Category Archives: Jim’s Jazz Piano Lessons

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

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, to give a more edgy and intervallic (less diatonic) feel to my lines while improvising over changes, I came to ask myself: what pentatonic scales can I use over these chords? Chords derive from modes, and modes from harmony types, so the question could 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 the most common pentatonic scale (the one discussed in the first paragraph), and to major, natural minor, harmonic minor, and melodic minor harmony types. Let’s jump in and 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, due to its flatted 6th scale degree, there are no common pentatonic possibilities in harmonic minor harmony.

For detailed information about lessons, please visit: http://funnelljazz.eu/lessons/.

Charlie Rouse on Monk’s Dream: shaping a solo with chord tones, chromatic approaches, and triads

My favourite passage from Charlie Rouse‘s solo on Thelonious Monk’s 1962 recording of Monk’s Dream – Take 8 is made up of the four closing phrases below (Charlie’s final statement right before the piano solo starts).

Most of the soloing is built on chord tones here (melodic emphasis on the notes that make up the changes). It is also interesting to pay close attention to the use of chromatic approaches, and to the way various triads emerge to define a distinct melodic contour.

Monk's Dream, Charlie Rouse_C

Approach notes:

  • Db in bar 1 (technically the “second” measure here: the very first one is used to show the pick up and is thus incomplete with only 3 beats; let’s call this “pick up” measure “bar 0″) approaches the following C from above (upper chromatic approach)
  • A# in bar 3 approaches the following B (which is itself an anticipation, corresponding to the major 7th of the following C chord) from below (lower chromatic approach)
  • first E in bar 5 is lower chromatic neighboring tone
  • D# in bar 5 is a lower chromatic approach to the following E
  • the notes A (diatonic note to the E7sus/B chord) and G (chromatic note since it doesn’t belong to the E mixolydian scale from which E7sus/B derives) in bar 7 enclose the following Ab
  • both Abs in bar 8 are upper chromatic neighboring tones
  • Ab and G# in bar 9 enclose the following G chromatically

For detailed information about lessons, please visit: http://funnelljazz.eu/lessons/.

Getting into the Altered Sound

Let’s take a look at a few things that can be done when an altered dominant chord presents itself in a tune (e.g. Eb7alt). The first thing to know is that the altered chord derives from the altered mode, otherwise known as mode VII of melodic minor. But to break out of the diatonic sound of the scale and gain a little freedom with it, here are a few tricks…

There are 5 different triads that can be used as numerators (the denominator being the basic chord sound, i.e. combinations of chord tones 1, 3, and b7) to get a solid sounding upper structure triad voicing for an altered chord:

  • bIImi
  • bIIImi
  • bV
  • bVI

getting-into-the-altered-sound_screenshot-1

You can then combine both minor triadic upper structures and both major triadic upper structures to form two hexatonic scales, which can be used as interesting melodic devices:

  • bIImi / bIIImi
  • bV / bVI

getting-into-the-altered-sound_screenshot-2

Now, if you take a closer look at both these hexatonics, you’ll notice that they have five notes in common. These notes make up a pentatonic scale (bV major pentatonic, a.k.a. bIII minor pentatonic), which can also be used as an even more angular melodic device.

getting-into-the-altered-sound_screenshot-3

Click “Download File” below to hear the midi examples notated above. The full PDF document is also available here. Enjoy!

For detailed information about lessons, please visit: http://funnelljazz.eu/lessons/.

“Meditative practicing” technique

The following “meditative practicing” technique comes in really handy when far away from your instrument.

All you have to do is choose a notated piece of music that you’ve got memorized and try and play it in your mind as precisely as possible, hearing it, and even feeling the touch of the piano (this also works if you play another instrument: just mentally recall the feeling you experience when playing your particular instrument). For pianists, Bach’s Inventions work well because they consist of two contrapuntal parts, which are already challenging enough to hear simultaneously with the mind’s ear. But you can choose virtually any piece of music. When a passage seems unclear, go back and “replay” it again, slower if necessary (just as you would when you practice on your instrument) until you’re able to hear each note, as well as each item of expression attached to each note, with utmost precision.

This technique certainly requires sharp concentration and thus works best in a calm environment. But if practiced correctly, its benefits are certainly to be felt as soon as you return to the piano (the following day for example – it’s always good to allow the mental exercise to fully sink in during the night…): overall, your knowledge of the piece will have been considerably strengthened; your memory won’t fail you and you’ll be able to concentrate on musicality right off the bat.

For detailed information about lessons, please visit: http://funnelljazz.eu/lessons/.

Cantabile style playing: practicing both legato and staccato

I’ve recently been working on most of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Two-Part Inventions as a kind of warm-up for the fingers and the ears (I learn them by heart and usually go through several first thing in the morning or at the beginning of each of my piano practice sessions). As I was playing No. 3 (D major) today, I realized I mostly was using legato phrasing and decided to venture into a staccato rendition of the piece. With the change of expression (staccato versus the former legato phrasing), I found myself much less self-assured: my memory failed me and I had to refer to the music on a couple of occasions. This, to me, was an indicator that I wasn’t hearing the melodic lines as clearly as I thought I was able to. Indeed, I don’t think my memory would have been caught off guard in that manner if a had been hearing them strong. So in addition to being a useful technical exercise, practicing cantabile style playing using both legato and staccato phrasing seems to be yet another great way to strengthen one’s inner hearing, and thus a very musical exercise. Highly recommended!

For detailed information about lessons, please visit: http://funnelljazz.eu/lessons/.

Why it’s a good idea to practice soloing with the left hand while comping with the right hand…

To improve rhythmic independence? Of course. But also:

  • it might lead you to use different voicings than the ones you usually use for comping. Sometimes a voicing might be too low and sound muddy when played with the left hand in the lower part of the keyboard, but the same voicing played higher up will sound OK due to the absence of low interval limit restrictions;
  • the left hand is generally weaker and slower than the right hand. Such technical restriction forces you to rely more on musicality, inner hearing and singing when improvising with the left hand. When you then go back to improvising with the right hand, it feels a lot easier! Musicality is now right at your fingertips, with the greater technical ability of your strong hand available to serve it.

For detailed information about lessons, please visit: http://funnelljazz.eu/lessons/.