We always ask students to learn their scales, and this is, of course, indispensable for developing as a jazz improviser. To really know a scale, and use it in a musical way, it’s really useful, and potentially fun, to learn them with commonly employed intervals before we try to insert them into tunes that we are playing.
So let’s take the most often used modes, and learn them not just linearly, but intervallically, using thirds, fourths, and triads.
For major, I’d learn Ionian (standard major) and Lydian (major with raised 4th). For minor, I’d practice dorian (natural minor with raised 6th) and melodic minor ascending (natural minor with raised 6th and 7th). And for dominant, I’d learn mixolydian (major with lowered 7th), Lydian/mixolydian (major with raised 4th and lowered 7th) and the “altered” scale (melodic minor ascending scale starting on the second degree). For extra credit, practice the half/whole scale (a symmetric scale alternating half and whole steps). You only need to practice this one in three keys, and it sounds great on the dominant chord! I also enjoy the locrian #2 scale (natural minor with a lowered 5th) used on the minor 7 b5 chord.
So here are the patterns on the Cmaj chord that we can practice, for now, using the Ionian mode. Of course, you should practice these in all keys, and in at least one of the major, minor, and dominant mode groups. We’ll start with learning them in thirds
Get the metronome on a slow tempo, and put it on beats 2 and 4.
Practice with relatively even eighth notes, but accent the “and” of each beat. When playing examples 2 and 4, further accenting the “and” of 2 and “and” of 4 can improve the jazz feel somewhat.
Practicing triads in this way is very useful. The cool thing that can happen here is the intersection of the “and” accents with the 3-eighth-note cross rhythm that naturally happens.
You could, of course, accent the top of each triad, rather than the bottom when you ascend, and accent the bottom of each triad when you descend. Or just play them accenting the “ands” of each beat.
You’ll find, after a while, these accents will start to come in and out in an individual way. Trust me. No one plays this stuff quite like anyone else. Everyone has a great eighth-note line inside them!
You can probably come up with your own variations, which is a great thing. One I use sometimes, is a step followed by a third.
Or, a step followed by a triad. Again, use your imagination!