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5 Exercises for Mastering Jazz Language (Part 1)

Chad was recently coming back from a gig, when he ran into a musician who asked him a question he gets sometimes at masterclasses: how do you master jazz language? This musician had a pretty good handle of his instrument, but when he plays at jam sessions and other pros are coming around, he feels like other people just have a better handle on jazz language than he does.


Just like any language, jazz is something you get better at as you practice listening and speaking—going straight to the source to help you speak fluently.


But a lot of people struggle with how to transcribe effectively and use the phrases that they learn to construct their own phrases. So today, we’re going to go through a few exercises for getting a better handle on playing through and improvising in the jazz language.


If you want to dive deeper on this, be sure to check out our YouTube video 5 Exercises for Mastering Jazz Language along with Chad’s new Jazz Language course on jazzlessonvideos.com. This is Chad’s first-ever course, and it includes a lot more on memorization, transcription, and application. These three ideas are his keys to success if you want to get fluid in the jazz language. This course has over 40 videos, and in the videos you can learn to memorize and transcribe alongside Chad as he guides you through the whole process. Today we’re going to look at two exercises from that course, and we’ll look at three more next week.


Now let’s get playing!


Contents


Memorizing and transposing

Our first exercise is going to be memorizing and transposing a phrase from Charlie Parker’s “Moose the Mooche.” This tune is a solid reference point for very common jazz chord changes. We’re going to look at how Bird navigated these rhythm changes like the genius he was.


Try playing this along with Chad in our video, and even if you crash and burn on this, it’s still worth it to try and read and play through. Start out a bit under tempo and take it slow at first.

So breaking this solo down, there’s a lot happening here. In the first few bars, we have a I - vi - ii - V - iii - vi - ii - V chord progression. That means in B-flat, we’ll go up to the sixth chord, which is Gm. Now we could do either Gm7 or G7, both will sound good. Then we have the ii - V, which is straightforward—Cm7 and F7.


Right off the top, you see we’re not necessarily nailing this G7 in the first bar. You can, if you want, just play right through that Bb all the way. So you’ll see the first few notes, C, Bb, A, Bb—that’s really just playing the nine/two at the start. But it’s a 2, 1, 7, back to 1. Then on the next chord, we land on the third of the Cm7. We’ll do a chromatic enclosure that goes around the root of the F7, so we change from the Cm7 to the F7, landing on the root of F through that chromatic enclosure. We continue with diatonic material on that F7, coming from F mixolydian, which is the same scale as Bb major, just starting on F. When we land on that next bar, we’ve got a Bb, F, and G. That’s the b6 of Dm7, and then the third, then the G is going to be the root of G7. Now the reason we have that b6 is essentially when you’re playing in a major key, you have the iii chord, you can treat that as Phrygian (continuing playing the Bb scale from D) or keep on playing that one major scale.


And if this stuff isn’t making a ton of sense, that’s totally normal—that is a phase that all musicians go through, Chad included. But what we’ve learned can be super effective is to not only have that visual of the shapes going on, but also to learn the harmonic numbers and know what’s going on harmonically. This will also help your ears, so you can identify what’s happening.


Numbers also help a ton for transposition. Like if you see a progression goes Cmaj7 / Am7 / Dm7 / G7 and you wanted to transpose that to Eb, you would have to individually walk each chord up by a minor third, which is time-consuming. Instead, if you see it as a I - vi - ii - V progression, you can drop that into any key and be able to immediately have the transposed progression.

Looking at how we’d transpose “Moose the Mooche,” you see that we have that wrap around the root , followed by quick move on iim7, an enclosure into the root of the V7. We’ll follow with an arpeggio up the iii chord, landing on its 6, resolving to its 3, then the 1 of VI7. Again, we’re keeping in mind both the shape and the harmonic numbers as well.


When Chad was in college, he went to go see his hero Josh Redman in a masterclass. Josh had mentioned that when he was in college, he transposed a bunch of Dexter Gordon and Sonny Rollins solos into all 12 keys. At that time, Chad had never learned a solo in all 12 keys, and it seemed overwhelming at first. But once he fought through it, he saw the value of the process and it was probably one of the biggest practicing breakthroughs that Chad saw in his life. This is a small trick you can do that will have you understanding theory and harmony faster.


Adding chromaticism over dominant chords

Now we’re going to check out a second exercise, which is also taken from the Jazz Language course. This is going to be a good method to give you a better handle on chromaticism.


Let’s check out this melodic chromatic phrase on a dominant seven. We’ll take it through the keys, so make sure to check out our YouTube video to hear how Chad plays this.