Skip to 0 minutes and 10 secondsI want to have a look at an exercise that we’re going to do in the first instance on a major scale. Since we played “Blackbird” recently, let’s be specific and let’s think about G major.

Skip to 0 minutes and 27 secondsWhat I’m going to do you can do on all major scales and, in fact, what I’m going to do you can do on all scales. So it’s quite important. What I’m trying to do is to give you an exercise that gets you inside the scale, that gets you to the point where you feel, kind of fluid and flexible and confident about using the scale.

Skip to 0 minutes and 52 secondsWhat I’m going to do is just play in octaves in the left hand any root which belongs to the scale and over the top I’m going to improvise using all the notes of the major scale. I’ll start off - because that’s how we started the session - by playing pentatonic notes in the right hand, but after that I’m going to be playing the whole of the major scale. That’s the important thing. I want to get the whole of the major scale in in over roots, where the roots are octaves from the scale itself, like this.

Skip to 2 minutes and 10 secondsThat wasn’t really in any particular time, although you can play it in time if you want to. The important thing is getting these roots from the major scale and then improvising on the major scale and no other notes are allowed. I did cheat a bit because I think at one stage I played a crushed note which involved B flat, but I didn’t mean to. It’s not the idea of this exercise.

Skip to 2 minutes and 38 secondsYou can think of it, in one sense, as what we’re doing is we are looking at the modes because as we play a root which is not G and we’re playing over G major scale then we’re actually playing on the particular Ionian mode.

Skip to 2 minutes and 56 secondsNow I want to do the same thing with chords. Let’s think about the chords for a second. Take G - I’m going to play G major7, either the third inversion or the 6/9; A - third inversion or the first inversion; I’ll leave B for the moment; C - I’ll play C major7, either the 6/9 or the third inversion; D - I’m going to play D7, I’m not sure quite what octave I’m going to play it in; E - I’m going to play the first inversion and, again, I’m not really quite sure which octave to play it in - that sounds a bit high - the third inversion, we are up to E; F sharp - and then I’ll leave that for the moment; and then G - we’re back again.

Skip to 3 minutes and 53 secondsNow take F sharp.

Skip to 3 minutes and 56 secondsF sharp: we’re only allowed white notes apart from F sharp. If I build up a chord in thirds on that, I get this chord and this chord - well this chord is F sharp minor 7, this chord is F sharp minor 7 with a flat five, and a minor seventh with a flat five is a half diminished so I could play a voicing for a half diminished. If you remember there a root voicing I quite like, which in C is that, which in D is that, which in E is that, which in F sharp is that.

Skip to 4 minutes and 35 secondsSo that’s OK, I can use that voicing for F sharp. If I want a root on F sharp.

Skip to 4 minutes and 44 secondsThe problem comes with B.

Skip to 4 minutes and 44 secondsB: if I take just B minor7, it has to be minor because the D’s in it, most of our chords have ninths in them and, the trouble is once we’ve got them with ninths in, we’ve got a C sharp which is not in the scale of G major. So what do we do? Well, we can flatten that, so we get a first inversion with a flat ninth (although it looks like D7), or the other voicing is to take the third inversion and to lower it (the ninth). What we’re actually doing is getting a chord which is a minor seventh with a flattened ninth.

Skip to 5 minutes and 29 secondsA minor seventh with a flattened ninth is a very rare occuring chord and I’m not really quite sure what status to give it. Perhaps a better way to think of this - we’re look at this again in an upcoming sesion - is to think of a G chord - any chord you like made up of all the notes from G major rooted over F sharp - it’s called unrelated roots. What I’m going to do now is the same thing as I just did but I’m going to put in chords. So when I play an A I put in an A chord. When I play a D I put in a D chord, and these notes come in any order.

Skip to 6 minutes and 11 secondsRemember for F sharp we’re going to play this chord, even though I ‘m actually going to play over G major and not the half diminished scale. It’s about getting inside G major. Then for B I’m going to use a chord which I very seldom use. Let’s have a go.

Skip to 7 minutes and 21 secondsIt’s about getting inside the scale G major and feeling really confident that almost you can play any of the notes in the right hand, any of the roots in the left hand, any mixes of voicings in the left hand and know that you’re in G major.

Skip to 7 minutes and 41 secondsYou can do the same thing for all the other major scales and then you can do the same thing to all the minor scales and all our other scales. It’s a way of just kind of really feeling confident that when you see G major7 you are really into that scale and know it intimately. It will take a long time to this for all the other scales but if you want an exercise that you can do each day just take a scale and have a go at this “getting inside” mechanism.

Major scale exercises

We present some exercises designed to get you “inside” major scales.

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This video is from the free online course:

Learn Jazz Piano: III. Solo Piano and Advanced Topics

Goldsmiths, University of London