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November18th,2011

UsingPermutationtoCreateUnlimitedMusicalIdeasandKiller
Technique
ByEric

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Timeandagain,wevestressedonthissitethatscalesarenotthesecrettojazzimprovisation.
However,scalescanbebeneficialifyoupracticeandapplythemintherightway.Onceyouaurallyunderstand
andingrainthevitalaspectsofthejazzlanguage(i.e.phrasing,melodicconstruction,expression,harmonic
application,time,articulation,etc.)thescalesandtheorythatyoustudyinthepracticeroomcansubstantially
improveyourtechnique.
Notonlythat,scalescoupledwithadeepharmonicknowledgecaninfinitelyexpandyouroptionsformusical
expression.
Whoa,waitasecond!Soscalesarehorribleandtobeavoidedatallcosts,buttheyrealsoinvaluablefor
musicalexpression?Iknowitssoundscontradictory,butconsiderhowmusicispresentedinmosteducational
settings.Thecruxofthismatterliesinthewaythatthemajorityofmusiciansviewscales.
Mostbeginningplayers,amateurimprovisers,andevensomeaccomplishedmusiciansseescalesas8notesthat
eitherascendanddescend.Thatsit.Notrelatedtomusicalityorharmonicapplication,justanotherexerciseto
bepracticedinall12keysbecausesomeonetoldthemto.Whatsworse,manyfrustratedimprovisersusethis
limitedviewofscalesasthebasisforcreatingsolosoverchordprogressions.
Oneofthemajorproblemsthatpeoplehaveinlearningtoimproviseisthattheyturnoftheirearsandonlythink
ofscalesinordertocomeupwithasolo.Thissimplydoesntwork.Scalesareforthepracticeroomandshould
beusedtoingraintechniqueandanelementaryunderstandingofharmony.
Language,ears,andmusicalcreativityontheotherhand,arewhatyouneedforperformanceandimprovisation.
Thinkofscalesnotasthose8ascendinganddescendingnotes,butrather,asapracticeresourcefromwhichyou
cancreateendlesspossibilitiesformelodicmaterial.
Allyoucandoisplayamelody.Nomatterhowcomplicateditgets,itsstillamelody.~StanGetz

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Anythingthatyouimproviseisamelodywhetheritsascalefragment,aninterval,orsimplyasustainednote.
Somemelodiesareinspiredandcreativewhileothersarethrowntogetherandpoorlyexecuted.Ourgoalas
improvisersistobecreativeinconstructingourmelodiesandtocontinuouslystrivetomakethembetter.
Ultimately,wemustmakethemmoretruetowhatwerehearingandfeelinginsideourselvesatanymomentin
time.
ImagineanymelodicorscalefragmentasaRubiksCube.Twistitonewayandyouvechangedtheharmonic
coloroftheline.Twistitanotherandyouvealteredthemelodicshapeoftheline.Prettysoon,afterafewsmall
adjustments,youhaveacompletelynewlineallwithoutchangingthebuildingblocksoftheoriginalmelody.
Byusingthisconceptofexploringthepermutationofasimpleidea,youcancreateinfinitepossibilitieswith
verylimitedresources.

Howtoturn4notesintoawellofmusicalideas
ThinkofanFminorpentatonicscale.Inyourmind,youprobablyseeitonamusicstaffgoingupanddown
fromthefirstspaceFtotheFonthetopline.Becauseyouvedefinedthisscaleinyourmindinthisfashion,
whenyougotoimproviseyoullbepullingnotesfromastaticmentalimage.Thisisnotideal,butironically,its
thewaythatmanypeoplethinkastheygotoimprovise.
Whatweneedtodoasimprovisersistogetawayfromthislimitedmentalviewofscalesandchords.Whenwe
hearasoundorthinkofascale,wewanttohaveunlimitedpossibilitiesforcreativeexpression,notjustthe
mentalpictureof8notesonastaff.Thegoodnewsisthatitseasytochangethisfrustratingmindset.
Asimpleandhighlyeffectivewaytocreatelimitlessvariationsandimproveyourtechniqueatthesametimeis
tocreatesmallcellsorgroupingsofascaleorpattern.Thenexploreeverypermutationofthesecellsandyoull
quicklyfindyourselfwithmoremelodicmaterialthenyouknowwhattodowith.
LetsgobacktothatFminorpentatonicscaleagain,butthistimewelljustusethefirstfournotes.Itmaybe
hardtobelieve,butwiththissmallscalefragment,youcanactuallycreateunlimitedmusicalideas.

Inastepbystepprocessbelow,Illshowyousomesimpletechniquestoturnthesefournotesintoinfinite
sourcesformelodicdevelopmentinyoursolos.Stopthinkingofscalesorpatternsinalimitedandone
dimensionalway.Withaslightadjustmentinyourpracticeroutine,youcancompletelytransformyourapproach
toimprovisation.

5NoteCells
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Whatsacell?AquicklookonWikipediawilltellyouthatitsasmallrhythmicandmelodicdesignthatcanbe
isolated.Thiscellcanbedeveloped,independentofitscontext,asamelodicfragmentanditcanbeusedas
adevelopmentalmotif.
ThisisessentiallywhatwearegoingtodowiththatFminorpentatonicscaleinordertocreateunlimited
melodicmaterial.Weretakingasmallrhythmicandmelodicpieceofthescale,takingitoutofitsoriginal
scalarcontext,anddevelopingthatfragmentintonewmusicalideasthroughtheuseofpermutation.
Itsreallynotascomplexasitseemsandyoucanusethisprocesswithanyscale.Below,Iveconstructedfour5
notecellsusingthematerialofthatpentatonicscale.Isimplytookthetheoriginal4notesandaddedthefirst
noteontotheendofthelinetocreatea5notecell.Takealook:
Cell#1:Startonthe1stnoteandfollowthesequenceuntilthefirstnoteisrepeated.

Cell#2:Startonthe2ndnoteandfollowthesequenceuntilyoureachthe2ndnoteagain.

Cell#3:Startonthe3rdnoteandfollowthesequenceuntilyoureachthe3rdnoteagain.

Cell#4:Startonthe4thnoteandfollowthesequenceuntilyoureachthe4thnoteagain.

Playeachofthesecellswithametronomeandslowlyincreasethespeed.Repeateachoneuntilyoucanplayit
comfortablyatadoubletimespeed(orfaster).Concentrateonyourfingertechniqueandsound,aimingfor
100%accuracyallthewaythrough.
Whenyouhaveeach5notecelluptospeed,playtheminsuccession:

Again,graduallyworkupthetempoofthisfourbarphaseuntilyoucanplayitveryquickly.Whenyouve
practicedallofthese5notecells,youhavethebasicpermutationsofthatoriginalascending4notepentatonic
fragmentcovered.

7NoteCells
Whenyourecomfortablewiththe5notecells,itstimetoaugmenteachonetocreatea7notecell.
Theideaofconstructing7notecellsisexactlythesameastheprocessfor5notecells.Startwiththefirstnote
andcontinuethroughthepatternuntilyouendupwith7notes.Thenforthenextcell,simplystartonthenext
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consecutivenoteofthepattern:

Dependingonthelengthoftheoriginalmelodicorscalefragment,youcancreatecellsofdifferentlengths.Just
makesurethatyouaregettingvariationbetweeneachconsecutivecell.Fora4notescalefragment,asweused
above,trycreatingpermutationswith3,5,6,7,and9notecells.

3Methodsforcreatingvariationwiththesecells
Exploringandmasteringthepermutationsofeachcellisonlythebeginning.Therestillremainnumerous
optionsforvariationandthewaywellachievethisisbyincorporatingsomekeyelementsofmusicalitynamely
rhythm,time,melody,andarticulation.
I)Rhythmicandmetricvariation
Onceyourecomfortablewiththebasiccellsandtheirpermutations,tryalteringthemetricorrhythmiccontent
oftheoriginalmelodicfragmenttocreatemorevariation.Letsusethe5notecellsfromaboveasanexample:

Takethequarterrestsoutandyoullcreateafeelingof3/4overthe4/4timesignature.Thisisagreatdeviceto
usewhenyouwanttocarryphrasesoverthebarlineandcreatetensionbyoffsettingthetime:

Anothereasywaytocreatenewmaterialwiththosesamefournotes,istoaltertherhythmiccontentofeachcell.
Thepossibilitiesareendlesshere.

Alsotrygroupingthefivenotesofthecellintodifferentrhythmicpairingstoaccentdifferentnotes.This
particularrhythmemphasizesthe4thnoteofeachcell:

Andtherhythmbelowemphasizesthe2ndnoteofeach5notecell:

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Asyoucansee,theserhythmicvariationscancompletelychangethecharacteroftheoriginalline.These
examplesarejustafewquickideas,seewhatyoucancomeupwithonyourowninthepracticeroom.
II)Melodicvariation
Withalloftheaboveexamples,wewereusingtheascendingfirstfournotesoftheFminorpentatonicscale.
However,youcanchangethedirectionorshapeoftheoriginallinetocreateevenmorevariety.Forexample,try
adescendingversionofthatoriginalpentatonicfragment:

Nowtakethisthrougheverypermutationofa5notecell:

Youcanalsochangetheshapeandintervalliccontentoftheinitialcelltoproduceevenmoremelodic
possibilities:

Thisisjustoneexample,challengeyourselftofindevenmorebyalteringtheintervalliccontentofthosefour
notes.
III)Variationsinarticulation
Thethirdwaytocreatevariationinthesecellsistoalterthearticulation.Tonguingorslurringeverynoteofan
eighthnotelinecanbeveryboringtolistento.Articulationaddsinterest,expression,andaccentsdifferentnotes
intheline.Asastart,tryusingjazzarticulationandaccentingtheupbeatsoftheline:

Then,explorethedifferentcombinationsofstaccato,legato,andslurringtocreatenewvariationsonthat
originalcell:

Creatingharmonictension
Sofarweveonlyworkedonvariationinonekey,Fminor.Eventuallyyouwillwanttoworkoutthesecellsand
melodicdevicesinall12keys.Onceyouhavethesevariouscellstogetherinall12keys,youcancombineone
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cellwithacellinadifferentkeytocreateharmonicinterestandtension.
Forexampletakethe7notecellwewereworkingonaboveandtransposeittothekeyofF#minor:

NowexperimentwithinsertingpiecesoftheseF#cellsintotheoriginalFminorcells.Atfirsttryalternating
measuresbetweenthekeysandthenseeifyoucanalternatebyhalfstepseveryfewnotes.Belowisaverybasic
exampleofthistechnique:

Themorecontrolthatyouhaveovereachcellandthesubtletywithwhichyoucanapplytheminvariousrelated
andunrelatedharmonicsituationswillgreatlyaddtotheharmonicinterestofyoursolos.Takethisconceptinto
thepracticeroomandcreateyourownpatternstoapplytoyoursolos.

Beforepermutationandafter
TakeasecondandthinkbacktothewaythatyouwerevisualizingthatFminorpentatonicscaleatthebeginning
ofthisarticle.Itprobablylookedsomethinglikethisinyourmind:

Everymelodicideabasedonthisscalewouldcomefromthisonementalimage.Whenyouaresoloinginthe
heatofthemoment,thislimitedvisionisnotgoingtogetyouveryfar.However,afterpracticingtheideasof
permutationandvariationdescribedabove,creatingalinelikethiscanbecomewellwithinyourreach:

Bysimplychangingyourmindsetaboutscalesandthewaythatyoupracticethem,youllbeabletoimagineand
executelinesthatyouneverthoughtpossibleinyourimprovisation.
Applythisconcepttoeverytypeofscaleorpatternthatyoulike:majorandminorscales,alteredscales,
chromaticlines,pentatonicfragments,wholetonemelodies,etc.Bycreatingcellsandexploringtheir
permutationsyoulldiscoverunlimitedmelodicideasandbegintodevelopanentirelynewleveloftechnique.
IonceheardatapeofWoodyShawgivingalessontoaluckystudentinahotelroom.Ontherecording,youcan
hearShawdemonstratingthekeyexerciseshepracticedeverydaytocreatehissignaturestyleofimprovisation.
Arepeatedfournoteintervallicline,aninenotechromaticpattern,agroupofrepeatedlargeintervalscells,
permutation,variation.
Ifyoureseriousabouttransformingyourimprovisationandtakingyourtechniquetothenextlevel,dont
underestimatethepoweroftheseconcepts,aquicklistentoWoodyShawisalltheproofyouneed:
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WOODY SHAW: "Stepping Stone (1979)

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