Harmonic Targeting

My previous blog posts about targeting concepts (aiming at a goal note with purpose) have dealt with the various ways we can get to the targeted note. We’ve also discussed what makes a good target. But, in today’s post I wanted to touch on something that I think might help a number of players and that is the concept of harmonic targeting.

The idea is similar in that we’re aiming at a goal note with purpose, but it is more about a specific goal note that makes the difference in harmonic targeting. In the harmonic progression, we want to find the note (or notes) that shifts or alters the harmonic landscape of the progression into a different key area (whether that’s a temporary modulation or an actual key change).

Let’s take a look at some examples:

One of the earliest concepts of harmonic targeting I learned as a young student was making sure I was hitting the major third of the chord change in the 8th bar of a blues

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There was a definite departure from the Bb key area by having the B natural stick out at you. So it became a goal to make sure that every time that 8th bar came around that I aimed for that B. What do you play to get to that B? Check out other posts on my blog for tips or get my book, Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose

What can you harmonically target? The answer is just about anything that highlights that you’ve departed from the key area you were just in. That can happen quickly or just occasionally. It’s up to you, but I like making sure that the drastic changes are caught. Let’s look at another example in the B section of There Will Never Be Another You

This progression (like hundreds of others) have a couple harmonic targeting spots that you could aim for. The Db7(#11) could be a highlight for instance. However, the F7 is what sticks out like a sore thumb. That A-natural lasts for 2 measures making it an excellent choice for a targeted note. As an added note, I like making that F7 into an F7(#11) for added color. 

I hope you find this tip useful for yourself or your student’s playing in some way. It’s a simple concept, but one that helps you play through harmonic progressions with more confidence.

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Pacing Exercises

 

It has probably happened to you once or twice unless you are just starting out on your improvisation journey. That moment on the bandstand or in rehearsal and you know that you are over playing. I think it happens to a lot of people (if not all) at some point or another. This week I am going to give a few tips and exercises that are  short, simple and you can use right away to help your pacing. I would suggest practicing these first before attempting to use on a gig unless you are positive you can do them in real time.

  1. Play your initial line and then sing back the same line in your head before proceeding to play the next. This can help balance the playing/resting ratio. You will notice that depending on the line you could be starting your next phrase in a place you are not accustomed to which can create some interesting results.
  2. Play your initial line and count down from 5. This is similar to #1 that you are creating the space, but now you have 5 beats to make your next statement. Again, this can create some interesting moments because of where it forces you to start your next phrase.
  3. Play your initial line and count down from 5, then 4, then 3 and so on. This takes exercise #2 and decreases the resting space. After you pass 1 beat between phrases you can start the process over.

Try these out this week during your practice sessions and see what they do for your pacing and phrasing. I hope this has added some value and benefit to your playing in some way!

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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Fun Challenges

 

For some of you this may not be an issue, but for others it is something you run into often enough to be frustrating. Have you ever taken a step back and looked at your abilities in improvisation and think, “what should I work on next?” I am not talking about the egotistical thought of I’ve made it, but rather one where you have felt you have hit the wall on progress. You know there is more to learn, more to absorb, more to hear, etc. But yet you do not want to keep working on the same things over and over.

While I do not believe this post alone is the answer; I do believe that this is something that can spark some creativity to help get you out of that rut. In 2013 the Jason Klobnak Quintet went on a short Midwest, US tour after our Mountain, Move CD Release. Those that have ever done tours of any length know that when you play the same music over and over (no matter if you feel the music is great or not) it can get stale pretty quick. One of the ways we kept our concerts fun and engaging with not only the audience, but ourselves as well was to create some simple yet fun challenges with each other. For us, one of those challenges was to find creative ways to input The Lick into our solos throughout the night. If you are not sure what The Lick is; I have a Youtube video someone made of it a while back that made the rounds on social media sites. I also made a quick graphic to show you what it looks like in the key of E minor below.

Why E minor? If you go to the Facebook page called Jam of the Week started by trumpeter Farnell Newton he has a weekly challenge where musicians from all over the world play an a capella solo to a blues/standard. One of the weeks was on the standard All the Things You Are by Jerome Kern. In the video posting I made I played The Lick over the 7th & 8th bar of the form in E minor (the chord is Cmaj7) which gives it a Lydian sound.

So what fun challenge can you create for yourself? Maybe find creative ways to play Happy Birthday or some other simple melodic fragments and work them into your improvisations. If you play in a group, see how many times you can play that melodic fragment without the other noticing. Or come join the Jam of the Week group and take part of the weekly challenges. We enjoy playing our instruments and making music. If you are losing some of that enjoyment…make it fun again!

The Lick Video

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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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Improv for Beginners part 3

 

I hope this series on Improv for Beginners has been helpful to you and your students. The 3 parts in this series is obviously not the only steps necessary in introducing and teaching improvisation to a beginner. There are a number of good sources and educators that specialize in beginners. If you or your students would like additional lessons and/or coaching, please feel free to contact me. I am also available to do clinics and masterclasses from Middle School-College/University level.

The 3rd part of Improv for Beginners is where I would introduce some basic theory and guide tones (as well as the different tools you can use to target those guide tones). In the three elements of music (Rhythm, Melody and Harmony) this would be the last piece I would introduce to students. It is my belief that a beginner should start on Rhythm and Melody before talking about Harmony. One of the very first tips ever made on this site (almost 3 years ago) was on this very topic. While some of it was copied over to save time, there are a few visual updates to this one to help with beginners.

If you’ve ever heard someone improvise and it sounds like they’re wandering….guess what? They probably are. One of the reasons improvisers wander is because they’re not aiming at specific targets. What are good targets, you ask? Guide Tones, of course! But, before you can talk about guide tones you need to explain to beginners what a chord is and how they are made. Below are two graphics I use from my book Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose.

The above picture represents a key scale (in this case C) moving up from the root note. Each scale step is assigned a number representing a scale degree. Don’t worry about the F# as the #11th scale degree with beginners for now. That comes up later in theory, but it is important for them to see the scale degrees and noting that the root, 3rd and 5th (which are the foundations of a chord) do not get re-numbered. Which brings us to the second graphic of separating the root, 3rd, 5th (and 7th) scale degrees to make the chord. These notes tell you the quality (major, minor, diminished, augmented, etc) of the chord.

This post is not an entire theory on harmony so if you need help with talking about the different chord types there are plenty of great materials and websites that go into that subject.

You may be wondering from what I initially wrote about guide tones and what they are… traditionally speaking, a guide tone is either the 3rd or the 7th of the chord of the moment. However, if you’ve ever listened to great improvisers…they never limit themselves to just the 3rd or the 7th (but they’re a GREAT place to target if you’re starting out). They often expand their guide tones or targets out to other chord tones or upper structures (i.e. root, 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, etc).

Take a song you are working on and figure out all of the 3rd and 7ths (guide tones or targets) for each chord. When you are practicing your improvisation with that song, target or aim with purpose for those guide tones. Just targeting the 3rd and the 7th is not going to make you an instant improvising sensation. But, they will help keep you on track of your improvisation and limit your wandering. One way to think about this is like planning a road trip on a map. You’re leaving point A (the beginning of your improvisation) and need to get to point Z (then end of your improvisation). You need destination points along the way to gas up or to eat. Those destination points are targets on your map. Those targets in your improvisation are your guide tones!

For more information on what tools you can use to get to your targets, check out Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose.

These three subject areas (and the order I mentioned them) are a great way to start a beginner out on their improvisation journey. If you or your students need additional help, please feel free to contact me and check out my books. I hope these have added value and benefit to you and your students!

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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Improv for Beginners part 2

 

Welcome to part 2 of starting beginner’s on their improvisation journey. Last week we started off with what I believe is a great foundation to getting a beginner going. There are a number of different opinions, theories and options. However, this is how I like to introduce those just starting. I have seen it work and believe it builds a strong foundation for their playing. I would encourage you go back to PART 1 and read through that if you are just joining us.

The next step is introducing MELODY. Where do we get melodies from? First, we get them from the music we play. What songs are the students learning? If they are really young students are they learning those early nursery rhyme type songs? All of these are melodies. Reading music is important, but have the students learn to play the melody without looking at the music. Internalize it. Once we learn the melody we can use it later. The melody can be embellished with a variety of tools, but they mean nothing without the foundation of the melody. As an exercise, have a student take Happy Birthday and improvise on it. If they have been working on rhythm and listening, you would be surprised at what they can probably already create with it.

Still not sure if you think it is a good exercise? Check out this video made by Wynton Marsalis in France a few years back:

Where else can we get melodies from? One of the scale types used in virtually every culture is the pentatonic scale. There is something melodic about that particular scale that has been creating melodies around the world for generations. If a student still needs to work on their major scales they need to be learning those in addition to the major pentatonic scale (minor scales are important too, but get the major one’s down first). While I do not believe running up and down scales themselves is how you should learn to improvise, they are important to know because they give us a color palette to choose from when improvising and the pentatonic scale is a melodic gold mine.

Combining the two elements of the melody of the song the student is learning with the pentatonic scale in the home key is a great place to get them thinking creatively. The pentatonic scale in the home key can be used to target key notes (landing areas) in the melody. For more information about how you or your student can use a pentatonic scale to creatively target notes you can check out my book Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose. 

Remember these are just beginning students. Give them achievable goals to start with before adding more complex ideas. I find a higher success rate with beginners that are given a few details to work with and then adding more pieces when ready rather than dumping everything at once. In my teaching studio, rhythm (time, feel, etc) and listening are the foundation. Melody is the next layer. Check back next week for the next layer 🙂

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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Using Drop 2 in Improv Part 2

 

Welcome to part 2 of Using Drop 2 in Improv. In this post we are going to talk about another we can use the Drop 2 concept to help your improvisations. This tip is one that you would use in your practice room. If you go back and check out the series called Map It Out you can get the initial concept of “planning your route” on a tune you are working on. While mapping out a plan mark the changes with (where appropriate) a 4-part rootless voicing. Then apply the Drop 2 to those voicings (see below).

Much like planning out a guide-tone map we can use these rootless voicings as a map too. However, the Drop 2 voicings add more flavor to the line because of its change in interval. The example below takes a arpeggiated line based off of part of the rootless voicing. Notice what happens to the same line when the Drop 2 is applied. Be sure to play them on your instrument or piano to hear the difference:

Let’s do another example. This time instead of an arpeggio we will use a simple line and apply the concept. The first example uses the 4-part rootless voicing as a guide. The second example uses the Drop 2 version as the guide which made it easier to apply a pentatonic targeting technique (more information on that can be found in my book Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose).

Try it out this week. Take a tune you are learning and map out a “Drop 2 route.” See what new sounds and intervals you can creatively use in your improvisations. If you need help with the what/how to play over the Drop 2 voicings then I suggest you check out Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose and Breaking the Monotony.

 

 

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Using Drop 2 In Improv Part 1

 

Usually when people talk about using “Drop 2” they are typically referring to voicings (on piano or guitar) or an arranging technique. However, in today’s post I wanted to look at a creative way we can use the concept to spur ideas for your improvisations. Before we dive in to the idea I think it would be good to explain what a Drop 2 is for those that may not be familiar with that terminology.

The simplest way to explain what a “Drop 2” is to show you. If you take the 2nd voice from the top of a chord and lower it an octave you have a Drop 2 voicing. Below is a root position C7 chord. Beside it is the same C7 chord, but with the Drop 2 voicing applied.

There are a few concepts in arranging where using the Drop 2 voicing gives you a great sound (I especially like using it in the trombone section of a big band). However, I want to look at how using the Drop 2 idea can spur new creative ideas for your improvisations. We have all probably worked out arpeggios on our instruments (or at least should have/should be), but few seem to work on them outside of root position. Before you shut down thinking, “Oh, this is just an arpeggio rant” stick with me for a moment.

Those that have followed this site know how important I view the concept of targeting (aiming at a goal note with purpose). In this first part we are going to apply chromatic targeting principles (more info found in my book Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose) to the root position C7 chord and then again with the Drop 2 version. Play through these with your instrument and listen to the difference in line movement.

In this example the Drop 2 version is more angular then the root position version. While I might change the rhythm of the line up, I personally like the movement from the Drop 2 version with the overt tritone sound upfront. It does not sound like someone playing around with an arpeggio. Let’s use another example, but this time we wont start with a root position voicing. Below is a Bbmaj9 in a block chord voicing (which means all of the voices are within an octave) and then the same voicing applying Drop 2.

And a line utilizing chromatic targeting principles:

While the last two examples above used chromatic targeting on the “D,” you could use chromatic targeting on any of the notes found in the voicing. Next week we will expand the Drop 2 idea and look at some other ways we can use it for to enhance your improvisations. I hope you have enjoyed this tip and that it adds some value/benefit to you and your playing!

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Thankful

 

In the United States this week many people celebrate the holiday of Thanksgiving. Without getting into the holiday’s history I wanted to take a look at the theme of being thankful and how it helps us as musicians. A lot can be said about our attitudes and how we act around others and react to situations. I have found that as a music community at large we take for granted the opportunities we have available to us. We can gripe and complain about pay and the amount of work that is out there, but when it comes down to it we should be thankful for the opportunities we do have.

I try hard each time I am given an opportunity to perform for a paying audience or client that I am grateful for that opportunity. We all have those gigs where it can be tempting to look at our watch (or in today’s times our cell phones) and continuously glance at the door thinking, “oh man…I can’t wait to get out of here.” But, I believe if we foster an attitude of thanksgiving and gratitude that it shows in our body language, our words and ultimately through our performance. You never know where your next gig or client is going to come from. If people (including musicians) see your positive attitude you become a more likely candidate for getting call-backs and future work.

What about you? Ask yourself if you are thankful to be a working musician. You could be doing a number of other things, but you were given a gift of music that not everyone has the honor of cultivating. I am asking myself this question this week as well. My answer is a resounding YES. I LOVE BEING A MUSICIAN.

For those that celebrate it: Happy Thanksgiving!

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