Level up your practice routine with these 10 jazz warmup exercises.
For Chad LB, one of the biggest questions he gets during a masterclass is “what do you do for warmup exercises?”
There’s an infinite number of possibilities for warmups, but you want to have a balance of challenge and fluency to help with your playing and dexterity.
Here are Chad’s 10 favorite warmup exercises to get you ready for anything!
But before you get started, you’re going to want to check out the PDFs for this lesson. They take you through each exercise in all 12 keys. Plus, be sure to check out our video here, where Chad takes you through the exercises on keyboard and tenor saxophone.
We’ve heard plenty of positive feedback from musicians playing through these warmups with saxophone, piano, guitar and more. Try incorporating them into your practice routine—you’ll be amazed at how it transforms your playing in a short amount of time!
Exercise 1: Major Scale Mode/Diatonic Exercise 1
1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 4 - 3 - 1
This first exercise is a useful major scale exercise. Your scales are super important, but it’s not enough to learn the scales up and down and say “voilà.” To get the full colors and possibilities of the scales, you need to be able to play different shapes and use them in more creative ways.
For this exercise, we’ll start in C. We’ll step up to the fifth, step back down to the third, then skip to the root.
We’ll do this up the scale from each scale degree, like so:
C D E F G F E C
D E F G A G F D
E F G A B A G E
F G A B C B A F
G A B C D C B G
A B C D E D C A
B C D E F E D B
When we descend, we’re not going to go as high—just up to the 4, then back down to the root. We’ll then skip down to the 6 and restart the shape on the 7. So you’re going to go 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 3 - 2 - 1, skip down to 6, start on 7 and repeat the pattern.
C D E F E D C A
B C D E D C B G
Remember, we have all of this written out in the PDF for you to follow along!
So why do we change the pattern for the descending? Really, it helps with voice leading and keeping the line smooth! Plus, it helps mix up the shape a bit for some extra challenge.
Exercise 2: Major Scale Mode Approach Note Exercise
1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 4 - 3 with a chromatic approach note
So this next exercise builds on the first diatonic exercise by adding in an approach note for some extra color and to smoothly voice lead into the next scale degree.
We’re going to start by going 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 4 - 3, and then we’ll add a chromatic approach note right after 3 on the descending portion of the pattern.
So for example:
C D E F G F E Eb
D E F G A G F Eb
Now, because there are no chromatic notes between scale degrees 3 and 4 and 7 and 8, (or in the case of C major, between E and F and between B and C), we’re going to wrap it around the target note of the next measure and continue. Likewise, for the last descending exercise, we don’t have to go as high, just up to the fourth and back down.
Exercise 3: Major Scale Mode/Diatonic Exercise 2
1 - 2 - 3 - 5 - 4 - 3 - 2 - 1
On to exercise 3! This should be fairly easy—we’re going to ascend to the 5, but skip the 4 on the way up. We’ll play the 4 on the way back down. And when we descend, we can use that same shape—we don’t have to adjust anything, just connect it downwards.
C D E G F E D C
D E F A G F E D
Exercise 4: Enclosure Exercise
So let’s take that last exercise and add in some chromaticism. This is a scale enclosure exercise—so we’ve got the 1 - 2 - 3 - 5 - 4 … then we’re going to enclose the next scale tone with two half steps above the note and one half step below.
C D E G F E Eb C#
D E F A G Gb F Eb
Then when we go down, we’re going to change the shape by not going up as high—we’re going to do 1 - 2 - 3 - 1 - 2
C D E C D Db C Bb
B C D B C B Bb G#
Exercise 5: Arpeggio Exercise
A lot of you probably already know this one—since it’s important to be able to play ascending and descending arpeggios through the scale. So what we’ll do is arpeggiate 7th chords on each degree of the scale to create the scale’s unique diatonic chords.
To create an arpeggio, you’ll play each note of the chord individually. A quick way to get an arpeggio is to play every other note of the scale.
For example: C E G B is a C major 7 arpeggio (1 - 3 - 5 - 7)
The major scale follows the pattern of major 7, minor 7, minor 7, major 7, dominant 7, minor 7, half-diminished 7 (also known as the m7b5).
In Roman numerals, it’s commonly seen as I ii iii IV V vi viiº
So in B-flat major, we have Bbmaj7, Cm7, Dm7, Ebmaj7, F7, Gm7, Am7b5.
To descend, play down the arpeggio in reverse, 7 - 5 - 3 - 1.
Exercise 6: Arpeggios with Chromatic Approach Notes
This next one, you probably guessed it, is incorporating chromaticism into the last exercise. This one can be tricky, so take your time and get it right at a slow tempo before trying to play fast.
To do this, we’ll approach every chord tone in the arpeggio with a chromatic approach note.
(B) C D# E F# G A# B
(C#) D E F G# A B C
When we descend, we’ll approach up into the chord tone as well:
(A#) B F# G D# E B C
(G#) A E F C# D A# B