Junior High Band
Study Guides

Jazz Improvisation

Download a Microsoft Word version HERE.

  1. The best way to learn jazz style, language, articulation, and effects is listening and imitating the jazz greats
  2. Generally, a jazz solo is made of mostly eighth notes with occasional eighth-note triplets and quarter notes on the off beat.
  3. Periodicity is the periodic use of rests to give the soloist time to think and the audience time to breathe.
  4. Playing the changes means playing the correct chord tones as the chords change. It also can mean playing the notes that change from scale to scale.
    Example: When playing in F7 (F G A Bb C D Eb) and moving to Bb7 (Bb C D Eb F G Ab) emphasize the A in the F scale and the Ab in the Bb scale. All the other notes are the same in both scales.
  5. Playing pick-up notes is a good way to add credibility and authority to a solo.
  6. Use rhythmic and melodic repetition to tie a solo together.
  7. Blues tunes typically land heavily on the minor seventh in the 4th measure.
  8. Melodic direction (playing the first phrase downward and the second phrase upward, or vice versa) can make a solo more musical and interesting.
  9. Avoid emphasizing the fourth scale degree; use it only as a passing tone or neighbor tone. (Passing tones are non-chord tones played between chord tones, i.e., in Bb7 play D Eb F where D and F are longer than Eb. Neighbor tones are non-chord tones that are above or below chord tones, i.e., in Bb7 play F Eb F where F is longer than Eb.)
  10. The thirds and sevenths of chords are called guide tones.
  11. Guide tones help both the listener and player establish the harmonic sense of the tune.
  12. Guide tone rules:
    1. Movement between guide tones should be either by half or whole step. (Occasionally there will be places where you need to use a chord tone other than a third or seventh to keep the movement of the line within a step or half step.)
    2. Thirds of one chord often become the seventh (sometimes altered) of the next chord.
    3. Sevenths resolve to thirds.
    4. Connect guide tones to other chord members using passing tones.
    5. When a continuous guide tone line runs out, start over on the third of seventh of the next chord.
  13. Guide tones act as an outline for the jazz musician to follow.
  14. Using guide tones gives a solo direction and cohesiveness.
  15. A turnaround is a harmonic progression that modulates to the dominant key at the first ending of a repeated section.
  16. Turnarounds are used to strengthen the pull back to the home key.
  17. Turnarounds always begin with a tonic or a tonic substitute harmony.
  18. The Dorian mode (major with a lowered third and lowered seventh) is used to improvise over any minor- minor seventh chord.
  19. The Mixolydian mode (major with a lowered seventh) is used to improvise over dominant seventh (Major-minor seventh) chords.
  20. The bebop scale is a nine-note scale that contains both the major and minor sevenths.
    Example: C D E F G A Bb B C
  21. The bebop scale is played over Dominant seventh chords (Mm7). It descends one octave beginning on the root, fifth, third or minor seventh of the chord.
  22. Major chords and scales are represented as follows: C Major = C or CM or C_
  23. Minor chords and scales are represented as follows: C minor = Cm or C-
  24. Diminished chords and scales are represented as follows: C diminished = Cdim or C°
  25. Seventh chords and represented by adding a 7 to the chord symbol. The 7 represents the lowered seventh: C7 = C E G Bb
  26. Chords may be extended by adding natural or altered ninths, elevenths, or thirteenths.
  27. Extended chords are represented by adding the number of the added note to the chord symbol.
    Example: C9 = C E G Bb D
  28. Each higher extension includes the lower extensions.
    Example: C11 includes the lowered seventh and the ninth (C E G Bb D F)
  29. Minor seventh chords are altered only be flatting the fifth but may be extended by adding the ninth, eleventh, of thirteenth.
  30. Dominant seventh chords are susceptible to many changes: fifths and ninths may occur in natural, raised, or lowered forms; elevenths may be natural or raised; and thirteenths may be natural or lowered.

Video Disclaimer

The attached videos are not perfect examples of how each tune should be played. They are recordings of junior high students, some of whom have had their instruments for only a few months. Also, they are not professional recordings. They were taken by band parents using home equipment and naturally focusing on their own children.

I include them for two reasons: (1) To give you an idea of what the arrangements are like, and (2) To illustrate the kind of performance you can expect from your junior high students.