Hey Jazz Guy,
I’ve got all my scales down pretty good, but
I’m still having trouble making all the changes.
Can you give me some advice on how to put it
all together? —Fragmented in Fresno
One of the most difficult parts of improvising
is putting it all together: turning scales
into great sounding lines. However, there
are some concepts that work every time. In
the following examples, we examine the first
eight bars of the classic jazz standard “Stella
by Starlight.” In Ex. 1, we start with the 3rd of
the chord, and play an E Locrian scale with a
natural 9 (a derivative of G melodic minor).
Every strong beat is a chord tone. For A7b9,
we move to the 3rd of the chord by a halfstep
and play the altered scale. On Cmin7 in
the 3rd bar [Ex. 2], playing an Eb major scale
line gives a diatonic sound. When the chord
changes to F7, we again target the 3rd. Ex. 3
uses a sequence, involving the 3rds of Fm7
and Bb7. In the final example, Ex. 4, we are
using a Bb major pentatonic on the Ebmaj7
chord, bringing out the 3rd of the chord by
repeating the note. The line finishes with
another melodic minor mode, the Lydian
b7 scale in Ab, emphasizing the b7. Building
your solos around the chord tones, especially
3rds and 7ths, and connecting those
tones smoothly, is a key concept in creating
lines. Sequences and repetition serve to
highlight important notes. These techniques
will go a long way toward helping you connect
all those scales you’ve been practicing.
In this lesson, we focused on inside sounds.
Next time we will put it all together in an
outside way, and then formerly fragmented
will become ferociously fantastic.
Jake Hertzog is the jazz ambassador to the
non-jazz world. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Jake’s latest release is