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Part 2 of the Improvisers Workout Program | Chord Tone and Scale Reps


Part 2 of the Improvisers Workout Program | Chord Tone and Scale Reps

In our last training session (click here to view Part 1) we downloaded and listened to Autumn Leaves, learned the melody, then practiced embellishing and filling in the holes around the melody while using our ears to guide us.

In this session we’re going engage our brain a bit and add scales and chord tones to our workout. This is an ideal opportunity to apply what you’ve learned in the Theory Dominatrix column.

Realize that learning to improvise is essentially learning a language. Chord tones and scales are the vowels and consonants that make up our musical alphabet. We combine vowels and consonants to form words. We then combine various words to form sentences – melodies are the words and sentences formed by chord tones and scales. But before we can speak, we must first learn our alphabet.

Click on the link below to download the figures, and then click on NEXT PAGE to continue.

FIGURE 1 shows you the chord progression and chord structures to the first 8 bars of Autumn Leaves. Here are some chord structure formula reminders; All minor-seventh chords are built (1 b3 5 b7), all dominant-seventh chords are (1 3 5 b7), all major-seventh chords are (1 3 5 7) and all minor-seven-flat 5 chords are (1 b3 b5 b7). I’ve provided some of the possible fingerings. These will work fine for now, but I would encourage you to explore other possibilities as well.

Your first assignment is to memorize these chord tones as notes and numbers. By that I mean, you need to know Cmin7 as “C is the 1 (or root), Eb is the b3 (or minor third), G is the 5 (or perfect fifth), Bb is the b7 (or minor seventh)”, plus you need to know the fingerings that match the notes. This information has to be internalized, so if you need to sing ’em and say ’em or make flash cards, then do it.

FIGURE 2 shows you the scales that match up with the chords for our progression. Except for the D and G Spanish-dominant scales, everything is a mode of the Bb major scale. Understanding this greatly simplifies our learning process. C Dorian is just a Bb major scale from C to C. F Mixolydian is just a Bb major scale from F to F. Once we’ve learned the Bb major scale then we’re _ of the way home. Now we only have the D and G Spanish Dominant scales (1 b2 3 4 5 b6 b7 8) to learn and we’re in good shape.

Your next assignment is to memorize the scales that fit our chords. Just like our first assignment, I want you to memorize these scales as letters and as numbers. I realize this seems like a lot of memorization, but it will be extremely useful with all of our future assignments.

The ideal way to practice these assignments is with a backing track. I’m providing a simple backing track you can practice with along with a demonstration of exactly what I want you to do, so go to and get to work.

In the next issue we’ll take a look at how to start turning our alphabet into some simple words and phrases. Have fun and play slow!

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