Dorian superposition and the bottomless pit of melodies

So, let’s talk about modal superposition, shall we? I guess there were a lot of relatively technical (to avoid the word boring) posts in the recent time where I was mostly talking about scale practice and left hand patterns and whatnot — let’s take a break from that and look at composition.

I adore modes. They’re pure math that lends itself very well to the creative process (which is normally the opposite). They help you widen your composition framework and explore new areas. The cool thing about them is that you don’t have to master them in order to start using them. It’s kind of counter-intuitive as most jazz books assume that you’re familiar with Dorian scale in every key to such extent where you can improvise and harmonise without any effort. That scares a lot of people (me included), so they get stuck and spend years diligently running all the scales and memorising chord qualities, never really getting to the actual application. But that’s wrong!

You can start applying modes right away. The key is, it’s not about taking a particular Dorian scale and blasting it over a minor 7th chord at lightspeed. Instead, it’s more about picking E Dorian key and then adjusting your tools to match its colour.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:

Screenshot 2019-07-07 at 1.03.10 PM.png

Here, I chose to play the 3rd degree of the harmonised Dorian scale (the III∆7 chord) in different shell voicings over the tonic (which is the i7, in this case, represented by a simple 5th chord). The same pattern is played in 3 keys: E, A and D Dorian.

I guess I’ve already mentioned the usefulness of jazz chord voicings like 7-3-5 or 3-7-9 or 3-7-6 — you name it — but I’ll do it once again: they are great material for improvisation, and they are extremely simple to play, because all you have to do is just arpeggiate the shapes you’re already familiar with (if you’re not, practice them harmonically first, I’ve got tons of workouts for that plus there are jazz books).

So, by superimposing G∆7 (Dorian III∆7) over Em7 (Dorian i7) we get a really nice and interesting sound — and that’s already a starting point for a song or improvisation. Cool, right? You don’t need to master Dorian mode in all 12 keys (or — 30 keys, you geeks) to start coming up with great ideas.

Let’s improve the piece above and add some more patterns to it:

Screenshot 2019-07-07 at 1.00.57 PM.png

It’s the same melody, only the left hand now plays full minor 7th arpeggio and switches to chord shells every second bar. See what I’ve done here? The right hand uses the arpeggiated version of the chord shells as the material for the melody, and the left hand plays the same shells harmonically as an accompaniment. Check out how it sounds:

 

Fun fact: one of the tracks from my coming piano EP is based on this workout, so — stay tuned if you’d like to hear the full version! 🤓 (In the meantime, you might want to check out my new album that landed just two days ago.)

That’s it for today, wishing you a nice and productive week, practice hard, harmonise till it hurts, talk to you next time! 🤙🏻

Finger independence routine as a composition tool

Hand independence is one of those technical things that I unconsciously put off for as long as I can, trying to justify it by telling myself that it’s not as important and that I’d be better off focusing on theory or learning pieces, plus it’s just plain boring and frustrating, so why start it anyway. And it’s all right until I sit down to record another piece and realise that I need 20 exhausting takes to lay down a fairly simple part because I just can’t reconcile left hand bass pattern with the melody that my right hand plays. Furthermore, because of the lack of focused work on independence, my fingers tend to avoid complex patterns and I often end up with similarly sounding, repeating melodic landscapes. So yeah, dedicated hand independence workout is important because it improves composition.

But instead of reaching for a Czerny book and embarking on a 10-year nightmare of finger exercises, I decided to make use of some jazz voicings and — as always — come up with a routine that would be fun and musical. So I could actually compose stuff in the process.

Here’s what I started with:

Screenshot 2019-04-30 at 9.49.07 PM.png

As you can see, the right hand simply plays notes from the shell voicing of a major 7th chord (7-3-5 in this case), while the left hand walks up and down the major 7th arpeggio (in full 1-3-5-7 form). Just breaking a shell chord voicing into individual tones already creates a pleasant sounding line! What is the obvious next step to sex it up?

Yes:

Screenshot 2019-04-30 at 8.29.45 PM.png

Add broken 10ths in the left hand. Alternating 10-5-1-5-10 pattern and walking ∆7 arpeggios with LH against the same line with RH already sounds super jazzy and very rich. Just in case — I’m going around the cycle of 4ths here (C∆ → F∆ → etc.) and playing corresponding 7-3-5 shells with my right hand.

Next step — try a more sophisticated intervallic pattern. I love 6ths, James Jameson loves 6ths, why not take them?

Screenshot 2019-04-30 at 8.35.04 PM.png

First, isolate them and practice over descending and ascending arpeggio to let the right hand get used to the new pattern, and then — combine all left hand and right hand lines in one workout:

Screenshot 2019-04-30 at 8.35.58 PM.png

Here C∆ 7-3-5 figure is played over broken 10ths, and then in the next bar, the 6-5-3-7 pattern in F major is played over F∆ arpeggio. Obviously, you can continue on and go around the cycle of 4ths / circle of 5ths or a modal II—V—I.

Finally, here’s an example of a real world application of the all aforementioned techniques. I took the first couple of bars of Always on My Mind by Brenda Lee (D | A | B- | D) and just improvised on them playing mostly 1-5-10, 1-5-1′ pattern with the left hand and different intervallic patterns with the right (mostly focusing on melodically played 7-3-5 shell). Check it out, I’m using colours now! Does it make notes on the staff look less (more?) annoying? 🤓

Screenshot 2019-04-30 at 8.49.17 PM.png

And here’s what it sounds like:

Hope you find it helpful! Till later—

Becoming a scale monster

Last week I’ve shared a non-boring scale hack that is supposed to turn the scale studies that are often viewed as boring and mechanical into an — quoting Dan Haerle — extremely entertaining pastime. I am using it all the time, and just recently I’ve come up with a new workout that could be viewed as a sequel to the original one. Word of warning: its efficiency in terms of fucking up your brain and your finger muscles has improved exponentially. This is why I called it The Scale Monster.

At some point in my bass training I have been introduced to the concept of chord permutations. Basically, it’s just pure math: you have a 7th chord arpeggio, and there are 24 ways to play these notes in a sequence. Not a big deal, right? Later, you realise that you can then take all inversions of this chord and permutate them. Which will give you 96 sequences. Which you will then transpose to all keys and circle around all the modes and create all the Western music.

Of course, it would be crazy for a human to just mechanically practice this hell (although it does improve your fluency tremendously). Instead, you can just use it as a pool of pre-generated patterns to sex up your routine!

Check it out — this is just a regular F#m7 chord played consequently in all inversions:

Screenshot 2019-04-03 at 20.08.34.png

Easy, right?

Going on — F#m7 in all permutations starting on 1:

Screenshot 2019-04-03 at 20.15.51.png

Personally, I just like how it sounds. There is no trace of that worn-out minor arpeggio sound that so many other people are practicing at this very moment all around the world. Yes, it’s a bit robotic — but — we’ll fix that in a sec.

Next — my “aha!” moment: 1st inversion in different permutations:

Screenshot 2019-04-03 at 20.21.48.png

Note that permutating the inversion does not give you the same results as permutating the original chord, as the root (aka 1) is transposed one octave above. So it’s a completely different set of combinations.

As a next step, I’m going to take one permutation of choice (1-3-5-7 in this case) and play all inversions of my F#m7 using it — ascending, then descending:

Screenshot 2019-04-03 at 20.32.29.png

And finally, add the right hand that is going to play the F# Dorian scale dissected into groups of 2 notes:

Screenshot 2019-04-03 at 20.42.13.png

If up until this point you were only mildly challenging the part of your brain responsible for scale fluency, now’s the moment when you finger independence gets fucked up big time! 🤓

Not all of it might sound great — as particular permutations might create dissonant intervals with scale degrees, but that only means that you can spend another two hours trying out other ones figuring out the best combination. And — remember — it was only F# Dorian over F#m7. Sooo… You get the idea 🤙🏻 Harmonise ’till it hurts! Till next time—

Scale practice routine that’s as fun as drugs are bad

I promised to come back with more non-boring scale practice routine ideas, so here they are. I think I made it clear enough in this blog that I hate doing mechanical exercises and thoughtlessly practicing patterns. That’s not very helpful in a real-life situation (still, knowing fingering is important!) Anyway, here’s what I do when I want to learn the scale and be able to use it and also enjoy the sound of my exercise.

I call it scale dissection. You literally take the scale and divide it into small diatonic lines and then snort them in one after another (I swear I tried to come up with the better analogy). It could be something as easy as 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-1, or more sophisticated as b7-1, 1-b3, 5-1, 1-5-10 — you name it. Bottom line, it has to consist of scale tones. To keep left hand busy, you can choose something not very brain-processing-heavy, like a common pattern (see previous post) or — in this case — arpeggiated inversions. This would also improve hand independence. Playing dissected scale and arpeggiated inversion in the adjacent octaves is recommended for the maximum level of brain fuck.

Just like doing an ollie 360 on a skateboard, trying the whole thing unprepared might result in injuries, therefore it might be helpful to approach in three stages:

Screenshot 2019-03-29 at 22.25.17.png

I’m making a one measure pause after each bit to buy me some time and figure out the notes and fingering. Next, making sure I can play arpeggios steadily enough to not to care too much about the right hand:

Screenshot 2019-03-29 at 21.53.23.png

And, finally, the full version:

Screenshot 2019-03-29 at 22.25.35.png

And that’s just one scale! You can do the same in C minor now:

Screenshot 2019-03-29 at 22.27.39.png

And the beauty of this routine is that you don’t have to play the same stuff in all keys. If you feel like it, you can dissect C minor in a completely different way — and then practice switching to in from F minor pattern seamlessly! Sounds like another 2 hours of work right?

Also, all arpeggiated inversions could be replaced with chord permutations (like, 1-3-5-7 or 3-7-5-1, etc.), which can then also be inverted. And what about blues and bebop scales? What about bloody Vagadhisvari scale? You get the idea. Have fun—

More descending motion practice + making it hurt for the right hand

“I only start counting when it starts to hurt” — inspired by this Mohammed Ali quote, I decided to make it hurt (well, for my brain) during today’s practice session. I am currently focusing on descending motion in the left hand as it’s my weakness (due to the years of ignoring reverse arpeggios), but, as you know, I don’t like doing just one thing as it quickly gets boring and frustrating. So I took two of my older exercises and added some mindfuck to them to also work on right hand.

Screenshot 2019-03-24 at 10.50.05.png

This is the continuation on the original one. I simply play 9ths over moving inversions, and because there is this panicky moment when hands are about to overlap, this version makes me think more, i. e. makes it hurt in a more effective way. Right?

Secondly, I came up with an improvement for this exercise. Now the right hand is involved, too, and it has to play the pattern that gets more and more complicated with each measure. The biggest fun for me happens in the last measure where I have to think about different scale degrees that I have to play with my left and my right hands. Yes, brain, it feels natural both physically and sonically to play C and then D with both hands, but in this case, it has to be D and then doubled Eb! (See sheet music for the explanation of this inner dialogue.)

Screenshot 2019-03-24 at 11.01.11

Descending motion is important, too!

Just realised that since I have discovered broken 10th patterns, I’ve been focusing heavily on ascending motion, almost completely ignoring the descending part. Here’s a workout that I’ve recently come up with to make up for that.

Left hand plays descending 10-5-1 pattern and then also continues with descending pattern of diatonic intervals alternating with the root. Doing it around the cycle of 4ths, as always!

Screenshot 2019-03-23 at 10.07.17

Then, of course, there’s the Fear Of Overlapping™ that has to be addressed — also in the context of descending motion. So here’s another exercise that does the job for me:

Screenshot 2019-03-23 at 10.43.10.png

Here I’m doing the same trick with alternating voicings (3-7-9 to 7-3-5) and forcing the left hand to play the same key as the right within one measure. I wrote about this here a little bit more in-depth.

Piano day (1h 40m)

Modal studies

  • Lydian DNA in 7th arpeggios
    • LH only
    • LH + alternating shells in RH (gave up pretty quickly, need to approach it slowly)
  • Harmonising Lydian scale in chord pairs around the cycle in growing gaps (Imaj7 — II7, Imaj7 — iii, Imaj7 — #IV, etc. — e. g. C — D, F — A-, Bb — Eø, etc.) — extra cool exercise!

Arpeggios + combined LH & RH melodic studies

Screenshot 2019-03-04 at 08.26.15.png

This badass workout achieves three goals:

  • Improve LH technique by drilling the 2-octave arpeggios along with harmonic intervals
  • Think in chord tones and improve key fluency
  • Enjoy the non-boring exercise that actually sounds nice even though you’re still just playing a diatonic pattern around the cycle of goddam fourths

Improv

  • Major blues scale improv in all keys (recap)
    • LH: harmonic 5ths & 6ths
    • Broken 10ths + blocks

Just for the hell of it

  • All Lydian scales (similar & contrary motion)