motifs Archives - Jason Klobnak Music

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Say That Again

STAHave you ever had a line in your improvisation that came up in the moment that you liked so much that you wanted to Say That Again? But, the progression keeps moving so you had to transpose the line. For some improvisers this scenario can be nerve-racking because you might only know that line in one or two keys. In today’s post I want to share an exercise I use regularly (and one that you should never stop doing) to help not only with ear training, but with confidence in playing in all keys. This exercise in the academic world has a number of different terms associated with it: sequencing, transposing, modulating, etc. However, when I work with younger students I like to not only teach the academic musical terms, but call them something they might find humorous so they remember it. In this case, I like to call this exercise: Say That Again!

It is simple. When you are practicing find a motif, riff or lick (perhaps the Lick of the Day here on this site) that you like. For this example we will use the lick below:


After playing the lick (motif, riff, etc) a few times as written…stop looking at it. Memorize it and play it without reading the notes. Once you have the lick down you are going to Say That Again, but by playing it a half-step up or down (see below):

STA.5down STA.5up

You can continue that pattern all the way up (or down) the chromatic scale. Not only have you played the lick in all keys, but you now can play the lick in half-step motions which can be used for taking a line outside. Another very popular way of doing this exercise is by going up in fourths which is often called playing around the cycle of fourths (see below):


Practicing your lick this way gets you to start thinking about moving around one of the most common root progression movements (ex. iim7 – V7- Imaj7 all have root movements of a fourth). The next couple of examples move the lick around major 2nds (up or down the whole-tone scale) and minor 3rds (up or down the Diminished 7th chord):

Major 2nds



Minor 3rds



I hope this week’s tip has added some value or benefit to you or your student’s playing in some way. For a challenge this week take one of the licks from the Lick of Day found here on this site and take it through the Say It Again exercise. Over time you will be able to navigate your favorite lines through different harmonic progressions with ease!

Finally, be sure to pick up your copy of Mountain, Move today. Part of the proceeds of each album sale (physical or digital) help the Pearl Alliance and their fight against human trafficking. You can get one at our Digital Store along with both of my books: Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose and Breaking the Monotony.






The Jazz community recently lost another great musician in pianist Mulgrew Miller. I have been a fan of his playing for years-especially his time with Woody Shaw. While thinking about his playing and some of his characteristics (and there are many) I loved the way he played sequences. In honoring Mr. Miller I thought this week’s post should be on using sequences in your improvisation.

What are sequences? There are two types of sequences you will find in jazz: melodic and rhythmic.

  • A melodic sequence is the repetition of a line at a different pitch.
  • A rhythmic sequence is simply the repetition of a rhythmic line.

Both types of sequences are not hard and fast rules. A melodic sequence can be exact interval repeats (digital patterns) or different notes entirely. The general outline or shape of the line is what is repeated. It can have a different rhythmic pattern or the exact rhythm pattern repeated (but with the notes changing).

We are going to look at an example and how we can sequence a pattern. Below is our basic pattern that we are going to use throughout this post.


The next example takes our pattern above and uses a sequence over the first part of a 4-bar progression. This example takes the exact pattern and modulates it to the next chord. In this example we keep the same rhythm as the original:


You do not have to keep the exact rhythm to create a sequence. The next example takes the idea from above and rhythmically anticipates the F# going to the D7:


Another way you can continue the sequence is by keeping the rhythm and shape of the original pattern, but changing the notes so they fit the next chord:


That same idea could be repeated over the entire progression, but you may want to add other elements to the idea to keep it from going stale. A few ways to do that is to compress the rhythm down or expand the rhythm out:



In the final example below we take some of the different elements of sequencing above and put them into the 4-bar progression (I-VI7-ii7-V7):


I hope this post has added value to you and your playing in some way and that you can start adding sequencing to your improvisational tools. For more information on how you can use digital patterns for sequencing, check out my book Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose. For more information on how you can rhythmically energize your improvisation check out Breaking the Monotony at my Digital Store




Fun with Arpeggios part 3

Hopefully by this point (if you have been following the series on Fun with Arpeggios) you get the idea of how we can creatively use arpeggios in our improvisations. Before we move on to another topic I wanted to continue the thought process, but introduce arpeggios of different chord quality then just major (which was used in part 1 & part 2). In this part we will use the minor 7th arpeggio to build some of our lines.

Below is the minor 7th arpeggio in quarter notes (Cmin7) along with a more extended eighth-note version both up and down:

Unlike the major 7th arpeggio that has the half-step between the 7th and the root, the minor 7th arpeggio has more of a pentatonic scale type feel to it with the combination of minor 3rd, major 3rds and the whole step between the 7th and the root. This can create some interesting combinations over different harmonies.

One obvious way you can use the minor 7th arpeggio is over minor chords, but I am pretty sure most of you can figure that out on your own. However, one really useful way to use the minor 7th arpeggio is over the V7 chord of a ii-V-I. Below is an example with a half-step chromatic target of the C minor 7th arpeggio over the  F7 which resolves into the Bbmaj7:


And the next example below takes the descending C minor 7th arpeggio at the beginning of this post and resolves it to the 7th (A) of the Bbmaj7:


I, for one, enjoy this sound over the V7 chord. It almost has a blues flavor to the line when you have the minor 7th arpeggio (a 5th away from the root) played over the V7 chord.

I hope you have enjoyed this series and that it has added value and benefit to your and/or your students. If you have not yet, I would invite you to check out my Digital Store today to take a look at my books and other services. Also, be sure to hit “like” on my Facebook Page as well as I will continue to give updates on my upcoming CD Mountain, Move.




Fun with Arpeggios part 2

In this week’s post we are going to continue having some fun exploring improvisational options with arpeggios. In part 1 we looked at what were arpeggios and looked at one of my favorite major 7 arpeggio lines. In part 2 we are going to look at some practical options of how to use that major 7th arpeggio. As we continue along in this series we will look at other chord quality arpeggios and some effective ways to utilize them.

Below are the examples from last week on the major 7 descending arpeggio. The first starts on the root while the second starts on the 3rd of the arpeggio:


Now we are going to explore some ways to use the arpeggio in our improvisation. The first example below simply uses the descending pattern (starting on the 3rd) verbatim over a ii-V-I progression in the key of C:


For those that have been following this blog since the beginning, you know that I like to give you the tools to create your own lines. Now, let’s use the descending arpeggio as our skeleton and add some targeting principles:


If you would like more information on how to apply targeting principles, I would invite you to check out some of the other posts on this site as well as my book, Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose, which is available in printed and digital form (English and Spanish available) at my Digital Store.

Check back next week as we continue to look at other ways we can creatively use arpeggios in our improvisations!





I have two daughters that love it when I read them books and tell stories before bed time. They especially love my improvised stories where they give me a subject or characters and tell me, “tell us a story on that, daddy!” It stretches my creativity a bit, but it is a lot of fun for them as well as myself. I have been thinking of the parallels of improvising on the bandstand in jazz with being a great storyteller.

There are a number of things we can learn from storytelling. One of the obvious parallels are that we communicate with a rhythm section and audience when we improvise (or at least we should strive to be doing that). But, I wanted to take a look at what characteristics a good storyteller has and how as improvisers we can learn from them. It is difficult to do this if you have not already learned your scales, can play your instrument with a certain level of proficiency and have an understanding of harmony, etc. I would suggest you check out some of the many other posts/tips on this site that will help that stage of your development and then come back to this.

I will admit I am not the greatest storyteller (although my daughters would argue otherwise), so I found an online source of characteristics from that I thought were great. They are listed below:

  1. moves through a logical sequence of events
  2. has interesting characters
  3. includes details to develop the plot, characters and setting
  4. includes a problem that must be solved
  5. uses attention getting introductions
  6. tries to build suspense
  7. makes eye contact with the audience
  8. speaks at the right volume and speed for the audience to hear and understand them clearly

While reading that list I took inventory of how I approach improvising on the bandstand and took note of things that I did similarly and those that I know I can improve. Below are a few parallels that I see with jazz improvisation:

  1. improvises through the harmonic progression in a logical manner 
  2. interesting motifs, licks or melodic fragments
  3. develops the motifs, licks or melodic fragments to tell a story
  4. reacts to musical cues from other band members
  5. makes a clear opening statement (see Out of the Gate) to beginning of improvisation
  6. builds the improvisation with dynamics, articulation and phrasing that creates an overall arc that includes a climax
  7. makes eye contact with the audience. I am guilty of this because I tend to close my eyes while improvising
  8.  improvises in a way that the audience can understand them on some level (i.e. melody connects with the average listener while an array of technical virtuosity may not)

Try this out at some point in the coming days/weeks. As an improviser are you an effective storyteller? If not, work on becoming one by practicing some of the parallels above. People remember great storytellers…



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!





Improv Tip Week #37-Crossing the Bar

Week #37 is here! I can’t believe it’s been 37 straight weeks of these tips, but I truly hope you’ve been enjoying them and that they have benefited you to some degree. This week’s topic will explore two different ways we can make our lines cross over the bar line. Those that have followed along know that I’m big on targeting and how strong resolution points (in 4/4) land on beats 1 & 3. However, we want to always make sure we’re not doing the same thing over and over. One way we can break it up a little bit is by making our lines cross the bar line.

The first way we can cross the bar line is by anticipating beats 1 by an eighth note or quarter note. The first example below is a short ii-V-I with the anticipation going into beat one of each bar:

The second example is another short ii-V-I with anticipation by a quarter note:

Another way we can cross the bar line is by taking thematic material and displacing it by a unit of rest (i.e. eighth rest, quarter rest, etc). I mention this in the Motif series. Let’s take a look at a few examples below. Each example takes a theme or motif and displaces it by a determined rest.

Some forms of displacing our improvised line is also known as a hemiola (or implying a different meter within an implied meter. For example 3/4 over a 4/4). You can cross the bar line in a number of different ways, but the above are fairly common ways to do so.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s tip! Please be sure to share this tip and site with your friends and colleagues. There are buttons below that will allow quick access to share this on a number of different social networking sites. If you haven’t already, I would still like to encourage you to check out my book Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose as well as some of the other functions on this site (Skype Lessons, videos I’ve posted, etc).



Improv Tip Week #17- Motifs part 3

Welcome back to week #17 where we’re going to finish up our current mini-series on motifs. We’ve looked at how we can develop motifs by changing up the rhythm and probably the most obvious: notes. This week we’re going to look at what we can do with changing the intervals and the shape/contour. For those that may be joining us for the first time, let’s look at our original motif that we’ve been developing along with it’s general shape/contour:

Let’s first take a look at what we can do with the intervals. There are 3 intervals in the above example. The C to G is down a 4th, the G to A is up a major 2nd and the A to Eb is down a tritone. Using the interval combinations of 4ths/5ths, major 2nds and tritones we can develop the original motif. This can lead to some interesting options and I would suggest that when you’re developing your motifs that you save this type of development for later as they often lead to lines that go outside of the stated harmony (unless that’s what you’re going for). Depending on the effect you’re going for, re-arrange the combination of intervals. Using targeting principles with this takes more thought, but can be done. Below is an example over the same first four bar blues that we’ve been using. The original motif is stated in the first measure, but over the next three bars a combination of those intervals is used to develop something new (along with a re-statement of the original motif).

The last way we can develop our original motif that we’re going to talk about is manipulating the contour/shape of the original motif. We can use the same shape and transpose the original phrase, reverse the shape (reverse the direction) or keep the same shape but accent it’s characteristics (i.e. if the shape goes down…how far down do you want to make it?). The example below will use all three ways just mentioned:

I hope you’ve enjoyed the Motifs series and find them beneficial to your improvisations! Feel free to share this tip (and blog) with your friends via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ or any other site that you’re a contributor. If you’ve enjoyed them or have found them beneficial, let your friends know and have them stop by. Also, if you haven’t checked out my book Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose yet, you can go to my digital store at Jason Klobnak Music or by clicking the link on the right. Thanks again and I look forward to hearing from all of you!