The Butter On The Stulle Of Life

Right now I’m riding on the train from Leipzig – where I played on a nice jam session yesterday – back to Dresden, listening to one of my all time favorites: Harry Connick Jr. exceptionally album „Other Hours“ and thinking about the blog, my improvements and all that. I get in these moods from time to time, especially when my wonderful girl is away (but thank god she will be back soon).
Of course I have also intrinsic motivations to write this blog, because sometimes it reminds me what am I here for. I struggled a very long time in my life with finding out what am I supposed to do with my life and my talents. Do I have talents? Do I always have to compare myself to the skills of someone else?
Right at the moment I am at a very interesting point of my life. I have the feeling that I’m somehow in control of my fate because I have the opportunity to do what I want (because I searched long enough for that). But with this freedom comes the burden of responsibility to do what is necessary to reach my goals. Of course it is about finding my own pace and not being lazy instead.
As I played through the night, I was thinking afterwards about the performance. What do I want in my playing? Why all this practicing stuff (and the absence of it in the last two weeks)? I like to have the control when I’m playing, of my phrasing, the melodies, the changes and rhythms I’m in. Earlier in my musical career I thought that freedom comes from being able to loose control in the music which was just a cover for a lack of ability. I think that it is much more interesting to have the control to play what you really want and to have different options. To have but not always using them (or all of them).
At this point in my life I have to decide wether I go my way with all it necessities and consequences or just stick with what I achieved till now and be bored by it. Just thoughts on a train ride, I think I’ll stick to Harry and his beautiful songs the rest is about to come. Like my friend Johannes always says: „Regret is a waste of time.“ Life is just so amazing with all it twists and turns. A toast to that!

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Lesson #4: Take Off And Landing

There are several notes in those three scales that are good to play from and good notes to play to. There aren’t notes you have to avoid, but some notes just sounding bad if you’re holding them to long. Also some notes in the scale give you always the feeling you’re playing the changes, but there are a bit boring for long notes.

Good start, playing the changes, but too boring for long notes:
• the basic triad of the scale (minor or major)

Good to land, long notes (good tension to the chord root)
• dorian: 9 and 11
• melodic 7 and 9 (in modal situations 11 and 13 too)
• Ionic: 7 and 9
If you start on these notes in a bebop line you here a downwards arpeggio most of the time.

Notes better played away from or resolved, no long notes
• dorian: 13
• melodic: 11
• Ionic: 11

Apply this to several harmonic situations and standards as described in lesson #3. Listen to the mayor players and find out on which notes they land and start and which notes they choose to hold longer. This is also very good for ear training (especially with fun) and get to know your idols!

Lesson #3: Applying The Scales To Harmonic Situations

In this lesson I want to show how to practice the three scales and the exercises I wrote about in the previous posts over essential chord progressions.
One thing I believe in is that it is senseless to practice something without applying it to a almost real situation.
There are some basic situations I try to apply everything I’m practicing to:

  • modal in one key, various bars
  • modal in all keys, going down a fifth, 4 or 8 bars each
  • IIm7-V7alt-Imaj-VI7alt in all keys, 4 bars each and repeated once (skip the VI in the last x), going down a fifth
  • IIm7b5-V7alt-Im6-Im6 in all keys, 4 bars each and repeated once

for faster tempos (200+):

  • same modal situations as above
  • same II-V-I situations as above, but I don’t play the V7-Chords, I play the IIm7 or IIm7b5 over the V7 too

and last but not least I try to apply my exercises to every standard I know. For me it is also good tool to get know the changes of a new tune.
For the right scales over a chord go to lesson #1.

Here are some samples how these things could sound. I start on a random note of the scale, play a eight note line in a scalar or arpeggio fashion and try to link the scales together. As you’ll see this is actually improvising and no longer practicing. Or maybe something in between.

If you listen to the cats and compare these exercises with their improvisations you will notice that there are some notes that are good to take off and some good to land on. I’ll cover that in the next lesson.

Lesson #2: Getting Use To The Scales

There are some very simple exercises to get use to the three scales described in the last lesson.

First of all I recommend to practice each scale in every key. Put on a metronome and practice each scale till you can play it in eight notes at tempo 200. That’ll do it. Pay attention to the exact and steady articulation of jazz phrasing. NOTHING in jazz music is more important than how you phrase a bunch of notes. One of the best examples I know is Steve Coleman. He plays very strange and odd melodies in his improvisations (he developed a unique system for these lines) and most of the time he doesn’t play bebop lines. But it really fits in mostly every jazz situation because it swings, it bounces, it is very very good phrased. He creates a clear rhythmically statement with or against the rhythm section and that’s what is all about. Creating clear rhythmically statements (even if the listeners don’t get it, they can feel it or worse they feel the absence = bored).

Exercises:

  • Play all three scales (in every key) from the root to the ninth in eight notes back and forth.
  • Play the whole arpeggio of all three scales from the root to the sixth (or thirteenth) back and forth. The arpeggio of the Ionic scale is with the #11, because the 11 is a very weak upper structure tone.

Examples for the scale exercises:

  • D-dorian: D-E-F-G-A-B-C-D-E-D-C-B-A-G-F-E-D-…
  • D-melodic minor: D-E-F-G-A-B-C#-D-E-D-C#-B-A-G-F-E-D-…
  • C-ionic: C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C-D-C-B-A-G-F-E-D-C-…

Examples for the arpeggio exercises:

  • D-dorian: D-F-A-C-E-G-H-G-E-C-A-F-D-…
  • D-melodic minor: D-F-A-C#-E-G-H-G-E-C#-A-F-D-…
  • C-ionic: C-E-G-B-D-F#-A-F#-D-B-G-E-C-…

Right at the moment I have no soundsamples for the exercises but I think everyone will manage it with the descriptions. Feel free to post questions.