Jazz Harmony for Improvisation- chord/scales

Thank you very much to everyone who came to my Jazz improvisation workshop last weekend. I realize some of you may have been a bit overwhelmed by the sheer amount of material presented. With time and the study of your notes you'll be more able to put some of these elements into practical application. This process doesn't happen overnight so be patient!

Here are some of the key points that I covered:

Rules for finding scales for dominant and majors chords-
1. Any alteration implies a #11
2. b9 implies a #9 and vice versa
3. b13 implies no 5

To quickly find scales for these chords-

C7 #11 - up a fifth melodic (G melodic minor)

C7 b9 (or #9)- up a half step diminished (C# dim)

C7 b13 (or +)- whole tone from root

C7 b9 b13, or C7 alt, or C7 #9 b13, or C7 b9 #9 b13 #11- up a half step
melodic minor

C7 b9 b13 natural 11- up a 4th harmonic minor

C-7(b5)-up a half step maj (C# maj) or up a minor 3rd melodic minor (Eb
melodic-) or down a whole step harmonic minor or up a 4th harmonic minor (Bb Harm.)

C sus7 (b9)- down a whole step melodic minor (Bb melodic)

C maj7 #5 - down a minor 3rd melodic minor or down a minor 3rd harmonic minor

You may add the related ii-7 before any add any related V7 after any two.
You may add #11s to any major or dominant chord.

When analyzing a tune to determine appropriate scales for blowing first look at the dominant seventh chords and where they are resolving. Look only at the root motion, the quality of the next chord (maj, min, ect) is not important. If the V7 is moving down a 5th to the next chord then you have the freedom to alter that chord (WT, Dim, Alt, Lyd dom). If it is moving down a half step then only alter the V7 as far as the Lydian dominant (up a fifth melodic). Also the V7 may not go directly to it's resolution, there may be a delayed resolution - example: /C7/ G-7 F7/ the C7 is still resolving down a fifth (by way of the G-7) and can be altered by the improviser.

Remember that if you add alterations to a dominant 7th chord, start less altered and add alterations.
For example- If you are playing over two bars of G7 going to C you may play a straight mixolydian in the first bar and then play a G7#11 (D melodic-) for the first two beats of bar two and an G7 altered dominant (Ab melodic-) in the last two beats of the second bar. You would not want to start with the G7 altered dominant and THEN play a straight mixolydian before resolving in bar three.

~Use brackets to mark ii- V7s and dotted brackets to mark ii-7 subV7s (example: D-7 C#7)

~Draw arrows from V7 to I resolutions (example C7 to Fmaj, or C7 to F7, or C7 to F-7)
~Draw dotted brackets for ii-7 to subV7s (example- D-7 to C#7)


Anonymous said...

That is great David, I really like it! Thank you for your chord and harmony information, it's good to see the way you organize it. I would like to attend your next Master Class for sure, please let me know when!

Anonymous said...

Hi David,

Your class was really great! Thanks for the brain dump. I'm working on assimilating the information now.

I'm very excited about hearing from someone with your knowledge since I haven't had that with other instructors in the past (and I wasn't as interested in
pursuing the theory as I am now.) I have a lot of stuff to get under my fingers like scale modes and patterns. And this is a great pool of info to learn from.

Thanks again!

JoshuaCliburn said...

David - Let me first say that I worship your playing like a red-eyed pagan on a sacrificial Sabbath. But I would like to take exception with the following statement:
"For example- If you are playing over two bars of G7 going to C you may play a straight mixolydian in the first bar and then play a G7#11 (D melodic-) for the first two beats of bar two and an G7 altered dominant (Ab melodic-) in the last two beats of the second bar. You would not want to start with the G7 altered dominant and THEN play a straight mixolydian before resolving in bar three."

To the contrary, I often like to go the exact opposite way in resolving Dom7's, going from most to least dissonant to provide a more consonant resolution.
Is there a contextual detail that I'm selectively leaving out? Let me know what you think.

David Carlos Valdez said...

Thanks for the mad props. :-)

Of course all rules are made to be broken, especially when it comes to Jazz. There is a fundamental reason that I said that you shouldn't 'backtrack' when it comes to adding alterations rather than subtracting them before resolution. When we are approaching a dominant to tonic resolution we want to always maintain forward motion. This is the same reason that dominants want to resolve down by fifths and not fourths. You say that you like the sound of starting with an altered dominant then going to a dominant before resolving because it sounds more consonant to you. Actually what is happening when you do this is that you are losing forward motion.

What does the circle of fourths sound like compared to the circle of fifths? It is not as compelling, to put it mildly. There are certain laws of nature/music/number that are immutable, and this is one of the biggies. So from the alt dom to the dom there is backward rather than forward motion. This stalls out your momentum and is sort of a 'harmonic clam'.
The altered dominant has so much tension that wants to resolve to the tonic and instead of resolving you're going to a straight dominant.
All the voices that were wanting to resolve to the tonic are suddenly left hanging with 'nowhere to go'.
This is not strong harmonic motion. It's like you've almost reached climax and then you peter out right before a tiny squirt (sorry kids).

If we keep strong forward harmonic motion in our lines we can play practically anything over any changes as long as we keep moving forward and eventually resolve. Here is an example of what I'm talking about:
Over a-
D-7 /G7 /Cmaj7 /

You could play:
E7 A7 /D7 G7 /Cmaj7 /
The extended dom resolutions work because they each resolve to the next change.

An extreme example of what you are doing by going from alt dom to dom before resolving is this:
Bb7 F7 /C7 G7 /Cmaj7 /

The first set of changes resolve down in fifths and sounds very dissonant until they resolve to the major chord. Once they resolve they, get this, RETROACTIVLEY make sense. This is a very interesting phenomenon; the mind and ear work in mysterious ways indeed.

In the second set of changes the dominants sound very dissonant as they move around the circle of fourths then they resolve to the tonic. When they resolve they do not suddenly make sense like the first set of changes do. The only changes that have any real motion are the last V7 to Imaj7.

This is of course an extreme example of what I am talking about but it is exactly the same concept.
If you understand this idea then you will be able to create very interesting sets of subs over very boring changes. A straight dominant to tonic resolution may sound more consonant than an altered dom to tonic resolution, but it does not have as dramatic a resolution. We ARE trying to play jazz rather than New Age music here, I hope. Bird and all the other founders of Bop revolutionized Jazz. They pushed the limits by using these upper extensions in the way I illustrated above. Yes, it is dissonant but this is modern Jazz we are talking about here.

David Carlos Valdez said...

I want to add to my last comment: You should play exactly what sounds good to you. I didn't mean to make it sound like no one ever does what you were talking about, many great players do. Walking backwards is fine and cool as long as you are aware that your body was made to walk forward. It's the general principal I wanted to stress. There are elements in harmony that are not just matters of personal taste and once you understand what these are you'll be able to put together your own personal style. You'll learn how to use these quirky and backward approaches to your advantage. Again, always play the way you really want to even if it means going against the flow.....

David Carlos Valdez said...

I was starting to sound like a true Be-Bop Nazi for a second there. Sorry about that.....

Anonymous said...

Ok...I GUESS I can see where you're coming from, but next time, feel free to fully explain the concept, I mean, c'mon, JUST one page!

Just Kidding! That was phat...thanx so much for taking the time to explain. It does make more sense when you break it down to fifths motion vs. fourths. I'm already working out some of the subs you mentioned and others in your symmetrical scales blog.

Thanks for bringing us theory-challenged sax players up to speed!