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:
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.”
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:
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.
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.
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.”
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!
My previous blog posts about targeting concepts (aiming at a goal note with purpose) have dealt with the various ways we can get to the targeted note. We’ve also discussed what makes a good target. But, in today’s post I wanted to touch on something that I think might help a number of players and that is the concept of harmonic targeting.
The idea is similar in that we’re aiming at a goal note with purpose, but it is more about a specific goal note that makes the difference in harmonic targeting. In the harmonic progression, we want to find the note (or notes) that shifts or alters the harmonic landscape of the progression into a different key area (whether that’s a temporary modulation or an actual key change).
Let’s take a look at some examples:
One of the earliest concepts of harmonic targeting I learned as a young student was making sure I was hitting the major third of the chord change in the 8th bar of a blues
There was a definite departure from the Bb key area by having the B natural stick out at you. So it became a goal to make sure that every time that 8th bar came around that I aimed for that B. What do you play to get to that B? Check out other posts on my blog for tips or get my book, Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose.
What can you harmonically target? The answer is just about anything that highlights that you’ve departed from the key area you were just in. That can happen quickly or just occasionally. It’s up to you, but I like making sure that the drastic changes are caught. Let’s look at another example in the B section of There Will Never Be Another You:
This progression (like hundreds of others) have a couple harmonic targeting spots that you could aim for. The Db7(#11) could be a highlight for instance. However, the F7 is what sticks out like a sore thumb. That A-natural lasts for 2 measures making it an excellent choice for a targeted note. As an added note, I like making that F7 into an F7(#11) for added color.
I hope you find this tip useful for yourself or your student’s playing in some way. It’s a simple concept, but one that helps you play through harmonic progressions with more confidence.
I hope this series on Improv for Beginners has been helpful to you and your students. The 3 parts in this series is obviously not the only steps necessary in introducing and teaching improvisation to a beginner. There are a number of good sources and educators that specialize in beginners. If you or your students would like additional lessons and/or coaching, please feel free to contact me. I am also available to do clinics and masterclasses from Middle School-College/University level.
The 3rd part of Improv for Beginners is where I would introduce some basic theory and guide tones (as well as the different tools you can use to target those guide tones). In the three elements of music (Rhythm, Melody and Harmony) this would be the last piece I would introduce to students. It is my belief that a beginner should start on Rhythm and Melody before talking about Harmony. One of the very first tips ever made on this site (almost 3 years ago) was on this very topic. While some of it was copied over to save time, there are a few visual updates to this one to help with beginners.
If you’ve ever heard someone improvise and it sounds like they’re wandering….guess what? They probably are. One of the reasons improvisers wander is because they’re not aiming at specific targets. What are good targets, you ask? Guide Tones, of course! But, before you can talk about guide tones you need to explain to beginners what a chord is and how they are made. Below are two graphics I use from my book Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose.
The above picture represents a key scale (in this case C) moving up from the root note. Each scale step is assigned a number representing a scale degree. Don’t worry about the F# as the #11th scale degree with beginners for now. That comes up later in theory, but it is important for them to see the scale degrees and noting that the root, 3rd and 5th (which are the foundations of a chord) do not get re-numbered. Which brings us to the second graphic of separating the root, 3rd, 5th (and 7th) scale degrees to make the chord. These notes tell you the quality (major, minor, diminished, augmented, etc) of the chord.
This post is not an entire theory on harmony so if you need help with talking about the different chord types there are plenty of great materials and websites that go into that subject.
You may be wondering from what I initially wrote about guide tones and what they are… traditionally speaking, a guide tone is either the 3rd or the 7th of the chord of the moment. However, if you’ve ever listened to great improvisers…they never limit themselves to just the 3rd or the 7th (but they’re a GREAT place to target if you’re starting out). They often expand their guide tones or targets out to other chord tones or upper structures (i.e. root, 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, etc).
Take a song you are working on and figure out all of the 3rd and 7ths (guide tones or targets) for each chord. When you are practicing your improvisation with that song, target or aim with purpose for those guide tones. Just targeting the 3rd and the 7th is not going to make you an instant improvising sensation. But, they will help keep you on track of your improvisation and limit your wandering. One way to think about this is like planning a road trip on a map. You’re leaving point A (the beginning of your improvisation) and need to get to point Z (then end of your improvisation). You need destination points along the way to gas up or to eat. Those destination points are targets on your map. Those targets in your improvisation are your guide tones!
For more information on what tools you can use to get to your targets, check out Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose.
These three subject areas (and the order I mentioned them) are a great way to start a beginner out on their improvisation journey. If you or your students need additional help, please feel free to contact me and check out my books. I hope these have added value and benefit to you and your students!
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!
I wanted to share a fun sound that I have been experimenting with recently. For those that have followed this site the past 2+ years know that I am believer in the concept of targeting. This post will be looking at how you can use the augmented scale through the lens of targeting principles that I outline in my first book, Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose.
Since we have a number of people who visit this site from different levels and abilities we will take a look at what exactly an augmented scale is. An augmented scale is made up of two augmented triads that are a minor third apart. I have also heard an augmented scale called the “minor third, half-step scale,” but not very often. For most in the jazz community (or at least those that know about it) call it the augmented scale. Below is the C augmented scale:
Most Jazz educators will tell you that you can use this scale over any augmented 7th chord (for example a C7+) or a x7#11 chord (example would be a C7#11). I agree that the augmented scale works well over those so I am not disagreeing with that usage. However, like a lot of melodic/harmonic devices they can be used with targeting principles. Again, I am not going to outline what those are right now.
However, let’s look at how using the augmented scale to target the “C” below in two different situations cause a unique and powerful sound over the listed progressions:
In my practice time I have been gravitating to this particular sound lately. I love the combination of the minor third and the half-step because of its melodic possibilities. I would invite you to try the above example in different harmonic situations where the targeted note would be a “C.” I hope you have enjoyed this week’s tip and that it has added some value and benefit to your playing in some way!
In this week’s post I wanted to talk about a scale that does not get a lot of mention in improvisation classes, but it one that is quite effective and easy to learn. That scale is the Harmonic Major scale. Some of you may be wondering, “Wait a second Jason…harmonic MAJOR? I have heard of the harmonic minor scale, but what is the harmonic major scale?” Well, I am glad you asked! Before we take a look at the harmonic major scale, let’s take a look at the more common harmonic minor scale.
The harmonic minor scale is a minor scale that has a lowered (flat) 6th scale degree and a major 7th scale degree as shown in the example below.
There has been quite a bit written about this scale and its uses. However, we are going to look at the harmonic major scale. The harmonic major scale is essentially a major scale with a lowered (flat) 6th scale degree. The C-harmonic major scale is shown below.
The harmonic major scale, like every other scale, can be used over various harmonies. One of my favorite uses is over V7(b9) chords. If you take the harmonic major scale and start on the 5th scale degree (if in C…that means you would start on the G), it fits perfectly over the V7(b9) chord. Another way to think about it is if you have a V7(b9) chord, you can use the harmonic major scale a perfect fourth up from the root of the V7(b9) chord. You get the b9 of the V7 chord, but none of the other alterations that are found/heard when you would use a diminished or altered scale.
The example below is a line based off of the C harmonic major scale played over the G7(b9) chord:
I personally like the sound between the flat-6th and major 7th. The scale still has an exotic texture to it-yet still has that familiar major feeling at the same time. I hope this tip has added some value or benefit to your playing!
For more information on how you can use the harmonic major OR harmonic minor scale to creatively target notes in your improvisations you can check out my book Targeting: Improvisation with Purpose or Breaking the Monotony at my Digital Store.
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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!