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JAZZ THEORY (BeBop Drills)

"Watch out for those chromatics!"

Charlie Parker, one of the great BeBop creators, was once accused of playing "chromatic scales up and down all the keys" [Ross Russell, Bird Lives, p. 173]. For years afterwards, he warned his sidemen to "watch out for those chromatics, "[ibid.] In actuality, Parker and the other BeBop musicians used specific techniques to achieve much of the chromaticism found in this important jazz style. The two we will explore here are chromatic approaches from below [ch], and embellished whole step scale approaches from above [ewssa].

Any chord tone can be preceded by a note a half step below, the two notes usually played within an eighth note of each other. Chromatic approaches from below for a C major seventh chord are as follows: b-c, d#-e, f#-g, and a#-b. To practice this technique, approach the root, 3rd, 5th and 7th of each major seventh, minor seventh, and dominant seventh chord, moving through the cycle of fifths [C, F, Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, F#, B, E, A, D, G]. Use a 1-&-2-&-3-&-4-& rhythm, as in || b-c, d#-e, f#-g, a#-b [Cmaj7] || e-f, g#-a, b-c, d#-e [Fmaj7] ||, etc. A rhythmic variation is achieved by beginning the sequence on the & of four, so that the chord tones fall on the beats instead of the &s.

In exploring scale approaches from above, you may have observed that some are a half step above the target, and others are a whole step above. For ewssa, we are concerned with the whole step scale approaches. The root, 3rd and 5th of major seventh chords can be targeted this way, as in d-c, f#-e, and a-g [Cmaj7]. All chord tones in minor sevenths have whole steps above in the appropriate scale, as in d-c, f-Eb, a-g, and c-Bb [Cm7]. Dominant sevenths have scale tones a whole step above the root, 5th and 7th, as in d-c, a-g, and c-Bb [C7]. To create the embellished whole step scale approach, insert a half step in between the scale tone and the chord tone it is targeting. The examples are: d-Db-c, f#-f-e, and a-Ab-g [Cmaj7], d-Db-c, f-e-Eb, a-Ab-g, and c-b-Bb [Cm7], and d-Db-c, a-Ab-g, and c-b-Bb [C7]. Learn and play the ewssa's for all major seventh, minor seventh and dominant seventh chords.

Listen for these two techniques in recorded and live jazz solos, identify them in BeBop melodies and transcriptions, and create your own solos with them over your favorite tunes and chord progressions. As always, use your ears, and happy drilling!
- 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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