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JAZZ THEORY (BeBop Drills)

The Use of Tensions 3

Many different melodic styles of jazz improvising can be created using chord tones and tensions as a starting point. Here we will explore a few ideas designed to put our new tools to work. We will use Cmaj7 (c-e-g-b-d-f#-a) for all examples.

The first concept we will call overlay. Bi-chords and poly-chords are one application of this technique commonly used in jazz. We have already used a 1-3-5-7 [1-&-2-&] pattern to express the sound of the chord tones. This same ascending eighth-note pattern can be built from each tone, exposing other hidden chord structures, as follows: e-g-b-d [Em7],  g-b-d-f# [Gmaj7],  b-d-f#-a [Bm7],  d-f#-a-c [D7],  f#-a-c-e [F#-7b5],  and a-c-e-g [Am7]. Each of these can be taken through the cycle of fifths [C-F-Bb-Eb-Ab-Db-F#-B-E-A-D-G], and string and keyboard players can sing the roots to better hear the relationships formed by the variations (for all examples above C would be the root). Triads can also be drilled using a 1-&-2-rest rhythm. The resulting triads for Cmaj7 are as follows: C, Em, G, Bm, D, F#o, and Am.

Many modern styles use ideas developed from chord scales. These are created by combining chord tones and tensions together in a scale, as in c-d-e-f#-g-a-b (1-9-3-#11-5-13-7). All of these tones can be used on a Cmaj7 chord at any time in any way, greatly expanding the possibilities for improvisation. Three sounds which do this are tetratonics, pentatonics and hexatonics [ more on hexatonics ].

Tetratonics group any four pitches together in any combination. These can be mixed and matched in infinite variations. A good way to practice them is to sequence a group through the chord scale. The group c-d-g-a would sequence as follows: c-d-g-a,  d-e-a-b,  e-f#-b-c,  f#-g-c-d,  g-a-d-e,  a-b-e-f#,  and b-c-f#-g. Try your own ideas for groups, and woodshed (practice) the ones you like. Three major pentatonic scales can be created with the chord scale. They are C major pentatonic [c-d-e-g-a], G major pentatonic [g-a-b-d-e], and D major pentatonic [d-e-f#-a-b]. If you are already comfortable with pentatonic scales, these are fun and easy to apply. Hexatonic scales are created by combining two mutually exclusive triads. C and D [c-d-e-f#-g-a] are used most often to represent Cmaj7. Other possibilities include D and Em [d-e-f#-g-a-b], Em and F#o [e-f#-g-a-b-c], F#o and G [f#-g-a-b-c-d], G and Am [g-a-b-c-d-e], Am and Bm [a-b-c-d-e-f#], and Bm and C [b-c-d-e-f#-g].

Remember these ideas only scratch the surface. Experimentation will yield many more possibilities. As always, use your ears to find the sounds you like, and happy drilling! [top]
- Frank Singer 2002  

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


Legbones from Cat's A Bear's Tito: In Search of a Revolution is constructed using hexatonics for the melody and chording.

Change from Cat's A Bear's Tito In Wonderland is constructed using hexatonics for the melody and chording.

Much of Blue Tito from Cat's A Bear's Tito: In Search of a Revolution is constructed using hexatonics for the melody and chording.




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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