Enclosures for Improvisation – Part One

A while back someone asked me about enclosures and how to practice them for improvisation. I had to first identify what was meant by “enclosures”.  I realized that I’ve always referred to this technique as “encircling”.

What I would do in a solo was to determine my “target notes” and define ways to indirectly and melodiously reach that note.

In order to really be successful at doing this, one’s technique has to be pretty solid. I’ve included a small document of some basic exercises over major and minor scales and triads to get you going.

Often, the notes that fall on the strong parts of the beat will be non-chordal tones that may or may not exist in the key. This is totally fine.

As long as your goal (or target note) is clear and the logic of your melody is solid, all notes will sound consonant / consistent with the chord.

In the next part of this series, I will give specific examples and exercises on how this technique is used in jazz improvisation.

Happy Practicing!

Read it here!

Chasin’ The Trane – Part 3 Bonus!

Here’s another way one can work with “Coltrane Changes”.

The dominant chord is one of the most flexible chords one can deal with. If you checked out the post “Playing over a Dom. 7th Chord”, you know what I mean.

In the attached PDF I have a handful of exercises on “Coltrane Changes” where every dominant 7th chord is altered (b9, #9). The exercises/patterns are more linear than vertical. Check them out!

As a bonus, I’ve included “Improv Etudes” for Alto and Tenor Saxes as an example of how you can integrate some of the techniques.

More info on Patreon!

Chasin’ The ‘Trane – Part 2 on Patreon!

This month I’ve got a whole 16-page PDF for you!

For those of you that are familiar with John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” and his other tunes based on similar harmonies, here I have an option you can try out in order to flavor up your solos by using some “alternate changes” over the Giant Steps pattern.

In these exercises, the Dominant chords are substituted by their related minor chord.

For example:

The original changes:

BMaj7 D7 GMaj7 Bb7 EbMaj7 F#7 BMaj7

The “alternate” changes:

BMaj7 Am7 GMaj7 Fm7 EbMaj7 C#m7 BMaj7

You’ll notice that the root of the chords move in whole-tone steps downwards.

Practice a few of the patterns in the booklet and try them over a slower version of a Giant Steps play-along.

Play-alongs for Giant Steps in various tempi you’ll find at PlayJazzNow.com .

Have fun!

Go to the original article and PDF on Patreon!

Try this “Minimalist” Exercise to improve your Improvisation

All improvisers are looking for new licks and/or techniques to improve our soloing. As saxophonists, too often are we seduced to licks with many notes with sometimes some quite complicated harmonic structures. I got a little weary of that I started to look for ways to improve my use of melody in improvisation and not just be able to rip off a myriad of notes.

A few years back I did a Jazz Workshop and a concert at the College of Music in Nuremberg, Germany. A diverse group of students attended the workshop. There were not only saxophonists, but guitarists, violinists, pianist, bassists, etc. attending.

The workshop as presented under the title of “A Minimalist Approach to Improvisation”. This was a good title for it because that was the ideas I was working on at the time. If you caught my previous post “Playing over a Dominant 7th Chord“, you may be able to get a glimpse of that. It was during my time with the group “The Bridge” where I had to look for other ways to solo, mainly because we played most things in odd meters and polyrhythms.

The exercise I presented to the class followed as so; we played the changes to the tune “Lady Bird” by Tadd Dameron. Then, I instructed the students to use a single rhythmic motive, consisting of just two notes, and they were to try to continue to use this motive throughout the entire chorus. One can (and must) make whatever harmonic changes you need to fit the chords, but you need to keep the motive!

Check out the rest of the post on Patreon!

Playing over a Dominant 7th Chord

Hello Patrons!

With this article / sound file / pdfs, I’d like to discuss and demonstrate some of the thinking and techniques I use when I’m faced with having to solo over a dominant 7th chord for an extended solo.

In college, we often called the dominant 7th chord the “dumb chord”. Why? Frankly, it’s easier to play an interesting solo when you have a few chord changes instead of just one. You just have to get through the changes and your melodies (almost) create themselves.But this is exactly the challenge with a single chord.

How do you be creative with such a limited harmonic structure?

Well, that is exactly what we need to realize. The chord does not have a limited harmonic structure. It is actually ourselves that may have a limited harmonic understanding of the chord at hand.

Sure, pianist and guitarist have the luxury of playing an extension of the chord or another chord completely in order to support the melodic line they are playing. We single-note players will have to be clearer about what harmonic structure we are spelling out in our improvisations.

First of all, as I just said, dominant 7th chords are not limited. Depending on the genre you’re improvising in, the mood of the music, your harmonic understanding, etc. will determine how much room you have harmonically in order to create an interesting solo.

On dom. 7th chords you can use a Blues scale, a Diminished scale, a whole-tone scale, various Pentatonic scales, Diminished-Whole Tone scale or you can treat is a dom.7th sus4 chord.

One of the things I like to do is to create “implied chord progressions” to the chord. What I mean here is that I may create another set of changes to play over that dominant 7th chord.

The fact is: as long as your melodic lines follow logic harmonically, and resolves properly, you can play whatever you want! That is the real “secret” to “out” playing.

The audio example I chose is from a recording I did many years ago with a band. The tune was called “Middleman”, composed by saxophonist Michael Green. A link to the recording is provided at the end of this post.

The band played a type of odd-meter avant-garde funk, “M-Base” type of thing. I transcribed the beginning of my solo in order to display a little of my approach to playing over a single “F7” chord.

The solo is transcribed in 4/4 meter although it may not sound like that. In truth, the drummer and bassist are really playing a figure alternating between 9/8 and 7/8, while the guitarist is playing an overlapping figure in 6/4. Sounds complicated but the effect was interesting and provided for some great adventures.

I’ve made some notes of the chord changes I was kind of thinking of as I often experimented with it. The transcription is provided in Eb Alto and Bb tenor.


Check out the full, original recording at getyourmusic.com


Go to Patreon to get the Audio file and PDF!

The Importance of Composing in Improvisation

Hello, Patrons!

The topic of this audio is a subject I’ve spoken about with my peers as well as my students over the years. And that is the subject of composing.

You see, throughout musical history, the musician / performer was not only expected to be versed in various songs, but it was also expected that he/she would present new songs. Either for the enjoyment of the public or of the royal courts.

Royalty not only wanted to be entertained but they wanted to the symbol of culture in their respective kingdoms. Thus, the appearance of the court composer. This was usually a man hired to compose music to the King’s liking.

In days gone by, many European classical musicians composed music as well.

Today, most classically trained musicians don’t compose their own music nor are they expected to.

Today, jazz musicians don not only improvise but are also expected to at least be able to compose a simple blues. Many jazz musicians do a lot more than that.

Many jazz musicians have even become film and television composers as well as arrangers in the pop music world.

I’ve personally stressed on my improvising students the importance of being able to compose (at least) a blues tune. Understanding how to form a melody and develop it is key to improvisation.

The PDFs available at my Patreon page explain a very simple method as to how you can compose many Blues themes with very little material.

Go to Patreon now for the audio and PDF files!

Improv Etudes

Check out the power of “Improv Etudes”. Start working on your improvisational goals with FOCUS!