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Harmonic Targeting

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.

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Leaving On A High Note

It’s interesting how you can get inspiration and ideas from the strangest/oddest places. The other day I was watching a re-run of an episode of Seinfeld called The Burning. One of the plots in this particular episode is of George Costanza finding the comedic power of leaving on a high note. He would be in a social situation where he would make someone laugh and in an attempt to keep the momentum going he would spout out another joke. Unfortunately, that joke would not be as funny as his first. That inevitably caused an awkward moment. So, George decides he needs to leave on a high note. As you can probably guess (if you’re not already familiar with the episode), it works wonders for him.

As I was sitting watching that episode it reminded me of a few Jazz jam sessions (and live performances) I have attended or been a part of. I lost track of how many times I’ve seen that same correlation with musicians. You hear a great improvised solo start out and then after a little while you think, “that probably could have ended a chorus or two ago.” I will admit it. I’ve been that person a time or two as well. There’s something inside of us as human beings that we want to keep the momentum going. We want to one-up ourselves or make the next “thing” better than the first. But, it leaves the audience with a less than desirable taste in their mouths. Instead, they leave thinking it was just ok.

Let’s take a cue from George Costanza. As we improvise on the bandstand-why not aim to try to leave on a high note? Obviously, we don’t want to swing the pendulum from one end to the other. It’s probably not wise to play a solo with one idea and take your bow. But, there’s nothing wrong with playing one or two GOOD choruses and leave it at that. Especially at a jam session! There’s nothing wrong with saying it like George: “Alright! That’s it for me!”

Below is a quick clip I found to show you part of the episode.

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