Scaling the Chords

Here are three exercises to briefly include in every lesson and practice session.

  1. Scales

  2. Chord drills

  3. Scales and chords together

Assuming you already have a handle on *scales and chord drills, let's focus on #3.
Here is my favorite process for getting first-time improvisers to take the plunge.
If you (or your students) are shy about playing spontaneously, follow these steps to get the creative juices flowing.

Watch an edited livestream archive on this same topic.

  1. Play RH scale with LH chords below.

Warm up by playing the scale of the key at hand in both directions with the right hand.
Note that the scale is "squared" with repeating tonic notes at the top and bottom to make it come out evenly. 
Meanwhile, your left hand plays a simple chord progression below using variety of accompaniment patterns according to your ability level so long as the chords change where indicated (generally on downbeats).

And here’s part 2 about using 7th chords.


B. Random changes of direction.

Now, randomize the scale by changing direction anywhere you feel like it. 
Don’t worry about fingering and don’t stop! 
At this point, it doesn’t even need to sound musical. 
You are only working on getting the mechanics down of doing two things at once for this decidedly whole brain activity.
Here one possibility. Yours will sound different.


C. Mix in longer note values.

Next, pause now and then while maintaining random direction changes. 
The result, if written, would be a mix of long and short notes that is something like this:


D. Add leaps.

Now add skips and leaps here and there while maintaining random direction changes and a mix of note durations.


E. Make Music.

Finally, just go for it. Throw out all the steps above and just enjoy creating music.
Sounds good right? It just works. 
That's why it's a regular feature of my online jazz piano courses and appears both in both my Creative Chords and That's Jazz improvisation series. 

Think of this exercise as the musical equivalent of drawing pictures on the back of a timed test you finished early in 7th grade or the idle squiggles you draw while talking on the phone. You are not trying to create a masterpiece – you are just doodling.  That’s all it is.  Doodling on the piano.  No big deal.  Avoid taking it too seriously, and you’ll find it’s really rather fun.  Do it often and you’ll find you’d rather improvise than eat.  No kidding.  Creative music making is that engaging.

Until next time, enjoy your creative musical journey.


* For more details about how I recommend practicing scales and chord drills, download my Scaling the Chords PDF book.