It is commonly postulated that knowledge of chords and scales is essential
in order to improvise well in the jazz idiom. By contemplating this axiom early on in my studies I came to an important realization: anything you play as an harmonic idea (chord) can be played as a melodic idea (melody or line) and vice versa. There are no shortcuts to playing fluidly and melodically on tunes with changes; it is something that develops over time and by approaching it from many perspectives. This is one reason that the harmony/melody inter-relationship is so useful, because this symbiosis helps to advance your playing as an accompanist and as a soloist if you are taking the time to study the implications. Let's begin with new melodic ideas from harmonic changes.
In lesson 8 Bob showed some very useful turnarounds, beginning with
the basic I VI II V and then some common variations. Here is a line which
you could play over the basic I VI II V:
As you'll notice there are no accidentals (sharps or flats) in this
line; all the notes are in the key of C major. While this line is perfectly
serviceable, the lack of chromatic notes makes it a bit unadventurous.
Now check out what happens when we change the chords a little and adapt
the line to fit the new changes:
All we've done is change the minor 7th chords into dominant 7th chords,
and the line reflects these changes by raising the note C in the A chord
and F in the D chord to C# and F#, respectively. This gives the line an
entirely different character; it sounds more "jazzy". Let's take
this a step further:
Now we've introduced an alteration on the dominant chords, the flatted
9th, which in turn gives us more chromatic melody notes. Compared to the
first example this one is much more "jazzy."
Two more things to keep in mind as we explore these options. One is
that you don't have to follow this exactly the way I've done it. Because
the shape of the melody is pretty consistent you can cut and paste any
of the individual lines over each chord and create variations. Here's one
Last, it's important to realize that these are just possibilities and
not rules. Use the principles to find lines that you like and that fit
the music you are playing; don't throw something in just because it works
in theory. As always, trust your ear. Happy practicing!
Clay Moore firstname.lastname@example.org