing increased comfort and acoustic seal for incredible noise isolation.

I would highly recommend that you check out Westone for your hearing protection and IEM’s. Not just because I’m officially an endorsing artist now, but because the products and service are worth it!




Hark the Herald | Official Video

Hark the Herald

Hark the Herald | Official Video

If you’re on my mailing list you were able to get a sneak peek preview of my creative experiment of putting a video to my new Christmas single, Hark the Herald. If you’re not on my mailing list you can DO IT HERE and get a free mp3 in the process. Please feel free to share this, like, comment, subscribe to my channel on YouTube, etc. Enjoy!