Greetings JazzPianoSkills Fam!
For the last few weeks, we have been focusing on the development of Rhythmic Vocabulary. Rhythm rarely gets the attention it deserves, especially when compared to the attention given to Melody and Harmony. The irony about this reality is that Rhythm, without doubt, is actually the most important aspect of music. In fact, if Rhythm could speak, it would say to Melody and Harmony, "I know y'all get all the love and attention however you both know that without me you're nothing!". Personally, I do not know of one jazz educator who would even attempt to formulate an argument for either Melody or Harmony as being more important than Rhythm. And, this is precisely why we spent the last three weeks exploring Rhythm.
Three weeks ago I introduced twelve Rhythmic Patterns constructed of quarter notes and eighth notes only. We played each Rhythmic Pattern using ascending and descending scale motion from the root to the 7th of the C Minor Sound (Chord). Two weeks ago we took the same twelve Rhythmic Patterns and used ascending and descending arpeggio motion from the root to the 7th of the C Minor Sound (Chord). Last week we used both scale and arpeggio motion to play the twelve Rhythmic Patterns over the standard II-V-I Progression. The objective in doing so was to help us move from thinking vertically when improvising to begin thinking horizontally (linearly). What does this mean?
When beginning to learn how to improvise, the young jazzer is typically introduced to a chord and instructed to begin improvising using primary chord tones (root, 3rd, 5th, and 7th). Once a command of chord tones (arpeggios) is obtained then the note arsenal is expanded with the utilization of the entire scale. This is, without question, the best way to begin improvising not only because it is very structured, formulaic, and manageable, but because it is historically correct as well. In other words, if you study the improvisational solos of any of the early jazz giants (i.e. Buddy Bolden, Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong) from the early twentieth century you will quickly discover a strong chordal approach to improvisation. This approach is how early jazz innovators began to improvise and it is precisely how we should begin to improvise as well.
So, if our goal is to think linearly when improvising, and we want to do so using scale and arpeggio motion, then we should begin doing so using the most common and most important progression in all of jazz - the II-V-I Progression! And, that is exactly what we did in last week's podcast episode. The twelve Rhythmic Patterns that started as scale and arpeggio motion over an isolated C Minor Chord turned into a melodic (linear) line played over the II-V-I Progression. Very cool!
If you have not listened to last week's JazzPianoSkills Podcast Episode then I would encourage you to do so. If you are a JazzPianoSkills Member be sure to use the Podcast Packets (Illustrations, Lead Sheets, and Play Alongs) for this episode to help you maximize your musical growth.
Thanks for being a JazzPianoSkills Member. It is my pleasure to help you discover, learn, and play jazz piano!
Dr. Bob Lawrence