2020 Update –

It’s been years since I’ve done the Improvisation Thursday Facebook Live. It’s had a number of variations (i.e. YouTube’s Lick of the Day, What To Do With These Licks, etc.). You can still view the videos, but if you’d like the most up-to-date info; I would invite you to visit my online school.

Visualizing the Pentatonic Scale and Their Targets

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:

  • They’re for beginner Jazz improvisation students
  • They’re for any level of improvisors that have been frustrated with their progress up to this point and want a different perspective
  • They’re for educators looking for a better way to start out their students

What is Targeting?

  • Targeting = aiming at a goal note with purpose. This can be on a micro scale (from chord to chord and guide-tone to guide-tone) or on a macro scale (key areas and longer phrases).

What makes good targets?

  • When thinking micro: the guide-tones. Traditionally the 3rds and 7ths of chords because they help define the quality of the chord. However, these can be expanded to include the root, 5th, and extensions
  • When thinking macro: they key center’s 1, 3, and 5. For example, if we have a progression (or part of one) in the key of C; our target notes would be C, E, and G (1st, 3rd, and 5th of the key). I prefer to teach the macro approach to beginners because it’s easier to find and hear. This also gets the beginner thinking horizontally (melodically) instead of vertically (harmonically). Those targets also end up being other guide tones as well.

Caught Up? Great!

Visualizing the Pentatonic Scale

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.”

About the Author jasonklobnak

Jason Klobnak is a versatile trumpet player that has been performing as an active musician, author, clinician, composer and educator. His band, J's Ruckus, is Denver's blend of Post-Bop, Soul, Gospel, and Hip-Hop. They perform infectious and up-lifting originals for audiences hungry for a memorable live experience. J's Ruckus released their latest album, Suck Less, in March of 2020 and their first EP, Sermons, in July of 2019. Both were recorded live in front of an audience. Suck Less was recorded to a packed auditorium at Arapahoe Community College's Waring Theater in Littleton, CO. Sermons was recorded in front of a sold out crowd at the Soiled Dove Underground.  The JKQ (the Jason Klobnak Quintet/Quartet) is Mr. Klobnak's Hammond B-3 centered groups. The JKQ released their third full-length album in March of 2018 called Friends & Family. It has been very well reviewed, on numerous Top 10 lists for Jazz radio stations across the country (including Denver's KUVO 89.3FM which named it May 2018's CD of the month), and in Jazzweek's Top 100. Each composition was written for specific family and close friends (that might as well be family). Their second album, New Chapter, was recorded in part thanks to the Pathways to Jazz Grant from the Boulder County Arts Alliance. In 2015 and 2016, New Chapter was in the Top 75 on the Jazzweek charts and on the Top 10 playlists for over a dozen radio stations worldwide. Their first album, Mountain, Move made the Best Recordings of 2013 list from AllAboutJazz.com by C. Michael Bailey. His very well reviewed Christmas single, Hark the Herald, in 2016 as part of a creative project with musicians James Roberson and Nathaniel Kearney Jr. Besides the JKQ, Mr. Klobnak is a B.A.C. (Best American Craftsman-custom trumpet), Denis Wick (mouthpiece and mutes) and Westone Audio endorsed artist (ES20 and Tru Customs). Mr. Klobnak has played and recorded for numerous groups ranging from jazz, soul/R&B, indie-rock/pop and gospel. In addition to performing, he has also written two improvisation-based books called Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose and Breaking the Monotony and is currently an adjunct professor and brass instructor at Arapahoe Community College. Mr. Klobnak holds a bachelor degree from Drake University (Des Moines, IA) and a Master’s degree from the University of Denver, Lamont School of Music (Denver, CO).

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