Practice session: modes of harmonic minor & not forgetting 10ths

Scale studies

  • All Hm1 scales
    • Focus on sharp keys
    • Accidentals jam Bb — F — Eb (Hm1)
    • Accidentals jam C — F — Bb (Dor)

Left hand

Session timing: 2h

Piano day (1h 50m)

  • Modal studies
    • Harmonising Harmonic minor (as if it was not already harmonic enough — IT’S NOT FUNNY DAD — I know — okay let’s change the topic)
      • Hm1 (key of C), shells 7-5-3, 3-7-9, 7-3-6
      • Hm3 (key of C), shells 7-5-3, 3-7-9, 7-3-6
      • Improv with “blanket scale” over Hm3 (A Harm. minor over 3rd mode of C)
  • Left hand
    • Stride patterns: recap 2-octave jumps with 7-1-3 and 1-3-7 kind of stuff
    • Rolling tenths
  • Jazz voicings
    • Voice leading patterns (A — B, A — A, etc.) while switching between different scale degrees (Dan Haerle, “The Jazz Language”, Chapter 7)

Observations

I must say I’m finally starting to like Harmonic minor. It was really weird at the very beginning, because of the rather unique chord qualities: minor / major 7th, augmented major 7th and fully diminished, not to mention two m7b5’s. It’s a really harsh sound, and while the scale itself is beautiful, the modes that it produces sound at first kinda ugly. But that’s where the power of modal approach comes in. Just because you don’t like minor / major 7th chord as your I (the Roman numeral, lol), doesn’t mean it sucks. It simply means you should try and start on another degree and see if you will like the new progression. I decided to start on III, which makes the 3rd mode of Harmonic minor. I like the sound of augmented major 7 chord, and I like how it falls into the pure minor IV (i. e. II in the 3rd mode). Now we’re talking! Instead of unsure and a bit intoxicated Cm/M7 to Dm7b5, I have beautiful, complex and fragile, unexpected and really otherworldly Cmaj7#5 to Dm7. Wow! So yeah. That’s how you get to love the stuff that makes you feel uncomfortable at first.

Piano day (2h)

  • Improvisation
    • Studies in D Dorian
      • ii — v — i in shells in LH
      • Improvisation with “blanket scale” (D Dorian)
      • Try all chord scales for each degree (Aeolian, Dorian, Phrygian and Hm4 for minor), i. e. E Aeol, E Dor, E Phryg and E Hm4 for E-,  A Aeol, A Dor, A Phryg and A Hm4 for A-, etc.
      • Try keeping same modal color over the whole progression (only Aeol / only Phryg / only Dor)
      • Try mixing with blanket scale (sounded weird but definitely playable)
      • Mix Hm4 with minor blues (only a few notes’ difference)
  • Jazz voicings
    • m7 → 7
    • 7 → maj7
    • 7 → m7
    • Fourthy modal voicings (D Dorian, G Dorian)

Observations

Mixing chord scales with key scale is definitely a wonderful framework for improvisation. I learned it from Rich Brown, as he was combining Aeolian and Phrygian over a minor chord to produce cool chromaticisms. It’s not always guaranteed to get great results, but it definitely helps a lot in terms of expanding your vocabulary. For example, I would’ve never thought of combing minor and harmonic minor mode 4 over a minor chord unless I forced myself to try it (which I did), and it actually sounded AWESOME! So yeah, Hm4 over Dorian ii chord — try it, folks.

Piano day (2h) + Routine update

  • Jazz voicings
    • Dominant to minor #1 (+7 → m9 and back)
    • Dominant to minor #2 (7b9 → m7 and back)
    • Recap: dominant to major
    • Recao: minor to dominant
    • Recap: all 7ths around the cycle
  • Improvisation
    • Blues scale in all keys
    • Blues scale in RH, dominant chords in LH (around the cycle)
  • Modes
    • Harmonic minor mode 1
      • Harmonising with 7th chords: A through D#
      • Hm scales with both hands: A through D# around the circle of 5ths
  • Combining skills
    • Improvisation over Hm1 progression in F# (I — II — V — VI) with F# Hm + F# blues scale, using shell voicings in left hand

Observations

Just made a big review of my piano routine and goals, made it on paper and just wanted to put a quick digest of it here. So, I have three main areas of focus at the moment:

  1. Jazz voicings (shells, voice leading and transitions)
  2. Improvisation (blues & modal scales, common chord progressions, left hand patterns)
  3. Composition / modal focus (major modes, harmonic minor modes, melodic minor modes and their typical chord progressions)

I have a lot of exercises in each area that I partly borrow from some jazz books, partly take from my music school notes, partly invent myself. Luckily, they seem to overlap pretty good, and, in fact, there’s an area where all three come together. So improving in one makes me better at the other two. I discovered it recently when I decided to harmonise a random modal scale and instead of playing block 7th chords use shell voicings and watch out for voice leading to preserve minimum movement. It was extremely satisfying to discover that I could do it almost fluently, without really thinking about fingerings: my fingers sort of already knew where to go, as they got used to these movements during my endless cycle of 4ths runs. So that was great. I also realised that I am getting comfortable enough with scales to use them over chord progressions that I play with the left hand and mix them up to — basically, play jazz solos! Wow. So I decided to add this new section to my practice where I will intentionally combine all my skills that I develop in different areas of focus and improve my overall comping technique.

One thing I kind of excluded for now is technical exercises — for speed and finger independency and stuff — I used to do them a lot last year (Hanon exercises, arpeggios etc.), but it just doesn’t feel beneficial for my current goal right now (which is to get good at jazz comping). So I just leave the out for now. Also, I don’t learn songs or scores that much as I did before (it’s extremely time-consuming and could be very frustrating), but it’s also something that simply doesn’t fit well with my routine. I mean, I do understand why conservatory pianists practice 6 hours a day — you just can’t cover all the stuff you want to cover within 2 hours, let alone 1 hours. But to make up for that, I’m going to start learning songs from the Real Book — shell voicings with left hand, melody with the right. Should be enough for now! Okay that was it for the practice review, gotta go, till later!

Piano day (2h 10m)

  • Voicing skills — 1h 20m
    • Quick recap II — V — I — IVs in major + relative minor
    • II — V — I — IV in major + relative minor with embellished chords (m9 — 13 — △9 — △ — m7b5 — 7b9 — m9) — did’t really get through all keys, but boy it was intense anyway
  • Improvisation
    • Minor 12-bar blues in C, F and Bb while using blues, Dorian & Hm scales in RH
  • Harmonic minor
    • Scales with two hands in all keys
    • Harmonising Hm1 in C

Piano day (2h 15m)

  • Voicing skills (1h)
    • Minor to dominant (7-3-5 to 3-7-9)
    • Minor to dominant (3-7-9 to 7-3-6)
    • Dominant to major (7-3-6 to 3-7-9)
    • Recap cycling major 7ths, minor 7ths and dominant (7-3-5 — 3-7-9 and backwards)
  • Modes of harmonic minor (1h)
    • 3rd mode of H. M.: harmonising in C (A harmonic minor)
    • Recap 1st and 2nd modes (key of C)
    • Improv in 2nd mode (key of C = Bb harmonic minor)
  • All harmonic minor scales with both hands is all keys (15m)

Pano day (2h)

  • 13th chords in all keys (exercise from the “Jazz Language” book by Dan Haerle)
    • Minor, major, dominant in full form (7th + triad polychords)
  • Modes of harmonic minor
    • 1st mode scales in all keys with both hands
    • Harmonising C, F, Bb harm. minor scales
    • Improvisation over diatonic chords with the key scale

Observations

V7 — VImaj7 transition in the harmonic minor sounds absolutely amazing! Feels like it’s about to push my long-time favourite Dorian i — IV7