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Download "Major 7th Chord Patterns" for your entire class

in B-flat for instruments in C
in B-flat for instruments in C (Bass Clef)
in C for instruments in B-flat
in F for instruments in F
in G for instruments in E-flat

The process of learning jazz improvisation is both long and complex. For the best musicians, it’s one that never ends.

The study of jazz theory is an important component of that process. It’s also an aspect of music that can be easily taught in the classroom: students, already familiar with the major and minor scales, learn the blues scale, a couple of modes and they’re off to the races. Or are they?

The problem with most high school jazz bands is that the band members don’t listen to much jazz improvisation. If they do hear solos on disc, they, like the vast majority of casual listeners, are likely not focusing on the details of the improvised line – and that’s not good enough if their intended goal is to perform a coherent jazz improvisation. As a result, much of the improvising I hear consists of erratic stabbing at the notes of a recently learned blues scale.

The serious jazz musician understands that the most valuable of exercises is that of transcription – listening to solos performed by the masters and writing them down note for note. Some musicians don’t even write the solos down; they just listen to them over and over to the point where they have internalized them and can recreate them perfectly on their own instrument. It’s an exercise that forces the high school student to analyze the flow of the line, the note choices, and the rhythm – and develop a great set of ears in the process.

But transcription is time consuming and painstaking, and it’s unlikely that all but the most motivated of high school jazz band students will commit to doing it. For this reason, I have written out a series of exercises to be played over chords and chord progressions. Their performance and analysis will lead to better technical control, more idiomatic jazz improvisation, and a greater familiarity with the construction of bebop lines. (If you’re wondering why scale studies are on a percussion site, their creation was a response to the needs of my own jazz vibraphone students.)

This first set of jazz studies is based on the major scale, and the lines can be played over major seventh chords. They are written in concert B-flat and the exercises have been transposed for all band instruments.

Download and copy the parts for all your students and perform them as warm-ups with the entire class. You might want to have your students transpose them to correspond to all the major seventh chords they're improvising on in a piece you're rehearsing. Practising them in different keys will also help solidify your students’ control of major scales.

Analysis of the patterns

Be sure to discuss the form of the scale patterns and the use of accidentals.

With each pattern, discuss:

• the scale degree it starts on.

• the intervals of any skips (e.g., the root to the 4th at the beginning of pattern #4) and the interval of the skip.

Note that:

• patterns #2 to #8 incorporate the use of the semitone below the root, third and fifth of the scale leading to the chord tones.

• patterns #9 to #11 introduce the bebop major scale: the major scale with the added passing tone between the 5th and 6th scale degree.

• pattern #12 incorporates both the semitones leading to the chord tones and the bebop major scale.

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