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5 approaches for modal mastery

A question that comes up a lot for Andrew when he’s teaching and mentoring is “how do you play ‘out?’’ That is to say, how do you play outside of the key but still maintain the melodicism and confidence that makes it sound like you know what you’re doing?

We’re going to get into that here today, but before we jump in, make sure to check out Andrew’s PDF package called “53 modal phrases” over on And if you’re wondering how Andrew plays through some of these exercises, make sure to check out our accompanying YouTube video, “5 approaches for modal mastery.”

You ready to get playing?


Understanding playing “out”

Half step shifting phrase

Implied dominant shifting + diatonic shifting phrase

Diatonic shifting phrase

ii - V - I shifting phrase

Chromatic shifting example

Understanding playing “out”

If you’re not familiar with how to play out, you’ve come to the right place. Playing out means that we’re using notes that are not present in the harmony or the given chord or scale.

Using tension notes on C Dorian scale
Tension notes on C Dorian

So a good example is if we’re using the C dorian scale, we would have the notes C, D, Eb, F, G, A, and Bb. That means we can introduce notes like C# or Ab or E natural to spice things up a bit. These notes are not in that scale, but we can still use them to get some tension with the given harmony. Then we can release by resolving again back into the C dorian scale.

Half step shifting phrase

Now let’s take a look at our first phrase.

Half step shifting phrase in jazz chromatic

In our first line here, even though we’re against a Bm7, we’re starting off by playing in Cm7—playing G, Eb, C, and G again. Then we’re going to Bb, Eb, A, G, F in the next bar, which is all aligned with Cm7. We don’t actually get into the key until we resolve up to that F# at the & of one in the second bar.

And then basically, we’re playing just an idea or a shape that’s all within Bm7 for the rest of that bar, and even to the next two beats of the following bar, where we play G#, B, D, F#, which is still part of the dorian scale and B minor, then we go back up to Cm7 again. So we’re playing A, C, Eb, G, and then in the next bar Bb, D, A, and C, all part of Cm7, before resolving back into Bm7 with F# and D.

Check out Andrew’s video to hear it played slow and up to speed.

Implied dominant shifting + diatonic shifting phrase

This next phrase is all against Dm7—and the first two beats really imply the V chord to start off with some tension before we resolve into the F, G, A, and C in beats three and four.

Jazz chromatic diatonic shifting phrase outside the key

And that line implies a D dorian sound, and we’ll go to B and A on beat one of the next bar. We don’t start implying a new full tonality until we get to the A#, F#, C#, A#, F#, G# at the end of the second measure here.

From there, we’re implying F# major, which is pretty dissonant compared to Dm7, as we have F#, which is the major 3rd, over a minor chord. We have A#, which is the b13 or #5, over the minor chord. So we really do have some dissonant notes here, ones that are not in our D minor sound.

We’re arpeggiating down, and then we get into an enclosure in the next bar, where we have Eb, E, G, F#, which is all to target our note F, which is our b3 to bring us back to D minor on beat three. That’s G, E, F, C#, D, B again, which is all part of D melodic minor, resolving at the end of the phrase.

So to recap this phrase, we’re using some implied tonality in order to get into some tension over what would otherwise be four bars of Dm7. Instead, we start off by implying the V chord in the first bar, then we get into D dorian. Then we’ll start implying F# major, which is really our dissonant sound here. We tie that back into D dorian by using an enclosure before fully resolving it to D melodic minor at the end of the phrase.

Make sure to check out Andrew’s video so you can see how it sounds up to speed and slowed down.

Diatonic shifting phrase

Checking out this third phrase, we’re in C major, but we’ll use E major to shift out of the key so we can get some tension in the line.

Diatonic shifting phrase for playing outside in jazz

For our first two beats, we start off by playing some notes that are in C, but we shift to E in the next half of this bar, resolving back to C again in the second bar, but then back to E again at the end of the second bar, where we have G#, B, F#, then sliding down to F natural to bring us back to E. We get back into our E, F#, G#, F#, and E in the third bar before resolving into C at the end of that bar.

In that last bar, we’re again in E with D#, E, B, A, G#, F#. We finally resolve back into C major at the end of the bar by playing G, F, and E.

ii - V- I diatonic shifting phrase

Our next phrase gets into some moving harmony, with a simple ii - V - I progression. We’ll start on Am7, go to D7, then Gmaj7.

Jazz 2 5 1 progression with outside diatonic shifting phrase

We’re starting off the phrase by playing B, G#, A, B, which is kind of in A melodic minor, before plainly implying our F# major with A#, F#, C#, B. Now we’re going to Fm by playing C, Eb, F, Ab, and the second half of this bar is more of D7 with A, F#, G, A.

From there, we’ll resolve to G major, but we don’t quite get there yet. Instead, we’ll imply B major over G by playing A#, B, F#, E, D#, B, F#, D#, and we don’t fully resolve to G major until the last bar where it resolves down to the D. We’ll play a little enclosure that targets our third, B, then go up to the fifth.

And a lot of these chords we’re choosing specifically because they have notes that have tensions over the original chord. That’s why we’re using F# major over A minor, or F minor over D7, and B major over G major.

Chromatic shifting example

Now let’s take it and put it all together in this next example over a D minor blues.

Jazz chromatic shifting example for playing outside the key

In the second bar, we’re implying E major over D minor and the notes of E major are chosen because they’re pretty dissonant over D minor. We have G#, F#, and D# as notes that are pretty far from outlining our D minor sound. This is a good strategy, since choosing keys that are dissonant can imply more tension over our harmony that make that resolution that much more strong.

Again in bar five, we’re implying Amaj7 over Gm7—so we have notes like C# and B natural as a passing tone, or part of the A major scale (though we have Bb clearly in our Gm7). And at the very end in bar 11, we’re implying two different chords in this bar over Dm7. First, we’ll start off with F# major, by playing a very triadic shape within F# major, then we’ll play a triadic shape within G major by going B, D, G, then using that F# as a passing to to resolve finally back down to F natural in that last bar.

Well that’s all for today, but we hope you enjoyed! If this concept is interesting to you, make sure to check out Andrew’s PDF package with Jazz Lesson Videos, 53 Modal Phrases, and if you want to hear how Andrew plays any of the lines in this blog, make sure to check out our accompanying YouTube video, “5 approaches for modal mastery.”

We’ll see you next time!

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