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Part 3 of the Improvisers Workout Program | Talking and Listening


Part 3 of the Improvisers Workout Program | Talking and Listening

In our last training session (click here to view Part 2) we played, memorized and internalized the eight scales and arpeggios that apply to our “Autumn Leaves” workout progression. We learned that these scales and arpeggios are the vowels and consonants that make up our melodic alphabet. Now that we have a grasp of our musical alphabet, it’s time for us to begin forming some simple melodic words.

Remember that learning to improvise is like learning to speak a new language. You wouldn’t start off trying to recite Shakespeare would you? Of course not, you’d start with some simple words like hello, goodbye, yes, no, please and thank you. So with this in mind, let’s get started.

Before moving forward, please click on the Download Jazz_Gym_3_Figures.pdf below:

In Figure 1 your assignment is to play the third of every chord as a half note in the upper register of the bass. Reading the example is great, but the goal is to be able to look at a chord symbol and know what the third (the fifth or the seventh) is and be able to play it.

I don’t know about you, but looking at a Cmi7 chord and playing anything other than a C on the downbeat was incredibly difficult for me to learn. As bass players we’re taught from day one to always play the root of the chord on the downbeat. This is essential; maybe even sacred musical training for playing the bass, but it doesn’t lend itself to good melodic playing. So if looking at looking at Cmi7 and playing an Eb is difficult for you, then welcome to the club!

In Figure 2 your assignment is to play the 5th of every chord.

In Figure 3 your assignment is to play the 7th of every chord.

Once you get these notes under your hands, I want you to pay attention to what we’re not playing. Notice that I have you playing a simple half note. This means that there should be silence on beats 3 and 4. I want you to pay special attention to what you hear on beats 3 and 4 because later on we’re going to start filling in the blanks and playing what we hear on those beats. This is part of learning to play what you hear. You have to learn to listen to what you’re hearing in these holes and spaces. Then and only then can you can go about finding it. After all, you can’t talk and listen at the same time. This process will strengthen the signal from your ears to your hands and eventually allow you to play what you hear.

So, go to and check out the Jazz Gym play alongs. First, play, memorize and internalize the exercises in Figures 1, 2 and 3. Then, be sure to leave some space and pay special attention to what you’re hearing in the holes on beats 3 and 4. Do this and you’ll be well on your way to adding some new words to your musical vocabulary.

See you in the next issue. Have fun and play slow.

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