Playing idiomatic bebop

(this is a repost from my Orkut group that covers music theory in jazz)

Most of what I know in terms of teaching this to someone comes from having studied
briefly with David Baker of Indiana University, who is well-known and respected in the
jazz pedagogy field. The stuff presented here is a mixed collection of things I learned
over the years, and stuff I worked out in trying to practice effectively myself. I hope it is
useful to you.

In a sense, this topic leaves the realm of music theory and enters music practice. But in
another sense we’re looking at the question of what “rules” can be followed that makes
your playing more idiomatic, and that is theory. We’ll talk about practice a decent
amount in order to cover the topic fully though.

So herewith are my five “rules” for playing an idiomatic, linear bebop solo (theory).
Following are tips on how to work on these ideas (practice). At times they may not be
cleanly separated.
1.Play chord tones on the beat.
2.Descend by scalar motion.
3.Ascend by arpeggio (outline a chord)
4. Surround a chord tone to interrupt scalar motion.
5. Articulate eighth notes legato except for the final note of a line.

Playing chord tones on the beat is the thing that I think most people struggle with.
Bebop lines are made mostly of eighth notes, and if you run seven-note scales,
eventually you get to a non-chord tone falling on a down beat. To avoid this, use eight-
tone scales in playing stepwise runs. The “bebop scale” inserts an additional scale tone
between the 6th and 7th degree of a major scale. Another way to look at it is that the
scale contains both major and minor sevenths.

I recommend that unlike every other scale, which you learned ascending, you learn this
one descending. To that end, I’ll notate it for you here that way. The following
represents the “F bebop scale” which would be associated with the chords (Cmi7 F7):

(F E Eb D) (C Bb A G) F

(I’m grouping four eighth notes together
in parentheses to indicate how they would likely be drawn with beams on staff paper,
hopefully helping you to visualize the phrasing)

If you start your scalar run on a down beat, all the down beats will fall to chord tones of
the F7 chord. This is true no matter where you start in the scale. Notice that I said that it
works over Cmi7–this is only true in the context of the ii-V progression. You can’t use
this in a Cmi situation where it functions as a minor tonic. Just to clarify, this is a

The idea is the same–injecting the eighth scale tone creates a situation where chord tones fall on down beats for eighth note runs. This simplifies the process of picking a scale. The crucial idea is that non-chord tones on down beats weaken your line. no matter how good they are at it. you can’t characterize this as a strict rule. then the note a half-step below. but I should make you aware of it. and it happens that you can treat the ii as V for purposes of scale selection. then continue the scale downward from the surrounded . One I was taught is to arpeggiate upward from the minor seventh. This outlines the dominant seven (b9) chord. What sounds the best is if your line works with the V-I progression and creates a sort of resolution. and note for yourself that these rules do tend to describe the shape of the melody pretty well. you add a lot of interest. flip through and note how well this rule seems to fit. and I’ve put the bar line in to show where the chord changes (play in eighth notes): (Eb Gb A C) | Bb (A C Eb Gb) | (F D) The fourth rule is valuable in that it’s not especially interesting to listen to someone running scales and arpeggios. but you can employ some devices to make the sense of resolution stronger in your lines. follow pentatonic. Any chord tone can be surrounded–you play the chord tone. Using octatonic scales is not the only way to achieve chord tones on down beats–you can omit or repeat notes. The following licks show V-I in Bb. I almost made them one rule. but that’s getting ahead…) If you have the Charlie Parker Omnibook. (Especially when we factor in the next rule. and you can break out of the arpeggio at any point by downward motion and land on a scale tone of I. Now a problem faced by many in constructing a long line that spans several chord changes is how to cleanly transition between scales associated with different chords.dominant seventh scale. These aren’t really rules as much as observations based on what Bird and Diz and other boppers were actually playing. A long scale run is less tedious sounding if it’s interrupted. One of the situations you’ll continually be faced with in bebop is ii-V-I. outlining a diminished seventh chord. Adhering to the first rule will help you accomplish this. etc. Idiomatically. if you surround one of the chord tones. but following it will tend to make you sound more like Bird and Diz. I don’t personally use this. except that there’s different practice tips related to them. I was also taught a major version of this. If you accept my suggestion of playing a bebop scale for the ii-V part. as bebop tunes tend to be built from the “building block” of ii-V. you’re probably wondering what to do with the I part. where a scale tone was injected in between the fifth and sixth scale degrees of major. then the scale tone above. So it has some usefulness in that respect. This is to say. Take a look at a typical bebop head. then the note a half-step below (same as the earlier note). The second and third rules go together really. say Donna Lee.

Generally quarter notes should get a short articulation. you now have all the tools to construct a badass bebop line on paper. At all times for every exercise you are practicing your articulation. If you are struggling to produce an even legato articulation at the tempo you are playing. Even the word bebop helps you remember this–”be” is the legato sound. going to the opposite extreme seems to help you reach the sound you are after.tone. then run the entire scale. Surrounded chord tones can happen at faster than eighth note speed too. An example line that walks down the F bebop scale without a surround: (F E Eb D) (C Bb A G) | (F E Eb G) (D C) An example line built by surrounding the C: (F E Eb D) (C B D B) | (C Bb A G) (F E Eb G) | (D C) An example line built by surrounding the A: (F E Eb D) (C Bb A Ab) | (Bb Ab A G) (F E Eb G) | (D C) Ok. There’s no single correct articulation. seriously. At this point let’s turn to how to practice this stuff. Sounds complicated to describe it. I find it helps to deliberately play the same figure in even eighths with a stacatto articulation (deliberately the opposite of what you are trying to achieve) then retry it legato. An exercise that helps get it under your fingers is to run from the root to the fifth of your scale three times. A commonly encountered device is to compress four notes into the space of two by replacing four eighth notes with a eighth note followed by three sixteenth-note triplets. For whatever reason. and it’s hard to reduce this to a rule of formula. work on getting that to lay smoothly under your fingers in every key. No. and “bop” is the stacatto. with the first two bars the same. written so that one line = one bar (F E Eb D) (C D Eb E) (F E Eb D) (C D Eb E) (F E Eb D) (C Bb A G) (F G A Bb) (C D Eb E) Repeat that until your hands fall off. connected) eighth notes together. Work from a . a bebop line is built by putting a long string of legato (long. Bebop players add a lot of additional rhythmic interest to their lines generally. For F bebop scale. but in general. Start out with a tempo that’s comfortable for you and work out the bebop scale in all 12 keys. Sorry I can’t help with fingerings. When quarter notes happen. they are often played on up beats. but it’s easy and once you get these under your fingers you have a powerful technique to add interest to your solos. But you need to also get a sound out of your instrument. The last note in a phrase can be accented and played staccato (short). This will fill four bars of eighth notes.

I borrow a lick from Donna Lee: (G Bb Db Eb) ((E Gb E) Eb Db) | C (bars 16 and 17 if you’re following along: Eb7 -> Ab) And run it around the circle: (G Bb Db Eb) ((E Gb E) Eb Db) (C Eb Gb Ab) ((A B A) Ab Gb) (F Ab B Db) ((D E D) Db B) etc. these five rules and associated practice techniques should help push you in the right direction. Any lick you come up with that resolves is a great candidate for running around the circle with. You play an improvised bebop line. For the guitarists.jazzguitar. Once you’ve taken a few steps in that direction. and every 2 bars cycle to the chord that would function as tonic to that dominant. But if you want to make your playing sound more idiomatic. I did find a nice page with some tablature to help get you in the right direction: http://www.html . I like to work on the resolving idea by improvising around the circle of fifths.comfortable tempo up to faster speeds (this process never really ends–I still am pushing my speed limits). so for an example. (So G7 -> C7 -> F7 and so on around the circle). starting on any dominant 7 I’m certainly not suggesting that bebop can be reduced to an algorithm. please inject your own creativity and personal conception in order to make your playing as artistically meaningful as possible. No one will ever write software that plays like Diz or Bird.