• Elements Of Jazz Improvisation: Scales, Arpeggios, And Guide Tones

    in Piano

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    In today’s lesson, we’re focusing on scales, arpeggios, and guide tones.

    Believe it or not, most of what you hear jazz greats do can be broken down into scales, arpeggios, and guide tones.

    So, if you’re studying jazz improvisation and are looking for improvisational elements you need to take your improvisation to another level, search no further.

    Let’s get our hands on these improvisational elements and you’ll be good to go.

    “So You Want To Improvise?”

    A lot of students in the past have asked me: “Dr. Pokey, What does it take to improvise?”

    The concept of improvisation is entirely different from the classical culture of music performance; where the composition is written before performance and is performed as written.

    In improvisation, you don’t compose before performance. Rather, composition is spontaneously done during performance.

    So, if you’re willing to improvise and do it effortlessly, then you must learn and master the melodic elements of improvisation.

    Although there may be more melodic elements of improvisation, we’ll be covering the top three elements in this lesson and on the top of the list is scales and this is because it’s practically impossible to improvise without scales.

    So, let’s take a look at the scale element.

    The Scale Element

    As a jazz improviser, one of your greatest assets should be scales. A broad understanding of chords and their compatible scales is priceless.

    For the C major seventh chord:

    …the following scales are compatible:

    The C natural major scale:

    Th C Lydian scale:

    The C major bebop scale:

    The C major pentatonic scale:

    The D major pentatonic scale:

    The G major pentatonic scale:

    When these scales are applied in improvisation and are creatively combined using tons of rhythmic varieties, the outcome is mind-blowing.

    While there’s nothing wrong with improvising with the C natural major scale:

    …over the C major seventh chord:

    Having a variety of other compatible scales gives you options and broadens your spectrum.

    The Arpeggio Element

    The Guide Tone Element

    Final Words

    Most improvisational figures like licks, runs, etc., can be broken down to the three elements we covered in this blog:



    Guide tones

    In a subsequent lesson, we’ll take a closer look at each of these elements with practical examples as well. Meanwhile, if you have questions, comments, suggestions, and more, feel free to use the comment section.

    All the best.

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    Onyemachi "Onye" Chuku (aka - "Dr. Pokey") is a Nigerian musicologist, pianist, and author. Inspired by his role model (Jermaine Griggs) who has become his mentor, what he started off as teaching musicians in his Aba-Nigeria neighborhood in April 2005 eventually morphed into an international career that has helped hundreds of thousands of musicians all around the world. Onye lives in Dubai and is currently the Head of Education at HearandPlay Music Group and the music consultant of the Gospel Music Training Center, all in California, USA.

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The "Official Guide To Piano Playing." Click here for more information.


    { 4 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Carolyn

    Yes I am ready. Thanks where is the information?


    2 Yvette

    I concur Carolyn. Where’s the info?


    3 Felix

    We are waiting. Post it


    4 stevetunez

    What is licks, runs and riffs?


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