All posts by funnelljazz

hand independence exercise based on Ainu canon

It’s Independence Day in America, and I thought it opportune to post a special workout for pianists focusing on… hand independence, with a global twist!

The song we’ll use as the basis for this exercise is an Ainu canon (the Ainu are a people from Northern Japan and the Russian Far East), which involves call and response between a lead singer and a group of singers.

Although it may seem simple on the surface level, we’ll see that the mental and muscular processes involved in order to produce an acceptable rendition of it on the piano are in fact rather intricate…

To achieve this, I suggest we break down the practice into the five following steps:

  1. learning the melody in the right hand;
  2. learning the (same) melody in the left hand (the song being a canon, the hands are indeed essentially playing the same melody, two beats apart);
  3. adding an accompanying foot pattern on the upbeats to the right and left hand melodies (optional);
  4. putting it all together with the right hand playing the role of the lead singer (call) and the left hand responding [letter A in the sheet music below];
  5. doing the same exercise again, but this time, reversing the hands: the left hand is now playing the lead part (call) and the right the chorus’ part (response) [letter B].

As you will see when you try this at home, although the result sounds simple and the melody is made up of only 3 notes ﹣ a tritonic scale roughly comprised of E, F#, and B (the tuning is not exact) ﹣ it does require some patient practice to really internalize this canon and play it accurately on the piano. For instance, particular attention should be given to the proper feel and articulation (when playing the legato and staccato notes in particular).

Have fun working on your hand independence with this song! It’s a great warm-up before tackling a Bach Invention or Sinfonia for example…


Sheet music (PDF) available here:


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Jim Funnell’s Word Out @ Rockwood Music Hall Stage 3 / July 3, 7PM

breaking up the Dorian mode into two pentatonic scales


Sheet music for Igneous Alloy (from the album Spirit of the Snail), the tune used as an example in this video, is now available on SMP Press:


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Milt Jackson’s vibraphone solo on Anthropology

I recently stumbled upon an excellent article on Jazz Advice about jazz language. In short, it’s about the importance of learning it!

Jazz is indeed a language. When children learn a language, they listen, pick out their favorite words, and repeat what they hear… Over and over again! We jazz musicians can totally take example from these kids in order to improve our knowledge of – and fluency in – the language of jazz. Of course, the repeating part will involve transposing as well, and that’s where the fun really starts!

So I’ve decided to regularly transcribe some of my favorite solos, pick my favorite phrases, and share my findings with you on here. I hope you’ll enjoy them! Today, let’s start with Milt Jackson’s vibraphone solo on Anthropology.

It’s always nice to practice rhythm changes with its characteristic I-VI-II-V progression (in fact Ima7-V7alt/II-IImi7-V7(b9) in this particular case) since it’s such a common harmonic pattern in jazz.

The one phrase that really stuck out for me is played in bars 9 to 12. I like it because it has some cool non-diatonic action in bar 10. Here’s how I practiced it both in my right and left hands, using two different kinds of voicings for the accompanying hand (“positions A and B” as Mark Levine puts it in his Jazz Piano Book). The example is in Bb major, the original key. As stated before, it’s essential to take it fully around the cycle of 5ths in order to make sure to really internalize the phrase and the chords in all keys. Just be mindful of low interval limits when playing the chords in the left hand.

The use of anticipation in the second bar of Milt’s phrase is remarkable: the first four eighth notes (Ab B A F#) are all part of the half-whole scale based on F, which is the scale we would use over F7(b9). The second set of eighth notes (Bb F D Bb) is simply a descending triad outlining the upcoming Bbma7 sound in the third bar.

It’s also interesting to note that in one of the positions, the G7alt voicing can be thought of as Fmi7(b5)/G (bars 1 & 11). That means you can play a mi7(b5) chord a whole step below the root of any altered chord, and you’ve instantly got yourself a cool voicing for it!

Similarly, in the other position, the G7alt voicing resembles a Bma7(b5)/G (bars 6 & 16). So it’s also an option to play a ma7(b5) chord a major third above the root of any altered chord to get the desired altered sound.


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using audio files as play-alongs with Audacity

If you’re a student of mine, you’ve probably heard of the great benefits of practicing really short passages, very slowly, and repeating them a great number of times in order to get into the zone, completely internalizing the music (to the point where you almost feel that someone else is playing it and you are just relaxing and observing – a whole lot more about this in Kenny Werner’s classic book Effortless Mastery).

You can of course practice this way alone at your instrument, with or without a metronome for rhythmic support. Playing to a track can also be a fun and effective way of achieving this, provided it is short enough, focused on a specific passage you have difficulties with, set to an adequate (most likely slow) tempo, and looped (repeated indefinitely).

While I make a point in my lessons of detecting specific difficulties you may have and preparing appropriate, loopable audio files for you to practice with, Audacity is a great little piece of software that will enable you to set a tempo you are comfortable with and play the file back as many times as needed, at the same pace and with no interruptions.

So before you delve into that blissful state of non-doing in music, let’s take a closer look at these few simple, technical steps that will get you started in no time:

  1. downloading Audacity;
  2. opening an audio file with Audacity;
  3. setting the track’s tempo to your practicing needs;
  4. looping the audio file for playback.

1. Audacity is available for Windows, Mac OS X / macOS, and GNU/Linux from the Download page on audacityteam.org.

2. To load a specific audio file in Audacity, just drag it into the empty blue/grey area (a white “+” sign in a green circle will appear as you hover over that region). A warning will then pop up prompting you to choose an import method. You can select “Make a copy of the files before editing (safer)” so that if you make changes and save them, the original file will remain available as well.

3. Select the whole audio file (on Mac, hit cmd + A) and go to Effect > Change Tempo…. The “Change Tempo” box appears providing you with three alternatives: Percent Change, Beats per minute (good if you know the original bpm of the track, which you can also figure out using http://a.bestmetronome.com/), or Length (seconds). Don’t forget to tick the box in front of “Use high quality stretching (slow)” for better results.

4. Finally, choose Transport > Play > Loop Play (or hit shift + space) to launch the play-along.

As Kenny Werner reminds us: don’t forget to stop playing when you feel you’re loosing focus and concentration. Take your hands off/put down your instrument, take a deep breath, get back into the space, and try again!

Enjoy and see you online at your next lesson 😉


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finding 5-note 2-hand voicings for half-diminished locrian chords

While focusing on a section of AfuriKo’s recent arrangement of “Kassai” during practice yesterday, I came across a mi7(b5) chord that calls for the locrian chord scale. Remembering Frank Mantooth’s approach in his Voicings for Jazz Keyboard inspired me to research possible 5-note 2-hand voicings for this chord.

So let’s quickly jot down a major scale and list all possible Quartal (Q), Generic Dominant (GD), and So What (SW) voicings that can be built under each scale degree (top note):

major harmony voicing types screen shot 1

The results are summarized in the table below:

voicing type top note
Quartal 1, 4, 5
Generic Dominant 2, 5
So What 3, 6, 7

The next step is to find suitable candidates to aurally represent our half-diminished locrian chord! It feels natural to go with those that:

  • sound best individually when trying them out against the root (C in the key of Db major) in the low register of the keyboard;
  • sound best in the context of a minor II-V-I.

You’ll notice that most of the eligible voicings include all three guide tones (namely b3, b5, and b7), which seems coherent since these notes characterize the mi7(b5) sound. One of the voicings, however, features b3 and b7 only (no b5), but still sounds strong as a mi7(b5) chord (to my ears…) so I went ahead and included it here, too.

1) The Generic Dominant voicing built underneath scale degree 2 has all four chord tones (C, Eb, Gb, Bb) and the 11th (F). Here it is notated below followed by its four inversions:

major harmony voicing types screen shot 4

Two of these inversions contain the interval of a b9. They sound dissonant and not quite appropriate for a mi7(b5) chord, so let’s go ahead and rule them out. We are left with the following three solid-sounding voicings for Cmi7(b5). From the top note down:

  • Eb Bb F C Gb
  • F C Gb Eb Bb
  • Bb F C Gb Eb

Incidentally (or not!), these notes make up the F insen pentatonic (F Gb Bb C Eb), which reveals itself as a very interesting scale to solo over Cmi7(b5).

2) The So What voicing built underneath scale degree 3 is slightly more adventurous, containing only two of the guide tones (Bb and Eb) and three tensions: the b9th (Db), the 11th (F), and the b13th (Ab). Its inversions don’t seem to function so well (again, these perceptions are of course subjective and there are no hard and fast rules…) as a mi7(b5) chord so let’s just keep the following chord, from the top note down:

  • F Db Ab Eb Bb

Now, it turns out this particular set of notes corresponds to the Db major/Bb minor pentatonic, which is thus also a valid choice to solo over Cmi7(b5).

3) The Generic Dominant voicing built under scale degree 5 contains all four chord tones (C, Eb, Gb, Bb), as well as the b13th (Ab). Here it goes with its inversion:

major harmony voicing types screen shot 6

Two of the those voicings (labeled Ab7 above) have a very distinct dominant color, but we can definitely use the other three as strong sounding half-diminished locrian chords. Spelling them from top to bottom, we have:

  • Ab Eb Bb Gb C
  • C Ab Eb Bb Gb
  • Gb C Ab Eb Bb

4) The Quartal voicing built under scale degree 4 and the So What voicing built under scale degree 6 are in fact inversions of each other:

major harmony voicing types screen shot 5

Although the Db here creates the interval of a b9 with the underlying root (C), it is OK to go ahead and list all inversions for this chord as possible mi7(b5) voicings because b2 is a characteristic note of the locrian mode. From the top note down, we have the following five additional possibilities for Cmi7(b5):

  • Gb Db Ab Eb Bb
  • Ab Eb Bb Gb Db
  • Bb Gb Db Ab Eb
  • Db Ab Eb Bb Gb
  • Eb Bb Gb Db Ab

This last set of notes uncovers the Gb major/Eb minor pentatonic, yet another option to solo over Cmi7(b5).

To sum up, here are all twelve previously found half-diminished locrian voicings:

major harmony voicing types screen shot 8

And finally, let’s put them back in context! I have chosen minor II-V-Is with either V7(b9) or V7alt as the dominant chord:

major harmony voicing types screen shot 7


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comping practice on AfuriKo’s “Sorsornet” harmonization

Sorsornet is a rhythm from the Boke region in Guinea. The chord progression came from harmonizing Mamady Keïta‘s version (on his album Nankama) of one of the traditional songs that go with the rhythm (AfuriKo‘s arrangement will be featured on the duo’s upcoming album).

The chords I used for comping in this video are mostly 5-note 2-hand jazz voicings. I’ve notated some of them for your consideration below:

Sorsornet comping practice

And here’s a short explanation of how each one of the 12 notated voicings relates to its corresponding chord symbol:

  1. C#mi7: inversion of generic “So What”/quartal voicing for minor chords;
  2. F#13: generic voicing for dominant chords (right hand plays a 3-note quartal voicing from the 5th down while left hand plays guide tones);
  3. D#mi7: generic “So What” voicing for minor chords with 5th as top note;
  4. E6: inversion of generic quartal voicing for major chords down from the root “E”; can also be considered a generic quartal voicing down from the 5th “B” with the root instead of the 7th in the bottom;
  5. F#9sus: inversion of “So What”/quartal voicing for sus chords;
  6. F#/G#: ditto;
  7. G/A: ditto;
  8. F#2/A#: upper structure triad (UST II) from C# melodic minor; the parent chord scale to this F#2/A# chord is A# locrian #2 (VIth mode of C# melodic minor);
  9. Ama7/B: inversion of “So What”/quartal voicing for sus chords;
  10. Ama7(#11): “So What” voicing with #11th as top note;
  11. F#mi9: generic “So What” voicing for minor chords with 5th as top note;
  12. C#: upper structure triad (UST II) from F# melodic minor; the parent chord scale to this C# triad is C# mixolydian b6 (Vth mode of F# melodic minor).

NB: the very cool djembe part (with additional foot shakers/rattles) in the video was performed by courtesy of wonderfully grooving percussionist Akiko Horii!


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away from the roost: reharmonizing the “Chicken”!

This article is also available at www.lessonface.com/content/away-roost-reharmonizing-chicken, along with a downloadable Reharm Worksheet (PDF).

Here are a few notes about Flavio Lira‘s “THE CHICKEN Travels the World,” a cool multi-groove arrangement of “The Chicken.” Flavio invited me to record it over at Lessonface’s studio in New York’s West Village earlier this year, along with some fantastic musicians, most of whom teach on the platform as well. Each of us also got to record a short tutorial (see right below) to showcase something we played in the video. Fun times!

Now, let’s try and make the most of the present article and focus on things I did not mention in the tutorial video…

  1. The original piece (“The Chicken” by Pee Wee Ellis) is a funk tune with a bluesy feel. Although its chord changes don’t follow the most common 12-bar blues format, the tune does possess one of the foremost features of the blues: the appearance of the IVth degree as a dominant chord (Eb7) in its 5th bar. Besides, blues scales and minor pentatonics (Bb minor in particular, as in the famous break in bar 12 for instance) suit the chord grid perfectly (for more on the use of blues scales, take a look at this post, an in depth analysis of a solo by one of Mr. Ellis’ close fellow funkateers!);
  2. Screen Shot 2018-02-14 at 3.10.51 AM

  3. Where the keyboard solo starts in the arrangement, Flavio deliberately penciled in a BbMa7 chord (instead of the original Bb7), which gives this section a more “tonal” feel (as opposed to the original “bluesy” feel, characterized by some amount of ambiguity and crunchiness caused by the presence of both the major third – from the Bb7 chord – and the minor third – from the Bb minor pentatonic or blues scale frequently used to improvise over Bb7). Flavio further enhances that sense of tonal harmony with a II-V resolving to Gmi7, the VIth degree in the key of Bb major. D7 is what we call a secondary dominant resolving to that Gmi7, and the Ami7(b5) is D7’s related II chord (incidentally, it is also the VIIth degree in the key of Bb major). The Bb7 preceding Ami7(b5) is a sub V of VII (in other words, the tritone substitute of E7, which would have been a “regular” secondary dominant to Ami7(b5));
  4. Screen Shot 2018-02-14 at 3.19.40 AM

  5. By now, our ears may well have been accustomed to a Bb major tonal context… And when the Eb7 chord finally hits (at the pinnacle of a nice rhythmic ascending chromatic motion), it can quite plausibly be heard as a modal interchange chord (the IVth degree of Bb dorian) rather than the characteristic IV7 blues chord mentioned earlier.

To sum up, we have a deliberate choice of Flavio’s to depart from the original blues context of the tune and delve into a more tonal realm for this section of his arrangement. Our chicken is, at the very least, cage-free, and at best truly multi-dimensional, traveling through various grooves and harmonic devices! More seriously though, this classic reharmonization technique has in fact been used since the bebop era. Take a jazz standard like “Au Privave” for example: it is a perfect illustration of how Charlie Parker departs from a simple F blues progression to get to a tonal 12-bar form in the key of F major, complete with II-Vs, secondary dominants, and modal interchange.


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major and minor blues scales on Maceo Parker’s “Uptown Up”

Dear fellow funk/blues enthusiasts,

Here’s a transcription of Maceo Parker‘s alto saxophone solo on Uptown Up, the opening track from his album Funk Overload (1998), followed by an analysis of what’s going on melodically…

Note: although Maceo’s rhythm, phrasing, and expression won’t be discussed in length in this post, they are also really hip and definitely worth spending time accurately imitating on your instrument!

Uptown Up - alto sax (concert)_p1

Uptown Up - alto sax (concert)_p2

Shifts between major and minor blues scales:

  • [bar 0 – bar 3/beat 3]: Bb major blues
  • [bar 3/beat 4 – bar 5/beat 2]: Bb minor blues
  • [bar 5/beat 3 – bar 7/beat 1]: Bb major blues
  • [bar 7/beat 2 – bar 8/beat 2]: Bb minor blues
  • [bar 8/beat 3]: Bb major blues
  • [bar 8/beat 4 – bar 11]: C major blues
  • [bar 13/beat 3 – bar 15/beat 1]: C major blues
  • [bar 15/beat 2 – 16/beat 2]: C minor blues
  • [bar 17]: Bb major blues
  • [bar 18]: Bb minor blues
  • [bar 24]: Bb major scale

Passages where major and minor blues scales are intertwined:

  • [bar 12 – bar 13/beat 3]
  • [bar 16/beat 3 – bar 16/beat 4] (ascending chromatic motion)
  • [bar 19 – bar 23]

Comments on “intertwined” passages:

  • D# E F F# G: C blues. E is characteristic of C major blues, while F and F# are characteristic of C minor blues.
  • D D# E F (F#): Bb blues as a melodic anticipation of the next chord/section, with D characteristic of Bb major blues, and D# (Eb) and E characteristic of Bb minor blues. In this case the F# on the 1st beat of bar 17 is a lower chromatic approach to G (scale degree 6 of the Bb major blues scale). The note F# doesn’t belong to either of the blues scales in Bb. Arguably, it could still be heard as the blue note of the reminiscing C minor blues sound. In any case, the F# is part of the ascending chromatic motion initiated on beat 3 of bar 16.
  • C C# D D# E F: Bb blues. C and D are characteristic of Bb major blues, while D# (Eb) and E are characteristic of Bb minor blues.
  • Ab G F Eb D: Bb blues. Ab and Eb belong to Bb minor blues, G and D belong to Bb major blues, and F is common to both scales.

So based on this transcription, a few patterns stand out when intertwining major and minor blues scales:

  • an ascending chromatic motion from scale degrees 2/#2/3 up to scale degree 5;
  • a descending diatonic motion (akin to the mixolydian mode) from scale degree b7.

Conclusion: Maceo sets up the tone of his improvisation by using the minor and major blues scales separately at first, and then begins intertwining them more and more as he goes along. He finally crafts a whole passage featuring extensive chromaticism from bars 19 to 23, before wrapping up with an effective and strong major blues statement (bar 24).


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pentatonic possibilities 1: major and minor pentatonics

Pentatonics are 5-note scales. Technically, any ordered sequence of 5 notes can be called a pentatonic. But the most common and widely used pentatonic is without doubt the one obtained by reordering a series of 5 notes stacked on top of each other in fifths (for example, the series “C G D A E” gives us “C D E G A” once reordered). This particular pentatonic comes in its “major” form (C D E G A), and its relative “minor” form (A C D E G).

So, what do I mean by “pentatonic possibilities?” Well, pentatonics tend to break up the diatonic quality of 7-note major and minor scales because of their intervallic content. So, to create fresh melodic shapes and give a more edgy feel to your lines while improvising over changes, you might ask yourself: what pentatonic scales can I use over these chords? Chords derive from modes, and modes from harmony types, so the question may be rephrased as: what pentatonic scales can be extracted from the various harmony types?

For the purpose of this particular post, I will limit myself to what I call the “common” pentatonic scale (the one discussed in the first paragraph). Let’s have a look at major harmony first. The pentatonics listed in the first and last column of the table shown below are extracted from the key of C major (C D E F G A B). Their “major” forms are listed in the left-hand side of the table along with their relative “minor” forms on the right-hand side, and the roman numerals represent the scale degrees for each pentatonic:

major harmony pentatonic possibilities
C D E G A I Maj. pent. <=> VI min. pent. A C D E G
F G A C D IV Maj. pent. <=> II min. pent. D F G A C
G A B D E V Maj. pent. <=> III min. pent. E G A B D

Natural minor harmony is equivalent to the Aeolian mode. Therefore, the pentatonic possibilities in natural minor are the same as in major harmony (the roman numerals indicating the scale degrees, however, would have to change due to the shift to relative minor).

Now, let’s have a look at melodic minor harmony. It turns out only one pentatonic scale can be extracted from this harmony type. It is shown in the table below in the key of C melodic minor (C D Eb F G A B):

melodic minor harmony pentatonic possibilities
F G A C D IV Maj. pent. <=> II min. pent. D F G A C

Finally, neither harmonic minor nor harmonic major harmony bear common pentatonic possibilities, due to a flatted 6th scale degree in both instances. However, some interesting “exotic” pentatonics can be derived from those harmony types…


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