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 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!




Break It Down

It happens to all of us at one point or another. We get excited on the bandstand and get caught up in the moment. We have a tendency to overplay and force the swing feel instead of allowing it to happen. Our articulations become harsh and our lines either fall apart or they wander aimlessly. Honestly, this is normal. We allow our heart rate to dictate what we play instead of the music. The good news is that there is a simple tip that will help you calm down and swing harder.

A number of great jazz educators talk about this, but the first person to hip me to it was Greg Gisbert. Instead of feeling quarter notes (or even tapping on 2 & 4) while playing, break down how you feel the time to a lower denominator. For instance, instead of feeling the time in 4/4, feel the time in 2/4  (in a sense you are playing as if it were in half-time).  You could even break it down to 1/4 (every measure is felt as 1 beat). Essentially you are breaking down how you feel the tempo.

There are a number of benefits for feeling the tempo this way:

  • The tempo feels slower which has a calming effect on your heart rate. This allows you to think in larger phrases which will also cause you to not overplay.
  • Faster tempo songs become more manageable.
  • Your articulations even out and you’re more likely to lock in with the rhythm section. This actually helps you swing in faster tempos. It does not sound forced.
  • Slowing things down allows you to look ahead, notice what is happening around you and react with the rhythm section (instead of having a one-way conversation).

This simple tip will have an immediate calming effect on the bandstand. However, it is also good to use when practicing. Getting used to playing in a half-time (or less) feel will only benefit your playing.

I hope you have enjoyed this tip and that it adds value and benefit to your playing in some way. The JKQ could still use your help in getting our album mixed/mastered. If you would like to help finish this project you can donate, buy a book or schedule a Skype lesson at my Digital Store today!


Today’s post is simple, but one that might take a few moments of reflection if you haven’t thought about it in a while. Who has influenced the way you improvise? Who do you listen to the most? Who, when you listen to them, inspires you to grab your instrument and shut out the rest of the world so you can practice?

Maybe you already do this, but if you don’t-check out musicians that don’t play the same instrument as you. Not everything they play will translate over to your instrument, but you never know what might influence you. If you are a trumpet player…listen to some sax, piano or guitar players, etc.

Let’s take this a step deeper. When was the last time you listened to music that WASN’T jazz for the purpose of finding new influence? Exploring other styles is OK and might give you another perspective rhythmically, melodically or harmonically. Granted, not everything out there will inspire or influence the way you play. However, you won’t know unless you are exposed to some degree.

Go beyond music for influence too. Listen and watch great orators and public speakers. Great ones have a good sense of timing and rhythm in their delivery. If we connect what we do in improvisation to communication-then why don’t we let great communicators influence how we improvise?

I won’t give a full list of who influences me, but here are a few that have recently:

Tom Harrell (trumpet), Alex Sipiagin (trumpet), Wynton Marsalis (trumpet), Terence Blanchard (trumpet), Joey DeFrancesco (organ), Pat Martino (guitar), Lionel Loueke (guitar), Brice Winston (sax), Tim Warfield (sax), Bobby Sparks (organ), Michael Gungor (guitar/vocals), Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, etc.

Again, that’s not a full list so please don’t be offended if you’re not in the one above 🙂 However, maybe there’s a name in there you don’t recognize or is not in your “style.” That’s OK, but let me challenge you to go beyond your regulars and explore a little bit.

Let me here from you. Who influences and/or inspires you? Finally, please don’t forget to check out the Lick of the Day and my Digital Store. All purchases help go to funding my recording project that I’m starting in March called “Mountain, Move.”

Targeting the Bar

I’ve been working recently on charts that I’m going to record for my first album (Mountain, Move.) and was looking over the changes to one of the songs. I was mentally mapping out some options before practicing and realized an important aspect to rhythmic phrasing that I haven’t shared yet. It’s really simple, yet one that I believe will help add value to your playing. If you’ve ever struggled with your lines rhythmically and felt like they’re always square even though the note choices were right…then this tip is for you!

In this concept of targeting the bar I’m going to use 4/4 time as our example. However, you can apply this concept to other meters as well. In 4/4 time we can split the measure a number of different ways, but we’re going to separate it into two equal parts. 

The beginning halves of the bar occur on beats 1 & 3. This is where the majority of chord changes happen (not all, but the majority) to land. The most common is on beat 1 and the second most common is on beat 3


If you’ve taken some time to explore this site or have been following for a while, you know that jazz rhythm is full of syncopation. It’s what gives the music forward movement. If your lines have felt rhythmically square, there’s a good possibility that you’ve started your lines on the beat (1 & 3 or 2 & 4) as opposed to an off-beat (syncopation). Granted, some good lines DO start on the beat. However, if all of your lines start on the beat then you’re most likely running into phrasing problems and your lines will be pretty square.

I’m big on targeting-which is aiming at a goal note with purpose. We can apply the same concept to rhythm. If we want our notes to line up with the chord changes then we have to have our rhythm line up with it is as well. Let’s take a look at two different ways we can rhythmically target beats 1 & 3. Below are two examples of targeting beat 1 and targeting beat 3. Each one leads into the beat. The first example leads into beat 1 while the second example leads into beat 3.

Notice how each example is not started on a down beat, yet ends up anticipating beat 1 & beat 3? Below are two quick musical examples that should help give you a better idea.

If you apply this concept to your playing you will notice an improvement to your overall phrasing. It is equally important to use targeting concepts to target beats as it is to target the notes themselves.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s tip and that it has added value and benefit to your playing in some way. If you haven’t checked out my books yet (Targeting: Improvisation with Purpose or Breaking the Monotony) I would highly encourage you to do so by going to my Digital Store. Also, don’t forget to check out the Lick of the Day on the homepage!




Jazz Rhythm Solfege Part 2

Welcome back to my site…I hope you’ve enjoyed this quick series on jazz rhythm solfege! If this is your first time visiting this site, please feel free to browse around and check out previous posts or go to my Digital Store today where you’ll find great resources that will help you unlock your potential in improvisation and rhythm!

In this 2nd part of this series I wanted to give you more examples of how we can apply part 1’s solfege syllables/words to your jazz rhythms. This is simply an exercise that will help solidify your jazz rhythm time, phrasing and articulation. Check out last week’s post to get the general rules on how to apply the syllables.

Below are a few more examples of using that system. The first is a string of eighth notes that are tied in the center. Note the end of the first group uses Dah while the end of the phrase has Daht.

The next example shows the use of the syllables with the triplet as well as the end of the phrase that should NOT use the syllable Daht.

The next example shows an off-beat quarter note (which requires a Daht) and a dotted-quarter (anything longer then a quarter should use Dah or Doo).

The final example shows what you would use over sixteenths and sixteenth-note triplets.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this tip and series and that it has added value and benefit to your playing or teaching. I know the examples above didn’t cover every rhythm known to man, but I hope that it gives you a plan to implement. As I mentioned in last week’s post: if you have ways or tips that you use for jazz rhythm solfege-please feel free to comment and give your suggestion(s). We’re here to help each other!




Jazz Rhythm Solfege Part 1

I had a recommendation from a new friend, George Martin, on our Facebook wall to write a post on using solfege rhythm in jazz. This has been something that I’ve used with students (especially beginners) and was something I was taught back in Middle School by my first teacher-Craig Swartz. I know there are a few sources out there that talk about this in book form. The first that comes to mind is a book by Mike Longo called How to Sight Read Jazz and Other Syncopated Type Rhythms. If you’re interested in learning more on that topic, it’s a good read.

In this first part of the jazz rhythm solfege series I want to talk about the syllable/words that I like to use and why (with a few examples). The next part will be some more in-depth examples that I hope will help you and your students.

This is a rhythmic solfege to help give a musician a greater sense of rhythmic time, phrasing and articulation. So the syllables/words below aren’t assigned to a specific pitch like it is in the standard solfege system (i.e. Do, Re, Mi, Fa, etc). Again, this is the way I like to use and present it. If you have a way that works for you and your students…great! Please feel free to comment and share! Below are the basic rules:

  • Anything that lasts longer then a quarter note is assigned a Doo or Dah. The majority of students I come across can count and feel whole notes and half-notes quite well.
  • In general (unless otherwise notated) any note that is off-beat or the last note before a rest it will use Daht.
  • Quarter notes are assigned DuDah or Daht depending on the accent or phrase. If the quarter note is intended to be short (i.e. staccato), if it’s off-beat or if it’s the end of the phrase they will use Daht. This helps give the appropriate feel for jazz articulation.
  • Single eighth notes use Du, Dah or Daht. If the eighth note is on the beat then it will use Du, if it is off the beat it will use Dah and if it is the end of the phrase it will use Daht.
  • Triplets are quite simple because they will use the word: Tri-pi-let. The same word can be applied to any type of triplet whether it be a half-note triplet, quarter-note triplet or eighth-note triplet like the example below.
  • Sometimes you will find triplets tied to an eighth in jazz. Mike Longo uses the term “Didulia” and I have found that works the best for that rhythm. If it’s the end of the phrase, I like to use Diduli-aht.
  • Finally there are sixteenths. In jazz, some improvisers use “doodle tonguing” on sixteenth notes. Whether you articulate this way or not, it’s a great way to express it in a solfege type of way. The syllable will be doo duhl oodle or ending in Daht if it’s the end of the phrase.

Those are the general rules. Let’s take a look at a simple example below:

Next week we will take a few more examples and apply the jazz rhythm solfege principles to them. I hope this tip has added value and benefit to you and your students in some way. If you haven’t checked out my books yet, I’d like to invite you to go to my Digital Store today for more information on Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose, Breaking the Monotony.

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!






Contemporary Composition part 4

For those that have been following this series on Contemporary Composition, I premiered the song we’ve been constructing here at a concert on 9/24/12. The video of that performance is below. If this your first time visiting this site or series, please feel free to have a look around. If you go to the pull-down menu (categories) you can find our other posts.

In part 4 we will look at the overall form and creating contrasting sections. There are almost an infinite number of choices in deciding your overall form. Do you want an intro? AABA? ABA? ABAC? Intro-A-B-interlude? etc. For Back and Forth I wanted to keep it simple. I knew I had a 12-bar A-section. I personally like the AABA form because the melody gets repeated so the audience can remember the melody. This makes my B-section my contrasting section.

To create a contrasting section, you can go through the whole writing process (part 1-3) again or you can do something else. My A-section was already built with a non-traditional/non-functional way of writing. So I decided to make the B-section traditional/functional harmony. When I think of AABA forms…the most famous that comes to mind is the rhythm changes form. So I decided to make my B-section the equivalent of the rhythm changes B-section (Back and Forth is in Db, so that makes the first chord of the B-section an F7). I wont go into the “how-to” write B-sections of rhythm changes because they’re explained very well on other sites you can check out (here is pretty decent explanation on Wikipedia).

My B-section now looks like this: F7, Bb7, Eb7, Ab7.

In part 5 we will finish putting the chart together by tweaking chords and creating rhythmic hits. If you haven’t already, please be sure to check out my books (Breaking the Monotony and Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose) at my Digital Store.