Category Archives: FunJazz Piano Lessons

Tips, ideas, transcriptions, analyses, and in depth study of intriguing jazz topics that will help you walk in the masters’ Footprints and make Giant Steps towards your Freedom Jazz Dance!

deriving tetratonic scales from the “new notes” on Oleleko


Let’s have a look at the chord grid for the solo section on Oleleko (the electric piano improvisation happens from 2’02 to 3’35 on the recording):


The following table lists all chord symbols, the parent scales they derive from, and their “new notes,” which is a concept introduced by contemporary jazz pianist and composer Laszlo Gardony (for each chord, we list the notes in the parent scale that were not present in the scale corresponding to the previous chord – this helps to give a sense of forward motion to the music and emphasize the shifts in harmony as we go through the grid):

Bar Chord
Symbol
Mode
(Parent Scale)
New
Note(s)?
121 C7 C mixolydian
(F major)
C D E A
136 D7(#11) D lydian dominant
(A melodic minor)
F# G# B
137 Eb6 Eb ionian
(Eb major)
Eb F G Bb
139 Eb7sus Eb mixolydian
(Ab major)
Db
141 Eb6 Eb ionian
(Eb major)
D
143 Eb7sus Eb mixolydian
(Ab major)
Db
144 E7(#11) E lydian dominant
(B melodic minor)
E F# B D
145 F#6 F# ionian
(F# major)
D# E#
147 F#7sus F# mixolydian
(B major)
E
149 F#6 F# ionian
(F# major)
E#
150 Db7(#11) Db lydian dominant
(Ab melodic minor)
G

Now let’s find possible tetratonic scales based on those “new notes” (using four-note scales will enable us to limit our melodic choices and create wider, more angular intervals, while including as many of the “new notes” as possible in order to retain the characteristic harmonic shifts in the music):

Bar Chord
Symbol
Tetratonic
Scale(s)
121 C7 A minor (= A C D E)
136 D7(#11) E major (= E F# G# B)
137 Eb6 Eb major
139 Eb7sus Db major, Bb minor
141 Eb6 Bb major, G minor
143 Eb7sus Db major, Bb minor
144 E7(#11) B minor
145 F#6 C# major, A# minor
147 F#7sus E major, C# minor
149 F#6 C# major, A# minor
150 Db7(#11) Eb major

When there are two tetratonic choices, I simply go with the one I like best (in bold in the table above). By all means, feel free to experiment with both options and chose whichever sounds most satisfying to your ear!

Finally, and for the purpose of practicing, we can further break down these tetratonic sounds into triads: once you feel comfortable improvising using the triads exclusively, it’s easier to play the full tetratonic scales (adding a major second to major triads and a perfect fourth to minor triads to get the corresponding tetratonics).

Bar Chord
Symbol
Tetratonic
Scale(s)
Triads
121 C7 A minor A-
136 D7(#11) E major E
137 Eb6 Eb major Eb
139 Eb7sus Bb minor Bb-
141 Eb6 G minor G-
143 Eb7sus Bb minor Bb-
144 E7(#11) B minor B-
145 F#6 C# major C#
147 F#7sus C# minor C#-
149 F#6 C# major C#
150 Db7(#11) Eb major Eb

Complete sheet music for “Oleleko” (from the album Tao, 2019) is available. Please visit the Funnelljazz catalogue for more information.


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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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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

Advantages of practicing to a loopable track

It goes without saying that the benefits of practicing really short passages of music, very slowly, and repeating them a great number of times, are prodigious (languages are also learnt more efficiently in that fashion). Imitation, repetition, and using an incremental process (starting out with a small bit of information and later adding other small bits, step by step) are key practice habits when it comes to your musical success.

These habits will help you “get into the zone,” or in other words will lull you into a soft meditative state conducive to deeply internalizing the music, feeling it in your whole being, sometimes to the point where you can almost sense that someone — or something — is playing the music through you, and you are just relaxing and observing… But I digress a little!1

The point is: this blissful state of “non-doing” in music can be reached by any of us, whether collectively within an ensemble, or when playing/practicing alone at your instrument. And in the latter case, a nifty little loop can come in quite handy! Playing to a click track/metronome is of course also a tried-and-tested method, particularly when aiming for steady tempo, solid groove, and genuine feel2. But there’s nothing like an audio loop to enjoy the added benefits provided by the external musical stimulation, and the inspiration that arises from it (short of playing with other live musicians!)

What’s in a good loop?

In my experience, both with students and in my own practice, the loops that have yielded the best results present the following characteristics:

  • they are relatively short in length (1 to 8 measures or a section of a tune at most);
  • focused on a challenging (though not insurmountable), or, to use another term, unfamiliar passage of music (trust me, after repeating it for a while it will become familiar, and that’s exactly what we want);
  • set to an adequate tempo, most likely on the slower end of the spectrum (one of my professors at Berklee had some words of wisdom about that: “if you bulls#*t slow, you’ll bulls%$t fast!”)

In my lessons, I make a point of detecting specific passages of music students may have difficulties with. I then prepare loopable audio files (in WAV format, because converting to MP3 tends to add undesirable gaps of silence to the tracks, which in turn makes the loops lopsided) corresponding to these passages for them to practice with. All that is needed then, on the student’s end, is a simple app if they’re going to use their phone for playback (Loop Player does a great job on Android), or a piece of software if they’d rather use a computer. In the latter case, I thoroughly recommend familiarizing oneself with Audacity.

Getting started with Audacity

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 the blissful state of non-doing in music, let’s take a closer look at a 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, macOS, and 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 😉

Notes

1 If you’re interested in digging deeper into the subtle spiritual realm of musical practice, you can read a whole lot more about it in Kenny Werner’s classic book Effortless Mastery.

2 If you’d like to learn about the different types of metronomes (and the key features to look out for when choosing one), this exhaustive deep dive on the topic will definitely do the trick!

References

“The Best Metronome.” Beginner Guitar HQ. 2021. <https://beginnerguitarhq.com/best-metronome/> accessed 20 February 2022.

Werner, Kenny. Effortless Mastery: Liberating the Master Musician Within. Van Nuys: Alfred Music, 1998.


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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

These notes (Ab Bb C Eb Gb) constitute the Ab dominant pentatonic scale.

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

ADDENDUM

29 Oct. 2019

The in pentatonic scale (E F A B D) is also contained within the major scale and can also be used effectively to derive 5-note 2-hand voicings for half-diminished locrian chords (Bmi7(b5) in this case). The way to do it is to play the first scale degree (E), skip the second scale degree (F), play the third scale degree (A), skip the fourth scale degree (B), etc… until you’re playing all five notes simultaneously, divided between both hands. You will end up with the voicing E A D F B, and its inversions (F B E A D, A D F B E, B E A D F, and D F B E A). Some of these include the interval of a b9 within the voicing (between the notes E and F) but this doesn’t matter (in my opinion and experience) as the flatted second scale degree is a characteristic note of the locrian mode.


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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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transcription: “Uptown Up” – alto saxophone solo by Maceo Parker 🇬🇧

Transcription of Maceo Parker's solo on Uptown Up (page 1)
Transcription of Maceo Parker's solo on Uptown Up (page 2)

Methodical analysis of the melodic content

Passages¹ where Maceo uses the major blues scale:

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

Passages¹ where Maceo uses the minor blues scale:

  • [ bar 3/beat 4 – bar 5/beat 2 ]: Bb minor blues
  • [ bar 7/beat 2 – bar 8/beat 2 ]: Bb minor blues
  • [ bar 15/beat 2 – 16/beat 2 ]: C minor blues
  • [ bar 18 ]: Bb minor blues

Passages¹ where the major and minor blues scales are intertwined:

  • [ bar 12 – bar 13/beat 3 ] with, in particular, an ascending chromatic motif (D# E F F# G) [ bar 12/beat 2 – bar 12/beat 4 ], which includes notes from the C major blues scale (E) as well as the C minor blues scale (F, F#). Both scales are indeed commonly used to improvise over the C7 chord;
  • [ bar 16/beat 3 – bar 16/beat 4 ], a short ascending chromatic motif (D D D# E F) including notes from both the Bb major blues scale (D) and the Bb minor blues scale (D#, E). This sets up the return to the Bb7 chord in bar 17 (anticipation)²;
  • [ bar 19 – bar 20/beat 3 ], a phrase based around two very similar ascending chromatic motives (C C# D D# E F and C# D D# E F), the second of which is played an octave above the first. Again, notes from both the Bb major blues scale (C, D) and the Bb minor blues scale (D#, E) are featured here, being tones of choice to improvise over the Bb7 chord;
  • [ bar 20/beat 4 – bar 21/beat 3 ], the presence of the notes C (from Bb major blues) and Ab (from Bb minor blues) together in this segment evoke the Bb Mixolydian mode, another natural choice to improvise over the Bb7 chord;
  • [ bar 21/beat 4 – bar 22/beat 2 ], here we have the pattern C# D D# E F again, with the note D from Bb major blues, and the notes D# and E from Bb minor blues (C# and F are common to both scales);
  • [ bar 22/beat 3 – bar 23 ], a diatonic descending motif (Ab G F Eb D), which again clearly evokes Bb Mixolydian. While Ab and Eb belong to Bb minor blues, G and D belong to Bb major blues (F being common to both scales).

Key takeaways

Based on this transcription, two distinct patterns, characteristic of Maceo Parker’s style, stand out when he intertwines the major blues scale with its minor counterpart:

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

In the first half of his solo, Maceo sets up the tone of his improvisation by shifting between the minor blues scale and the major blues scale, utilized as strictly separate entities. Beginning in bar 12, he gradually throws in more and more segments where both scales seamlessly intertwine. Between bars 19 and 23, he finally crafts a longer melodic sequence featuring both extensive chromaticism as well as diatonic ideas from Mixolydian, before wrapping up with a strong, effective major blues statement (bar 24).


Practice tip

Although Maceo’s rhythm, phrasing, and expression aren’t discussed in this post, they are also really hip and crucial to the powerful effect of his solo. Don’t neglect imitating these elements as accurately as possible on your instrument while practicing this transcription. Becoming familiar with the notes and scales is only half the work (at most)!

Notes

¹ Like in mathematics, the square brackets turned towards the inside (like this ” […] ” as opposed to this ” ]…[ ” ) indicate that the bar/beat numbers signaled within the brackets are included in the passage under consideration.

² The F# played on bar 17/beat 1 does not belong to either of the Bb blues scales. Rather, it is a lower chromatic approach of the following note G (itself scale degree 6 of the Bb major blues scale). This part (bar 17/beat 1) can be seen as an extension of the ascending chromatic motion initiated in bar 16/beat 3.

References

Parker, Maceo. Funk Overload. What Are Records? 60032. 1998.


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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” or “global” 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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