By John Novello
Often times, we find ourselves playing blues or pentatonic-based scales and licks in situations that really call for jazz tonalities. Sometimes,
this is due to what music we grew up listening to and practicing,
but it’s also because blues lines are generally easier to hear, sing,
and physically execute. If you find yourself in this situation—playing
blues-type changes because they’re “what your hands want to do” and
wondering where your favorite jazz players are getting those crazy
notes from in their solos—then read on. To help speed your progress,
make sure to both play and sing the following exercises in all 12 keys.
Soon, you’ll hear a jazz player at work and know his or her secrets!
1. The Comfort Zone
Ex. 1 is our old standby the blues scale.
It can be a valuable tool, and is especially
suited for soloing over rock chord progressions.
However, it shouldn’t be the only
sound at your command. Remember that
omitting the raised fourth in the blues scale
gives us a pentatonic scale, another useful
sound on our improvisational palette.
2. Two Approaches
Let’s look at two types of improvisation that
will help expand your musical vocabulary
beyond the blues scale. Ex. 2a illustrates
what I call “key center” improvisation, where
melodic lines are constructed with the focus
on a particular key center (using modes or
Ex. 2b shows what I call “making the
changes,” where melodic lines are built by
outlining the chord changes as they occur.
Both of these styles of improvisation should
be practiced and added to your playing to
expand your musical language. The goal is to
be able to weave in and out of both of these
types of improvisation effortlessly.
3. Get Tones
How do you do this? You need to establish
a reservoir of notes to draw from, and one
of the most abundant sources is our old
friend the dominant seventh chord, hence
Ex. 3. Chord tones are notes derived from
the root, third, fifth, seventh, and sometimes
the sixth of a given chord. Tensions
are notes that add color or enrich a basic
chord sound, (often the ninth, 11th, and
13th). Passing tones are scale tones that
connect two adjacent chord tones—often
the second, fourth, and sixth. Approach
tones are generally weak tones that approach
stronger chord tones, the most
common being a half-step below or the
next scale tone above the destination note.
Try adding these new tones to your improvised
lines. You’ll be amazed at how they
expand your musical range.
4. Major and
Chord, tension, passing, and approach
tones are also available when building melodic
lines over major and minor chords.
Ex. 4a illustrates some of the available
note choices when improvising over a C
major seventh chord.
Note choices available
for a C minor seventh chord are
shown in Ex. 4b.
Half- and fully-diminished chords are
also emboldened by this new reservoir of
available tones. Ex. 5a illustrates some
of the notes available when building an
improvised line over a Cmin7b5 (or halfdiminished)
The notes available
on a C diminished seventh chord are
shown in Ex. 5b.
09-2011 Beat the Blues Scale Blues by KeyboardMag
Dedicated to the memory
of Charlie Banacos. —J.N.
John Novello is a world-renowned keyboardist, composer, and music educator.
He is the co-founder and Hammond B-3 player of legendary fusion trio
Niacin, featuring Billy Sheehan on bass and Dennis Chambers on drums. His
keyboard instruction method, The Contemporary Keyboardist (published by
Hal Leonard) is considered the bible of modern keyboard instruction. Find out
more at jazzkeyboardlessons.com. Jon Regen