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BI105 - Jazz Improvisation 1

A first level course for bass players interested in learning how to improvise over chord changes. These lessons focus on the relationships between scales and chords, and provide a foundational approach for analyzing and playing over changes, with an emphasis on jazz, fusion, and other related styles and phrasing methods. Major and minor scale-derived harmonic concepts and key components are utilized and put into practice through 'hands-on' improvisational exercises. Some common and traditional chord progressions are demonstrated and exercised. Also covers elementary tune analysis and improvising through key centers. Recommended for any player interested in learning how to improvise in any style.

Lesson 01: Introduction to Scales and Chords

Improvisation is truly an art form. The ability to create spontaneously composed musical ideas in real time that complement elements of both melody and harmony requires dedication and extensive practice. Musical improvisation is as emotional as it is intellectual; as reactive as it is initiative.

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Lesson 02: Intervallic Definitions

As we learned in our last lesson, an interval is the distance between two notes. We also discovered that scales are composed of a series of intervals. In the case of our major scale, those intervals are limited to half steps and whole steps. Other musical components, such as chords and arpeggios, which we will cover later, are built using larger intervals. Knowing all of your intervals’ shapes and their sounds is going to be essential knowledge if you wish to become a great improviser.

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Lesson 03: Modifying Major Scale Intervals

The major scale, as we have studied it so far, can be looked at both as a reference for identifying intervals and as a basis from which other scales can be created. I like to look at the major scale as being one of the most foundational components that we study. In fact, most of the concepts covered in this course are based on the simple construction of the major scale and how it can be built upon to establish a method for improvisation.

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Lesson 04: Modes Defined

By now, you should be pretty familiar with the construction and sound of the major scale. As I mentioned in an earlier lesson, the major scale is foundational to many of the improvisational concepts we will be working with. In this lesson, we will expand our understanding to include several other scales derived from the major scale, known as the modes of the major scale.

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Lesson 05: The Harmonization of the Major Scale

In today's lesson we will get into what I consider to be one of the most important concepts we need to understand as improvisers, the harmonization of scales. When we harmonize a scale, we are building a series of chords off of each scale degree using only notes from that scale. By doing this, you essentially create a 'family' of related chords that are connected to a single key center.

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Lesson 06: Chord Forms and Arpeggio Forms

The playing of harmonizations and chord progressions on the bass is helpful to our understanding of how harmony works. In order to do this, we need to be able to play chords on the bass. Figures 1a-1c demonstrate some fingerings you can use to play triads on the fingerboard.

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Lesson 07: Improvising Over Static Chords with Chord Tones (Part 1)

In today's lesson we will begin working on improvising over single chords using chord tones only. To accomplish this, we will be using our arpeggio forms. Let's review our ascending version one octave arpeggio forms. See Figures 1a-1d.

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Lesson 08: Improvising Over Static Chords with Chord Tones (Part 2)

Today's lesson will expand on what we were working on in lesson 7 by introducing you to some new forms that will allow you to cover larger ranges on your instrument. So far we have mostly been dealing with one octave arpeggio forms, which are comfortable to play, but have a limited range. In order to promote greater dexterity and the ability to cover larger distances, it is important to be able to begin forms on any degree and on any finger. You don't want to ever become stuck on your instrument because you don't know where to go. This is one of the inherent dangers of becoming reliant on an exclusively pattern based approach... (If you come to the end of your pattern, where do you go?) Work to overcome all limitations, both technical and musical, and you will prevent yourself from regularly finding yourself in a 'rut.'

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Lesson 09: Playing Over Changes Introduced

Up to now we have been focusing on improvising over static chords. In this lesson we will introduce progressions with multiple chord changes. Our chord tone based approach will essentially stay the same; the difference is that we will need to change arpeggio forms in order to follow the changes in harmony.

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Lesson 10: Matching Scales to Chords

 

Now that we have gained some experience working with chord tones exclusively in our improvisational ideas, it's time to add some more notes to the mix. In today's lesson we will establish a default set of scales that can be used to safely play over chord changes. These scales will be chosen from our series of major scale derived modes.

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Lesson 11: ii-V-I's Introduced

 

In our studies so far, we have been introduced to various chord progressions that we have practiced improvising over using both chord tone and scale tone approaches. Hopefully by now, you are beginning to reach the point in which you are able to outline chord changes simultaneously as they occur in the music. In other words, you should be starting to become more comfortable with the idea of 'preparing' for chord changes you are about to encounter so that your phrases line up perfectly with the changes in harmony.

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Lesson 12: ii-V-I's (Continued)

In today's lesson we will continue where we left off with improvising over major ii-V-I's. As we learned earlier, ii-V-I progressions share a common key center, and by viewing the entire progression as a single harmonic idea, we can economize our thinking when we improvise. Let's review our approach so far. In the case of a major ii-V-I, we can use a single idea based off the major scale from the root of the I chord. For example, over a ii-V-I in F major, we can improvise using notes from an F Ionian scale. See example 1.

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Lesson 13: Minor ii-V-i's Introduced

Now that you have become familiar with recognizing and improvising over major ii-V-I's, let's look at the minor version. A minor ii-V-i follows the same basic form as a major one, but it is based around a minor key, instead. Let's look at how this works.

With major ii-V-I's, each individual chord is taken from the harmonization of a major scale. Minor ii-V-i's are also built from a harmonization of a scale, but they are fundamentally built from an Aeolian scale, instead. Basically what we are doing in the case of minor based harmonization is just harmonizing the Aeolian mode and then making the V chord a dominant 7.

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Lesson 14: Minor ii-V-i's (Continued)

Hopefully by now you are feeling more comfortable with playing over changes. I hope that you are starting to incorporate some creative melodic movement in your lines, and not just limiting yourself to purely scalar sounding approaches. Improvisational development, as with so many other facets of musical study, comes with hard work and determination. It is not enough to study the concepts as they are written and simply understand why they work. You really have to force yourself to play the things that are outside your comfort zone until they feel as natural as the ideas you already know how to play so well. A lot of players seriously thwart their development by avoiding the unfamiliar in their practicing. You don't want to look back at yourself a year from now and wonder why your phrasing hasn't seemed to improve. Invest your time in the unfamiliar, and you will be happy with your progress.

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Lesson 15: Jazz Blues Progressions

In many styles of music, there are some standard chord progressions that are characteristic of the idiom. In most cases, these progressions follow the same form regardless of the key they are played in, so the process of transposing them to new keys is very straightforward.

Blues progressions are an extremely common entity in Western music. Most of you have probably heard some sort of blues progression or blues music played before, and I'll bet that many of you have played through several at one time or another on your basses.

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Lesson 16: Jazz Blues (Continued)

I hope that by now in your studies you have begun to see improvements in how you visualize the fingerboard, the development of your ear, and the quality of your phrasing. If you continue to practice playing over changes consistently as a part of your practice routine, you are going to be amazed at how much your musicianship will improve, regardless of what style of music you are playing.

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Lesson 17: The Importance of Melody

So far we have been working with what has mostly been a 'theory based' approach to soloing. In other words, we have mostly relied on the fundamentals of chordal improvisation in making our choices of what notes to play or avoid in soloing over changes. The chords, themselves have dictated our note choices so far, and you have to this point become familiar with a basic set of harmonic principles that have equipped you with several default ideas that can be used over many common progressions.

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Lesson 18: Scale Substitutions, Introduced

Hopefully, if you've been practicing your exercises, you have gotten to a point in which you can hear these scales naturally over each of the corresponding chord types. However, there is a whole world of melodic ideas that lies outside of these default ones. If you use the same scales or arpeggios all the time in your improvisational ideas, eventually you will reach the point at which your playing will sound one-dimensional.

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Lesson 19: Scale Substitutions, Continued

We'll continue our look at substitution ideas in today's lesson. Remember to put ideas like these through their paces as often as you can, and don't forget to work on combining different scales together in individual phrases.

Today we will be working with a substitution for Mixolydian that you can use over dominant 7 chords. The scale that we are going to use is another 7 tone scale, but it is derived from a different harmonization, altogether.

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Lesson 20: Scale Substitutions, Continued: The Melodic Minor Scale

Well, you've made it to the last lesson of the course. Congratulations! I hope you have found the material covered so far to be both enjoyable and inspirational. I had a great time putting it all together, and I hope that the concepts and ideas presented will take you far in your development as a bass player and as a complete musician.

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