How to Improvise Jazz Piano - P1

How to Improvise Jazz Piano – P1


The Jazz Scales

In this lesson, we cover how to improvise jazz piano using broken chords, the Bebop, and the Jazz Melodic Minor Scale, using the most standard Jazz chord progression II-V-I to illustrate the concept.

What Makes the Jazz Scales Sound Jazzy?

The scales of the Jazz chord progression IIm7–V7–IMaj7 share the same notes. Therefore it makes them interchangeable with each other. These scales are the foundation of the chord-scale relationships. But improvising jazz piano using only these scales sounds dull because these scales are ‘rhythmically uneven’ and therefore not very useful with the Jazz Bebop style.

II-V-I Jazz Progression

Scales of the Progression

The Mixolydian Scale

To become fluent improvisers, we need to simplify the math in our heads by taking advantage of music commonalities. In this case, since the scales of the chords share the same notes, we could use only one scale to play them all. Although this is true, one of the most common errors is trying to use the Mixolydian scale as the primary scale for jazz improvisation.

The problem is that the Mixolydian scale has a flaw. The flaw of the Mixolydian scale is that it is rhythmically uneven because the Notes of the Chord do not always fall on the downbeat. This inconsistency makes us lose our footing when we improvise Bebop. (Please watch the video to see a demonstration of this concept)

Dominant Mixolydian Scale

The Bebop Scale

Jazz musicians designed the bebop scale to fix this rhythmic inconsistency by adding an extra half-step passing tone to the Mixolydian scale; when we add this extra half-step, the scale becomes balanced in a way that all of the notes of the chord fall on the downbeat. (Please refer to the video to see the example)

Bebop Melodic Minor Scale

The Minor Dorian Scale

The Dorian scale shares the same notes as the Mixolydian over the minor chord. This scale works fantastic when we improvise on the Dorian mode, such as in the song (So What) by Miles Davis.

G Dorian Minor Scale

The Jazz Melodic Minor Scale

The bebop style is all about using half steps; those chromatic notes add to the swing of the improvisation, especially when playing 16th notes. The Jazz Melodic Minor Scale also uses the Major 3rd when descending, taking advantage of that resource. (Please refer to the video to see the example)

G Jazz Melodic Minor Scale
G Jazz Melodic Minor Variation
Bebop Melodic Minor Scale

Blending the Scales

The scales of the progression are interchangeable because they share notes in common. Therefore we can use these scales on either chord. We can play the Bebop Scale over the minor chord or the Jazz Melodic Minor Scale over the dominant chord. We can even use a blend of both scales on either chord. (please refer to the video)