This month, we examine the dependable ii-V chord progression within the extended ii-V-iii-VI that you find in a traditional jazz turnaround. The following examples represent the progression in the key of G.
1. LINES WITH SURPRISES
With a little training, we can all run up and down the scales or modes like bebop machines. (Heck, some players have made a career out of it!) For me, what makes a player stand out is how they choose to construct these lines differently. I like to challenge myself to resolve a standard bebop-type scale on an unexpected chord tone. In Ex. 1, I begin by walking up a diatonic C major scale (appropriate to the ii chord or A min). But rather than resolve to the B natural, I chose a Bb, which is the flat 13 of the D. Surprise! Then in bar 4, there’s another natural-13 phrase answered by a flat-13 phrase. Surprise yourself with unexpected chord tones of your own.
2. PARALLEL ARPEGGIOS
The layout of the piano and how the hands are placed on the keyboard makes it easy to arpeggiate chords as a method of improvisation. In Ex. 2 we explore this technique using a parallel pair of arpeggios in bar 4. Here, a B min arpeggio is followed by a Bb min arpeggio (a half step down), substituting for what would traditionally be an E7 chord. I think any parallel movement gives the listener a repeated idea to latch onto.
Ex. 3 is fun. See if you can construct an interesting line by not jumping any more than a whole step. It’s more of a challenge than it seems and can make for some interesting, slinky lines. (Admittedly, I jump-started this exercise with a minor third. Oops!)
4. DIMINISHING RETURNS
There are many patterns with movement in minor thirds, or so-called “diminished licks.” These are fun to explore, as illustrated in Ex. 4. Try creating your own diminished patterns and see what you come up with.
5. BACH TO MOTIFS
Ex. 5 may be reminiscent of a certain Bach invention you practiced in grade school. But rather than repeating it in a very square way, I displaced it over the bar line. Again, repeating and developing a motif gives the listener a journey to follow, and adding rhythmic variety increases tension.
Jeff Babko is the keyboardist in the house band on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Babko’s latest release, Band of Other Brothers—City of Cranes, is out now. Find out more at jeffbabko.com.