Jazz Soloing - Key Center Approach

klasaine

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I tend to think in a 'key-centered' way. I'm always about where we're landing (or going) as opposed to where we are. Having said that, there are certainly times and situations where I'm thinking chord by chord.
A lot of it's rhythm section dependent. Honestly, all improvised music is a collaboration (unless it's just you playing, obviously).
As for resources, I've never found anything other than just studying other players.
As far as a tip ... really know the song/chord changes you're playing over. You want to be able to anticipate where it's all going. Great improvisors 'lead' the listener, and to some extent they also lead the rhythm section.
Whoever is soloing, at that moment, they're the band leader.
 

chris m.

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Standards have a lot of 2-5-1 progressions. Knowing lots of good 2-5-1 licks that you can use and alter is probably going to produce more classic jazz sounding lead lines than knowing that these three chords are all diatonic to the 1: i.e., in the same key center.

It’s like the difference between sticking to a single blues scale over a 1-4-5 blues vs. using classic blues turnarounds and also playing the changes.

Knowing the melody and building off it helps, too. It is a built in road map that already navigates the changes in a natural sounding way.

Another good tool is the goal note method. Let’s say the change is from a G chord to a C chord. Let’s say I decide I’m going to create a phrase that starts on the 3rd of G (aka B) and end on C, the next chord’s root. The C is my goal. I can play almost ANYthing between the B going up to the C just over an octave above- diatonic, chord arpeggios, diminished, whole tone, chromatic— and it will sound fine as long as I end on that C.
 
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twangjeff

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If we are talking about playing standards, then identifying key centers is a pretty logical first step, BUT if you aren't playing the changes it tends to sound like you're just wandering around.

From my unscientific observation, the improvisers that profess to think in key centers and are great players are usually those with incredible ears, because they HEAR the chord tones and the resolutions even if they aren't thinking about them specifically.

It seems to me that when you transcribe great players, a large percentage of notes played over a standard are chord tones plus of minus tension on the V.
 

Tele Jr

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My personal improv style and sound are largely based on the sound and target notes generated using the 7-3 resolution. I don't necessarily think of this in terms of changing key centers but more in terms of moving through the the tonal center of each chord as I move through a progression. My impression is that this is one of the keys to understanding how Charlie Parker also did it.
 

Cornelius TX

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Yes-- that seems to be the big piece advice that I need to accept (know the melody really well) 🙂.

I am also accepting that there are no shortcuts. My solos sound so much better when I hit the changes.

Thanks, all!
 

Jazzcaster21

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Knowing your arpeggios all over the fretboard, all inversions, etc. is essential. Period. Scales are good too of course and how a lot of people, including myself, first learned to improvise but, it can be a trap. Playing the changes is not just about using a specifc scale over a specific chord or set of chords, it's knowing the tension and resolution within each chord and at the same time, creating something musical as you get from one place to the other. Now I tend to think about each chord as a separate entity but I still look at key centers too.

Really, you gotta know it all because to freely improvise means being able to play whatever you want, when you want, without having to think about where you are on the fretboard. This of course comes from transcribing and playing ideas in all keys so that they become part of your muscle memory. There are no shortcuts unfortunately. Do the work, and have fun in the process.
 

Tele Jr

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I think it's important to play to the phrase and play the phrase to the resolution of the phrase. It is very much a forward looking anticipatory mental process.

The common 7-3 is the general form, but also for lead voicing within the body of the phrase I like to use what I think of as natural tension notes, and play them against the chord tones and blue notes. I like to use the 2 vs the flat 3, the 6 vs the flat 7, and also the flat 3 vs 4 note to do the proverbial enclosure routine around the 3 note when arriving on the 3 note resolution of the 7-3. Any note in the scale that is not in the chord is fair game, some seem to naturally resolve back to certain other notes for me. For functioning dominants all bets are off and altered tension comes into play, I like to mix and match the five chord blues scale with the one chord blues scale to create a kind of compound phrase, and blues it up to a fairly well there.

Agreed it is important to have a tie to the melody line phrasing of the tune, what I try to do and work on personally is incorporate the main components of the essence of the rhythmic cadence of the melody phrase even if I am substituting notes all over the place. One thing I sometimes do is go deeper and deeper into more of an abstraction of the actual melody notes with each chorus, but still try to maintain and visit the essence of the important rhythmic hooks in the melody line. Another approach is to go minimalist, leaving a lot of space but still hitting the key rhythmic hooks of the melody phrase.
 

billy logan

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Good thread!

wondering...? 7 - 3 ...?
for example (?) in Key of Bb would be playing an Ab (flat 7 note of Bb chord) leading to a G natural (3 of Eb chord) ?
I don't hear an A natural as leading to any specific new destination. Or does "7" mean an A natural chord?

Topic #B) @Tele Jr wondering... ""...the five chord blues scale..." Would that be like maybe a blues ballad e.g., in Key of Bb that would have a G chord (a VI) of some type and a C chord (a II) of some type...in addition to the I IV and the V?

If so (or even if not :)) How I try to spice up the ol' 3-chord blues:

I hint at those notes unique to the blues ballad extra chords: VI chord (key of Bb, a G chord) a B natural note, II chord (key of Bb, a C chord) E natural note...

...at the places in the verses the VI and the II would appear* IF it was a blues ballad. (which it's not)
*likely preceding the V.

I just HINT AT, like maybe just a momentary insinuating bend. Maybe under conventional note on top. If I do more than "hint at" I've left the 3-chord genre behind.

Obviously I'm not at the level where I can go full Charlie Parker on three chords, or on anything.

Topic #C) Too many #'s in music. notes, Do Re Mi, chords, Nashville system, which fret, which measure, flat note or flat chord? b7 of the temporary chord or b7 of the Key scale?
 

chris m.

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Good thread!

wondering...? 7 - 3 ...?
for example (?) in Key of Bb would be playing an Ab (flat 7 note of Bb chord) leading to a G natural (3 of Eb chord) ?
I don't hear an A natural as leading to any specific new destination. Or does "7" mean an A natural chord?

Topic #B) @Tele Jr wondering... ""...the five chord blues scale..." Would that be like maybe a blues ballad e.g., in Key of Bb that would have a G chord (a VI) of some type and a C chord (a II) of some type...in addition to the I IV and the V?

If so (or even if not :)) How I try to spice up the ol' 3-chord blues:

I hint at those notes unique to the blues ballad extra chords: VI chord (key of Bb, a G chord) a B natural note, II chord (key of Bb, a C chord) E natural note...

...at the places in the verses the VI and the II would appear* IF it was a blues ballad. (which it's not)
*likely preceding the V.

I just HINT AT, like maybe just a momentary insinuating bend. Maybe under conventional note on top. If I do more than "hint at" I've left the 3-chord genre behind.

Obviously I'm not at the level where I can go full Charlie Parker on three chords, or on anything.

Topic #C) Too many #'s in music. notes, Do Re Mi, chords, Nashville system, which fret, which measure, flat note or flat chord? b7 of the temporary chord or b7 of the Key scale?
Usually when talking about jazz soloing the focus and discussion is based on the notes of the underlying chord, not those found in the key signature.
 

Tele Jr

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Billy, yes, the so-called 7-3 resolution is the frame of going from the flat 7 tension note to exit a chord, leading into the sweetness of the 3 resolution note to enter on the next chord. Resolving like this to the 3 note is an order of magnitude above arriving on the one note imho, and provides much better resolution of the voice leading and propulsion of the phrasing imho.

Also common to Bird and many others is to then follow and use the so-called 3-b9 melodic motion, which scoots either up or down from the three to the flat 9 of the same chord, either directly or by using other notes of the chord or associated scale on the way. The 7-3, 3-b9 moves are also very commonly used in succession, to easily connect and use multiple such devices in compound series. Duly notable again the three note is the glue that allows these devices to connect.

The 7-3 is most commonly associated with a II-V cell, but can also be used and/or compounded with a V-I cell. Also notable the I-IV movement also works as you are looking for the so-called perfect fourth interval between chords as they change.

So it's totally usable even with simple 12 bar blues, going from I-IV or V-I. If you jazz up your 12 bar to use a VI chord at the end of the 2nd line and then follow with a II-V-I chordal movement to start the third line turnaround it comes into play there in compound form also.

By the five chord blues scale I mean like the five mode of the blues scale, so if you were playing in C that would be the G blues scale.

I don't think you have to be able to play everything just like Charlie to be able to start to think like he did in terms of tasty note selection. But I can't imagine anyone trying to cop his lines and sound with proper understanding of what's going on without realizing so many of his lines are instinctively based on the 7-3 frame, or the 7-3 followed by the 3-b9.
 
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