Winning Improvisation Structure #1 – All of Me via Harmony – The Road to Stability



Winning Improvisation Structure #1 – All of Me via Harmony – The Road to Stability

In this video, I show you how paying attention to the harmonic movement, direction and energy of a song transforms your solos into beautiful music.  Make your jazz improvisation very melodic, rather than just playing ascending and descending arpeggios all the time.

The most important aspect of the harmonic structure of a song is the movement from unstable chords that create tension and act as roads building tension that wants to be resolved to stable chords. You will learn to demonstrate that in short and and well defined musical sentences in your improvisation. 

In this lesson, when we talk about unstable chords, we mean Dom7 chords. And, when we talk about stable chords, we mean any major or minor chord which is not a Dom7 chord, and that sits two and a half tones above the Dom7 chord that leads to it.

In other words, the basic way to build tension that leads to any target chord is just to play a Dom7 chord on its 5th degree, because this chord will naturally lead to your target chord, whatever it may be.

For example – 

If your target chord is C, you play G7 to create the tension that resolves to C, because G7 is the 5th degree of C.

If your target chord is A or Am, you play E7 to create the tension that resolves to Am, because E7 is the 5th degree of A.

If your target chord is Dm, you play A7 to create the tension that resolves to Dm, because A7 is the 5th degree of Dm.

Learn to let your solos reflect the journey from unstable to stable harmonic places. Organise your improvisation in sentences to demonstrate this and you’ve got a great way to make your improvisation mirror the structure of the song and be melodic. 

The dominant chord is a seventh chord that sits on the fifth degree of the scale and resolves to the first degree of the scale,but there are also secondary dominants that lead to other degrees of the scale.

Example over All of Me:

For example, All of Me starts with a little journey from C to Dm and the road that takes us there is built of dominant chords. The dominant 7th leading to Dm is A7, but to make it more interesting, we get to A7 by playing E7 (the dominant 7th leading to Am which became A7 in order to lead to Dm).  

Try to reflect that in your improvisation. Aim to create a four-bar sentence that starts on C, travels through E7 and A7 and finally lands on Dm. Make sure to give your sentence a very clear ending, to show that Dm is your last stop, to resolve the energy. This is the basic structure of your improvisation over the first four bars. 

Your next sentence should reflect the tension that resolves from E7 to Am.  

Again – aim to build a sentence that has a very clear start and end and that demonstrates the relationship between E7 and Am.

Next, you have a four-bar sentence that starts with D7. D7 is a secondary Dom7 chord to G, but you have Dm in between, so don’t treat G7 as a target here. Your next target will be the C that G7 resolves to.

Build a sentence over these four bars that starts on D7, moves through G7 and finally lands on C.

Jazz up your solos by noticing where in a song you’re feeling stable, at home (tonic  chords), or unstable, on the road (dominant chords that build tension) . Add excitement by letting the changes in energy levels guide you.

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