This Jazz Piano Skills Podcast Episode explores Charlie Parker's "Yardbird Suite". Discover, Learn, and Play Chords Changes, Harmonic Function, Melody, Fingerings, and four jazz vocabulary patterns for improvising.
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Every Jazz Piano Skills weekly podcast episode introduces aspiring jazz pianists to essential Jazz Piano Skills. Each Podcast episode explores a specific Jazz Piano Skill in depth. Today you will discover, learn, and play Charlie Parker's "Yardbird Suite." In this Jazz Piano Lesson, you will:
The Charlie Parker Bebop Tune "Yardbird Suite"
Chords Changes, Harmonic Function, Melody, and Fingerings for "Yardbird Suite"
Multiple patterns extracted from "Ornithology" for developing classic jazz language to use when improvising
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Dr. Bob Lawrence
President, The Dallas School of Music
Dr. Bob Lawrence 0:32
Welcome to jazz piano skills. I'm Dr. Bob Lawrence, it's time to discover, learn and play jazz piano. Well, the last two weeks, we've been busy, we've looked at five different jazz improvisation patterns for the primary sounds of music, major dominant minor, half diminished and diminished, plus the altered sounds deriving from the harmonic and melodic minor scales, sharp 11, flat 13, flat nine, flat 13. And of course, the fully altered sound, flat nine, sharp nine, flat five sharp five, all of this from the root note of E flat. Now we apply these five jazz improvisation patterns to these iconic jazz sounds, and studied and applied proper fingerings to the patterns as well, making it possible for us to play with an authentic jazz articulation. The goal of our fingerings right, of course, is always is to allow the continuous incremental shifting of our right hand across the keys. It only make sense right small movements are much more manageable, and accurate, then large leaps. I've said it many times, understanding and applying this truth becomes paramount when improvising and playing melodies of tunes, especially bebop tunes, and especially the Bebop tune that we're about to tackle today. So today you are going to discover Charlie Parker's classic bebop tune Yardbird suite, you're going to learn the chord changes harmonic function, Melody and fingerings for Yardbird suite. And you're going to play multiple patterns extracted from Yardbird suite for developing classic jazz language to use when improvising. So as I always like to say, regardless of where you are in your jazz journey, if you're a beginner and intermediate player, an advanced player even if you're a seasoned, crusty, old experienced professional, you're gonna find this jazz panel skills podcast lesson exploring Charlie Parker's Yardbird suite to be very beneficial. But before we dig in, I want to as I always do, I want to welcome first time listeners to jazz piano skills. And if you are indeed new to jazz panel skills if you are indeed a new listener to the jazz panel skills podcast, I want to welcome you and I want to invite you to become a jazz panel skills member. There are various membership plans to choose from, so check out jazz piano skills.com. To learn more about all of the perks of each membership plan. There are educational weekly podcast packets, a sequential jazz piano curriculum which is loaded with comprehensive courses online weekly master classes online interactive Fakebook, an online private jazz panel skills community which hosts a variety of engaging forums, there's unlimited private, personal and professional educational support available as well. All of these perks are waiting for you wanting to help you discover, learn and play jazz piano. So check it all out at jazz piano skills.com And of course, become a member if you have any questions. Once you get there. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me. I'm always happy to spend some time with you and answer any questions that you may have. Okay, on to the question of the week. This week's question comes from Mary Cooley living in Birmingham Alabama Roll Tide. I don't even know I say that because I do not like Alabama. Well I like Alabama. I just don't like the football program. Okay, I'm a Notre Dame fan and Alabama has owned Notre Dame for some time and I'm tired of it but Okay, back to the podcast Mary as I am beginning to work on playing traditional three note left hand voicings and I am struggling. There is something about leaving out the root of the chord that is making it hard for me to to easily identify the voicing that I implying what is the best way to go about practicing these voicings so that they start to become recognizable and normal for me? Wow, such a great question Mary. And I know many listeners appreciate the question because I can guarantee you that you are not the only one who feels this way and you are not the only one wrestling with these voicings. Okay, to begin, I strongly recommend studying these voicings away from the piano. In other words, paper practice, right spend time, a lot of time spelling these voicings, for example, C major seven, you want to be able to go EBD or B, E, G, D minor seven, F, C, E, or C, F, A, G dominant seven, B, F a, or FBD. Right, you want to write these voicings these structures out on a piece of paper, and you want to do it for all 60. You want to do it over and over again. I cannot stress enough how important it is to commit yourself to knowing the information first conceptually, before you begin tackling the voicings physically, this only makes sense, right? How successful do you think folks are at trying to ascertain knowledge, process knowledge and apply knowledge simultaneously? I'll tell you, they're not successful at all. In fact, that approach simply sets oneself up for failure. So spend time away from the piano studying, thinking about and writing down these voicings. When doing so I would keep these tips in mind. Number one, all traditional three note voicings for the left hand contain the third and the seventh of the sound. Which means there is only one additional note added to complete the voicing. So zero in on the thirds in the sevens initially, before worrying about the additional notes. Number two, when it is time to add the additional note, keep in mind that you are adding the ninth with the third and seventh configuration and adding the fifth to the seventh and third configuration. Number three, I would encourage you to use some backing tracks to help you hear these voicings in a musical context. Use software like band in the box or an app like I real pro to help you. Number four, when playing the voicings, isolate them and say what you are playing out loud, not just in your head, but out loud. I cannot explain this learning phenomenon but I can tell you it works. There is something about giving voice to what you are learning that helps you solidify the nexus between the shape and the sound. So don't be bashful. talk out loud, when you are practicing. Number five, when isolating voicings for practicing, do so in groupings of three chords. One minor, one dominant in one major. So for example isolated D minor in practice the three note voicings then isolated G dominant. Practice the three note voicings, then a C major practice the three note voicings isolate, I can I bet I bet you can see where I'm going with this. Once you're comfortable with these three chords, a minor, A dominant in a major combine them in a progression called the 251 progression. See,
Dr. Bob Lawrence 9:36
I knew you knew where it was going. And just remember the 379 voicings resolve to a 735 and a 735 voicings resolve to a 7379. Write the alternate when moving in circle movement motion, those voicings that 379 and 735 voicings will alternate finally, I know some of my early podcast episode episodes deal with these voicings. So check out those episodes. And of course, if you have any questions, and or if you need further clarification, please do not hesitate to contact me. Wow, thanks again, Mary, for your question, stay the course, you'll get the shapes and sounds under your hand soon. Just be patient. Okay, let's discover and learn and play jazz piano. Let's have some fun with Charlie Parker's Yardbird suite. All of us. I mean, all of us, at the beginning of our jazz journeys invest a lot of time, a lot of effort, a lot of energy searching for the secrets to learning how to play jazz. We all do it right. So just fess up, we all do it. We try all kinds of approaches all kinds of gimmicks, by all kinds of books, in hopes that we discovered the shortcut, the magic sentence, or the magic phrase that shaves years off of our developmental timeframe. And like I said, we've all done it. It's today, heck, today, it's easier than ever, right? With all the YouTubes, and gazillion other websites out there. It's so easy to get wrapped around the axle run down a million different rabbit holes in search of the secret formula for playing jazz piano. Alright. And in doing so we end up with a ton of what I call data fragments, right with no idea how to connect all these data fragments, or even determine if the data fragments are legit. And if they should even be connected at all right? This can get very confusing. So don't be discouraged if you haven't found the shortcut because the shortcut doesn't exist. So stop searching. Now, on the other hand, I've mentioned this before, on the other hand, the technology and the resources that are available to us today. Fantastic, right? There's an incredible benefit benefit to utilizing various software applications and an apps that allow us to create backing tracks that simulated ensemble experience when we're applying. It's this technology is amazing, without question a huge benefit. But as I've mentioned this before, too, sometimes the old fashioned ways are still the best ways. And when it comes to developing good technique, articulation fingerings, and improvisation vocabulary. The study and playing of bebop tunes bebop heads, still remains the best approach of all. The bottom line if you want to get good at playing jazz piano, there's no better way than studying it historically. And historically speaking, no better period of jazz will help you develop your time feel articulation fingerings and improv vocabulary better than the Bebop period. So for those of you who may be listening and are new to bebop, or bop as it is often referred to it is a period of jazz that developed and flourished during the 40s 1940s. And the Bebop style of jazz features tunes. Typically using fast tempos, challenging melodies, and tons of chord changes some very complex that move in and out of numerous key centers within a single town. This is important so I want to go through that list again, right. fast tempos, challenging melodies, tons of chord changes, many of them complex, numerous key centers within a single tune. Wow, that sounds like the perfect formula for developing jazz chops. There's no need for you to look any further. Your internet searches over everything about jazz you need to know and develop is found within the melodies of bebop tunes and that is why I always refer to bebop as jazz gold. So the educational agenda for today is as follows number one, we will explore Charlie Parker's Yardbird suite number two, we will examine the core changes in harmonic function of Yardbird suite. Number three, we will of course play the melody of Yardbird suite and explore proper fingerings. Number four, we will extract for classic patterns from the melody of Yardbird suite to use for discovering and developing our very own jazz vocabulary. And number five oh We'll be playing various tempos today from 110 to 140. Wow. If you are a jazz piano skills member, I want you to hit the pause button right now, which should take a few minutes to download and print your podcast packets, the illustrations, the lead sheets and the play alongs. Again, your membership grants you access to all of the educational podcast packets for every weekly podcast episode. As I mentioned every week you should be using these podcast packets, especially when listening to the episode and of course when practicing as well. Now if you are listening to this podcast on any of the popular podcast directories such as Apple, Google, Amazon, Spotify, iHeartRadio, Pandora, etc, etc, etc. Then be sure to go directly to jazz panel skills podcast.com To download your podcast packets, and you'll find the active download links in the show notes. And one final but very significant note that I include in every episode. If you're listening right now, and if you are thinking that the various skills that we are about to discover, learn and play as we explore Charlie Parker's Yardbird suite, if you're thinking that these skills are over your head, then I would say to you no worries. It's okay. Relax, sit back, continue to listen and grow your jazz piano skills intellectually by just simply listening to this podcast episode. Every new skill, every new skill is technically over our heads when we are first introduced to the skill. But this is how we grow. This is how we get better. We place ourselves smack dab in the middle of conversations. We are where we're hearing things that we've never heard before. Right, we're hearing words that we've never heard before. This is how we are forced to grow intellectually. I say it all the time our musical growth begins upstairs mentally conceptually before it can come out downstairs physically in your hands. So sit back listen to this podcast lesson now exploring Charlie Parker's Yardbird suite to discover and learn the play as it always does, will come in time I guarantee it. Okay, now that you have your lead sheets in your hands, you've downloaded your podcast package after your lead sheets. I want to talk you through through them quickly. Now you will see that lead sheets one and two present the chord changes and harmonic function for Yardbird suite to help you truly discover and learn the changes in harmonic function. For yardbirds we I strongly recommend using the lead sheet templates found in your illustrations in your podcast packet, the illustrations, okay. Now lead sheet three has the chord changes along with the melody while lead sheet four includes, of course the melody but it also includes the fingerings that I am using when I play Yardbird suite. Spend time a lot of time playing the head, the melody over and over and over at slower tempos as we're going to do today. Right I'll be modeling this for you here shortly. Now lead sheets five through eight deal with for specific patterns that I have extracted from the melody of Yardbird suite to use as launch pads for developing jazz vocabulary right needed for improvising. So wow, we have a ton to get through today. So let's get busy. First things first though, right? We have to check it out. We have to listen to Charlie Parker playing Yardbird suite now I don't usually do this but this is I usually just play the little snippet the head but you know what? I'm playing the whole thing today. It's only a few minutes long. I want you to hear the solos as well. So we're gonna listen, sit back, relax for the next few minutes and let's listen to Charlie Parker. Playing Yardbird suite enjoy the melody enjoy these awesome solos. Here we go.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 22:11
What can I say? I love it. You're super sweet actually probably is. You know, it would be very tough for me to pick my favorite bebop tune, but I'll tell you what your bird sweet is certainly would be certainly considered. It's one of my favorite favorite bebop tunes. So I'm excited about today. So okay, so let's look at, I want you to grab lead sheet one, and I want you to grab a lead sheet two, and I want you to place them side by side. As I mentioned earlier, if you can, you'll notice on lead sheet one, it's your classic lead sheet with the chord changes laid out for you lead sheet two. Instead of the chord changes, we have the harmonic function illustrated notated using classic Roman numeral notation. Now, this Yardbird suite is a A, B A Form A A B A form. So in essence, we really only have 16 measures of music, right, we have a section repeated three times and we have our bridge or B section. So classic jazz, a be a form. And also a lot of classic jazz movement. Like for instance, in measure two, you'll notice the F minor seven go into the B flat dominant seven, four to flat seven, taking us right back to C, which is the one this happens quite often, in many standards, common harmonic movement that we want to be familiar with. Right then then check it out, we have in measure four, a seven going to D seven than the g7. And then the last measure seven and eight, the E minor a seven D minor g7. That's all circle movement, all circle of fifths movement, right? Even the F minor to the B flat seven and measure to right circle movement. Then in the bridge, we have up again classic movement, the sharp four half diminished, go into the seven dominant I cannot tell you how often you're gonna find that in standards within the jazz literature. So we have the sharp four seven, then it goes to the E minor, which is the three the ACE seven, the six than the D minor two. Again, we're moving right around the circle of fifths counterclockwise. And then we have the 362 basically 36252 in the bridge, Mohr circle motion. So if you were to take a yellow highlighter and you were to highlight all the circle motion in this piece, the whole darn thing would be 98% of it would be highlighted yellow, right so this is why practicing circle movement 251 progressions, 36251 progressions, this standard type of motion this is so crucial to practice because you're going to find it laced throughout jazz literature. Spend a lot of time with lead sheet one lead sheet two, I'm going to play right now through the changes of, of Yardbird suite. And I want you to follow along with these two lead sheets the first time through, I want you to follow lead sheet one skill one with the chord changes. Okay, and if you can, when you follow with the chord changes, I want you to think Roman numerals. Right, so you're going to be looking at the C major and measure one you're gonna be thinking one, get the measure two with the F minor, you're thinking for B flat seven, you're thinking flat seven, and so on. The second time through, I want your eyes to go to lead sheet to scale to with the Roman numeral notation. When you're looking at the Roman numeral rotate notation, I want you to recite the chord symbol. So you'll see one, major seven and measure one I went to think C major seven, I want you to think and measure to you see the four minor Oh, that's F minor, flat 770, that's B flat seven. Right so the idea here is that you are thinking the opposite of what you're seeing. Okay, so I'm going to play the chord changes to Yardbird suite two times through first time follow skill one lead sheet one second time follow lead sheet to skill to think the opposite of what you see All right, so let's bring the ensemble in here we go.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 28:34
Not easy, not easy to do right so I would encourage you to spend time practicing this literally literally practicing what I just encourage you to do right follow the lead sheets while you're listening to me playing the chord changes and think the opposite of what you see in great ear training. Great intellectual workout is welcome conceptual understanding of the tune of the harmonic DNA of Yardbird suite. Okay, so now I want you to grab a lead sheets three and lead sheet for now lead sheet three you'll see as the melody of Yardbird suite written out lead sheet for melody of Yardbird suite written out again however with the fingerings included so now I am going to play through the melody of Yardbird suite again at a comfortable tempo. Our objective here today is not so much to learn Yardbirds, we remember our objective development of our fingerings. Alright, so we're going to play it in a nice comfortable tempo. And we're going to lock in on the fingerings that I'm using and look for hand shifts. Right these this is what we've been working on since the beginning of the year with all of our various exercises and patterns that we've been doing With our C sounds, our F sounds, B flat sounds, and E, E flat sounds so fingerings is our objective. So nice comfortable tempo, I'm going to play this I think about 110. So follow along with the lead sheets with the melody and then again with the fingerings and I'm gonna Yeah, I'll play this two times I'll play through the melody twice so let's bring the ensemble in here we go.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 32:18
So when you're practicing the melody of Yardbird suite this week, I would say to you nice slow tempo, so you can lock in on the fingerings. Right again, zeroing in on our objective on why we're actually looking at Yardbird suite and these bebop tunes as we study them throughout the year, right? Help us with our technique development, or articulation or phrasing, and most of all, our fingerings. Okay, so now, I want you to grab skill five, lead sheet five. And I have decided to take for the very first pattern out of the yard Yardbird suite, if you look at measure to the F minor, that B flat seven, I'm going to take that melodic idea. And I'm actually going to, instead of resolving it to C seven as it does in in Yardbird suite, I'm actually going to resolve it to E flat major seven to create a 251 pattern. Okay, so I'm going to play this idea. And I'm going to play it through several times. And I'm going to as you as I play it, you'll see that I will start to modify the idea, I'll start to play around with the idea to develop some of my own improvisational vocabulary using this idea as a launch pad. Okay, so I'll play the 251 progression, start off to kind of settle into the groove, then I'll stop play the Charlie Parker quote from Yardbird suite measure to and then you'll see me kind of develop that a little bit. I only have a minute to do it. So I'm going to be doing this rather quickly. But you'll get the idea of what how this is going to go for the remaining patterns as well. So let's bring the ensemble and let's listen to it first, and then I'll talk about it a little bit more. So here we go.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 35:32
Okay, so now you get the idea right. Now typically, what I do is I take an idea like this, and I will live with it over and over and over again for a long time, and I'll use it like I mentioned earlier, like a launch pad. So I just gave you a little quick snippet of how I take a melodic idea from a bebop head. And I start to play with it to develop some vocabulary. Okay, my vocabulary. Now, you'll notice on the lead sheet, I have a statement that says Continue moving around the circle of fifths. So I have notated on the lead sheet, playing in the key of E flat, then I transition to the key of A flat, a transition to the key of D flat and my note there says continue moving the pattern around the circle of fifths. Well, when you move it around the circle of fifths, live with that pattern in that key in that 251 and allow yourself to begin exploring that pattern, changing it rhythmically, having some fun with it with some maybe approach tones, some chromaticism there. Again, we want these ideas to serve as a launchpad for discovering our jazz vocabulary. Okay, so now let's move on to skill six, lead sheet six, pattern number two. And pattern number two comes from measure 19 of Yardbird suite. And what I'm going to do is you'll notice there in the lead sheet, it's E minor, and measure 19, that moves into a seven and measure 18. But I'm going to move that a seven, into measure 19 on accounts three and four, and then resolve this melodic idea on that C sharp, I'm going to resolve that to D major, again, creating a 251 progression as you see in your lead sheet, lead sheet six. So once again, what I want to do is I want to state this melodic idea this melodic motifs a few times and then I want to start experimenting with the idea and seeing what I can come up with based on this musical thought. Okay, so I don't want to bring the ensemble in again, I'll start off I'll play to five one a couple times to get into the groove. Then I'll begin stating the melodic idea. And then I'll start to slightly explore it as I am searching for my vocabulary. Okay, so All right, here we go. Let's bring the ensemble in and let's check it out.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 39:27
Too much fun. Just too much fun, right? And this is how you should approach it right? You find these little gems hidden within the melodies or the heads of these bebop tunes. You extract those little motifs and then you start to have some fun with them. Right. So we're going to move on and have some more fun with skill seven lead sheet seven. This is going to be pattern number three and it comes from measure 22 And measure 22 deals with With the E half diminished, go into the eight, seven, right. And I'm going to actually again, I'm going to resolve this to a D minor. Instead of a D seven I'm trying to simulate here create a little minor 251 sound, right? Minor 251. So I'm going to have E half diminished, followed by by a seven followed by a D minor, we're going to take this melodic idea, just as I did with the previous patterns, I'm going to state it a couple of times. And then I'm going to start exploring it a little bit and seeing what I can come up with based on this melodic thought this melodic idea. Okay, so again, I'll play the 251, a couple of times to get settled in, and then I'll state the melodic motif from Yardbird suite, then I'll start to have a little fun with it. And again, you'll see moves in on your lead sheet, it moves to G minor, and then it moves to C minor. And again, I would as the as it says, on your lead sheet, continue moving around the circle of fifths, that's your homework this week, with all with all four of these patterns. So okay, let's bring the ensemble in. And let's check out measure 22 and see what we can come up with here we go.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 42:29
Great sound, you know, I could do that all day. And you know what I have done that all day when I I'll take an idea melodic idea that intrigues me. And then I will get consumed with that melodic idea throughout the day, exploring it and trying to come up with ideas based on that melodic motif. So I'm just doing it here in a really quick snippet, to kind of model for you to illustrate for you my thought process and how I approach developing vocabulary. But if you find yourself spending a day with a melodic motif, fantastic. That's great. That's how you start developing your jazz improvisation vocabulary. Okay, so for our last pattern today, skill eight lead sheet eight pattern for, okay, comes from measure 30. And this is a classic 251 progression measured 30 and 31. So I'm going to take that idea. And again, I'm going to follow the same format, same process that I have done with the previous three patterns, state the idea first couple times, and then I'll start to explore it a little bit, have some fun with it rhythmically, and see what I can come up with. Once again, you'll see on your lead sheet, it moves into the key of F then the key of B flat, then your your task is to move it around, continue moving that around in the circle of fifths and exploring exploring that idea, this idea and all 12 keys. Okay. All right, so let's bring the ensemble in and let's listen to measure 30 from Yardbird suite extracted as a melodic motif that we're going to use to develop our jazz vocabulary. Here we go.
Dr. Bob Lawrence 45:32
Yep, way too much fun. Look we we have unpacked once again a ton of information in one very short one very fast hour. I cannot stress enough, I cannot stress it enough the importance of practicing bebop heads melodies for developing fingerings technique time articulation, right, there are no better etudes for developing your jazz playing than bebop tunes. Again, do not, do not skim over studying and learning the chord changes and harmonic function for Yardbird suite before tackling the melody right. After all, it's the foundation that the melody rests upon. So it needs to be solid. Right and again, use your illustrations podcast packet to help you gain a command of this very essential skill. And in doing so you'll begin to see how melody flows from Harmony. Right? Once you have a command of the changes in the harmonic function, then begin practicing that melody. And of course, slower tempos because our objective really fingerings that's our objective. It's not to create a performance rendition of Yardbird suite, right. We're learning from Yardbird suite or not trying to learn Yardbird suite if that makes sense. Very important. Finally, I love to take apart bebop melodies to find invaluable melodic ideas as I modeled for you today. Right now I use these patterns to discover and learn and play my own jazz bofit vocabulary and I want to encourage you, there may be other patterns that you see inside Yardbird suite that intrigue you. I would encourage you to grab those ideas and approach them in the same way in which I approached the ones that I extracted today. Okay, as always, as always Be patient. Alright, developing mature professional jazz piano skills takes a lot of time. So begin stret structuring your study and I'm practicing after the demonstrations that I've modeled for you here today in this podcast episode and I guarantee it, you will begin to see feel and hear your progress. Well I hope you have found this jazz panel skills podcast lesson exploring Charlie Parker's Yardbird suite to be insightful and of course to be beneficial. Don't forget if you are a jazz piano skills ensemble member I'll see you online Thursday evening at the jazz piano skills masterclass. It's 8 pm Central time to discuss this podcast episode lesson exploring Yardbird suite in greater detail. And of course to answer any questions that you may have about the study of jazz in general, you can always reach me by phone. My number here at the Dallas school music is 972-380-8050 my extension is 211 if you prefer to email me my email address is Dr. Lawrence at jazz piano skills.com. That's email@example.com. Or you can use the nifty little SpeakPipe widget that is filed throughout the jazz piano skills website. Well, there's my cue. That's it for now. And until next week, enjoy Charlie Parker's Yardbird suite and most of all, have fun as you discover, learn and play jazz piano!
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