Hey Jazz Guy,
How can I string together lines and arpeggios
in a way that sounds like jazz? — Not
Connected in Nashville
Dear Not Connected,
When learning any language, we usually
focus first on the nouns and verbs—
the basic words we need to express an idea.
Next, our attention turns to the connecting
words: adjectives and prepositions.
The same holds true in the language of
jazz. Arpeggios and scales are the nouns
and the verbs, but the subtly and expressivity
comes from the connections between
words. In jazz, there are a few simple concepts
that when added to your vocabulary
will allow your musical words to really
The first major connection concept is the
art of approach notes. One note, for example
C [Ex. 1], can be approached by a note from
a half-step or whole-step above or below.
If we allow ourselves two approach notes,
the possibilities multiply, as in Examples
2, 3, and 4, where we use combinations
of half-steps and whole-steps from above
and below. Just applying this concept to a
simple 7th chord arpeggio in Ex. 5 gives
us a more interesting line than by simply
playing chord tones. It is important to
remember that we are not playing outside
the chord, we are only accenting the chord tones with approach notes from above and
below. We see these effects again in the
next line [Ex. 6], where many different
approach notes are used to surround the
chord tones. Notice also that more often
than not, the chord tones are placed on
strong beats with the approach notes on
the weaker beats.
The second concept that is important
in the jazz lexicon is the concept of bebop
scales. Simply put, bebop scales are a way
of adding passing tones into an existing
scale. If we look at a G major scale [Ex. 7],
we see that it has seven notes. The bebop
scale in Ex. 8 adds a passing tone between
the 6th and 7th degrees. The effect is to
both introduce an out-of-key note and to
create an eight-note scale out of a sevennote
scale. There is a deep science to bebop
scales—and certain types fit better with particular
chords—but the underlying principal
is the same. Any naturally occurring
whole-step in the scale can, in theory, be
replaced with two half-steps to create a bebop scale. If we examine the next few
examples, Ex. 9 places a note between the
5th and 6th degrees, and Ex. 10 between
the 2nd and 3rd degrees.
Approach notes and bebop scales cover
a lot of ground when it comes to connecting
scales and arpeggios. If we apply these
ideas to some chord changes, the possibilities
are nearly endless. In Ex. 11 we use a
bebop scale and diatonic approach notes.
Throwing a bebop scale over a minor chord
[Ex. 12] can add a nice texture to the minor
sound. Playing these ideas over our usual
I-VI-IIm-V progression [Ex. 13] gives us
a combination of chord tones, approach
notes, and chromaticism derived from
the bebop scale.
To practice these concepts, it helps to
work out the lines slowly and even write
them down. That way, you can visualize
where the chord tones are, how they are
approached and what passing tones are
getting added to create bebop scales.
These techniques will drastically improve
your musical vocabulary and greatly assist
you in connecting the words you know in
the jazz language. You may even become
quite the eloquent orator. Jazz hard!
Jake Hertzog is the jazz ambassador to the
non-jazz world. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Jake’s latest release is
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