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"Good improvisation communicates harmonic progression melodically. Effective melodies manipulate harmonic content through the use of guide tones and preparatory gravity notes, masterfully woven in systematic tension, release, and transparent harmonic definition."
March 10, 2011 | The 'ii V7 I' Chord Progression Pt. 3 with Don Julin
This week we get a third installment on the topic of the 'ii V7 I' chord progression from staff writer, Don Julin. You'll want to check this the previous links to the first two articles as well as some related material on the website. Don weighs in, "I feel that many players try to play jazz without a solid understanding of what key they are in at any given moment. They seem to know many jazz or theory terms (tritone sub, altered dominant, whole tone scale, etc) without the ability to play a song that changes keys."
He takes jazz theory out of the lab and gives us some real world context in the video below. Enjoy!
The 'ii V7 I' Chord Progression Pt. 3: Playing "Inside" Don Julin
There are many elements to jazz that make it attractive to musicians and listeners alike. The slinky timing that can be called swing, groove, in the pocket, etc., the spontaneous interaction of the musicians creating melodies and accompaniment, the chromatic quality of music that frequently changes keys, and of course the jaw-dropping virtuoso chops of some jazz players. In this column I would like to address the simple concept of tonal centers or keys.
You may know about altered notes, (b5, b9, #11, etc.) and Altered Scales, (whole tone scales, modes, diminished scales) but struggle with the basic understanding of how to play music when the keys are changing at a fairly rapid pace. The first step is to understand what key you are in at any given time. Let's take a look at a common chord progression in two keys.
Commonly referred to as a 'ii V7 I', this progression is in the key of G major because all of the notes that make up these chords come from the G major scale. The G major scale is made up of the notes G,A,B,C,D,E,F#,G. Notice how Am7 (A,C,E,G) contains the 2nd, 4th, 6th, and 8th notes in the scale. D7 (D,F#,A,C) contains the 5th, 7th, 2nd, and 4th notes in the scale. Gmaj7 (G,B,D,F#) contains the 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 7th notes in the scale.
This one is a 'ii V7' in the key of Bb major due to the fact that all of the notes that make up these chords come from the Bb major scale. The Bb major scale is made up of the notes Bb, C, D, Eb, F, G, A, Bb. Notice how Cm7 (C, Eb, G, Bb) contains the 2nd, 4th, 6th, and 8th notes in the scale. F7 (F, A, C, Eb) contains the 5th, 7th, 2nd, and 4th notes in the scale.
Many of the really "cool" or "blue" notes are outside of the key, but before we can effectively use them, we need to be able to play inside. Improvising effectively in music that modulates through a series of keys requires understanding all 12 keys, both intellectually and physically. I believe in position playing or the ability to stay in one position while changing keys. The other ingredient is melody. In general, if you sing a melody or at least hear it in your head, it will sound good. If our melody is based from a finger pattern or some mathematical formula we run the risk of it sounding like an academic exercise, not a melody. After we can create melodies inside the scales we can begin to study the art of playing chord tones, blue notes, approach notes, altered notes, and all the notes that give jazz it's distinctive sound. So the basic rule here is "Learn to color inside the lines first".