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5 Steps to Mastering Modern Lines

Looking for a way to spice up your lines a bit? Or do you feel like you’re stuck playing scales? Today we’re going to go from scales to cells, with no mitochondria required—don’t worry, this isn’t biology class.

A melodic cell is a group of notes—the easiest way to use cells is to take a group of four notes and treat them like a building block, moving them around and combining them with other blocks. So when you hear a big extended line that sounds super impressive, remember that it’s really a bunch of cells put together.

How jazz musicians make melodic cells
Grouping notes into a melodic cell

This is a topic that Chad LB has covered in depth in the Jazz Gym, and it’s a really great technique for modern jazz musicians to master. We’ll look at five steps you can take to master modern lines so that you can incorporate cells into your next solo.

Be sure to check out the Jazz Gym—it’s a subscription where you can access live video workouts every day. There are coaching sessions to guide you through the practice session, and every day of classes has three different blocks with three different “workout” options. These options are designed to cater to whatever level you’re at—we have developing improvisers as well as professionals and educators who are looking to go the extra mile to improve their playing. Each week, we have a focus concept to help you dial in on improving a specific aspect of your playing—some weeks have focused on melodic cells! If you’re looking to level up your playing, you’ll definitely want to check out the Jazz Gym.

You can also check out our Modern Combo package to get our Modern Phrases, Modern Etudes, and Melodic Cells PDF packages bundled together for a self-guided way to master melodic cells.


Diatonic cells

Jumping right in, we have the easiest cell concept to grasp—diatonic cells. As the name implies, these cells fit within a single key/scale. Eventually you may want to use these diatonic cells in a chromatic way by taking them up and down all 12 keys.

Let’s start by building a cell—using 1, 2, 3, and 5. You’ll recognize this cell from our blog on John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps.” These four notes fit nicely into a major pentatonic sound and are very flexible.

If we take the 1, 2, 3, 5 cell and move it up and down chromatically, here’s what that would look like.

Moving a diatonic melodic cell up and down chromatically