Melodic Concepts for Jazz Piano: Volume 1

The first thing I wanted, once I had learned a few “licks,” or melodic patterns, was to have hip lines.  You need to be able to run the changes without thinking too much. Here are some steps to help you get started.

First of all, play through the tune using standard (spelled from bottom up) 3-7-9 and 7-3-5 voicings, and playing the root in the right hand. Do this in as many keys as possible, hopefully all 12!

Next, we do the same thing but use a 1-2-3-5 melodic pattern for each chord.

This is fine for starters, but, as you can tell, it’s a little awkward, because you have to drop octaves for each new root. So now, we’ll hip it up a bit with a melodic pattern for the “I” chord based on a Charlie Parker melodic idea. On the ii-V’s (Cm7-F7, Am7 D7, etc.), we’ll substitute a melodic line on the V that descends to the next root. So the resulting line is much smoother, and easier to play.  In bars 5 and 6, it’s two bars on the same chord, Bb7, so I introduce an Ab in the last eighth note of bar 5, so we don’t have to repeat the Bb on the downbeat of the next bar.

Definitely come up with your own harmonic variations on this, for example, in the last two bars, Am7 D7/Gm7 F#7. And in bar 6, try Bbm7 Eb7. I also enjoy F7 Gm7 in bar 7. And you can play the whole exercise using entirely dominant-quality chords too.

There’s no shortcut for having some melodic “vocabulary” that you can run through all keys. Here are a couple of very easy patterns that might be helpful. If you’ve worked through the exercises already, the first should be very familiar. Although it’s built on the two-bar minor ii, dominant V/ major I progression, it works just fine on dominant V/major I, and, for that matter, on two bars of V, or two bars of I. You just need this stuff to help you connect your more melodic ideas. You can practice these either with or without the left hand at a slow tempo at first, then speed it up.

I like to practice these making up lines in the second bar of each lick, so we have a steady stream of eighth notes to work with. At least you have that capability, and part of your improvisational process is deciding not to play things you already know how to do. That is taking control of the music, which is what you want.

Melodic Concepts for Jazz Piano: Volume 2

The ability to come up with a steady stream of eighth notes on demand is essential in order to play bebop. Here I’ve taken an extremely simple 2-5-1 lick and run it through all keys, descending in whole steps.

Ex. 1
#1 2-5-1 descending whole steps
Here it is, descending in half steps.
Ex.2
#2 2-5-1 descending half steps
Next, I take it, and using only the 2-5 part, play it descending in whole steps.
Ex.3
#3 2-5 descending whole steps

Here it is descending in half steps, common in tunes like Thelonious Monk’s Ask Me Now.
Ex.4
#4 2-5 descending half steps

Here it is in ascending half steps, like John Coltrane uses in “Moments Notice.”
Ex. 5
#5 2-5 ascending half steps

This lick (and most any that outlines the changes well) can be played up a third, and up a fifth, diatonically, meaning, using the sharps and flats of the tonic key we’re in. (Cm7-F7-Bbmaj7 with two flats, F#m7-B7-Emaj7 with four sharps, etc)
Ex.6.
#6 transposition up diatonic 3rd, 5th

By having these patterns available at a rapid tempo, this allows the student time to think when moving from one idea to another. You don’t HAVE to play them. You should have them, in order to make a decision WHETHER to play them. I always encourage students NOT to play everything they hear. The great players always edit, as do the great composers.

There’s no shortcut for having some melodic “vocabulary” that you can run through all keys. Here are a couple of other patterns that might be helpful… you can practice them the same way you practiced the stuff above. Although these are built on the two-bar minor ii, dominant V/ major I progression, they work just fine on one bar dominant V/one bar major I, and, for that matter, on two bars of V, or two bars of I. You just need this stuff to help you connect your more melodic ideas. You can practice these either with or without the left hand at a slow tempo at first, then speed it up.

Ex.7
#7 easy 2-5-1's

Melodic Concepts for Jazz Piano: Volume 3

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.
Ex.1, 1a
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Now do the same things with 4ths.
Ex.2, 2a
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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.
Ex. 3
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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.
Ex.4
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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!
Ex.4a
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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.
Ex. 5
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Or, a step followed by a triad. Again, use your imagination!

Ex.6
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