Improv Tip Week #14- Personalized Articulation

Welcome and thanks for checking out week #14’s tip…Personalized Articulation. Before we dive in to this topic, I want to again thank everyone that participated in the July and August drawings (those that purchased the e-book and printed version of Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose, have taken a Skype Lesson or have donated to my next album). If you have a studio or teach an improvisation course, I am running a Buy 3 get 1 FREE special for the printed/bound version of Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose. If you need 10 or more-contact me and we can work out an even deeper savings for your studio/class.

If you’ve been enjoying this blog or it has helped you, please share this week’s tip (and blog) via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, etc. You can use the links at the bottom of this tip to easily access your profile and share this with your friends.

If you were given a blind listening test of 4 or 5 famous artists that played your instrument-most of you would be able to tell who each artist was. There’s a number of factors that would help you make that determination: Their tone, melodic/rhythmic ideas, articulation, etc. The factor we’re going to talk about this week is articulation. I believe each person has an articulation that’s slightly different from someone else (much like fingerprints) that plays the same instrument. Some can sound very close to the other, but not quite the same. The beautiful part about it is that it’s personalized to each individual. We have our own likes and dislikes.

You may be wondering, “Great, Jason. How does this help me with my improvisations?” Some people never develop their articulation until it’s personalized. We listen to our favorite artists and try to match their articulations and nuances, but rarely do we go past what someone else did and make it our own. When we develop our style, our improvisations communicate to our audiences on a deeper level. You’re showing them yourself and not an imitation of someone else.

As you can imagine, there are varying degrees of each articulation. How short is your staccato? How long is your legato? If I put two people in a room and told them to play a staccato “F”- each person’s interpretation would be different. That’s a part of what makes us individual. When working on personalizing your articulation style, I like to have students start at the extreme end of an articulation and move towards the other end of the spectrum. As you move from one end to the other, you will find that one of those passes will sound the best to your ears. The example below is a very simple melodic line at one end of the extreme (in this case-VERY short and separated).

The other end of the spectrum would be the same line but very long legato with little separation like the example below.

These examples help us find our articulation in one style (i.e. how we like our staccatos, legatos, etc.) That doesn’t mean that all of our articulations in our improvisations have to all be in that “middle ground.” Since you’ve worked that line from the two extremes…now you can combine different degrees of those articulations to the same line and give it a completely different flavor. The example below is the same line from the two above, but with a mixture of varying degrees of articulations.

Use your ear as the determining factor. Some mixtures will have a great sound. Others…not so much. But, this is a part of finding your personalized style of articulation that you use for your improvisations. Your articulations help define who you are as a musician. Spend this next week working on different articulations to the lines you’re working on and determine which one fits you the best.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s tip! Be sure to check out my digital store at Jason Klobnak Music or by clicking the link on the right.

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Improv Tip Week #12- Chromatic Exercise

Welcome back! I hope you’ve been enjoying these improvisation tips. This week, I’m going to format the tip slightly differently. I’m going to put my closing at the beginning: If you’ve enjoyed this tip (or any of the past 11), please feel free to leave a comment or share it on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, etc. I’ve had numerous people leave me personal messages on how much these tips have helped. I would love to continue helping others and expand the circle of influence.

This week’s tip (Week #12-Chromatic Exercise) is a quick, yet effective exercise that will help get certain jazz lines under your fingers and ears (this is also talked about in Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose). Just about every instrument stresses the importance of the chromatic scale because it covers the full range of the instrument by half step (as well as additional benefits that can be specific to your instrument).

This chromatic exercise is the same scale (you can start on any note…the following examples start on “G”), but alternating every other note. If going down: Go down a whole step then up a half step. If going up: Go down a half step then up a whole step.

The big benefit of this exercise is that it helps you chromatically enclose each note of the chromatic scale by half step (a very common device in Jazz). While there’s additional benefits to doing this exercise (i.e. a great break-up to the routine of just running the chromatic scale, good for the chops, etc), we’re just looking at the enclosure benefits.

For most people (those that haven’t broken up the chromatic scale like this before), this will not be an easy exercise at first. Remember to start slowly and gradually increase your speed. Practice makes permanent. However, if this exercise seems to simple for you, try changing up the exercise by articulating in different patterns (example below)

or by changing up the rhythm:

If that’s still not a challenge for some of you. Try playing major triads on each note like the example below:

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s tip! There should be plenty for everyone to work on between now and next week 🙂

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Improv Tip Week #11- Key Fluency (part 2)

Hey Everyone! Welcome to week #11’s tip…Key Fluency part 2. Last week I gave some tips on how we can better our key fluency and I wanted to continue on the same subject matter this week, but give two additional tips on what you can do to increase your fluency in other keys. August is the month where most school systems across the United States head back to school and one of these tips will be great for band directors in getting all of your students fluent in keys that they might not be the most comfortable. The other tip is a great ear-training exercise that musicians on any level will benefit from.

The first is using call and response. Music is an aural art, therefore time needs to be learning music by ear. Don’t get me wrong, learning to read music is very important. However, I don’t think enough time is spent training the ear. Call and response can be used as an ear training aid, but I want to discuss how we can use it to develop stronger key fluency (especially younger musicians). For those that might not know what call and response is…it’s actually very simple. One person makes a call, or musical statement, and then another person (or group of people) make a response back. There’s different types of call and response (which we’ll be covering in week #12), but for the purposes of key fluency-we’ll be talking about an exact response back. When doing this exercise with other younger musicians, be sure not to give them any music or any ideas pre-written out. This should be done all by ear. If the student(s) don’t get the musical statement the first time, play the same statement again until they do. The person making the call should be the teacher, band director or an advanced student who already has great key fluency. Below are a few quick examples of taking a short idea and running them through the call and response exercise. As the short ideas become easier for the group, extend the lines and gradually make them more difficult. My suggestion is to stick with a key area (or scale) each week to further develop fluency in that key/scale before doing another. The exercise below is using the B major pentatonic scale.

The last tip for this week’s Key Fluency (part 2) is one that’s quite simple, yet often times a difficult one to accomplish. Just about everyone is working on some sort of song right now (or at least should be). Take that song and, by ear without looking at any written music, transpose it to different key areas. It’s a simple tip, yet depending on the song you’re working on-can be a difficult task to accomplish. There’s a wide range of benefits from doing this exercise (i.e. you never know when someone might call that song in a different key at a jam session, you learn certain passages in multiple keys that you can use in your improvisations, etc), but it certainly stretches your ear and helps make keys that might be more unfamiliar to you that much more fluent. If you’re one of those that aren’t working on a song-let me make some suggestions: ANYTHING WILL WORK! Just start playing something! Theme songs from TV shows, children’s songs, jazz standards, R&B, Top 40, Gospel….whatever! Just learn a song and start transponsing it by ear and get to work!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this short series on Key Fluency! These past two week’s tips are ones that I am always working on to better develop my own fluency in all keys. If you’ve enjoyed this tip or found it beneficial…please let me know, as I enjoy your feedback. Also, please feel free to share this tip (and blog) via the links below to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, etc. Also, if you haven’t already, be sure to check out the video below for the Jason Klobnak Music August Promotional. There’s about half of the month of August left to get your name registered for the $100 giveaway! For more information, you can go to Jason Klobnak Music or click on the link to the right.

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Improv Tip Week #10-Key Fluency

Welcome back to week #10! I was going to start on a different topic this week, but decided that it can wait. This week, I felt like it was necessary to talk about Key Fluency. I think most musicians will agree that having command of your instrument is an important thing. Part of that command is being able to play in more than just the “comfortable” key areas. A common mistake I see younger musicians making is that they learn their major scales in all 12 keys by just going up and down the scale. It’s a good place to start learning key areas, but is not the end all. Scales are patterns (regardless of what instrument you play). The real test is playing music in that key. I think if someone were taught the Db-major scale as their first scale to work on that it would be just as easy for them to learn as the C-major scale. It’s all in our perceptions and what our starting point was as musicians. I personally don’t believe that any key area (or scale) is difficult or hard for anyone to learn. Andy Classen, my trumpet professor at Drake University, used to tell all of his students that, “there’s no such thing as difficult music, only unfamiliar.”

In this week’s tip (it’s more like 3 tips in one), we’re going to talk about some different ways you can get better at key fluency. Unlike other past week’s tips that give direct advice on how you can better your improvisations, this week’s tip will have an indirect effect. The more comfortable you are in all keys, the better you will be able to apply past tips (and other education/advice you’ve learned) to other keys.

1) 12 weeks to major key/scale freedom! Some of you may be thinking, “well…I already know my major scales-how will this really help me?” I’m glad you asked! When people “work” on their major scales or key areas, they typically spend a little bit of time (maybe 15-20 minutes) a practice session on it and then move on to another scale or key area. We end up trying to cram all 12 major keys/scales into one session. Instead of trying to do all 12 in one session, spend an entire week on just ONE major key area or scale a week. Practice does not make perfect…it makes permanent. If you’re going to engrain a habit (in this case our key area/scale)-spend a considerable amount of time on it. It may seem tedious at first, but you will notice after a few days working in that key area that it becomes significantly more familiar with each passing day. It doesn’t need to be ALL of what you practice, but don’t work on another key area/scale during that time. Just focus on one per week. Also, instead of just running up and down a scale, trying playing the scale up and down in 3rds, 4ths, 5ths, etc. like the example below. Start slow at first-then speed it up a few clicks after you’ve mastered the slower tempo.

2) 12 weeks to minor key/scale freedom! I’ll admit…this one was kind of obvious! There are different types of minor key areas/scales that you can apply the same advice from above. Once you’ve spent 12 weeks on the major key/scale areas…start jumping into the different minors (melodic, harmonic, dorian, etc) and spend one week working on ONE key area/scale. The example below is the exact replica of the one above, but using the melodic minor scale as the reference.

3) DON’T JUST PLAY THROUGH SCALE EXERCISES! I remember when I first started doing the above suggestions that I noticed my ears started to open up and I felt like I had better command of my instrument. But for some reason, I wasn’t seeing the benefits translating into my improvisations yet. Then I read an interview of jazz trumpeter, Tim Hagans. He talked about how he would spend some of his practice time shutting his eyes and playing freely. No determined ideas/licks, no determined music, no time, no backing tracks (Aebersolds, Band-In-A-Box, etc)…nothing but free playing. I took that advice and started applying it to my “key area” of the week. That was my only limitation…I needed to stay within my key of the week. At first I fumbled through and made a lot of, well…interesting note groupings. But, after a while I started hearing on a deeper level and noticed that I liked the sound of certain intervals grouped together. Sure enough, the more I did it, the more some of those sounds started to appear in my improvisations. When doing this exercise, don’t worry about time. Just close your eyes and play in that key area/scale of the week. Your ear will help you determine if you liked it or not. It’s difficult to give a written example of what this might look like notated, but I took just a quick moment and transcribed a few seconds of myself playing in the key of “C-major” (it’s easier for most people to read in C) and put it below:

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s tip and look forward to hearing from you on how your key fluency has improved over the next couple of weeks. If you’ve enjoyed this tip(s), please feel free to share them with others via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, etc with the links below. Also, if you haven’t already, check out the August Promotional video and the commercial for Targeting: Improvisation with Purpose below. For additional information, you can check out Jason Klobnak Music.

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Improv Tip Week #9-Targeting Using Dominant Pentatonic

Welcome to week #9 where we’ll be finalizing the last of our “Pentatonic Series.” There’s obviously many more types of pentatonic scales that are out there that you can use these targeting concepts with, but I have some other topics that I want to get out to you. This week’s pentatonic scale, much like some of our other exotic pentatonics, probably has a few different names that you may have heard. However, for this blog’s purposes…I’m calling it the Dominant Pentatonic scale. This scale (along with a number of others) is very recognizable if you’ve spent any time listening to guitarist, John McLaughlin. Unlike some of the other pentatonics we’ve discussed, this particular pentatonic employs the 4th scale degree as well as the flat 7th (hence the name dominant pentatonic). It has a very distinct sound because of the half step in the middle of the scale between the 3rd and 4th scale degrees. The dominant pentatonic is constructed of the root, 3rd, 4th, 5th and flat 7th scale degrees (see example below).

While I’m sure you can find ways to make the dominant pentatonic scale to work over various modes (see previous tips), I’ve found that for me-this scale works best with dominant (or dominant related) chords. The first example below uses the G-dominant pentatonic scale over the G7 chord in the second bar. Notice (like in practically all examples over the past 9 weeks), that the G-dominant pentatonic scale is used to target the “G” of the Cmaj7 chord in the 3rd bar. One of the reasons why I like this particular pentatonic scale is because of the half-step motion built into the scale. Music and great improvisations have tension and release of varying degrees. The dominant pentatonic scale has an interesting and exotic sound because of the tension and release found within the scale itself. When you use it as a tool along with targeting principles-you will find that your lines begin to communicate with your audience.

The above example is a very practical use of the dominant pentatonic scale. However, you can use dominant pentatonic scales that aren’t based on the root of the chord of the moment. In the example below, I use the C-dominant pentatonic scale over the G7(#9) chord because the half-step motion in the scale flows nicely from the G7(#9) chord into the Cmaj7 chord.

Both of the examples I’ve used today would be considered “inside.” All of the pentatonic examples we’ve talked about the past couple of weeks can be used to go “outside” of the harmony as well. One way to do that is to take the pentatonic scale you would use and play it 1/2 step up or down from the root. Always remember, though, you can’t be “outside” without defining “inside.” My general rule for playing “outside” of the harmony is to always start “inside,” go “outside” and then come back in. It can be used to great effect, but is very easily overdone.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s tip and the past “Pentatonic Series.” I always look forward to hearing from all of you so please feel free to leave your comments and share this tip (and blog) to others via Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, etc.

I would also love to give you a FREE MP3 from my first album, Mountain, Move. Simply fill out the short form after clicking the image below!

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Improv Tip Week #8-Targeting Using Major Pentatonic with b6

We’re going to talk about how we can creatively target with the major pentatonic with the flat 6th. This is definitely an exotic pentatonic scale and one that’s not talked about much but can be used in different applications and is relatively easy to learn. For those of you that have already learned your standard major pentatonic scales, this should be an easy scale to pickup. The major pentatonic with the flat 6th is just one note change (the 6th) away from the standard pentatonic. It’s constructed of the root, 2nd, 3rd, 5th and flat 6th scale degrees.

As we’ve been talking with the other pentatonic scales in previous weeks, they can be used over different harmonies outside of the parent or root scale. Last week with the minor pentatonic with the major 6th-we looked at how it works perfectly over any chord that fits in the melodic minor (dorian or jazz minor) scale/harmony. The major pentatonic with the flat 6th will work over any chord that fits in the harmonic major scale/harmony. This may be the first time some of you have heard about harmonic major (It’s a major scale with a flat 6th). While this pentatonic scale can be used over any chord found in that harmonic structure, I find it works best over a dominant chord with a flat 9th (example below). Notice how I’m using part of the C major pentatonic (with the flat 6th) to target the 5th scale degree of the Cmaj7.

Always remember that with any tool that we’re using (in this case a pentatonic), that we use it to aim with purpose at a target. You can use the most exotic scale, pattern or lick known in the universe-but if you’re just wandering with it…it has no purpose. The next example below has no chord changes above it, but you can tell that the major pentatonic with the flat 6th is being used. You will notice, however, that it’s based off of some form of C major harmony because either an E natural or a G natural are being targeted. This example is something that I might play over a vamp (Cmaj, Dmin7, etc).

I hope this week’s tip has been helpful and I look forward to hearing from all of you again this week! Please feel free to leave your comments (either here of by email) and feel free to share this tip (and blog) to others via Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, etc. We will continue the Pentatonic Series next week. Until then, be sure to check out my book- Targeting: Improvisation with Purpose by clicking on the link on the right or by going to Jason Klobnak Music.

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Improv Tip Week #7-Targeting Using Minor Pentatonic With Major 6th (or Insen)

Welcome back everyone to week #7’s tip where we’ll be talking about the Minor Pentatonic Scale with the Major 6th (or Insen). Last week we talked about using the Pentatonic Scale to creatively target notes and after some good feedback on last week’s topic, I’ve decided to do another mini-series. This series will focus on the different types of pentatonic scales and how we can use them to target notes. This week we’re going to talk about the Minor Pentatonic with the Major 6th which is also sometimes referred to as the Insen pentatonic (named after a Japanese pentatonic scale). Before I get too far, I wanted to briefly mention that when you start to talk about more exotic pentatonic scales-some people get extremely technical on names. Very well respected educators argue about the “correct” names of scales and chord nomenclature (including the Insen scale). For me, I like the definition of the Insen scale to be that of the Minor Pentatonic with the major 6th. I’m ok if you disagree with me, but the important issue is that we’re still talking about the Minor Pentatonic with the Major 6th. So let’s dive in and take a look at the scale and how we can use it to creatively target notes…

Below is the Minor Pentatonic Scale with the Major 6th (or Insen). It’s constructed of the root, 2nd, flat 3rd, 5th and major 6th scale degrees.

As I mentioned briefly last week and in my book (Targeting: Improvisation with Purpose), Pentatonic scales can be used over different harmonies outside of the parent or root scale. The Minor Pentatonic with the Major 6th can especially be used with any chord that fits in the melodic minor (dorian or jazz minor) scale/harmony which includes: min7, min7(b5), altered, 7(#11), augmented, etc. In the minor 251 example below, I’m using two Minor Pentatonic Scales with the Major 6th. On the Dmin7(b5) chord, I used the Minor Pentatonic w/ major 6th starting on the b3 (or the F minor pentatonic w/ major 6th). On the the G7alt, I used the Minor Pentatonic w/ major 6th starting a 1/2 step above the root (or the Ab minor pentatonic w/ major 6th). Notice how the lines that I used are still targeting specific guide tones. We still want to aim (or target) a goal note with purpose.

The next example below is very similar to some that we used last week. I’m using part of the C minor pentatonic scale w/ major 6th to target the Eb in the Cmin7 chord. In a technical harmonic analysis, the A natural should clash against the G7alt chord. However, because we’re using it as part of a tool to get us to the Eb in the Cmin7 chord….it works.

Another great tool that I like using the Minor Pentatonic w/ major 6th for is the Blues. Always remember that you can use minor scales in major harmony (and vice versa)…it’s just how you apply them and use them to target. Even though this pentatonic scale is “minor,” we can use it in a non-minor setting. Below is a basic example of using this pentatonic scale exclusively on the first couple bars of the Blues.

I hope this week’s tip has been helpful and I look forward to hearing from all of you again this week! Please feel free to leave your comments either here or by email and be sure to share this tip (and blog) via Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, etc. Next week we’ll continue this Pentatonic Series. Until then, be sure to check out my book, Targeting: Improvisation with Purpose by clicking on the link to the right or by going to Jason Klobnak Music.

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Improv Tip Week #6- Targeting Using Pentatonics

Targeting Using Pentatonics

One e-mail I received mentioned that, while they’re enjoying the other tips, they’d like to see a few more from my book, Targeting: Improvisation with Purpose. For those who haven’t had a chance to check out the book yet, it dives into a few different ways we can creatively target a note. One of the chapters discusses the different types of pentatonic scales and how we can use them to target a note. If you listen to some of your favorite improvisers, many of them utilize pentatonics in some form.

The pentatonic scale

It’s an easy scale to learn and can, unfortunately, be over used. However, pentatonics are a great source to create simple melodies and have been used in just about every culture across the globe. Anything we can draw melodic inspiration from can be used in our improvisations. We take that next step by using those melodies to target where we’re going. As you will notice (if you haven’t already), I define targeting as moving to a note with purpose.

First, let’s look at what a basic major pentatonic scale is for those that might not know. A pentatonic scale is a 5-note scale (derived from the root penta which = 5). If you were to construct the scale from the root up it would look like this: Root, 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th. A “C-pentatonic” scale is written out below.

Then, if you haven’t already, I would highly suggest learning all 12 of the major pentatonic scales. Get them under your fingers and in your ears. I have a great pentatonic workout in my book, Targeting: Improvisation with Purpose written out in all 12 keys. It’s written out mainly for the younger students, but I strongly suggest you do them without the written exercises.

Let’s talk about how we can use pentatonics to target. We can use any part of the pentatonic scale to get to our targeted note. For this week’s examples, you want to make sure that your targeted note is in the pentatonic scale you’re going to be using. In the ii-V-I example below, I’m going to target the “5th” of the Cmaj7 chord. I’ve determined that I’m going to use a C-major pentatonic scale to get to that target and I’m going to use the C-major pentatonic scale starting on the 2nd scale degree.

The above example is a basic way we can use the pentatonic to target. But, notice how I said that you want to make sure that your targeted note is IN the pentatonics scale you’re going to be using? This implies that we can use pentatonic scales outside of the “key area.” Our next example below is the same line, but using part of the Bb pentatonic scale. Notice how the line still works, but gives it a different color? We’re still targeting the same note, but we’re changing how we get there.

I hope the above tip helps and I’ll talk more about how we can use pentatonics to target notes in the next coming weeks. But if you’d like to learn more, you can check out my book by clicking on Jason Klobnak Music. As always, I truly hope these tips (and the book) are helping! If you have feedback, reviews or comments…please feel free to let me know!

Thank you for checking out my blog! If you’d like to join my mailing list I would love to send you a FREE MP3 from my band -OR- a free etude from one of my books! Simply click on the image below and in a few short steps I’ll send it over!

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