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How to improvise in modal jazz: “So What” by Miles Davis

Attention!

The following post is not just for jazz players!


It seems to me that contemporary modal improv, which had its jazz  birth in the late 1950’s, was a huge influence on the increasingly improvisational rock of the 1960’s, (even when players might not have consciously realized it!), and has never stopped being at the heart of so many great pop/rock/jazz solos until this very day.

This is a brief introduction to the idea of “modal jazz.”  We’re going to look at probably the most famous example of modal jazz, a tune called “So What,” by Miles Davis and Bill Evans.

We’re looking at this piece because (1) it was part of a ground-breaking approach to jazz improvisation and composition when it came out, and it’s still definitive of the modal jazz genre (maybe the definitive  recording?) (2) because “So What” is the best-known track on one of top-selling jazz albums of all time, “Kind of Blue.”

Continue reading How to improvise in modal jazz: “So What” by Miles Davis

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Blues Lick #10: Learn to Play a Complete 12-Bar Introduction

Welcome back!

Today’s lesson is more than just a lick…

We have here a two-handed intro section, a great setup for getting any blues jam started. This opening groove covers a full 12-bar cycle, giving your listeners an exciting intro (a.k.a. “head”) which leads nicely into the next 12-bars, where you can begin your right-handed soloing.  Note, you can use the left-hand (bass line) of this groove throughout your entire jam. It’s a simple and powerful bass line that keeps the beat going strong.  But wait, there’s more! This lesson also includes a sample opening for your solo.

VIDEO LESSON Continue reading Blues Lick #10: Learn to Play a Complete 12-Bar Introduction

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Blues Lick #11 “Pentatonic Pads”

 

In this lesson you’ll learn a versatile way to group any “pentatonic” scale into a pair of three-note, three-finger clusters.  Using this three-finger approach makes it easy to play fast and interesting licks, up and down the keyboard.

Continue reading Blues Lick #11 “Pentatonic Pads”

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The Blues Piano Crash Course – Lesson #6: More practice & help with two-handed coordination

PREMIUM CONTENT (Lesson #3 is a free sample).

From The Blues Piano Crash Course

Lesson Six (video) “Put Your Hands Together – Again…”

More tips and practice on two-handed coordination for piano, using notes from the blues.

Continue reading The Blues Piano Crash Course – Lesson #6: More practice & help with two-handed coordination

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A Study in Blues Piano – Lick #1: “Energy”

Welcome to Lesson One

Lick number one, which I’m calling “Energy,”  uses the first five notes of the blues scale, with the right hand in a fixed position.  The repeating triplet figures build a sense of excitement!

Like all the lessons in this collection, there are tips for transposing this lick into the key of your choice.

 

VIDEO LESSON

Continue reading A Study in Blues Piano – Lick #1: “Energy”

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Getting All Lydian on the IV Chord

Hello from Kent!

Here’s a scale-related concept that works very well for dressing up the ‘IV’ chord of a major key.

In the key of C major, the IV chord is F; it’s called the ‘IV’ because its root note is the fourth step of the scale.

You might also experiment with this approach over any major chord, such as the ‘I’ (that would be C Major, in the key of C) — depending on the type of sound you’re after.

The scale being used today is called Lydian, which is very closely related to the major scale: only one tone (specifically, the fourth step) is different. My video lesson below goes into depth regarding this intriguing aspect of the Lydian scale (vis-a-vis the Major), and shows you various ways to take advantage of its unique sound.

 


There is a transcription of this lecture, including video timestamps, just below the video itself (edited for easier reading).


VIDEO LESSON


VIDEO TRANSCRIPT

NOTE #1: SOME SECTIONS OF THIS TRANSCRIPT HAVE BEEN REDACTED, IN THE INTEREST OF NATIONAL SECURITY.

NOTE #2: HA HA HA.


0:22
Hi this is Kent, I wanted to give you some raw material for playing some nice fills, when playing the IV chord, such as the F chord in the key of C.

0:38
And in this lesson. The fills that I’m going to be talking about will be based on a scale called the Lydian scale.

0:50

We’ll be talking about the Lydian scale as we go along. And the context of this using this Lydian scale in this lesson would be when you go to the IV chord in a song.

1:06

The I chord in C is C major (the chord).

1:11
The IV chord would be F.

1:15

Okay, so if I’m going from C…to F… (piano playing).
1:37
That’s an extremely common progression, but you don’t necessarily have to be going back and forth between F and C. In this case, in this particular imaginary tune, the sound we’re going to go for is to sort of spice up the IV chord.
1:53
Using the Lydian scale and the Lydian scale fits in this case if I go from F.2:10
Since I’m in the key of C, I can keep this B-natural, and stay consistent with the C major scale.2:22
Accordingly, a scale starting on the note F, which has the fourth step of the standard F major scale raised by 1/2 step, has the sound of Lydian mode. Again, F major has B flat, F Lydian has a raised fourth step…in this case it’s a B here.
2:43
And that B note fits right in the C major scale.
2:50
That means that “F Lydian”is one of the “MODES” of C Major.3:36
We can take advantage of that raised fourth in order get some interesting “motion” inside our F4:10
Notice, if I take a G major chord, which is actually the five chord of C, and I superimpose it over the F chord…
4:20 (wow man)
…kind of wants to move back down to F.
4:24
However, if I did, let’s say an F chord in some other context…
4:29
That’s also a nice spacey jazzy or sounding chord by itself, in many other contexts…..
5:17
And let’s say I covered the F chord down here on my left hand.
5:30
All right, thanks for listening. Have fun with that, and I’ll see you next time!
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Blues Lick #6: “Locked up”

A Study In Blues Piano ~ Lick #6, “Locked Up”

<- LESSON FIVE

LESSON SEVEN ->

BACK TO COURSE PAGE

Updated Feb. 4 2021.

This is a really exciting technique for what I like to call the “Big Blues” sound.  By “Big Blues,” I mean dramatic, exciting, full, like you might hear from a jazz big band.  This kind of lick also works great for building to a climax in your “blues story” (a good solo usually tells a story).
The name of this lick, “Locked Up,” ain’t necessarily because what you’re saying with your fingers might be a story about going to jail. In this video, “Locked up” actually refers to the core idea of the lesson, something called “locked rhythm.”

Continue reading Blues Lick #6: “Locked up”

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FREE Blues Piano Lessons @ Piano With Kent | “The Blues Piano Crash Course” Main Page

A FREE VIDEO-BASED COURSE on the ESSENTIALS of BLUES PIANO IMPROVISATION : ‘The Blues Piano Crash Course’ with Kent D. Smith

‘Piano With Kent’ is a US registered trademark. Although this course is currently free to the public, as published on this site alone, be advised that this entire website, pianowithent.com, and all of its original content is Copyrighted Material. By Kent. D. Smith of Piano with Kent. (c) 2010. All rights reserved.

 


Curriculum


Lesson One – “The Blues Scale”

 

Supplemental (optional) from “A Study in Blues Piano” – Licks #1 and #2

 

Lesson Two – “A Left-hand Groove”

Lesson Three – “Five Must-know Riffing Devices”

 

Lesson Four – “The Classic 12-bar Blues Progression”

 

Lesson Five – “Put Your Hands Together”

 

Lesson Six – More tips and practice for the Two-Fisted Jammer

 

Lesson Seven – A Walking Bass Line & More Coordination

 

Lesson Eight – Blue Notes and pitch-bending

 

Lesson Nine – The Melody Machine

 

Lesson Ten – Turn-arounds and Endings

 

Lesson Eleven – Playing Blues in Any Key

 

end of list (all core lessons)

Course Description

Learn the essential elements of improvising blues piano, including the (minor) Blues Scale, the 12-bar Blues pattern, left-hand grooves, coordination exercises, and plenty of raw material for your own licks.

My goal is for you to start improvising great blues solos!

Although most of this course is in the key of C, there is a detailed lesson that covers transposing the blues scale, and the 12-bar blues progression, into other keys.

Is this what you’re looking for?

Students taking this course should be interested in learning blues improvisation.  Improvisation in blues usually has an underlying structure, a key center, and a chord progression that is being followed.  The rhythm and the chords give us that beautiful sense of a distinct groove, and the soloists do their thing “on top of” that.  In this course, you will learn the basic structural stuff, but you will also be given (taught) the popular raw materials for creating blues licks and melodies in general.  It will be your job to turn those raw materials into original licks.  I can give you expert guidance, hints and tips and raw material, which I do, but in the end, it’s your solo! That’s the beauty of studying improvisation. You get to own it.

Blues-inspired improvisation is at the core of, and will always have an influence on, countless musical genres. The blues scales, blues chord progressions, the “Blue Notes”…these are staples of so much great rock, hip-hop, jazz, country, gospel, and so on. That’s just to name a few of the mega-genres that have “blue blood” in their veins!

We can either forget about, or fail to recognize, the blues roots in so much contemporary music, but it’s everywhere.

So, back to the question, “Is this what you’re looking for,” I would suggest “yes,” because you read this far, still hanging in, after reading what’s what, so therefore you might like the class. That may be an odd conclusion.

Preview: To help you get an idea of how these videos might work for you, Lesson #4 (link below) is currently watchable as a full lesson preview.

Recommended knowledge or experience

  • You will need NO ability to read music (true for this particular course, and for most lessons on this site).
  • Knowing the names of the notes on your keyboard (like E, F#, G) is helpful in this class, but is not absolutely required.
  • We do start out hoping you already play “a bit of piano.”
  • Musicians who are already experienced with another instrument, including blues guitar, can benefit from this course as well. That is, you could potentially (1) pick up some keyboard skills and/or (2) learn new theory stuff and/or (3) get new ideas.

Helpful Course Documents

(Click document’s image below to download or view.)

Catalog of Chords and Scales
Catalog of Chords and Scales (for Blues Piano Crash Course)
Recommended Listening
Recommended Listening (Blues)

The Complete Course (video pages w/ text intros)

Free to all, from Kent of Piano With Kent (this site).

 

‘Piano With Kent’ is a US registered trademark. Although this course is currently free to the public, as published on this site alone, be advised that this entire website, pianowithent.com, and all of its original content is Copyrighted Material. By Kent. D. Smith of Piano with Kent. (c) 2010. All rights reserved.

Cheers!


Lesson One – “The Blues Scale”

 

Supplemental (optional) from “A Study in Blues Piano” – Licks #1 and #2

 

Lesson Two – “A Left-hand Groove”

Lesson Three – “Five Must-know Riffing Devices”

 

Lesson Four – “The Classic 12-bar Blues Progression”

 

Lesson Five – “Put Your Hands Together”

 

Lesson Six – More tips and practice for the Two-Fisted Jammer

 

Lesson Seven – A Walking Bass Line & More Coordination

 

Lesson Eight – Blue Notes and pitch-bending

 

Lesson Nine – The Melody Machine

 

Lesson Ten – Turn-arounds and Endings

 

Lesson Eleven – Playing Blues in Any Key

 

end of list (all core lessons)

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Video: Ray Charles “What I’d Say” — Practice your blues licks with this one!

Hey!

If you want to get better at your blues piano playing, who better to learn from than Ray Charles? Try playing this video while throwing in your own blues licks on top.  Also try to imitate or paraphrase some of Brother Ray’s.

Here’s some insight to help you:

Continue reading Video: Ray Charles “What I’d Say” — Practice your blues licks with this one!