This jazz improvisation tutorial features one of the all-time most requested and recorded jazz standards - "Autumn Leaves" written by Joseph Kosma way back in 1945. The song continues to be a favorite among jazz players and audiences today. In this article we'll take a closer look at the chords of the 'A' section and explain how to think about improvising over them.

Jazz Improvisation Tutorial - Breaking Down the Chords

Let's say you're working on soloing over the 'A' section of this tune (the first 8 measures, which repeat). At first glance it looks like a lot of chords, right? One chord per measure, so every four beats you encounter a new chord.

jazz improvisation tutorial 1

Some players (and teachers, and books, and jazz theory classes, etc), look at these chords as requiring a new chord scale for each new chord (a "chord scale" is a scale that corresponds to a particular chord, making it a great scale to choose when improvising over that chord). So you might get a very dense and confusing answer like this:

"For Am7 you can solo using an A dorian chord scale, for D7 a D mixolydian scale, for G major a G ionian scale, for C major a C lydian scale, for F#m7b5 an F# locrian scale, for B7 an E harmonic minor scale starting on B, and for Em an E aeolian scale."

WOW! That's a mouthful to say AND to write. The chord scales mentioned above (referred to as "modes") are accurate, and in the hands of a good player will sound really good when used for soloing. But, there is an easier an to break these chords down.

Jazz Improvisation Tutorial - An Easier Approach

Let's remember that almost ALL of these chords are found in the key of G major. These chords (below) are referred to as diatonic chords because they are all found in the key of G major.

jazz improvisation tutorial 2

Why is this important? Because if these chords are all built by using only the notes from G major, then we can solo over ALL of them using just one scale - G MAJOR! Why try to remember 7 different chords scales and their names when all 7 of those scales are simply a G major scale that starts on a different note? For example, A dorian is just a G major scale starting on A. And an F# locrian scale is just a G major scale starting on F#.

Jazz Improvisation Tutorial - One "Outlier" Chord

There is one chord in the progression (B7) for which a G major scale is not the best choice when improvising. Why? Because a crucial note in a B7 chord is the D# (the 3rd of the chord) and D3 is not found in a G major scale. We need to make sure we have a scale to play that includes the D# when soloing over B7. We can simply play a G major scale with a raised 5th, which is the same as an E harmonic minor scale. That's it, just change that one note and now we have a scale that "works" over B7.

jazz improvisation tutorial 4



Countless books and college courses have focused on all types of jazz improvisation exercises. With so many opinions on practicing the art of improvisation, it's often a question of where to begin. In this article we'll take a look at some of our favorite jazz improvisation exercises. Why are these our favorites? Because you can start to notice results in your playing quickly, and one of them can even be practiced away from your instrument.

Jazz Improvisation Exercises #1: Rhythm Training

Rhythm is a fundamental element of all music, so it's a great place to start. Plus, rhythmic training is something that transcends a particular instrument, so here we'll present an exercise that can be practiced literally anywhere, even if you don't have your instrument present.

To start, all you need is a metronome, either a physical metronome or any of the free apps that are available online. Set your metronome to 64 beats per minute (bpm) and think of each click as a quarter note. Now do the following:


  1. Clap quarter notes along with the metronome and be as rhythmically precise as possible;
  2. Clap 8th notes with rhythmic precision;
  3. Clap 16th notes with rhythmic precision;
  4. Clap 8th-note-triplets with rhythmic precision.

Jazz Improvisation Exercises 1

Once mastered at 66bpm, increase your tempo to faster and faster speeds. You can also practice the four steps above with any song on the radio. Simply find the quarter note pulse and jump in. Then, move on to the advanced steps below.


With one hand tap quarter notes along with the metronome while doing the following with your other hand (rhythmic precision is key):

  1. Tap 8th notes;
  2. Tap 16th notes;
  3. Tap 8th-note-triplets.

Mastering this exercise means that your on your way to rhythmic hand independence (much like drummers must learn to master).

Jazz Improvisation Exercises #2: Enclosures

What the heck are "enclosures"? It's a term we sometimes use in jazz-speak to mean "playing the notes around the target note as a way of resolving to the target note." And it's a great way to start to develop some of the advanced jazz vocabulary.

Say you're improvising over a Bb major chord. There are some obvious notes you might want to use as target notes: Bb, D, and F (the notes of the major triad. Let's focus on just one of those notes (the 'D'). "Enclosing" the 'D' means using the notes around 'D' (usually within a whole-step) to help create movement to the 'D.' Practice all of the examples below.

Jazz Improvisation Exercises 2

Jazz Improvisation Exercises #3: Learn This Chord Progression

Here it is - LEARN IT! The progression is:  ii - V - I - V/ii. In simpler terms that means a "ii - V - I" progression followed by a turnaround chord, which is the "V7/ii" (sometimes incorrectly called the "dominant VI chord"). This, or some variation of this progression, is everywhere in jazz. In the key of F, it would look something like this:

Jazz Improvisation Exercises 3

Practice the following:

  1. Play the example above in 3 keys per week (you'll have all 12 keys learned in 4 weeks). Use your metronome on 70 bpm and have each click represent beats 2 and 4;
  2. Play the left hand bassline while outlining chord tones with your right hand;
  3. Play the left hand bass line against simple (repeat SIMPLE) right hand improvisation (perhaps, even use some enclosures).

In this article we'll be discussing a few improvisation tips for pianists. These are the kinds of tips that are taught in music schools and practiced by the pros, so the good news is that you're getting some cold-hard professional-grade knowledge. The challenge is that these improvisation tips are meant for long-term use and study, so they aren't short-cuts or "magic pills." Let's get started!

Improvisation Tips for Pianists: Use Your Metronome on Beats 2 and 4

This tip will be quick because many of you have heard this quite often. But how many of us actually practice by using the metronome to click on beats 2 and 4, as opposed to all 4 beats? How many of us use the metronome regularly at all? Use it! It's an incredibly valuable tool to acquiring a strong sense of time, which is hugely important to becoming an advanced player.

Improvisation Tips for Pianists: Don't Play All Minor Chords as Minor 7th Chords

Many of us are guilty of this. We see a minor chord in a tune and we just plop down a minor 7th in our chord, even if the chord reads as simply minor, or minor 6th. And we usually improvise over minor chords by using a dorian mode, or perhaps a natural minor scale. Here's an important tip: if you're in a minor key, try playing the minor "i" chord as a minor 6th chord, or a minor-major-7th chord. The sound will be significantly different and more dissonant than the more rounded minor 7th sound. And when soloing over these minor chords, try using the harmonic or melodic minor scales for improvisation. These scales can also create more tension in your solos.

improvisation tips for pianists 1


improvisation tips for pianists 2

Improvisation Tips for Pianists: Try Playing a sus4 Before Resolving to the Dominant Chord

This is a great tip that you can use when soloing, but also when arranging. Here's the idea: we see "ii-V" progressions all the time in jazz tunes, such as this one:

improvisation tips for pianists 3

But what many beginning students don't realize is that you can easily turn this progression into a D7sus4 that resolves to D7 simply by playing the exact same chords and putting a 'D' in the bass under both:

improvisation tips for pianists 4

Taking things a step further you can create more tension in your arranging by moving from the D7sus4 chord to a D7 chord with altered extensions, such as this:

improvisation tips for pianists 5

... or using that same resolution to create tension in your soloing, such as this:

improvisation tips for pianists 6

Improvisation Tips for Pianists: Using 4th-Based Solo Lines

Listen to McCoy Tyner (tunes such as "Passion Dance," for example) if you like the sound of fourths in improvisation and comping. Fourths used in soloing and comping are referred to as quartals, and this sound is very unique and effective. It's easier to practice these kinds of structures over static harmonies (tunes that use one chord for long periods of time, like "Passion Dance," "So What," or "Impressions"). A great way to start practicing is to simply take a chord - D minor 7, for example - and practice building fourths. Then add some rhythmic variety to start creating solo ideas.

improvisation tips for pianists 7



As most jazz players know, and many jazz students quickly learn, ii-V-I jazz licks (and the ii-V-I progression) are at the heart of jazz improvisational study. The study of ii-V-I jazz licks is important for a few reasons:

  1. The ii-V-I progression will be frequently encountered in the jazz language, especially in the jazz standards and what is referred to as the American Songbook, and so students must be familiar with recognizing it and navigating it;
  2. ii-V-I jazz licks offer a structured, methodical starting place for the study of improvisation as a whole, which can sometimes seem daunting to jazz students.
  3. By studying the intricacies of various ii-V-I jazz licks, students begin to understand the relationships between chords and intervals, which is very important to more advanced jazz improvisation.

In this article we are going to look at a couple ii-V-I jazz licks and dissect the lick so that we have a better understanding of how and why these licks work. We'll also talk shop - a bit of music theory - in order to deepen our understanding of harmony and chord scales. So let's get started!

ii-V-I Jazz Licks #1

ii-V-I jazz lick #1 is borrowed from a Charlie Parker solo and is based on outlining the chords in the chord progression.

ii-V-I Jazz Licks 2

Let's examine this lick more closely. First, notice that we're in the key of Bb major. Next, notice that ALL of the notes in this lick (with one exception) come from the Bb major scale. (The only "outside" note is the 'E natural' - and technically the 'C#' grace note). Thirdly, notice that most of this lick is made up of chord tones from each of these three chords. In the Cm7 measure, the lick uses only 4 different notes, 3 of which are chord tones (the Bb, G, and Eb). In the F7 measure 6 different notes are used, 4 of which are chord tones. This illustrates how important chord tones are to improvisation - so chord tone recognition should absolutely be part of your jazz practice.

ii-V-I Jazz Licks #2

In ii-V-I jazz lick #2, we notice again that it is made up entirely of notes from the Bb major scale.

ii-V-I Jazz Licks 3Chord scales refer to a collection of notes that specifically correspond to a chord. Basically, a chord scale is a scale from which a particular chord was created or extracted. In the lick above, all of the notes come from a Bb major scale, so we could correctly say that the chord scale for each of these chords is Bb major. However, we prefer to relate our chord scales to the root of the chord. This is where modes come in to play.

When we begin a Bb major scale on C (the 2nd scale degree of Bb major) we get what is called a dorian scale. When we begin a Bb major scale on F (the 5th degree) we get what is called a mixolydian scale. So we could more accurately say that the chord scale for Cm7 is C dorian, and the chord scale for F7 is F mixolydian.

Check out our ii-V-I jazz licks lesson for more great licks!

Many students are unnerved by the challenge of trying to solo over the chord changes to "Giant Steps." And rightfully so - it's a hard set of chord changes to navigate. But the pros understand that simple, melodic ideas and contours can be hugely effective and can sound very advanced.

In this article, we're going to deconstruct this one-chorus funky improvisation over the "Giant Steps" chord changes. By the end, I think you'll have a pretty good illustration of how to develop a solo using one underlying theme (i.e., motivic development) and how a couple simple ideas can really sound quite advanced without any need to try to play "outside" the changes or use complex re-harmonizations of the chords.

Let's break this solo down to make sure we understand all aspects of what's going on.

First, listen again at a slower tempo: "Funky Giant Steps Solo" at 84bpm:

Second, download the transcription to the Funky Giant Steps solo.

  1. The chord changes to "Giant Steps" are themselves built on a pattern that goes up a minor 3rd, and then down a 5th, up a minor 3rd, then down a 5th, eventually cycling through a set of ii-V-I progressions, each of which start a tritone (augmented 4th/diminished 5th) away from where the previous progression resolved. Understanding this helps make sense of the tune because you should realize that there is a lot of V-I movement.
  2. The track features drums, bass, keys, and a synth "lead" line. The bass is playing only the roots of each chord. The keys are playing the chords as they are written, without any reharms or substitutions.
  3. There are 2 prevalent ideas in the solo: the first is a simple pentatonic pattern using the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 5th scale degrees of the given chord (usually in that order - 1-2-3-5 - or in some variation of that order - i.e., measure 4 plays the patter in reverse, 5-3-2-1). The second idea is a simple ii-V-I lick that is played over each ii-V-I progression and uses notes only from those chord scales (i.e., no chromatic or "outside" notes).
  4. All other notes used in the solo are scale tones which are diatonic to each chord. Not counting the final two measures (which simply rip a B major line all the way down the keyboard) there are only 3 notes in the entire 16-measure solo which can be called chromatic or "outside" notes.

So let's take a look at the 2 prevailing ideas in this solo:

First, the pentatonic 1,2,3,5 pattern, which appears repeatedly through the first 7 measures:

Giant Steps solo

Second, let's look at the ii-V-I lick that repeats three times from measures 8-13:

Giant Steps Solo 2

Notice that from these 2 basic ideas - the pentatonic pattern in measures 1-7, and the ii-V-I lick in measures 8-13 - we have created a great-sounding solo that extends for almost the entire 16-bar chorus. You can get a lot of mileage out of the pentatonic pattern simply by varying the order of the 4 notes (as we see in measures 4 and 7).

Funky Giant Steps solo 3

Funky Giant Steps solo 4

Now that we've dissected exactly what's going on in this solo, listen again at full speed (120bpm):

Now that you see how you can build a great-sounding solo using "inside" (i.e., diatonic) notes even on challenging forms like"Giant Steps," get started using these ideas in your own playing!

Now that we have learned to identify the various modes of the major scale, let's turn our attention to how we would use this information in a real-life musical situation. Take a look at the chord progression below:

modes and chord scales 1

What information can you deduce simply by looking at these two measures of music? A few things, actually. First, it's important to notice that this is a lead sheet or fakebook style of music, meaning there is no bass clef. That means that the pianist is being asked to "comp" (play chords rhythmically in time with the music) through these measures. Second, there is no time signature, however the "rhythm slashes" indicate that there are 4 beats per measure, so you can infer a 4/4 time signature. And lastly - and most importantly - this is a "ii - V - I" progression, which tells us that this music is in the key of D major (at least temporarily).

Noticing the "ii - V - I" progression is the key to going further in our discussion regarding modes and chord scales. These Roman numerals are what musicians use to indicate harmonic analysis. What is 'harmonic analysis'? It's just a fancy way of saying "the study of the chords and how they move from one to the next." We use upper-case Roman numerals when the chords are major or dominant, lower-case when the chords are minor or diminished. In the chord progression above, we are talking about three chords, all of which are diatonic to the key of D major (for more information about diatonic chords and Roman numeral analysis, check out this great video lesson which explains these concepts in greater detail).

In a nutshell, we use the Roman numerals to identify a chord's placement in a particular scale (Are you noticing how we're starting to merge this idea of chords + scales = chord scales? I thought you might be impressed). Anyway... Each note in a scale is referred to as a degree of the scale. The first note (D) is the 1st degree, the second note (E) is the 2nd degree, etc. If we are in the key of D major and stack thirds onto each degree of the scale we would get the following:

Modes and chord scales 2

These are referred to as diatonic chords. Next, we give each chord a Roman numeral name based on its order within the scale (using upper- or lower-case depending on whether the chord is major, minor, etc).

Modes and chord scales 3

So now you can see that, in the key of D major, a "ii - V - I" progression like the one we have above is simply a shorthand way of saying "Emin7, A7, Dmaj7."

But why all the hullabaloo about the chords and the Roman numerals? Well, because just as the chords have a particular placement within the scale, so too do the corresponding chord scales.

Think about it this way: the "ii" chord in the key of D major is "E minor 7." Now ask yourself, "What is the mode that is built off the 2nd scale degree in the key of D major?" The answer is "E dorian." You can see the obvious relationship between "ii" (the chord) and "2" (the scale degree), so now we're going one step further and asking "What is the mode that is built upon the second scale degree?" Since E dorian is the mode that is built on the 2nd scale degree of D major, we can say that it is the chord scale that corresponds to the E minor 7 chord. It therefore follows that "A mixolydian" is the chord scale that corresponds to A7, and "D ionian" (or D major) corresponds to the Dmaj7 chord.

Modes and chord scales 4

Harmonic analysis is the language of jazz musicians, composers, arrangers, orchestrators, and educators. Explore these concepts to gain a better understanding of these terms and the music that you're playing!

Probably the most common question I get regarding theory comes from students who want to understand modes and chord scales. This information is very important to jazz players because of the nature of improvisation, a central aspect of jazz playing. Most beginner (and even intermediate and advanced) jazz players are accustomed to asking themselves "What scale or scales can I play over these chords?" Other musicians, such as classical players, arrangers, composers, and orchestrators, want to make sense of what they are playing, how the music was constructed, or what a composer was thinking. It is also must-know information if you enjoy breaking down and analyzing music to better understand how it was constructed or if you're looking for ideas as to how to write music.

In this article we're going to discuss the modes of the major scale and focus on identifying each mode. This is a crucial first step to understanding chord scales and being able to make sense of modal language and terminology. Let's jump in.

Below is a G major scale. We are going to call each individual note of the scale a "degree of the scale" and label them 1, 2, 3, etc., (i.e., scale degree 1, scale degree 2, scale degree 3, etc.) in their order of appearance when playing up the scale. So scale degree 1 is 'G,' scale degree 4 is 'C,' scale degree 7 is 'F#,' etc.
Modes and Chord Scales 1

Now, what if we play this same scale again, but rather than start on 'G,' what if we started on 'A'? We are not going to change any of the notes, only the order of the notes, meaning we are going to use all of the same notes found in the G major scale, but simply play those notes by starting on an 'A.' We are going to treat 'A' as the root of this new scale. What would this new scale (below) be called?

Modes and Chord Scales 2

Notice that the scale above uses all of the same notes from G major, but treats 'A' as the root of the scale. We have just built a new scale on the 2nd degree ('A') of a major scale (G major scale). This new scale is referred to as the dorian scale, or dorian mode. We can build a scale on each degree of the major scale and the resulting mode will be as follows:

Starting on the 1st scale degree = ionian (this is the same as the major scale itself);

Starting on the 2nd scale degree = dorian (a minor mode);

Starting on the 3rd scale degree = phrygian (a minor mode);

Starting on the 4th scale degree = lydian (a major mode);

Starting on the 5th scale degree = mixolydian (a major, or dominant, mode);

Starting on the 6th scale degree = aeolian (a minor mode, and this is the same as the natural minor scale);

Starting on the 7th scale degree = locrian (a minor mode).

It is important to practice this information in order to get more familiar with it. Here are some practice suggestions:

  1. Write out all the modes in 4-6 different keys;
  2. Practice playing through one particular mode in all 12 keys (i.e., dorian mode in all 12 keys);
  3. Practice playing through all 7 modes in one particular key (i.e., ionian, dorian, phrygian, etc., all in the key of F major).

In Part 2, we'll discuss how to apply this information to a set of chord changes and discuss the relationship between modes and chord scales.

In this article we'll be talking about some improvisation tips to help improve your soloing using the jazz standard "On Green Dolphin Street" as our example. Of course, these improvisation tips can be used and applied to any of the jazz standards that you might be studying in your practice sessions. Specifically, we'll be talking about two concepts: chromatic neighbor tones and common tones.

The chord changes in the first 8 measures of "Green Dolphin Street" are as follows:

Green Dolphin Street 1

Chromatic Neighbor Tones

A great idea to help generate improvisation ideas is to first learn the chord tones and then explore the upper and lower chromatic neighbor tones of each chord tone. Let's make sure we understand all of these terms. The chord tones are the root, 3rd, 5th, and 7th of each chord. The chromatic neighbor tones are the notes which fall a half-step above and a half-step below each chord tone. Let's find the chord tones and chromatic neighbor tones for the first chord of Green Dolphin Street, C major 7.

Green Dolphin Street 2

Now, let's take a look at a couple exercises that get you using chromatic neighbor tones.

Exercise 1: With your right hand, play the chord tone, the lower chromatic neighbor tone, and then back to the chord tone. With your left hand, play the chord in root position.

Green Dolphin Street 3

Exercise 2: With your right hand, play the chord tone, the upper chromatic neighbor tone, and then back to the chord tone. With your left hand, play the chord in root position.

Green Dolphin Street 4

These are great exercises to get you playing through the chord changes and identifying chord tones and chromatic neighbors. Now start mixing it up and taking that first step towards turning these exercises into real music.

Green Dolphin Street 5

Common Tones

Finding common tones among various chords is another excellent exercise for building solo lines. Common tones simply refer to tones which two or more chords have in common, whether they be chord tones or upper extensions (9ths, 11ths, and 13ths). For example, the first two chords of Green Dolphin Street are C major 7 and C minor 7. Which tones do those two chords have in common?

Green Dolphin Street 6

By finding these common tones you can begin building solo lines and linking notes together across chord changes. Let's start with these two chords - C major 7, and C minor 7. We know that the tones which are common to these two chords are: C, D, F, G, and A. So we'll start with 'G,' the 5th of both chords. We'll use 'G' as the central tone for our solo over these two measures, building a solo using 'G' (the common tone) and some upper or lower chromatic neighbor tones. Here's an example:

Green Dolphin Street 7

Incorporate this study of chord tones, chromatic neighbor tones, and common tones into your practice. Try building a few short simple solos (i.e., 2-4 measures at a time) using these ideas.


In this article we'll take a look at some advanced pentatonics concepts, first examining how pentatonic scales are derived and then looking at a very common left hand comping device that uses the minor pentatonic scale. This left hand comping structure is an advanced jazz sound that uses the tones of the minor pentatonic scale to create quartal voicings (more on that below).

What Are Pentatonics?

Let's first understand what the word pentatonic means. The word penta means "five" and tonic means "tone." So the word "pentatonic" literally means "five tones." And that's exactly what a pentatonic scale is - a five tone scale. But which five tones?

Major and Minor Pentatonic Scales

Just as every major scale has a relative minor scale that shares the same tones (because they share the same key signature), every major pentatonic scale has an equivalent minor pentatonic scale which uses the same tones.

The major pentatonic scale uses five notes from the major scale - the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, and 6th scale degrees. So, if we take an Eb major scale and extract only these 5 scale degrees, we will get an Eb major pentatonic scale.

Advanced Pentatonics 1

Now consider the relative minor of Eb major - the minor key which shares the same key signature as Eb major. The answer of course is C minor. Eb major and C minor are relatives because they share the same key signature, and therefore the same notes in their respective scales. But in order to create a minor pentatonic scale, we use only the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 7th scale degrees. Taking these tones from a C minor scale gives us the notes C, Eb, F, G, and Bb. Notice any similarities? They're the same notes as those used in the Eb major pentatonic scale. So the Eb major pentatonic scale and the C minor pentatonic scale use the same tones.

Advanced Pentatonics 2

Left Hand Comping Ideas

The left hand comping idea we're going to look at is referred to as a quartal voicing (quartal, meaning "4ths") and can be constructed using notes from the minor pentatonic scale. Let's first take a root position C minor 7 chord:

Advanced Pentatonics 3Using only the notes from a C minor pentatonic scale we can create two quartal structures for Cm7. By starting on the 'F' and stacking 4ths ('Bb' and 'Eb') and then moving that structure up a whole step and stacking 4ths starting on 'G' ('C' and 'F').

Advanced Pentatonics 4

To really bring this sound to the advanced pentatonics jazz level, practice playing the root and 5th of the chord (C and G) and then playing the quartal voicings, all with your left hand:

Advanced Pentatonics 5

The jazz pianist McCoy Tyner, among others, popularized some of these left hand quartal comping voicings. Check out his tune "Passion Dance" to hear it used extensively, as well as on tunes such as "Impressions" and "So What."

The phrase "rhythm changes" refers to songs that use the same chord changes as Gershwin's famous Broadway hit "I Got Rhythm." In a previous article we discussed some tips for approaching this well-known chord progression, including some hints for memorizing the form, adding some chords on the bridge, and doing some chord substitution on the 'A' section. In this article, we'll look at some tips that are specific to rhythm changes improvisation, discussing licks, scales, and some important listening examples that you should check out.

Rhythm changes tip #1: Try some tritone substitution on the bridge.

The original bridge (shown below in the key of Bb) is a series of dominant chords that resolve down a 5th. Measure 1 of the bridge starts with a D7 chord, which resolves to G7, then C7, then F7, which resolves to the Bb major chord that starts the final 'A' section.

Rhythm Changes Pt II(1)

Using tritone substitutions for any or all of the dominant chords on the bridge can give us a lot of different combinations and options. For example, we can tritone sub all of the chords...

Rhythm Changes Pt II(2)

...Or some of the chords...

Rhythm Changes Pt II(3)

Subbing out some of these chords for other chords will result in some new comping options even if the bass player continues to play the original chord. How is that so? Because even if you play a B7 chord (last two bars of the bridge) and the bass player plays an 'F' (for the original F7 chord), those two chords still possess a functional relationship. The chord tones of B7 (B, D#, F#, A) will sound as the #11, 7th, b9, and 3rd over the bass player's 'F.'

Rhythm changes tip #2: Learn the "lydian dominant" scale and practice improvising with it.

The lydian dominant scale is not a naturally-occurring mode, but rather a combination of the lydian and mixolydian modes. Jazz players use this scale a lot to solo over dominant chords, which makes it a very useful scale to know for improvising over the chords of the bridge. The lydian dominant scale combines the #4 of the lydian mode with the b7 of the mixolydian mode.

Rhythm Changes Pt II(4)

A good practice tip would be to first learn the D, G, C, and F lydian dominant scales and practice playing them over the chords of the bridge. Then, learn the Ab, Db, F#, and B lydian dominant scales, which represent the tritone substitutions of the chords above.

Rhythm changes tip #3: Check out some essential listening - and start transcribing some licks!

Transcribing scares some students, but it is probably one of the absolute best things you can do to quickly gain confidence, understanding, and material for improvisation. And it's not difficult, just a little unfamiliar. Start simple and start small. I'm suggesting that you begin by listening to this recording of "Oleo" (a classic rhythm changes tune) featuring Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins (two of the heaviest of jazz heavyweights). Notice how simple Miles Davis keeps his solo. Notice how much space Sonny Rollins leaves between his phrases at the start of his solo. Now, find one little phrase or lick that you like and start by transcribing that. Work in small little phrases and if you feel like you're ready, try piecing together a whole solo. Then practice playing the solo in time with the recording. Here's a little lick from Miles Davis to help get you started (found at the 0:40 mark - a nice lick that works over the Bb - G7 - Cm7 - F7, or I-VI-ii-V, chord sequence).


Rhythm Changes Pt II(5)



A student wrote in asking about pentatonic scale piano exercises while using quartal voicings at the piano. Here's a list of lesson suggestions...

The first lesson to start with is our Live-to-Library Advanced Pentatonics lesson because this lesson shows you how to apply quartal voicings, along with pentatonic scale piano licks to a blues progression. This is an advanced lesson, but even students with a year or two of piano training can get a lot of useful information from this lesson to make their playing sound more advanced.

1) Advanced Pentatonics and Quartals (Live to Library)
2) Advanced Pentatonics Vol. 2 (Scale Freedom) (Live to Library)
3) Quartals & Pentatonic Improvisation
4) Advanced Pentatonics

Lessons #1 and #2 are designed to work together and they will give you a good overview of how to actually use quartals in your playing.

Next, the Quartals and Pentatonic Improvisation lesson will give you a song to apply these quartals. This lesson will give you a handy quartal chart to use along with some good licks.

Finally the Advanced Pentatonics lesson is more about soloing and exercises. You COULD start this lesson first and play just ONE example (A through G) at some point during your practice routine. In other words, you don't need to play all examples in a row, or even in the same practice session.

Try picking out any of the exercises (A through G) from Advanced Pentatonics and just sprinkle them into your practice session. I would suggest starting with example A, put the metronome between 70-80 BPM and play the example 5-10 times. If you have time, try adding example B next then move between A and B (all while playing with the metronome on)

In my Beginner Jazz & Blues Improvisation course, I broke down how to improvise at the piano into 8 lessons that any pianist who wants to learn the craft of improvisation must master.

In this article I want to share with you steps that I use with students who are just starting out improvising.

If you're an advanced player, you might think this lesson is not for you...but it is. Even though the concepts below are simple in nature, they carry a big punch when it comes to learning new improvisational techniques.

Let's get started...

Step 1 - Accompaniment

As a pianist, accompaniment patterns are our bread-and-butter. They are a MUST and we must know how to create many different types of accompaniments. This holds true for both solo and group playing.

Step 1 in my piano improvisation course gives you a simple accompaniment pattern.

"Do I need to use this simple pattern or can I use something more complicated?" you might ask.

The answer is: you can use ANY bass line or chord pattern you want, as long as you can play it steady and with good time. This is why we use this simple bass line to start. It is simple to play and easy to remember.

Piano improvisation course step 1

The goal in step 1 is to play this bass line steady, not too heavy, and without hesitation.

Step 2 - Rhythm

After learning an accompaniment pattern, I've seen a lot of teachers jump right into presenting students with a scale. I've found this to be the wrong approach after hundreds of one-on-one lessons with students of different ages and skill levels.

I found when presented with the notes of a scale, students are still wondering WHAT to do with those notes. Often they try playing the scale up and down but have difficulty playing hands together.

Often I'll hear my adults students bemoan "I can't play hands together!"

Of course this is not true at all, and using this approach I quickly get them to see why.

Rhythm is the key because all notes of an improvised line are attached to SOME rhythm, right?

So, if we learn more rhythms, it will help us to have more ideas to apply to our improvisations.

Learn the simple rhythm below:

piano improvisation course

Step 3 - Notes (the scale)

Now we introduce the notes of the scale. Below are the first 4 notes of the C blues scale. Again, simple to learn, and easy to memorize.

Of course this can be any scale you want. If you are an advanced pianist, this might be a pentatonic scale, altered scale or some other scale. The main takeaway is that we first start with rhythm, THEN introduce our scale. Again, if you're an advanced player, make the rhythm you choose something that is challenging for you to play.

Learn the notes of this scale with the proper fingering and just play the notes up and down for right now without worrying about the rhythm.

improvise piano

Step 4 - Putting it all together

So here's the formula:


A lick is a short phrase we use for improvisation. You'll notice that the rhythm below is exactly the same rhythm I showed you in step 2.

The notes are the same as the notes in step 3.

The ONLY change is that instead of stopping at the note 'G' in the right hand, we come back down to Eb.


Simple. We had more 'attacks' in the rhythm then we had notes. the rhythm has 6 attacks. The scale was only 4 notes. This meant we needed to play 2 more notes.

Sure, we could have repeated the 'G' 2 more times, but that repeated note might sound boring. So, I just came back down the scale.

jazz piano improvisation