Improvisation in All Keys
Found in: Composition & Improvisation
Cat W., Tasmania
A few questions have arisen from my previous post so I’ll try to elaborate and clarify.
Firstly, the chord sequence is I V vi IV ( I made a typo in the first post – I think I must be a little dyslexic beginning with getting b and d confused a small child!)
Capital letters refer to major triads, lower case refer to minor triads, so in C we have the chords C G Am F which you can cycle through as many times as you like.
I haven’t had any questions about progressing through the circle of fifths so I won’t elaborate any further on this. Concerning rhythm tracks, it is the same thing as a rhythm diagram. Neil expands on this in detail in accomp variations, accomp 2 and Jazz 1.
The track 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + is a way of representing the 4 beats of the bar and 4 additional pulses. This allows both hands, right hand or left hand to play on any one of these pulses or beats.
For Example :
• • •
1 + 2 + 3 +
Where the upper dots represent when the RH plays and the lower the left hand. Right hand plays chord , left hand single note or octave.
There are many other possibilities. ( Perhaps Leanne could post these? J ) Or use some of Neil’s from the Accomp variations to get you started
“Dropping in” refers to spontaneously playing on any one of these beats or pulses.
Now the PS:
If you are playing in C, you will be finishing on an F chord – but instead of returning to C, play the relative minor of F ( 3 half steps below ) which is Dm. This becomes your new i chord ( lower case for minor ) Now create a new “ one five six four “ progression. When we play in Dm, we are playing in the key sig of 1 flat, ( Bb) so the five chord is Am, the six chord is Bb major and the four is Gm. So in general, if we begin on a minor chord this progression becomes : i v VI iv
From here, you could keep progressing around the circle of fifths beginning on minor chords. Or you could change keys via any of these tricks:
- Move up a half step .ie if we are in Dm our last chord is Gm, so move straight to G#m and continue. Of course you can do this the major sequence.
- Move up a whole step from last chord. Ie go to Am and begin again. ( Or go up a ½ step to G#m on beat 4 then Am on beat 1 of the next cycle.)
- Play the V (on beat 4) of any key sig you wish to move to (major or minor ). Eg if you are playing in Dm, your last Gm, say you wish to move to Eb, play the V of Eb which is Bb on beat 4 then commence a new cycle on Eb. Neil describes this in the Christmas materials .
- Wow, you could play a ii V I i (on beats 3, 4 then 1) into the new key using jazz voicing if you really want to get fancy!! (I think my brain is really starting to ache now!)
It seems like I’ve taken the lid off Pandora’s box here! ( Or better still, just opened up a whole heap of beautiful possibilities. They are just endless once you start thinking about it!)
Don’t think for one moment I’ve mastered all of these! (I wish I have!) I wasn’t kidding when I said I rapidly tied my brain in a knot and stumbled over the more challenging key sigs – it’s a real workout! I haven’t any students who I would just say “now walk this activity through the circle of fifths and cover all key sigs”. Once it’s been processed in C you can then move to a few diff keys. Perhaps after they have addressed the scale map for a particular key?
I was really intending this as professional development for myself, improving my improv and accompanying skills. I challenged myself so much and got so much out of it I decided to put it on Simpedia. It’s very much a work in progress.
What struck me the most was that you can know all you chords, key sigs and scales etc, but being able to apply this knowledge in context, musically and spontaneously is another thing entirely. All those years playing scales as a kid (beginning and ending on the note of the key sig of course!) is nowhere near as powerful or useful as getting the scale map under your fingers regardless of where your hands are positioned on the keyboard.