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

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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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7 Comments
  • emilio volpe
    Posted at 08:42h, 18 July Reply

    Yakkov. Thanks for existing. You really are an excellent teacher as well as having a great manouche soul. Sorry for my English

    • Yaakov Hoter
      Posted at 14:32h, 18 July Reply

      Your English is good for me 🙂
      Thanks for your comment, happy you enjoyed this lesson
      Cheers

  • Wayne Vandenberg
    Posted at 11:41h, 18 July Reply

    This is a very clear explanation. It gives me a structure to build the sentences and supports what you covered at the workshop. The point about building tension during the dominant chords and then resolving to a consonant is well stated. In your video Thanks!

    • Yaakov Hoter
      Posted at 14:31h, 18 July Reply

      Thanks Wayne!
      My pleasure
      Hope to see you again soon!

  • Adolph Lopez
    Posted at 19:07h, 18 July Reply

    Another interesting framework presented in order to get across a clear idea. I am always grateful for your tireless efforts to present information in a new way. You’re a great player, but also a great teacher. That’s a rare combination.

  • Joachim Hubele
    Posted at 14:37h, 17 August Reply

    Great lesson, Yakoov!

    Is there a way to apply the stable/unstable chords method to songs that go a longer stretch on changing dominant chords? For example “Mr. Sandman”.

    Thanks
    Joachim

    • Yaakov Hoter
      Posted at 00:36h, 20 August Reply

      Hi!
      With This technique you need to search for the calm harmonic places, to resolve your melody.
      In Mr sandman, the a part is a long cycle of Dom7 chords that resolves only at the end of the A part.
      But- if you listen to the melody, you can hear that the melody of the song, over the fourth chord- A7, act like a calm place,
      and you can direct your melodic sentence to stop there.

      You can expand this idea more with this video-
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rb94n1EjOjg&t=210s
      And more about improvisation over a cycle of Dom7 chords, in this video-
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mrA1Ikuj9TU

      Cheers
      Yaakov

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