Notes of Departure ...and Arrival
The Desired Dissonance of the Diminished Chord, Part I
The Desired Dissonance of the Diminished Chord, Part II
A Bridge To Be Crossed
(an in-depth look at the bridge of Cherokee)
Elements of Jazz by Greg Fishman
Notes of Departure
One of the most common challenges for the aspiring improviser is the task of hitting the changes of a tune when playing eighth-notes. Generating eighth-notes can be easily achieved by playing a scale or arpeggiating a chord. However, its not quite this simple to come up with a good eighth-note line.
Lets examine what makes an eighth-note line good. A good eighth-note line manages to outline, suggest or hit the chord changes of a song. In other words, even if there were no piano and no bass playing to accompany the line, the single note line should suggest or imply the harmony in such a way that the listener would be able to tell, for example, if the improviser were outlining the chords or changes to, say, Green Dolphin Street, or Satin Doll.
The most common chord progression in standard jazz tunes is what is known as a ii min7 / V7 / I Maj7 progression, or Dmin7 / G7 / CMaj7 (in the key of C). I feel that the first step to successfully playing on tunes with changes is to train the ear to hear its way through this common progression. Progression is the key word here
the chords are changing.
Its something like navigating a ship through some rocky waters. You cant just go straight and hope that youll be lucky and not hit any rocks. You also cant get too fixated on one particular rock for too long. You can be staring at the rock you just missed, and then bang into another one that you didnt see coming!
Making the changes, or hitting the changes is simply a matter of training the ear to hear in a specific way. Most young improvisers get into trouble with changes because they cant hear ahead in the chord progression. They deal with each chord as it comes up.
This would be like driving your car at 40 mph and waiting until you were only one foot in front of a street sign, and then suddenly looking up at the sign to see if thats where you have to turn! Youll either lose control of the car when you turn at that high speed, or youll pass the street and have to turn around and come back to it.
However, after youve driven to this location a few times, youll seem to instinctively know to slow down, and when to turn on your turn-signal. After youve driven to this location many times, youll find alternate routes, and even be able to come to the location from a different direction.
The following examples will help train your ear to carefully hear its way through the chord progression. To keep things simple, Ive used all two-measure examples with the Dmin7 / G7 / CMaj7 progression.
Before I go into a detailed explanation of the examples, Id like you, at this time, to please play through the all of the examples several times at the piano and/or on your horn. There are five examples in all, and theyll train you to hear your way from the root of the Dmin7 chord to the Root, 3rd, 5th, 7th and 9th of the CMaj7 chord. Ive given four examples of possible eighth-note lines to demonstrate this concept.
Did you notice that each set of examples started with two whole notes? These are important! Think of them as your musical points of departure (the first whole note) and arrival (the second whole note.)
Please go back to your instrument now, and play through the examples again, noticing the way in which the eighth-note lines use the whole notes as departure and arrival points.
Its important that you hear the Dmin7 / G7 / CMaj7 chord progression on a piano or guitar, and sing these whole notes while playing the progression. This will help to plant the sound of these two musical locations in your minds ear.
The next step is to sing or play the eighth-note line examples. Notice that each line has what I like to call a very soft, yet solid landing. This effect is achieved by leading into the arrival whole note with a distance of a whole step or half step. (In more advanced situations, you can lead in with much larger intervals, but for purposes of ear training, Im limiting this example to an interval of a whole step for arriving at the second note.)
Notice that I dont use just a single scale or chord arpeggio. While it is possible to simply play a C Major scale through the progression, I find that it lacks harmonic definition necessary to really outline the changes effectively. Ive found that a combination of scale fragments, chord arpeggios, and intervals allow the most flexibility when trying to arrive at the destination note.
Also, notice that chord tones occur on all downbeats in measure one of each example. This helps give clarity to the chords quality (whether its major, minor or dominant.) It is also worthwhile to notice the close connection of the and of beat two and the way in which it leads to the downbeat of beat three. More often than not, it is connected by a whole step or half step. This helps to strengthen and smooth out the sound of the connection between the Dmin7 chord and the G7 chord.
Its important to understand that theres nothing random-sounding about these lines. Theyre designed specifically to start moving you immediately to your destination note. The lines start moving forward on the and of beat one of the first measure.
I give four examples of different routes the eighth-note lines can take to arrive at the same destination note. However, its important to understand that I wrote these lines by ear, and NOT by music theory. I heard them in this way and played them on my instrument. It was not luck, but experience, and a specific way of hearing these sounds in my ear that led me to these eighth-note lines. All the theory came AFTER I played the lines, and not before.
I doubt if I would have arrived at such smooth sounding lines by theory alone. Ive tried writing lines based strictly on music theory, and my conclusion is this: They work on paper, but in reality, tend to sound stiff or cold. The reason being that raw theory alone doesnt take stylistic or idiomatic tendencies or traditions into consideration. The idiom of Jazz, especially, has a style which is based on a very strong musical tradition.
My sources for all of this knowledge were not books. Rather, they were the classic recordings of all time, by the legendary jazz greats: Charlie Parker, Sonny Stitt, Stan Getz, Sonny Rollins, Joe Henderson, Clifford Brown, Bud Powell, Oscar Peterson, etc. etc. Through intensive study of the works by these artists, over the years, I arrived at certain guidelines to deal with every imaginable musical situation.
After playing through all of these examples, try to write four examples of your own, using the guidelines outlined above.
This is merely a starting point for this type of exercise. I strongly recommend using all chord tones as a starting or departure point. For example, all of these lines were written with the root of the Dmin7 chord as the departure point. Try writing more lines, using the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, 11th and 13th as departure points. Notice, however, that you will sometimes have to accommodate the G7 chord by giving it its own arrival point. For example, if you start with a the seventh of the Dmin7, a C, youll have to either lower it to a B on beat three, or raise it to a D to insure that it doesnt clash with the G7 chord.
It should also be noted that your arrival point could be a lower note than your departure point. This opens up many more possibilities for eighth-note lines. Also, its important to transpose these exercises to all twelve keys. I cant stress this point enough!
Please keep in mind that this is primarily a way of training your ear and mind to hear, in a logical and melodic way, through the chord changes. Once youve achieved this goal, you should move on to more varied approaches to hitting the changes. I think that youll find the task much easier and more fun after youve worked on this exercise for a few months.
This article is © 2003 by Greg Fishman. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
Saxophonist Greg Fishman holds a Masters Degree in Jazz Pedagogy from Northwestern University, and is a teacher of jazz theory and improvisation. His writing credits include three Stan Getz transcription books, published by Hal Leonard, and liner notes for the Verve record label. He has played with a variety of jazz ensembles, among them, The Woody Herman Band, Louie Bellson, and Slide Hampton. He currently performs and records with guitarist/singer Paulinho Garcia, his partner in TWO FOR BRAZIL, and with pianist Judy Roberts. Visit Greg at: www.gregfishman.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.