How to Practice Jazz Scales the Right …

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June 22nd, 2011

Scales Are ot the Secret Short-Cut to Jazz Improvisation
By Eric

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When you first began to learn how to improvise, if you studied out of a book on jazz improvisation or took
a lesson on how to solo over chord changes, chances are the first thing you encountered were scales.
Memorizing lists of scales from Major and minor to diminished and octatonic. Knowing which scales work
with which chords. It can seem like the practice of scales never ends. This philosophy has become so
entrenched within the art of learning improvisation that it is hard to avoid thinking about scales.
Numerous jazz education resources today highlight scales as the method to mastering how to play over
chord progressions and improvising like your heroes. Because of this, many students believe that studying
scales alone is the answer to reaching their goals. You may have even thought to yourself as I often did: “If
I only get all my scales together, then I’ll solve my difficulties with improvisation.”



chord resolution. but there is so much more to improvisation than the basic knowledge of music theory. What scales are not Scales are not the hidden key to improvisation – if only it were that easy! Contrary to what many method books or jazz educators will tell you. you must listen intently to your favorite players. time. and the shaping of lines that make a musical line interesting? While knowing a scale can be useful for playing over a static sound. in all their variations and forms. then I’ll solve my difficulties with improvisation. Yes. but what about the other aspects of musicianship like phrasing. Many musicians out there that have all of their major. minor. you may be playing the right notes by using scales. minor. or any other type of scale while you’re improvising is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to the musicianship and harmonic understanding that go into creating a great solo.09/07/2011 How to Practice Jazz Scales the Right … I only get all my scales together. learning all your scales will not guarantee that you’ll be able to improvise in all 12 keys or that you’ll be able to solo successfully over any standard. and transcribe some language from your heroes. but as you try to improvise over ii-V7′s and more complex progressions. not just the theoretical knowledge of chord/scale relationships. but how many of them are great improvisers? It’s true that scales are a quick way to find all the “right” notes in a chord. sound. you know that thinking about a major. no matter how many times you run that F Major scale up and down.com/scales-are-not-… 2/11 .” We get a lot of questions about practicing scales and how they relate to improvisation all the time: How should I use scales when I’m soloing? What’s the best way to practice scales? Do I even need to know my scales in order to improvise? If you’ve read any of the articles on this site. develop your ears. relying solely on scales to create your solos can severely limit the harmonic possibilities available to you. Improvisation requires all areas of your musicianship. and diminished scales memorized. knowing and practicing scales. http://jazzadvice. However. thinking of those eight notes when you’re soloing will not magically turn into lines like the one below: To achieve this. you’ll need to rely on more than just a single scale. does have some real benefit for your playing – you just have to approach them in the right way. Thinking of a dorian scale will work for a modal tune with extended sections of minor 7th tonalities. You can memorize your F Major scale until you can play it in your sleep: But. Scales are only one small part to developing as an improviser.

Say if every time you saw a G7 chord: You played a G7 bebop scale in some variation: Those notes technically work. you are ignoring one of the strongest resolutions in all of Western music: V7 to I. take a ii-V7 progression in C Major. but by thinking in this fashion you are ignoring the many harmonic possibilities within each chord as well as the resolutions inherent between the chords. but after awhile of relying on that one scale. your playing will get very boring and predictable.09/07/2011 How to Practice Jazz Scales the Right … For instance. When this same concept is applied to the separate chords in a ii-V7 progression. some people rely only on a C Major scale for improvising over this progression: All of the notes of the C Major scale are theoretically correct over the chords D-7. If this bebop scale is your only option over a V7 chord. Simply put. the idea of relying only on specific scales for certain chords can be extremely limiting as well. In a similar sense. G7. you’re results will be equally boring: http://jazzadvice. Because every chord in this progression is functional in C Major. by just using one scale for your improvisation. you’re severely limiting the harmonic possibilities of a very versatile chord.com/scales-are-not-… 3/11 . and CMaj7.

By memorizing the alphabet and pronouncing each unique syllable you have acquired the minimum technique to begin learning that language. will be significantly easier. phrases. Every note of a scale has a unique sound and function within a chord and can be combined with other notes or groups of notes within the scale in numerous ways. However.09/07/2011 How to Practice Jazz Scales the Right … With this mindset of a specific scale for every chord. but your soloing will sound very disjunct because you are switching scales every bar. http://jazzadvice. Each letter represents a syllable or sound and can be combined and varied in many ways. just knowing or memorizing the alphabet does not mean that you can form words. it’s all for naught. aiding you immensely as you learn the jazz language. Just as knowing the alphabet doesn’t mean that you can speak the language. Before you begin to learn any language. but if you don’t have the technique to translate this to your instrument. What scales are Scales are a tool that allow you to gain some essential technique and harmonic awareness. You need to know how each scale degree sounds and be able to hear the relationships (intervals) between the different notes of a scale. about the chords and the inherent resolutions between these chords rather than only the basic scales as you navigate the progression to a tune.com/scales-are-not-… 4/11 . But. Scales are a good preliminary step to gaining technique and fluency in all 12 keys. once you’ve got your scales down. this is the alphabet. minor. whether it’s transcribing solos. Every language has a unique alphabet that is the minimum basis for constructing the developed language. or working out lines in all 12 keys. the task of learning the jazz language. The same is true of musical scales. You can have great ears and theoretical knowledge. knowing a scale doesn’t allow you to create ideas and phrases in this musical language as you improvise. learning tunes. Every chord will be limited to 8 notes of a corresponding scale. you need to know the building blocks that are the basis for that lexicon – for spoken languages. Benefiting from scales Knowing all your basic scales (major. You want to think about playing meaningful musical phrases. The bottom line is that you need to have proficiency in every key in order to play what you are hearing. pentatonic…) is a necessary first step in understanding harmony and gaining some facility on your instrument. This goes without saying and is precisely why many educators use scales to teach improvisation. This is where you can use scales to your advantage. diminished. The problem with teaching improvisation exclusively through scale theory is that students will only use scales as they go to improvise. whole-tone. you are not only missing the strong resolutions between the chords. or meaningful statements in that language.

Refer to these articles for an in-depth explanation of how to practice these ideas: Practice everything in all four directions How to practice scales for speed When you study every possible variation of each sound. develop scale patterns and create your own exercises for each scale. Remember. Start to think about the musical aspects of a line that will aid in expression. with an effective daily routine you can get your scales down in no time. A first step that will familiarize you with harmony and give you some technical tools as you transcribe lines. accents. sixths. Practice classical etudes. Gaining musicality from scale practice When you are practicing scales for technique. Building technique OK. And most importantly. learn language in all 12 keys. it’s surprising how much you can do with just one scale. Explore different types of articulation. http://jazzadvice. Your goal is to be completely comfortable with every scale. but they shouldn’t the primary source of material for your improvisation. Scales are an effective way to get familiar with the basic sound of a chord. The next step is to expand your technique by exploring all of the variations possible within each scale. Just keep in mind that memorizing scales is only scratching the surface to understanding harmony and improvising creatively over a chord progression. try using different articulations. fifths. If you don’t have all of your scales memorized and the technique ingrained into your fingers – you need to do it now. If practiced correctly. Think of scales as a necessary prerequisite that you need in order to progress in this music. Don’t sweat it if you don’t have it all together today. and note groupings. etc. you want to focus on other aspects of the scale besides the notes themselves.09/07/2011 How to Practice Jazz Scales the Right … is precisely why many educators use scales to teach improvisation. Articulation Say you’re practicing an F Major scale ascending in thirds: Once you have the notes and fingerings down. time signatures. Practice your scales in every mode. they are a vital part of your practice routine that will greatly enhance your improvisation and musicality when you perform. we’re assuming here that you’ve got all of your scales together at this point. to get the most benefit from your time in the practice room. these exercises aren’t just mindless activities to be drudged through in the practice room. and learn tunes. practice all of these in all four directions.com/scales-are-not-… 5/11 . in thirds. fourths.

you want to be able to articulate and express yourself in a number of different ways. try using odd note groupings and accenting different parts of the measure to imply different meters. Now try this same concept. you are creating a dotted quarter note feel that extends over the bar line. but with 5 note groups: http://jazzadvice. When you’re in the middle of a solo.com/scales-are-not-… 6/11 . take the same F Major scale in ascending thirds: Now put the scale into three note groups by slurring every three notes and accenting the first of each group of three: By grouping the scale in this way. Odd note groupings and playing over the bar line Besides working on different ways of articulating the scales that you’re practicing. For example. Instead of playing every scale in eighth notes or emphasizing the downbeat of every measure. experiment with grouping and accenting the notes in new ways.09/07/2011 How to Practice Jazz Scales the Right … Slur the entire line: Legato tongue every note: Staccato tongue every note: Use jazz articulation: Get comfortable playing with any of these articulation styles or even a combination of them.

). look at the notes in the scale and think about chords that are related to FMaj7. For example. try to think outside the box and find some new harmonic applications.com/scales-are-not-… 7/11 . and different articulations is how to apply them harmonically. see what other chords this pattern would work over. try G-7: Or C7sus: http://jazzadvice. To start. but rather use these techniques in the lines that you are playing.09/07/2011 How to Practice Jazz Scales the Right … Try the same thing but in triplets this time: The variations are endless. Explore new harmonic applications Another thing to think about as you practice these scales. You don’t have to play the exact scale exercise or articulation pattern as you improvise. Practicing these articulations and getting comfortable with this idea of grouping notes and implying different time signatures will improve the musicality of your improvisations. etc. or a D dorian goes with a D-7 chord. These new techniques that you’re developing in every key can be applied to different chords and new harmonic settings. let’s take that F Major scale in thirds one more time: Instead of only thinking of this scale as related to an FMaj7 chord. Don’t limit these scales only to their related chord (F Major scale goes with an FMaj7 chord. patterns. From the same scale you can create and develop some new skills that will incorporate interest into your solos. see what you can come up with. For this particular exercise. All of these aspects will prove to be beneficial as you create lines on the fly during your improvised solos.

Use the exercises and ideas discussed above to create a fresh approach to practicing scales. scale practice has its share of pros and cons. For the modern improviser. the practice of scales can transform your playing and raise your techniques to new heights. Sit down at the piano and see what new harmonic possibilities you can come up with for these over-used scales. but on the other hand they can be very useful when practiced and applied in the right way.com/scales-are-not-… 8/11 . please click the Donate button. The exercise or technical work that you’re doing in one key can be applied to a number of different harmonic settings. The average donation is about $14. scales should not be the only source from which you’re creating your solos . and harmonic applications. When you add different articulations. time signatures/feels.09/07/2011 How to Practice Jazz Scales the Right … Or even BbMaj7#11: The goal is to get away from the mindset that variations of an F Major scale only work over an F Major 7 chord. If you've found this website helpful. On the one hand. We greatly appreciate your support! Related Posts: Using Triads in Your Solos Improvising With Chromaticism 4 Ways to Use the Melodic Minor Scale Practice Everything in All Four Directions 3 Steps to Freedom In All 12 Keys Do You Know Your Four Triads? How To Practice Scales For Speed Navigating Altered Dominants: Strategies for the V7#9 Chord What to Think While Improvising Keys to the Altered Scale Playing Longer Lines in Your Solos Jazz Education Blunders How to Put Chord Tones At Your Fingertips http://jazzadvice. Strive to practice your scales creatively and musically so that you’re not ingraining the same boring scales ad infinitum and cut-and-pasting them directly into your solos.

a tune. a progression? Anything at all. Enjoy. please click the Donate button. Donate to JazzAdvice We sincerely hope our articles help you. Search About Us We are Forrest and Eric. We are sharing anything that continues to inspire us as musicians and creative individuals alike. The average donation is about $14.com/scales-are-not-… 9/11 .09/07/2011 How to Practice Jazz Scales the Right … Don’t Forget the Basics 5 Ways to Practice Anywhere Search jazz advice. We’ve learned from a ton of great musicians (Mulgrew Miller. Get Advice Here Recent Posts Should I Go To Music School? Following the Path of Least Resistance Getting Started With Transcription Finding a Fresh Approach to Playing the Same Old Tunes 10 Ways to Make a Line Your Own Recommended Products Transcribe Software Zoom Recorder Wittner Metronome Training the Ear vol.. We greatly appreciate your support! Get Some Advice Having trouble with a chord. Rich Perry and many more).1 http://jazzadvice. we want to know. If you've found this website helpful..

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