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.”

Key of C Pentatonic Target Examples

How Can I Use the Pentatonic Scale to Target?

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 have and just want the free examples 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.

What tools can I use to get to the targets?

We can use the pentatonic scale as a source of melodic content as well as using it as a tool to get to our targets. I like to use them for both as each line we play should have the end-note (target) in mind. The below examples are in the key of C, but notice how each line ends on either the 1st (C), 3rd (E), or 5th (G) of the key. It’s a free pdf file that you can use to start getting some ideas in your ear and under your fingers.

***Key of C Pentatonic Target Examples*** (download here)

The End Is Here

The end is here

End-Note Targets

I wanted to share a simple tip that has been helping my students. I’ve talked about targeting concepts for a long time, but we can view them in a number of different ways. For example, we can target the guide tones (3rds/7ths of chords) as we move from bar to bar or even do harmonic targeting where we aim for key area changes.

Targeting as Punctuation

Today’s tip is to look at targeting as a form of punctuation. By having an end-note in mind we force ourselves to not wander aimlessly in the moment.

If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.”

-Zig Ziglar

This is definitely a challenge (especially for beginners), because we spend so much time worrying about how do I start something as opposed to how do I finish? I have found for most, this is not intuitive and it has to practiced. But, I have found that it has yielded some great results for my own playing as well as some of my students.

The concept is simple. Pick an end-note somewhere in the progression and choose to make that your punctuation. The creative part is what you can do with it on the left-side of the target. Here’s an example:

I decided to pick the 5th of the CMaj7 as my end-note (target) in this ii-V-I example. The goal is to use it as a type of punctuation. I can change the note value or even where it’s placed within the bar, but I need to have some sort of stopping point (punctuation) to try and resist the urge to keep adding on. This where most people tend to wander in their improvisation. We want to keep adding and keep building to the same line without stopping and let it have its own sentence structure.

Here is an option of what I might do with the above (the possibilities are close to endless). The creative part is that we can do almost anything to the left of the target and it will work because we picked a strong end-note. The ear hears the tension on the left and the resolution of the target. If you want some other ideas about what you can do for the left side, check out my book Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose in my store.

I would love to hear your thoughts! Have you used this thought-process before (end-note targets to make a punctuation)? Share the line you’d play if you made the G your end-note target…

I hope this simple tip has added some value and benefit to your playing in some way!

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

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!

mp3

SaveSave

SaveSave

Genius Jamtracks Review

Genius Jamtracks Review

Genius Jamtracks Review

I am incredibly honored and excited to share a relatively new app that I believe will absolutely help you with your improvisations. I was recently approached by the creators of this app, Dimitris Neonakis and Antonis Tsikandilakis to check out their new app which is the first polyrhythmic play-along. Many of you know that with my students I already highly recommend using iReal, Drumgenius, and other apps for practice. When they mentioned the word polyrhythm I was instantly intrigued. While I play some piano (not at all to the degree to be taking Jazz gigs); I am mainly a trumpet player. Getting together with a rhythm section to work out ideas over shifting rhythms isn’t something I get to do on a regular basis. To be honest, this is one of the areas that I probably lack the most and spend time working on alone. However, this app allows you to work that out whenever you want.

The below is from the Genius Jamtracks:

“Polyrhythms, long part of the jazz vocabulary, were consolidated and brought to a whole new level in the early 60s by the masters of that era and are a core element of contemporary jazz improvisation and composition. Genius Jamtracks is the first polyrhythmic play-along. This interactive and great sounding app offers an easy way to get you from basic four bar chord progressions to the most advanced of Jazz songs.

Genius Jamtracks lets you:

1) Edit each instrument by clicking on it. You can have the bass play quarter note triplets
while the drums play in double time and the piano 4 over 3, or any other polyrhythm you might encounter in this genre
2) Add as many choruses as you want to the song and treat each one individually
3) Treat each section of the song separately: e.g. if the song form is AABA you can choose different events for each of the 4 sections
4) View chord charts and the selected polyrhythms map (for all instruments and sections of the song) at the same time
5) Transpose any track to any key / Adjust the tempo to fit your practice needs / Mix to your liking or mute any of the instruments
6) Randomize your selections either for one section or the whole arrangement and work on your interaction skills
7) Follow through the changes in polyrhythms using the map showing under the chord chart
8) Turn the metronome on/off, from the quick access button, when in need of a checkpoint”

I have had the opportunity to use this app over the past couple of days and I am genuinely impressed and find it incredibly useful. The sounds are as realistic, rhythms are on point (from the default core groove to the 8 different metric modulations and polyrhythms contained in the app), and the various exercises and standards are a great tool to work out these ideas. Because the app is still in its early stages (December 2016) there are only a few limitations like a smaller library of standards and not being able to input your own charts (similar to iReal). However, I’m sure as time marches on some of those capabilities might be added. It is still VERY much worth the $7.99 asking price.

I am going to continue working with this app to help solidify my own internal metric modulations. One exercise I have already started using is taking my Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose book and using the Altered Dominant/Diminished targeting exercise over All the Things You Are with the “3 quarter note pattern.” It’s challenging and fun!

To check out more of the app (including a Youtube video review below by the incredible Jazz pianist, Jean-Michel Pilc) you can go to their Facebook page HERE.

If you were like me and thought, “I don’t need to see any more, send me to the download page!” You can click on the image below. If you would like to try the exercise I listed above, be sure to grab my book by clicking on the other link. I hope you enjoy this app as much as I am!Cover PNG

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Why Your Improvisation Never Works Out the Way You Plan

You’ve been there at some point. We all have. Whether you plan something really far in advance (maybe in your younger/development stages) or on the bandstand in the heat of the moment; we’ve all been there.

So why does your improvisation never (or at least many times) work out the way you plan? Because the nature of improvisation is creation in the moment. Music is fickle. If you try to force something out it does not come out the way you wanted it. I like one of the definitions of improvisation found on Wikipedia that doesn’t get talked about much in musical circles: “adapting a device for some use other than that which it was designed for.” Think about that in a musical context. That idea you worked on in the woodshed…adapt it for something else you weren’t planning. For many musicians that is a scary thought. We like to plan and prepare because we don’t like making mistakes or the fear of failure. But, I believe some of the greatest improvisers do this. At some point they let go and adapt.

How does this look for us? Well, I suggest you still plan and prepare.

“Wait, didn’t you just say that never works?”

Yes, but in the application. That’s where it matters most. You still need to make time to plan what you need to work on (maybe you still struggle with chromatic targeting, the blues, or minor lines) and prepare by practicing what you are not good at yet. Then take those plans and be prepared to adapt them. Have command over your ideas so you can place them anywhere. Do this and you are well on the path of becoming a great improviser!

(If you need some help with those plans be sure to browse around my site or check out my books HERE)

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!

mp3

SaveSave

SaveSave

Leaving On A High Note

It’s interesting how you can get inspiration and ideas from the strangest/oddest places. The other day I was watching a re-run of an episode of Seinfeld called The Burning. One of the plots in this particular episode is of George Costanza finding the comedic power of leaving on a high note. He would be in a social situation where he would make someone laugh and in an attempt to keep the momentum going he would spout out another joke. Unfortunately, that joke would not be as funny as his first. That inevitably caused an awkward moment. So, George decides he needs to leave on a high note. As you can probably guess (if you’re not already familiar with the episode), it works wonders for him.

As I was sitting watching that episode it reminded me of a few Jazz jam sessions (and live performances) I have attended or been a part of. I lost track of how many times I’ve seen that same correlation with musicians. You hear a great improvised solo start out and then after a little while you think, “that probably could have ended a chorus or two ago.” I will admit it. I’ve been that person a time or two as well. There’s something inside of us as human beings that we want to keep the momentum going. We want to one-up ourselves or make the next “thing” better than the first. But, it leaves the audience with a less than desirable taste in their mouths. Instead, they leave thinking it was just ok.

Let’s take a cue from George Costanza. As we improvise on the bandstand-why not aim to try to leave on a high note? Obviously, we don’t want to swing the pendulum from one end to the other. It’s probably not wise to play a solo with one idea and take your bow. But, there’s nothing wrong with playing one or two GOOD choruses and leave it at that. Especially at a jam session! There’s nothing wrong with saying it like George: “Alright! That’s it for me!”

Below is a quick clip I found to show you part of the episode.

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!

mp3

SaveSave

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!

mp3

SaveSave

SaveSave