For a keyboard player, practicing while on tour can be
difficult. Sometimes sound check before a show is the only time we get a
chance. In Part 1 of this two-party series, I’ll illustrate some melodic-based exercises I often create on the spot to help me find my center when time is tight. Next month, we’ll explore more rhythm-based means to the same end. Remember—these examples are just guidelines. It’s not so much what you play as it is the mindset you bring to your playing that makes all the difference.
1. Progression-Based Lines
Ex. 1 illustrates how I often begin my warm-up routine. Here I’ve created a simple melodic line delineating a minor II-V-I progression. The target chord I’m shooting for is the Abmin7. Try warming up by building your own simple lines on various chord progressions.
2. Melodic and Harmonic Variations
In Ex. 2 I start tinkering with the line and anticipating the beginning note. I’ve also changed the first note from C natural to Db and I’ve added a little “wrinkle” to the end of the phrase. Notice how I change the target chord from Ab minor to Ab major. In bar 7, I alter the phrase and return to C natural on the downbeat.
3. Adding Notes and Syncopation
In Ex.3 I continue toying with my melodic line,
adding notes to jump-start my mind and keep it malleable. Notice how in
bar 3 I’m implying an A triad starting on E natural—I like that sonority against the Eb7
chord. Also, because there are less notes in the line at this point, it
accentuates the syncopation and adds a new degree of rhythmic interest.
4. Phrasing and Fingering Practice
Ex. 4 shows how I continue to add notes to the line
to continue my workout. As you add notes to a phrase, you’ll find it
necessary to speed sections up in order to make some of the phrases fit.
Play around with fingerings to find the most effective way to execute
your warm-up lines, and you’ll keep your hands nimble and your mind
5. Changing Directions and Rhythms
Ex. 5 illustrates how I’m continuing to warm up by
adding notes, changing directions, and playing with rhythms. Sometimes
even the slightest alteration can affect and inspire your phrasing.
Things start to get interesting in bar 3. . . .
6. Key Changes
In Ex. 6 we’re changing keys. Now the target chord is Gmin7.
Notice how the line is now very similar to our first one. You will find
that one line can fit more that one set of chord changes or tonal
centers, often with very little adjustment. In bar 5 I’ve substituted
the D7 chord with a more “out” sound, an F# triad over D. You’ll have to adjust your fingering and most likely play the A with the third finger in order to land the F# in your right hand.
7. Altered Chords
In Ex. 7 we change keys again, making the Bmin7 chord our new target. This time I adjusted the left hand to accommodate the G natural in the right hand by playing an altered F# chord. That led me to the Bmin6 chord variation quite naturally.