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5 methods to create your own lines

There are plenty of things to practice as a jazz musician—between licks, transcription, ear training and more. But one of the most common things we practice is improvisation. But when it comes to improvising, do you ever feel like your lines are stale? Or when it’s your turn to take a solo, you’re not sure what’s going to come out?

Today we’re going to talk about a few different ways you can hone your skills and create your own lines, and we’ll talk through a few exercises from our Line Construction Exercises PDF package. These are some great exercises to help you feel like you’re truly improvising on your own. If you like these exercises, make sure to check out the full PDF for more.

So let’s jump in!


Phrase variation exercise

One of the best things you can do when you find a phrase you like is to practice your own variations on it—but sometimes that’s easier said than done.

Let’s check out this first example from the PDF package.

Jazz phrase variation exercise for practice

Our PDF has examples with a bunch of different phrases on common chord progressions. So first we’ll start by going through a phrase that’s on a ii-V-I, since that’s the most common chord progression in jazz.

Now for us to play variations on this, we’re going to break it down so we know what’s going on. Then we can figure out how we can do our own variations from there.

Starting right off, we see a big four-note enclosure that encloses the seventh of this Cm7 chord. From there, we’ll play up the arpeggio of the Cm7, playing all diatonic notes in the next measure, except for adding a sharp 11 on that F7. Then we’ll play diatonic over the Bbmaj7, with a nice triplet thrown in for rhythmic variation.

Let’s check out one of the variations we made in the book. You can check out this example here, but we have a bunch of variations written out, which will help you create your own.

Jazz practice phrase variation exercise explained

Comparing these two phrases, you can see in the second phrase that for this variation, we still have an enclosure, but it’s a different type than we had in the first phrase. From there, we’re playing the same arpeggio notes, but the last note is up an octave on the F7. We land on the same note, but from there, we do something different—we play an enclosure and some diatonic connections to bring us into the same note on the Bbmaj7 when we land on beat 1. So we land on that third and play pretty much the same thing, we just change one note, jumping down an octave instead of down to the fifth for a bit of variation.

These differences are pretty subtle, but we can make them more abstract, too. Here’s a variation with less in common.

Jazz variation on a phrase exercise

A great way to take a phrase like this and create your own variations is to take bits and pieces that you keep the same, while you improvise over other parts.

One way we can go about this is with fill-in exercises. With these you can give yourself a visual of parts of the phrase and then highlight the parts you have to fill in on your own with blank spaces.