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.
Approach Note Exercise 2
1 - 2 - 3 - b2
Alright, exercise two, we're going to step up the scale, 1 - 2 - 3, then we’re going to come back down chromatically into the two and repeat that pattern up the scale with enclosures around the 3 and 7.
Then when we go down, it’s the same idea—we’ll wrap around the note when we’re coming from the third into the fourth and the seventh into the root.
Approach Note Exercise 3
1 - 2 - 3 - 1 - 3 - 4 - 3 - b3
For this one, we’ll move up to the three before skipping back down to the root, where we bounce back up to the 3, then have a descending line of 4, 3, and b3.
For descending, we’ll just do 1 - 2 - 3 - 2 - 1, just changing the diatonic part of the pattern.
Approach Note Exercise 4
2 - 3 - 2 - b2 - 1 - 2 - 3 - 1
Let’s start on the two instead of the root, but we’ll go two, three, two, chromatic down into one. And then go 1 - 2 - 3 - 1. We’ll continue that shape going up.
Going down, we're actually going to change the diatonic shape in the later part of the measure, just to make it voice lead better. So it’s going to wrap around the note that we’re approaching to take us downward instead of upward.
Approach Note Exercise 5
1 - 7 - 6 - b6 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 1
A lot of times when you hear saxophone legends like Hank Mobley, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, all the best, a lot of times you’ll hear them using this concept.
Oftentimes, they're adding an approach note when they're going down.
So to do this, we're going to start on the root and go down to the fifth, where we chromatically approach the 5. It's going to sound a little bit like a major bebop scale, because it comes from the same concept.
But what's cool about this exercise is we're adding chromaticism in all parts of the scale, not just between the 6 and 5.
Approach Note Exercise 6
1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 4 - 3 - b3
Next, we're going to do the opposite of that, we're going to step up to the 5 and come back down, but we’ll do a chromatic approach into the second degree.
When we go down, we’re not going to go as high with the diatonic shape.
Enclosure Exercise 1
1 - 3 - b3 - #1 - 2 - 4 - 2 - #2, etc.
Moving on to exercise 7, we're going to finally get into enclosures, so this might get a little trickier. To get the most out of this exercise, you’re going to want to follow along in the PDF, so you can play along in all 12 keys.
We’re going to go one scale degree at a time, followed by a three note enclosure (2 notes above, 1 note below) that leads us into the next scale degree.
Enclosure Exercise 2
3 - 2 - b2 - 7 - 1 - 5 - b5 - 3, etc.
This next one, we're going to start from the third, down to the two, then chromatically enclose the root.
This is going to be a high concentration of enclosures here, we're going to do one after the other, then, we're going to do a three note enclosure around the four (which becomes the third of our next diatonic chord: D min7).
From there, we're going to continue that pattern going enclosure into root, enclosure into four, enclosure into two, enclosure into five, and so on and so forth.
Like before, we’re going to change the shape of the enclosure with the third to the fourth and from the seventh to the root, because of the natural half steps in the major scale.
Enclosure Exercise 3
3 - 2 - b2 - 7 - 1 - 2 - 3 - 5
This one is going to be a little bit less chromatic in nature—with a diatonic pattern after the enclosure part.
We’ll start on 3 and use the same enclosure that we started the last one with, then we’ll do a 1 - 2 - 3 - 5 and do that shape moving up the scale.
After that, turn it around and descend by changing the diatonic shape so it ends up as 1 - 2 - 3 - 1.
Enclosure Exercise 4
1 - 2 - 3 - 5 - 4 - 3 - b3 - #1
Now we're just going to do the opposite of that! We’re starting off on the 1 - 2 - 3 - 5 diatonic shape first, and then we're going to do the enclosure after.