by JOHN NOVELLO
BAD-ASS (ADJ., BĂD'-ĂSS): THE QUALITY OF KEYBOARD LICKS THAT (A) COVER
more than the usual pentatonic and blues scales, simple repeatable patterns, and
arpeggios; (B) are spontaneously performed, not prefab patterns cut-and-pasted
into your improvisations that make your solos sound stiff and uninteresting; (C)
involve all four categories of available notes discussed in my previous columns—
chord tones, passing tones, approach tones, and tensions—thereby including up to
all 12 notes of a key; and (D) involve smokin’ speed, precise time and rhythmic subdivisions,
and complex fingering.
Whew! That was the definition. So, how do
we enter this dangerous but exciting universe?
Very slowly and deliberately, as it’s not natural,
so it takes getting used to.
Besides (of course) listening extensively to
your favorite artists who have mastered this ability—
Chick Corea, Allan Holdsworth, Gonzalo
Rubalcaba, Herbie Hancock, Oscar Peterson,
Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, and Mahavishnu
Orchestra are some of mine—to get the fl ow into
your blood, I recommend that you first get used
to “blowing” at fast speeds while paying minimal
attention to the notes or quality of the lines! Just
blow, mistakes and all!
Then we need to learn a few “bad-ass licks” in many
styles and keys, starting very slowly, working out the
fingering and then speeding up the tempo until they
become effortless. Ex. 1 is “Étude 73” from my book
Stylistic Études, and focuses on chromaticism; play it
with a fast jazz/swing feel. Ex. 2 on page 38 is built
around the pentatonic scale. A third example, “Étude
55” from my book, focuses on bebop-style playing
and is available at keyboardmag.com/august2012.
Practice Makes Perfect
“It won’t happen overnight, but if you faithfully absorb
this style of playing, practice other bad-ass licks, and
write some of your own, you will make progress,”
advises John Novello. His book and method, The
Contemporary Keyboardist, is considered the gold
standard of modern keyboard instruction. Find out
more at jazzkeyboardlessons.com.
CLICK HERE to get music for another bad-ass lick!