Jazz Clue Questions
Found in: Jazz Clues
Kelly N., Canada
I have a question for all you wonderful Jazz experts!!
Is it possible to look at a piece of music and predict which Jazz Clue would work better?
Robin Keehn, Washington
Do you mean for dropping in, specifically? Do you mean what notes to use in the LH or the RH? Based on the Jazz I Program, if you know what type of 7th chord is being played (major or dominant 7th) , you would know what Jazz clue to use.
If you are working from a lead sheet, you would have the 7th chords specified.
Let me know if that isn’t what you were meaning.
Kelly N., Canada
Sorry, I realized I worded that question poorly! My student noticed that sometimes the 5ths chord sounded better than the 7ths chord (Jazz Clue #1). Can you use any clues from the music to help you determine which would sound better?
Mark M., New York
This is almost certainly more about the quality of the song itself, especially in terms of harmonic progression, than anything about the clues themselves per se. While it would be hard to give any real rules, one suggestive guideline would be that if a chord is followed by one whose root is a fourth up (same as a fifth down) (e.g., some kind of C chord followed by some kind of F chord, some kind of Eb chord followed by some kind of Ab chord, etc.), then there may be a fair chance that the first chord of the pair will sound nice with a dominant 7th, whereas if the following chord’s root isn’t a fourth up, there may be a fair chance that the first chord of the pair may not work as well with a dominant 7th.
This, though, is just a suggestive guideline, one to which I can think of many exceptions of both kinds — i.e., times a chord will sound better w/o a 7th even though the next chord’s root is a fourth up / fifth down, and especially times that a 7th will sound good even when the next chord is something other than a fourth up / fifth down.
What might be interesting is for you to have your student provide a handful of examples of times the 7th was found to work well, and a handful of times the 5th was found to work better, and then we can point out the whys of each situation and see what other generalities might emerge, if any.
Gordon Harvey, Australia
The answer below relates to how we unfold the Jazz Clues in our Jazz program. There may be many other ways to answer the question – this one looks at the perspective of how the program will unfold for your students.
In any piece, there will be a close relationship between the melody and the chord of the moment. In other words, as you play a chord, the melody note at that moment will almost always be a note from the chord. Have a look any jazz or accompaniment song and spend a few minutes studying the chords and melody and you’ll see that this is true. If you look at The Mirron, the first song in Touch of Jazz, you’ll see that the melody is mostly the 3rd of the chord. So, as you play the first FMaj7 chord the melody note is A, the middle note or 3rd of an F major chord. For the next chord, Amin7, the melody is playing C, the middle note of the A minor chord, and so on through most of the song. Actually, Neil wrote the song as a demonstration of this principle. Jazz clue 1 works well with any melody that is strongly third-based.
Jazz Clue 1 won’t work so well with melodies with lots of 5ths in them, because we’re already playing the 5th as the top note of the chord, so it just duplicates a note that’s already there, so doesn’t add anything to the character or completeness of the chord. So Jazz Clue 2 would be a better bet there.
Actually, you’ll find Jazz Clue 2 to be more useful almost all the time, since Jazz Clue 1 by its nature only includes notes that occur in most chords. If it only includes notes that are common to most chords, it doesn’t do anything to distinguish between chords of different quality – for example, CMaj7 and Cmin7 are very different-sounding chords, but in Jazz Clue 1 you play the same notes for both. Jazz Clue 2 is different for each, so is intrinsically more interesting. In a way, Jazz Clue 1 is a stepping-stone, and not so useful by itself, but is still important to know.
So the basic message is: you can use Clue 1 if the melody is strongly third-based, and use Clue 2 for everything else, but Clue 2 will work for everything. You could even use both and it will fill out the sound further.
And a final addendum to my first paragraph – I wouldn’t worry about explaining any of the above to students, at least at the beginning. Just make your own judgment about which clue to recommend to your student for each piece. This is a good example of ‘integrated theory’ at work.
Robin Keehn, Washington
No problem! So, the interval of the 5th is really a neutral interval and it will sound good with anything you play. To have more of a jazz sound requires that you play some type of a 7th chord. There is nothing wrong about using either one, they just have two very different sounds. It comes down to a matter of personal choice.
Cindy B., Illinois
Something that has occurred to me when teaching Clues 1 and 2 is that Clue 1 could be taught WAY BEFORE students begin the Jazz program. My students participated in a local church’s worship band rehearsal this summer, and even though they had extensive accompaniment experience in the studio, and each had prepared for the rehearsal by learning the chords from at least 2 of the lead sheets, the REAL LIFE experience was nearly overwhelming for all but my most experienced, level 9 student. If they had known jazz clue 1, and could just play every chord symbol with a 5th without having to figure out what the middle finger was to do, they could have experienced more success.
As far as jazz Clue 1 vs 2 goes in the jazz program itself, I can’t see any reason to use Clue 1 after they’ve started using Clue 2. Clue 2 works anywhere, and figuring out if a song’s melody is heavy with 3rds is kind of a waste of time, isn’t it, when clue 2 works well everywhere?
Laurie Richards, Nebraska
Once my students are comfortable with Clue 2, there is a simple rule of thumb I have them use – if there is no 7th in a chord, then you would use Clue 1, as Clue 2 does not work. Example – Dsus and D in If You Call. I do usually add a harmony note in the RH to fill out the sound a bit.