Jazz Notes

Opera Minora

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Here is a series of tutorial papers touching on advanced topics in piano voicing and improvisation. Their overall purpose is to help bridge the gap between music theory and practice. The papers are independent and self-contained and are best used  to supplement other teaching materials. Because the individual topics are isolated, rather than elements of a graded set, they should not be considered as a substitute for a comprehensive or complete jazz method. 

Jazz students and performers who can read music proficiently and have a good understanding of harmony may find them useful. Several of the notes take examples from recorded performances by world class musicians.

Opera Minora, Volume 1


No. 1: Using Whole Tone Scales in Improvisation

This note explains some properties of whole tone scales which simplify their use in major and minor keys. The symmetry of whole tone scales makes the spontaneous creation of repeated motifs especially easy.

Example: Whole Tone Passage Played Over ii-V-I Progression 


No.2: Side-slipping in Improvisation

Side-slipping is a term which refers to an unexpected upward or downward semi-tone shift of a harmonic sequence, a lead voice, or both. It is rather uncommon in improvisation, but does provide a sudden increase in tension which wants to resolve from this neighbor key to the original.  This note provides examples of side-slipping in the lead voice, in the underlying harmony and as chord substitution.

Example: Side-slipping Lead Voice Over Conventional Harmony


No.3: Diminished Scales in Improvisation

Diminished scales have been a subject of great interest to jazz musicians for decades. Their explicit use is rather uncommon, but some spectacular examples can be found in recorded literature. In the improvised solos of Hank Mobley, for example, are passages which would be difficult to analyze without the concept of diminished scales. Some of them are included in this note.

Example: Diminished Scale Passage Over ii-V-I Progression


No.4: Piano Voicings, #1

Jazz piano voicing is one of the most complex and difficult aspects of the art. There are as many variations as there are performers, and it's difficult or impossible to explain them all with a single theory. This first note on the subject attempts to illustrate some of the mechanics of rootless voicings and their application to solos and improvisation.

Example: Improvisation Over Rootless Voicings


No.5: Using 'Avoid' Notes in Improvisation

So-called 'avoid' notes provide the creative musician with opportunities to break tentative rules and expand the scope of the art. Needless to say, the notion that certain notes should be avoided in certain situations should never be considered a hard rule. It has been said that Charlie Parker developed some of his innovative style by finding ways to incorporate any note into melodic passages involving any chord. Classical literature also contains many counter-examples to the idea of avoid notes.

In this paper the concept is discussed and examples of the use of avoid notes are given from both classical works and jazz performances. Some guidelines are suggested for ways to add full control over such notes in constructing melodic passages.

Example: Use of Avoid Notes