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Improv Tip Week # 48-Outside-In part 3

Welcome to week #48! We’re only a few more weeks before hitting the one year mark! I’ve got some exciting things to announce in the next coming days and weeks ahead so be sure to continue checking in. In this week’s tip, we’re going to continue in our series on Outside-In. We’ve been talking about how you can create outside lines with structure so they’re not random and have a flow of logic that connects with your audience. This week we’re going to look at tritone substitutions as well as superimposing a progression based off of a way Bill Evans often reharmonized ii-V-I’s.

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.)

This substitution is the same as what we’ve been doing the last couple of weeks in this series by superimposing chord changes. Tritone substitutions are commonplace in chord progressions and reharmonizations, but we’re going to look at superimposing the tritone substitution as a means of structuring our outside lines (i.e. the soloist plays the superimposed line while the rhythm section plays the ii-V-I). Below is a good example of how you can superimpose the tritone substitution over the standard changes:

The next example below is taking the idea of the tritone substitution a step further. The great jazz pianist, Bill Evans, was known for a lot of things in jazz. But, one of the aspects I admired of his was reharmonization techniques. Mr. Evans took an additional step in some of his reharmonizations with the tritone substitution. We can use that for our structure to go outside as well. In this past couple of weeks we talked about the 3-tonic and 4-tonic systems and how they’re connected by their V7 or iimin7 chords and also how they’re dividing the octave by major 3rds and minor 3rds. Bill Evans would take the tritone substitution (with the one bar ii-V, or Bmin7-E7 in our example above) and connect the iimin7 (Fmin7) to the tritone sub’s iimin7 (Bmin7) by ascending the quality of the chord up by minor thirds (Fmin7-Abmin7-Bmin7). That progression is below:

The final example is taking that superimposed progression above and playing lines based on that progression (while the rhythm section plays the standard ii-V-I):

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s tip and this series. You should have a good idea now of what it means to superimpose a chord progression and how we can use the idea of superimposition to play “outside” in a structured way. Always remember: You need to know how to play inside before you can outside and to connect to your audience you need to make sure you’re coming back inside at some point. Please feel free to share this tip/site via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIN, Google+ or other sites you’re a contributor. For easy social media sharing access, there are easy buttons below!

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Improv Tip Week # 47-Outside-In part 2

Welcome back to part 2 or our outside-in series! We’re going to continue in week #47 talking about some ways you can play “outside” of the chord changes while keeping your lines structured. Last week we started talking about the 3-tonic system. This week I want to expand on that concept and introduce the 4-tonic system. If you haven’t read last week’s post, I would highly suggest you check it out as a simplified foundation was laid in week #46.

Last week we looked at the 3-tonic system and splitting the octave equally into three equal parts (which forms an augmented triad). We then applied the V7 chord of each of those three equal parts: G7 to Cmaj7, Eb7 to Abmaj7 and B7 to Emaj7. However, because we’re super-imposing our changes to the standard ii-V-I, we can alter those changes in a number of different ways. In the first example below we’re going to keep the 3-tonic system how we had it last week. This time-instead of using the V7 chord of each of the 3 equal parts, we’re going to use the iimin7 chord before each of the 3 equal parts:

Notice how the diatonic pattern applied to that chordal movement creates a varied tonal pattern different then just taking the same pattern and moving it down in half or whole steps.

In the next example we’re taking the same thought process of changing the chord quality of the three equal parts, but this time we’re changing the quality of the I chord from major to minor:

You can take this process and change any of the chords qualities (major, minor, dominant, diminished, augmented, etc). As long as you continue to take the structure from outside back to inside…any super-imposition will work!

Now, let’s talk about the 4-tonic system. Much like the 3-tonic system, you take an octave and split it into four equal parts (minor third intervals-which forms a diminished 7th). In the key of C that would be: Cmaj7, Ebmaj7, F#maj7 and Amaj7. Much like what we’ve done with the 3-tonic system, you can apply the V7 chord of each of these or change up the chord qualities. For now, we’re going to keep the 4-tonics major and apply their V7 chords. The picture below shows how we apply the 4-tonic system to the iimin7-V7-Imaj7 in the key of C.

The final step is playing your structured lines on the super-imposed 4-tonic system changes over the original Dmin7-G7-Cmaj7.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s tip and it’s found some benefit to your playing! Please feel free to share this tip (and site) via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIN, Google+ or any other site that you’re a contributor. Also, be sure to check out my book (Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose) by clicking on the book on the homepage or the links above.

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Improv Tip Week #46-Outside-In part 1

Welcome to week #46! This week I wanted to talk about some ways you can play “outside” of the chord changes while still keeping your lines structured. A lot of younger students want to play out, but don’t know how to do it. I always tell them you need a good understanding of how to play inside before you can out because great improvisers can move their lines from outside to inside and vice versa.

To try and keep this as simplified as possible so you can apply it to your own playing-we will use the common iimin7-V7-Imaj7 in C.

We’ve talked in a lot of the past 45 weeks about what you can do over those chord changes. Now, let’s take a look at how we can alter those changes as a soloist (while the rhythm section continues to play the changes as written) and superimpose a new set of changes. One of the ways we can do this is by taking John Coltrane’s idea of a 3-tonic system (i.e. Giant Steps) and implying them over the original changes. I’m not going to go in-depth on Coltrane’s Giant Steps or how we can play over those changes, but I do want to show you how it’s structured so we can apply it to a set of chord changes as a means to play outside.

The 3-tonic system is taking an octave and splitting them into three equal parts (major third intervals). In the key of C that would be: Cmaj7, Abmaj7 and Emaj7 (you can make these different qualities, but for now we will keep them major). After you’ve found the three equal parts-you apply the V7 chord of each of those three equal parts: G7 to Cmaj7, Eb7 to Abmaj7 and B7 to Emaj7.

Let’s apply it to the iimin7-V7-Imaj7 in the key of C. We want to go from outside to inside. To do that, we want the last chord to be the Cmaj7 (since we’re doing the ii-V-I in the key of C). So we arrange the changes above to where they match the Cmaj7 at the end:

The final step is playing lines based on the super-imposed 3-tonic system changes over the original Dmin7-G7-Cmaj7. This gives you a structured way of playing outside that brings your line BACK inside:

Remember, it’s important to first learn how to play inside first before you start applying outside techniques. But, once you do-this week’s tip is a great way to apply some structure to your outside lines. I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s tip and that it adds value to your playing! Please feel free to share this tip (and the site) via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIN, Google+ or any other site that you’re a contributor.

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Improv Tip Week #45-Analyzing Lines Series 6

Welcome back everyone to week #45 and our continuation of analyzing lines series. If this is your first time here-welcome! Please feel free to check out the site. Also, a big welcome back and thanks for returning friends! This week we’re going to look at the 2nd chorus of Sonny Rollin’s improvisation on Tenor Madness from his album, Tenor Madness with John Coltrane (1957). I think Sonny’s entire improvisation on this tune is worth checking out, but there’s some interesting things we can learn and apply to our improvisations that I’d like to look at from his second time through this tune (based on the Blues).

Below is the 2nd chorus:

The first thing I’d like to look at with you is something that we briefly covered in last week’s line from Lee Morgan. That’s the concept of using diminished/altered targeting techniques (for more info, check out my book Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose). However, when I see the line below, I see the whole line (not just beat 4) using this idea. Personally, I see this line as “thinking in G” as opposed to the Bb7 that’s occuring at the moment. I teach my students that it’s all about where we’re going (or targeting). Again, I can’t answer for Sonny Rollins. But, this is how I see it and would apply it to my playing:

The next two are examples of chromatic targeting. In both of these instances below they happen to target the 5th of the chord. The first example is a fairly standard chromatic targeting device. While the second example is great for the chromatic targeting principles, I love how Sonny Rollins takes the simple idea and transposes it down a whole step to fit the changes. Teachers I’ve had have called this sequencing.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s tip and hope that it adds some value to your playing and improvisations. Please feel free to share this tip/site with your friends, students and colleagues. There are even some quick share social media buttons below for your convenience. If you haven’t already, I’d like to invite you to check out my book (Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose). There are some great reviews that keep getting updated in the Reviews tab above. I hope you get the chance to enjoy it as much as others have!

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Improv Tip Week #44-Analyzing Lines Series 5

Welcome to week #44 where we’re going to continue our analyzing lines series. I didn’t want to stop our current series, but I did want to take a brief detour last week to talk about setting goals because I felt it was important to bring up. Especially since most students are on the last leg of their final semester of the year (at least in most of the US school systems that is). There’s no day like today to put a plan in place for reaching our goals.

This week’s line is from another trumpet great, Lee Morgan. This line is found in the first chorus of his solo on the Eb-Blues of Blue Train from John Coltrane’s Album-Blue Train (Blue Note 1957):

One of the first things I notice in the beginning of this line is the chromatic targeting of the Ab (flat-3rd) on the Fmin7. I can’t tell you exactly what Lee was thinking in his mind, but I see the first part of the line as an F-minor line (disregarding the C7 and thinking of both bars as Fmin7):

Probably the most interesting part of this line is what Lee Morgan plays over the Bb7. I’ve heard some educators talk about this particular line as a Bb7 diminished lick or an altered-dominant lick. I don’t disagree with those at all, but if we’re going to look at a line and break it down for our own use…we need to dig a little bit deeper. When I look at this, I notice a B-minor triad with some chromatic and diatonic embellishments. It’s almost as if Lee was thinking about side-slipping the line up a half-step (which causes the line to hit the b9, #9, b13) to B-minor. Again, this is my opinion. But, take a look and tell me what you see:

The next thing I notice is something that I spend an entire chapter on in my book (Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose). This is one of the many lines I see players doing that caused me to write about this concept in my book. If you would like to know more about it, check it out. But, you’ll see that Lee is using part of a diminished (or altered) scale to target the 3rd of the Eb7:

Finally, the last part of the line is a good old-fashioned major pentatonic line that works great over the blues:

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s tip and have found some of the above beneficial to your own playing. Please feel free to share this tip with your friends, students and colleagues. For your convenience, there are even buttons for quick sharing to social media sites most of us use. Also, if you haven’t already-take a look around the site to check out my book, reviews, Skype Lesson, videos and past posts!

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Improv Tip Week #43-Setting Goals

Here we are at week #43! For me, it’s hard to believe that in a few short weeks we will be at the 1 year mark of weekly tips. If this is your first time to this site…I’d like to welcome you and invite you to check out the past 42 weeks by going to the archives section at the bottom of the homepage. If you’re a returning visitor-welcome back! I hope you enjoy this tip and it adds some value to your improvisation journey.

I was working with a first time Skype Lesson student recently and after talking with them about setting goals, I realized that it would be a great topic/tip to go over with all of you. I ask every first time student I have the pleasure of working with what their goals are in improvisation (well, those that are taking improvisation lessons at least). Most of the students I’ve worked with have had a good idea of what they wanted out of their lesson and the goals they would like to achieve whether in the first lesson or over time. However, I’m finding more students don’t really have a clear goal in mind. Those that teach are probably familiar with these responses: “I want to sound awesome,” “How can I play like (fill in the blank),” and the very popular…”I dunno.”

Those that know me know how big I am into targeting principles (which go beyond chromatic targeting…for more info check out my book). The idea of targeting is to aim at a goal note (or target) with purpose. There are two keywords there: goal (or target) and purpose. But, in this week’s tip I’m not going to be talking about the note goals. We’re going to be looking at what goals should I be setting for myself in my improvisation journey. Depending on where you’re at (beginner, intermediate, advanced, etc) you will have a different set of goals then someone else. Below, we’re going to look at some goal models that will hopefully help you in deciding YOUR goals.

I don’t take credit for this model and honestly can’t remember who the original author is. I remember taking a managment class for my undergraduate degree and have remembered it. It’s called the S.M.A.R.T. goal setting model:

S=Specific. This is the goal itself. It should be answered by WHAT, WHY and HOW. What is the goal? Why is this goal important? How am I going to do it?
M=Measureable. The goal should be measureable, meaning you can track the progress over time.
A=Attainable. Goals you set that are too far out of reach (unattainable), you’re less likely to commit to them.
R=Realistic. The goal should be realistic for where you are at the moment. You should be able to do it, but still should be a challenge.
T=Timely. The goal should have a deadline set for it. This keeps you on track and keeps the commitment from being too vague.

For a student at the beginning of an improvisation journey, let’s look at what some general goals for them might look like in the model above:

S=learn all major and minor scales. (What=major/minor scales. Why=because of their importance in key areas. How=1 major and minor scale a week)
M=It can be measured and tested by learning a major and minor scale each week
A=It’s attainable as long as the student commits time each day to work on that 1 major and minor scale
R=It’s realistic because the student doesn’t already know them, but it gives them a different challenge each week
T=The deadline is at the end of 12 weeks. In 3 months, the student should have a good command of all their major and minor scales.

If you don’t have goals set up for yourself, how will you know you’re making progress? If we set goals for ourselves (short and long-term) then we can start to see our improvement over time. I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s tip! Please feel free to share it and also to leave some comments on some other goal-setting tips that you use or goals that you’re currently working on!

Improv Tip Week #42-Analyzing Lines Series 4

Welcome to week #42 where we’re continuing our series on analyzing lines. This week, we’re going to look at a line I was checking out while listening to Cannonball Adderley. It’s off his Them Dirty Blues album and is a song written by his brother (Nat Adderley) called Work Song. Like I mentioned last week: we’re breaking down these lines so we can find what makes it “click” so we can re-create something similar in our own playing.

Below is the line that I wanted to break down from his solo. This line occurs in his second chorus on the 6th bar:

I almost don’t want to state the obvious, but Cannonball shows that you can take something as simple as a descending chromatic line and make it sound great all in how articulates it:

While Work Song is not a typical blues, it is definitely played with a lot of blues elements and style. The Adderley brothers inflect the blues into many of their improvisations to great effect. This line contains a great example that sometimes inserting the blues sounds great even though it doesn’t fit chord/scale theory. Some may argue that this particular line is something else, but to me it is essentially a blues lick with two additional chromatic passing tones:

The last part of the line that I look at is how Cannonball uses targeting principles to connect his line. This shows that Cannonball was targeting the 3rd of the C7(#9) and the 5th of the Fmin7. For more information on how to creatively target notes (whether chromatic or other devices), check out my book Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose. What has always intrigued me about Cannonball Adderley is that when he would use chromatic targeting-it was almost always with great rhythmic variety.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s tip and the latest in the analyzing lines series. Please feel free to share this tip/site with your friends, colleagues and students. There are links below for quick sharing access to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.

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Improv Tip Week #41-Analyzing Lines Series 3

I hope you’ve been enjoying this current series on analyzing lines. This week, after listening to Charlie Parker’s Scrapple From the Apple, there was one line that I kept hearing that to me is a definitive Charlie Parker lick. I heard it repeated at least twice in this solo, but have noticed him playing it in others as well. So this week I wanted to take a look at this simple line and hopefully reveal it in a new light so you can construct similar shapes and lines in your playing.

Below is the line that I’m talking about. In his first chorus on Scrapple From the Apple I hear him end two of his “A” sections with this particular line:

There are a few things that I notice right off the bat with this line that I wanted to share. Hopefully you’ll notice this as well and look for this fundamental shape in other lines that you hear. First, the essential notes of this line are a descending F-major triad:

The line, once filled with some rhythmic interest, is essentially built off of an arpeggio. The last four notes of the line (which works great as a short blues riff by the way) is a fragment of a Fmaj7 arpeggio (without the 3rd). I work with some of my younger students to find creative ways (whether that’s with targeting principles, rhythms, etc) to make a line based off of different inversions of a triad. That’s their skeleton structure that they can build upon.

For instance, you can see how Charlie Parker uses some chromatic targeting on the 3rd (the “A” of the F-major triad) to build off of the triad.

Now, I’m not saying that Charlie Parker was thinking in terms of connecting parts of a F-major triad together. However, when I break down this line-this is what I see. It’s also how I can simplify a harmonic passage in my mind while improvising over a set of chord changes. As an exercise, trying playing lines similar to this in different inversions of the triad. You’ll notice that this particular sound is used a lot by musicians!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s tip! Please feel free to share this with your friends, colleagues and students via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ or any other site that you’re a contributor. If you haven’t checked it out yet, be sure to click on the link on my book Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose for more ways you can creatively target notes in similar ways that were mentioned above. It’s available in an E-book format (English and Spanish) as well as nicely printed/bound version (English only).

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