Key change negotiation for the jazz rookie - Page 1 Online Guitar Lessons
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Improvising over key changes

One difficulty that many beginning jazz guitar players have, is to improvise on a tune that changes keys. Guitar players do not usually start out playing jazz. They usually migrate to jazz from other styles like rock or blues. In a rock or blues setting, it is not as common to change keys during a solo. Most of the time you could simply just play out of one scale and be safe. In a jazz tune, you may only be safe with one scale for one or two measures. The ability to change keys easily is going to be a very important skill.

What we are going to talk about in this lesson, are some ideas to make changing keys a little easier for the rookie jazz guitarist.

Improvising in major keys

The first key change that we are going to take a look at is C to Bb. One reason, is that moving down a whole step (2 frets) is a very common key change. The other reason is that we are going to be using 2 hopefully familiar scale shapes to do it. In the simplest sense, you could just take the same scale fingering and move it down and up between the two keys. The disadvantage is that making a smooth transition between keys is more difficult.

At first, the easiest scales to learn to improvise with, are pentatonic scales. Here are 2 different fingerings for the major pentatonic scale. The blue dots represents the root of the scale. C for the C major pentatonic and Bb for the Bb major pentatonic.

C major pentatonic

C major pentatonic scale grid

* these scale charts are from the same prospective as a chord chart

Bb major pentatonic

Bb major pentatonic scale grid

In our first attempt at changing keys in a solo, lets make it simple. There will be 2 measures of C, and 2 measures of Bb. You are only going to improvise on the 1st and 2nd strings. By playing only on 2 strings you are going to get used to the sounds of the notes you are playing much quicker. Your goal in improvisation should be to play what you hear in your head, not just playing out of a scale fingering. Playing only on 2 strings will also give you a little less to think about when it comes time to switch keys.

Listen to the example first, and then try improvising with the one of the MIDI background tracks. Try to play very simple, rhythmically strong melodies. Do not play fast. You only have 4 notes in each key you can use for this exercise, so get as much mileage out of them as possible. At the key change, concentrate on emphasizing the notes that are different between the two fingerings. One common habit to stay clear of, is stopping your phrase right before the key change. Then starting the next phrase at the beginning of the next key. Try to make your phrases flow through the key change.

Improvisation Example
Play RealPlayer Audio
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Play along MIDI files

tempo 100
tempo 120
tempo 140

get crescendo MIDI player

Note: There is a difference between improvising, and practicing improvisation. When you are practicing improvisation, you are working on developing specific skills. Working with certain limitations, helps you learn those specific skills at a faster rate. Don't feel that playing on only two strings is stifling your creativity. In the long run this will increase your creativity by, forcing you to do more with less.

The next step is to move on to other 2 string combinations. Then work on 3 string combinations, and then free yourself up a little and use the full range of each scale fingering.

Page 2, improvising in minor keys

Free Download - 17 Essential Strum Patterns PDF

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