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.






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




Whole Tone Combinations

Lately I have been working on my whole tone scales and wanted to share an interesting sound with all of you. I am sure most of you have worked on your whole tone scales and know what they are. If not, they are rather simple and I would suggest you learn them. Since whole tone scales are symmetrical, there are only two of them. A whole tone scale is exactly what it sounds like: a scale made up entirely of whole steps. Below is an example that shows the two versions of the whole tone scale.

I did not want this post to be about whole tone licks, but rather opening a door for you to explore new combinations and the sounds that come with it. I believe far too many musicians learn their whole tone scales, a few whole tone licks and then never revisit them. When you combine the two whole tone scales together you get an interesting “outside” sound that is organized. It does not matter how you combine them. For starters, try combining them in a scale-like manner like the example below:

The above example could create some interesting digital pattern lines if you combined it with other tools like rhythmic creativity or targeting principles. Another way to combine them is by starting a line in one whole tone area and throwing part of the other in half-way through.

Or you can take standard whole tone licks and combine them together. The example below starts with a familiar whole tone lick and then ends with a descending scale of the other whole tone scale (which targets the “C”).

During the week I want to challenge you to find different creative ways to combine the two whole tone scales. Besides being a great ear-training exercise, you might find some combinations that will add a creative spark to your improvisations!


The Augmented Triad

I have been making edits so I can have short previews of the songs that will be on my Mountain, Move. album and heard something that I thought would be great to talk about. So, in this week’s post we will look at the augmented triad and how we can use it to creatively target notes in our improvisations. I love using the augmented triad because it does not have the typical triad sound. To many listeners it causes an unexpected, “whoa…what was that?” response. This makes it a great tool to have in your improv arsenal.

I know there are a number of beginner visitors, so we will take a brief look at the augmented triad itself. An augmented triad is simply a major triad with a raised 5th (see example below):


The augmented triad is a great candidate to use as a tool for targeting. I invite you to check out some of the many different previous posts on targeting on this site as well as my book, Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose to get a better understanding of how to fully utilize this concept. But, we will take a look at a few different ways you can use the augmented triad to target. The augmented triad is symmetrical. That means no matter which inversion you start on you will have an augmented triad. The examples below will be using the G (or B, or Eb) augmented triad over a V7-I pattern.

The first example takes the augmented triad in a descending order (starting on the “B”) and resolves up a half step to land on the root of the I chord (Cmaj9):

The second example is an infamous lick that you will hear many great improvisers using in their solos. In this case, the augmented triad doesn’t directly lead into the targeted note (D). Instead of continuing down to the Eb (continuing the triad), the line resolves up to the D (which is the targeted note of the line…the 2nd/9th of the Cmaj9):


Our final example uses the augmented triad with another targeting concept (the chromatic target) to target the 5th of the I chord (Cmaj9):


One of my favorite ways to use the augmented triad to target notes is over the V7-I harmonic movement. There are other ways to implement the augmented triad, but I wanted to share my favorite. For the V7-I movement you can think about it a number of different ways. For instance, you could think about using an augmented triad on the 5th of the I chord or the root of the V7 chord. You can think about using an augmented triad a half-step below the root of the I chord or the 3rd of the V7 chord. Or you can think about using an augmented triad a flat third from I chord or the b13 of the V7 chord. Whatever works best for you. One goal I try to reach with my students is to narrow things down so you have less to think about while playing.

I hope you have enjoyed this week’s tip and that it has added value and benefit to your and/or your students playing in some way!



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!




Tritone Subs

I was having a conversation recently with someone who was having difficulty understanding what a tritone substitution was and how it can be used in improvisation. They had watched a number of videos on YouTube from someone who talked about the use of tritones in left-handed piano voicings. Unfortunately, they remained stuck thinking that was the only use of this “secret to tritones” as advertised on the video. Hopefully in today’s post we can uncover some of that secret for him and possibly others that may be stuck on the question: what is a tritone substitution?

About a year ago I made a post in my Outside-In series that covered this topic, but looked at it from a superimposition standpoint. Below is a portion from that post:

Let’s first take a look at the often talked about tritone substitution. There’s been a lot of mystery associated with this term and I hope to clear some of that up to show that it’s not as complicated as some make it out. A lot of our recent examples have been in the key of C…so let’s switch it up this week and move to the key of Eb. Let’s start with the ii-V-I in Eb:

A tritone substitution is simply taking the V7 chord and replacing it with the same quality chord a tritone (sharp 4th or flatted 5th interval) away. Instead of having Fmin7-Bb7-Ebmaj7. You now have Fmin7-E7-Ebmaj7. Notice how the root movement descends chromatically. The reason why the tritone substitution works so well is that the Bb7 and the E7 (tritone away) share the same guide-tones (the 3rd and the flat 7th of the chord):

(Quick note: anytime you have a V7 chord that lasts a full measure…you can turn it into a one-bar ii-V. This holds true for tritone substitutions.)”

As an improviser, you can take a normal ii-7, V7, I and turn it into a tritone substitution whenever you would like. Below is a quick example of what you could play:

I wrote the line so you could see it as an E7. It definitely has a more outside sound to it (which is why I talked about it in the Outside-In series). Hopefully that clears up some of the mystery that has surrounded the tritone substitution! There are a number of jazz greats that use them. Who do you like that uses them?