The Language of Jazz

Twelve bar blues in B About this sound Play ( ...
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One of the most challenging aspects of learning how to improvise or how to teach improvisation is knowing where to start. Most of us did not grow up listening to jazz around the house. However, we did grow up listening to one or two spoken languages that gradually became our. own. It's by the same process that we learn jazz language.

How does one develop a vocabulary? I have found that the easiest way to start is with Blues Scale. These six notes not only cover over the basic Blues changes, but can be applied in various harmonic situations. Just as a child's first words are 'mam' or 'dada', we can use the notes of the Blues scale as the same building blocks. Teaching in a group setting, use a 'Call and Response' format. Many students have never had a formal jazz improvisation lesson. Start by playing a rhythm with the tonic and have the students imitate it. Then ask students to come up with their own. Ask them, "If you can improvise with one note, why not try two?" And so it goes until we have progress through all six notes. This is from an article by Russ Nolan.

Building a Melodic Blues Line From the F Blues Scale Note by Note

First 2 Notes:

F, Ab, F, Ab, Ab, F, F, Ab, F, Ab, F.

First 3 Notes:

F, F, Ab, Ab, Bb, F, Ab, Bb, F, Bb, Ab, F.

First 4 Notes

F, Ab, Bb, B, Bb, Ab, B, Bb, Ab, F, Ab, Bb, B, Bb, Ab, F.

First 5 Notes

F, Ab, Bb, B, C, Bb, C, B, Bb, Ab, F, C, B, Bb, Ab, F.

First 6 Notes

F, Ab, Bb, B, C, Eb, F, Ab, Bb, B, C, Eb, B, Bb, Ab, F.

Now play 2-to-6 note lines going down the scale. Make up your own! That's improvising!

By adding one note at a time,  students are not overwhelmed or intimidated by the information. You can use these tools to immediately apply and have the confidence to try it again.

If students show a basic understanding of the Blues Scale, move on to the Bebop Scale. This scale is the basic tool used by advanced improvisors to smooth out their lines and land on chord tones on the strong beats.

The Bebop Scale is typically played in a descending fashion. By adding a half step in between the root and the b7, the root, 3rd, 5th, and b7th lands on the beats.

F7 bebop Scale has both major 7th and dominant b7:

F, to E (Half Step), E, to Eb (Half Step), D, C, Bb, A, G, F.

Practice this scale from the root, 3rd, 5th, and b7th in descending fashion, keeping the original two half-steps (F-E-Eb) in place.

Now we can apply our new scale to the Blues Progression:

F7  (F, E, Eb, D, C, Bb, A, G)
Bb7 (Bb, A, Ab, G, F, Eb, D, C)
F7 (f, E, Eb, D, C, Bb, A, G, F)

Bb7 (Bb, A, Ab, G, F, Eb, D, C)
F7 (Bb, F, E, Eb, D, C, Bb, A, G,)
D7b9 Bebop scale w/b9, b6 ( D, Db, C, Bb, A, G, F#, Eb)

G-7 (C, b, Bb, A, G, F, E, D)
C7 (C)
F7 (F, E, Eb, D, C, Bb, A, G)
C7 (C, B, Bb, A,G, F, E, D)

Finally, as important as it is to give beginning improvisors the proper tools to build with, it's equally important to reinforce the idea that these tools are only the means to the end, not the end in themselves. Read about The Jazz Language.

You may be interested in Hanon Finger Exercises

"The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you." B.B.King
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