The Mysterious Recipe
In the beginning, Jazz improvisation can seem mysterious, but just like food, there is actually a recipe you can follow to develop your ability to improvise great lines. In this video, I’m going to give you that recipe including the secret ingredient that is left out of the process so often, and it really won’t be the same without it.
The goal is to be able to construct a lick like this:
The chord progression is a II V I which is a very common Jazz chord progression. You can play the chords like this:
I am not going to talk too much about the progression, because this is about soloing over it. I have other videos on harmony.
The Main Ingredients
Any recipe starts with some ingredients. You have the Progression, there is a scale that goes with that, in this case, that is the C major scale.
And the main ingredient is that for each of the chords in the progression, we can play these easy 1-octave arpeggios, so this exercise:
Just like a meal usually consists of several different dishes, then as I go through this recipe I will show you how each step is something you can turn each step into music and explain how.
With the arpeggios, you can already follow the chords and create a solid line like this:
Follow This Recipe
Similar to a recipe, chords, scales, and arpeggios are only ingredients and it is as important what you do with those ingredients if you want it to work.
What is the method in this example? I am following the chords completely because I am only using the arpeggio of each chord, so the notes are taken nailing the harmony,
but the important thing is to get this to sound like a melody and not like a bunch of random notes
The way you get that right is by playing from one chord to the next, which means a melody on the Dm7 is moving toward a target note on the G7.
Here it is the 3rd of G7 that is the target note which is very easy to hear and works like a signal that we changed chords, but there are more things in that first example that you still need to figure out.
Adding More Flavor
There are two other “types” of notes, that you can add to your jazz licks. The first one would be the notes that are in the scale but not in the chord, it is a bit like basic seasoning, there is no food without it, and the easiest way to use scale notes is in between arpeggio notes, so this:
can become this:
It is a subtle change, but the rhythm sounds a lot better in the 2nd example.
The other type of note that you want to add, is a more radical sound, adding flavor and spice to the whole thing: The chromatic notes.
Here I am going to stick with a simple version: You can add chromatic leading notes a half-step under a chord or scale note, where the chord tones often are the easiest to use.
There are some myths about how to use chromatic notes, but I’ll get into that in a bit. You could turn that into this exercise for the arpeggios which actually breaks that rule:
The rule that I am talking about is that sometimes people will tell you that chromatic leading notes should not be on the downbeat, and in the exercise every leading note is on the downbeat.
The idea is that this:
Is wrong, and it would be better to do it like this:
I think you can hear that both could work and that it is not useful to limit yourself with rules like that, in fact, rules are rarely a thing in music.
Now you can start writing lines like this:
Serving The Notes In The Right Way
But you need to do more than find the ingredients and cook the food. It also needs to be served in the right way, and that is where rhythm becomes important.
In the first example, I changed up the rhythm in two ways. The first one is pretty easy to use. On the Cmaj7 I play the arpeggio as am 8th note triplet
Triplets are amazing for arpeggios, and two variations of this are very useful to know. The first one is to add a leading note and then play the arpeggio:
But you can also play the arpeggio and use that to get to a target note
But there is another rhythm that you want to explore using which is a very important part of the syncopation you hear in Jazz: Anticipating the chord on the 4&!
This is pretty simple: You want to hit the target note on the 4& instead on beat 1 when the chord changes, so instead of this:
You want to play the B on the 4& like this:
So now you can put all of this together and start writing licks like this:
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