Practicing a jazz tune

Arpeggiate every chord in all inversions.

Play the modes relative to each chord, including possible ‘alternate’ modes.

– Improvise on chord tones only.
– Add scale/mode tones as *passing* notes (always resolve on chord notes)
– Add chromatic passing notes in the same fashion.
– Play the ‘big scale’. This means, play a continuous stream of quarter-notes up and down the instrument, diatonically, following the harmonic structure of the tune, and changing scale/mode as the chords go on, using the closest available note of the new scale/mode, in a diatonic fashion. Go up and down the instrument (for pianists, this could mean from middle C from the highest notes and back) for many choruses, at a steady tempo. Staying on *chord* tones doesn’t matter for this exercise. Don’t worry about speed.
Repeat with eight-notes and eight-note triplets.

– For every chord in the tune, play four possible chromatic (semitone) approaches to every chord note:
a) from below
b) from above
c) double from below, then above
d) double from above, then below

There are other possible chromatic approaches, but this one will give you a good start!

Now, at a relaxed tempo, try an improvisation on the entire tune, or some portion of it, made entirely, or at least mainly, of chromatic approaches. An excellent brain-twister!

You’re now ready to attempt some bebop phrasing. Do just that for a while, trying to improve your mastering of the harmonic structure.

On to the ’60s: Now try to play the tune using Bill Evans-style 4-note left hand voicings. Play with a bassist or a play-along if possible. Notice how the left hand voicings influence the melodic phrasing. Start landing your phrases on extensions.
When using alternate modes, adapt your left hand extensions (ninths, thirteenths) to the mode you’re playing.

Next, do the same with Chick Corea-style three-note voicings. Usually, you’ll play more rhythmically this time, with a more sparse use of the left hand.

Time for some McCoy. for every chord, extract the possible fourths and their inversions, then the possible pentatonic scale. Play over every single chord for a long time, experimenting the combinations of the various fourths and inversions in the left hand with the various pentatonic scales in the right. Try the semitone shifts Tyner is famous for.

Now, at a relaxed tempo, try playing the entire tune, or big chunks of it, in that fashion.

Obviously, the fun starts when you begin to mix *all* the above techniques, following the feel of the moment. This is where freedom begins, one could say!

Many more techniques are possible (intervallic playing, key center approach, upper structures, blah, blah), but I would stop it here for now.
Of course, there’s also the essential factor of rhythm (rhythmic placement of notes and phrases, rhythmic feel, and much more), and the matter of ‘building’ a solo… but I feel these things can only by explained by an human teacher sitting near you, and actually *listening* to your playing. \:D

And needless to say, these are just a few reflections on the ‘techniques’ of improvisation… the ‘meaning’ of what one plays, on the other hand, is another matter altogether.

: Piano Lessons in Berkeley (East Bay)