How to use basic theory for improvisation and composition.

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How to use basic theory for improvisation and composition.

Unread post by Masaladosa » Mon Dec 17, 2018 12:06 pm

I'm currently in my second year of studying Jazz & Improvisation at University, and thought i'd share some information for those that are interested in learning the basics of chord theory, scales and how to use them in their improvisation/composing.

Here's the C major scale: C D E F G A B. Now we can number each of these notes with what we call scale degrees, like this: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

With this scale we can now workout many C chords (in this lesson we will cover major, minor, minor 7, dominant 7 and major 7). By using these formulas: 1 3 5 = C E G = C major 1 b3 5 = C Eb G = C minor 1 3 5 7 = C E G B = C major 7 1 b3 5 b7 = C Eb G Bb = C minor 7 1 3 5 b7 = C E G Bb = C dominant 7

Take C major 7 for example. I have simply taken the 1st note, 3rd, 5th, and the 7th from the scale and put them together to form the chord.

If you were to work out the same 5 chords for another key such as G, you would do the exact same thing. Except instead of the C major scale, you would write out the G major scale, and then apply these formulas to the scale.

Ok moving on to what scales fit these chords.

For each of these chords, we can use several scales to solo over them (keep in mind I only listed a few). Record yourself playing C major, C minor, C dom7 and then play each of these scales over them to get a feel for how they sound. Notice that with these scales we are merely adding a few alterations to the major scale. Here are a few outlined:

Major and major 7 chords:

Major scale

Lydian scale. To form a Lydian scale you simply raise the 4th scale degree. C Lydian would be C D E F# G A B.

Minor and Minor 7 chords:

Melodic minor (b3) C D Eb F G A B

Dorian (b3, b7) C D Eb F G A Bb

Aeolian (natural minor) (b3, b6, b7) C D Eb F G Ab Bb. I'd recommend you learn these scales in this order. The reason for this is that they will be easier to remember this way as you're adding one flat at a time.

Lastly, dominant 7 chords:

Mixolydian (b7)

Various altered scale

How to practise these scales is a whole new topic which I can make a lesson for if people would like. I would recommend that people learn the notes in their major scales thoroughly before tackling new scales as this will give them a strong foundation for adding the small alterations to make new scales.

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