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15 Approach Note and Enclosure Exercises That Every Jazz Musician Should Know

Use this cool chromatic tool for better lines

In some of our previous blogs, we’ve talked a bit about approach notes and enclosures as a way to make your lines a bit more hip and give them some chromatic flow.

But what are approach notes and enclosures really?

That’s a question Chad LB gets a lot in masterclasses on tour. Plenty of players are wondering why they can’t get that post-bop bebop-type of sound.

Well, one great way to start is with transcription. This helps you strengthen your ear and helps you understand what’s going on in the music.

But there’s also a mechanical, conceptual, technical element that a lot of times people don’t get—and even when they transcribe a tune, they won’t understand quite what’s going on harmonically, which means they don’t see the full picture. It also means that they don’t get as much out of the process of transcription.

That one concept? Approach notes and enclosures.

Approach notes are typically chromatic (but sometimes diatonic) notes are used to “approach” into a target note by a half step. This half step movement gives a really smooth resolution (think of the half-step resolution between 7 and 1 from the major scale).

Enclosures are actually a form of approach notes—by using an approach note above and below, you “enclose” the target note by half steps, which gives some chromatic spice without dramatically altering the harmonic structure of your line.

A simple approach note exercise is to move chromatically down from the second (or ninth) to the root. So in B-flat, moving 2 - b2 - 1, or from C to B to B-flat. That B is a chromatic approach note to lead between the C and B-flat. This movement is what prompted the bebop scale technique, and it’s what you hear so often in some of those legendary jazz solos.

If we use this exercise with enclosures, we’ll wrap around the target note, using the b2 and 7. Or in the case of B-flat, we’ll use B, A, B-flat. Sometimes you’ll need to adjust this around the existing half steps in the scale, between 3 and 4 and 7 and the root.

So our next question is, how can you use this sound in your lines, and how can you incorporate it into your improvisation? A great place to start is with our video on this topic and by checking out the PDFs on our website so you can follow along with the full exercises in all 12 keys, ascending and descending. By practicing these exercises, you’ll definitely notice an improvement in your playing and find more places to incorporate these concepts in your own solos.

Here are 15 approach note and enclosure exercises we think every jazz musician should know.


Approach Note Exercise 1

1 - 7 - 1 - #1

Starting off nice and easy, we're going to start here in C major, go down chromatically one half step from the root, then back to the root, then move up chromatically into the two. Then we’ll do the same pattern into the three, going up the scale.

When we reach the four, we’ll change things up a little bit because of the spacing of the scale. We only have a half step between the third and fourth degrees, so we’ll use the diatonic second degree from the third (in this case the fourth), since we can’t have a lowered second (the flat fourth is enharmonic to the third).

Then make sure to play this descending as well to get the full benefit.