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JAZZ THEORY (BeBop Drills)

The Key of the Moment

Harmony developed from the layered melodic use of the major scale, first in counterpoint, then in chorale music. Since that time, chord progressions have been understood by their connection to, and location within, a key area. While simple classical harmony, folk music, and many popular music progressions stay fixed in one key, BeBop harmony can switch from one key family to another at any time. These key areas are called keys of the moment, and can contain any number of diatonic chords.

In BeBop, the II - V progression represents the most prevalent key of the moment progression. Even if the actual resolution of the sequence is different, the expectation set up by playing a II - V is that the next note in the cycle of fifths [C-F-Bb-Eb-Ab-Db-F#-B-E-A-D-G] after the root of the V7 chord is the root of the I chord, and of the major scale from which the ii-v is taken. For our examples, we will use Dm7-G7, the II - V of C major. BeBop uses this key affiliation in two ways, passing tones and scale approaches.

The complete definition of the first technique is a passing tone between two different chord tones by scale step. Because the chords in a II - V are built in thirds, and major scales in seconds, three out of the four chord tones will have a scale step in between. Each of these three-note groupings form a melodic cell, which can be used as a segment in improvised lines. For Dm7 the cells are as follows, listed first in ascending, then in descending order: d-e-f or f-e-d, f-g-a or a-g-f, and a-b-c or c-b-a. There are no scale steps between c-d, so there are no passing tones. For G7 the cells are g-a-b or b-a-g, b-c-d or d-c-b, and d-e-f or f-e-d. The notes f-g are adjacent in the scale, so no passing tone exists here. Learn and play all of the cell groupings for each of the II - Vs listed in the II V progression article by finding the key of the moment for each II - V, and inserting the scale steps from the appropriate major scale in between the chord tones in question, moving in both directions.

Scale approaches from above to chord tones do exactly what is described. A chord tone is selected for targeting, and the scale note immediately above is played first, followed by that chord lone, usually in an eighth-note rhythm. The technique needs two eighth-notes to complete itself, which offers the choice of resolving to the chord tone on the beat or the 'and' [off-beat]. For Dm7 the scale approaches are e-d, g-f, b-a, and d-c. For G7 they are a-g, c-b, e-d, and g-f. Learn and play all of the scale approaches for each II - V listed in the preceding II - V article.

These two ways of involving scales in improvising help shape the sound of the scale around the chord tones. Use them to intersect the arpeggiation of chord tones in your practicing and soloing. Listen for the sound of these ideas in jazz solos, look for them in your own and other peoples' transcriptions, and create solos over the II - V series in a 2-beat [4 eighth-note] and 4-bcat [8 eighth-note] rhythmic pattern. As always, use your ears and happy drilling!  [top]
- Frank Singer 2002

I originally learned these concepts from Charlie Banacos, private instructor.



The Language of BeBop
The Use of Tensions 1
The Use of Tensions 2 
The Use of Tensions 3 
The Jazz Sub-Dominant Chord - II-7 
The Jazz Dominant Chord - V7  
The II-7 V7 Progression - II V series  
The Key of the Moment  
"Watch out for those chromatics!"    
Ear Training  


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