Time Crunch, Variations

I took an unintentional nap before practicing. Meaning I fell asleep in my last class. Worked out for the best because I felt refreshed during practice.


The Short Version:

20 Minutes Scales

40 Minutes Lady Bird/licks

10 Minutes Half-Nelson


I hit the ground running with a tricky exercise that combines chords and scales. Starting on the lowest diatonic note of my horn I played the corresponding diatonic triad, then moved that triad down a diatonic fifth and progressed throughout the whole scale. For example, in D major, I would play B-D-F#, then E-G-B, then A-C#-E, then D-F#-A, then G-B-D, and so on until reaching B-D-F# again. Sometimes I continue until I’ve hit the tonic triad twice. All the triads are diatonic and eventually I have played a triad using each scale degree as a root.


The purpose of this exercise is

  • Warm up my brain, ear, and fingers
  • Concentrate on producing good tone across “thirds” and leaps of “fifths” (harder than step-wise scales)
  • Moving smoothly between such intervals
  • Ingrain diatonic triads and circle of fifths progressions even more

This exercise sounds like this:

Next I played diminished scales using a variation on the Jim Gailloreto method as demonstrated below.


As usual, I implemented by breath + tongue accents on the off beats, strived for best tone and even time, and paid attention to relaxing my hands and keeping my fingers close to the keys.


Variations are a great way for me to keep my brain engaged. When I practice one thing exactly the same way too much, I find that I mentally drift off and even play worse at times.

I closed my scales/warmup with melodic minor neighbor tones. These are played virtually the same way as neighbor tones in major, but with flat thirds and flat sixths. The scale degrees look like this:

1-2-7(half step below tonic)-1, b3-4-2-b3, 5-b6-#4-5 1-2-7-1


Played all the way up and down the horn.

I also displaced the rhythm by an 8th note, starting on the “and” of 1 and attempting to pause when I reached the downbeat of “1” again. It’s quite difficult to keep track of the time in this manner, but it has definitely strengthened my ability to keep my place since I started using it.

That all took roughly 20 minutes.


Then I came back to Lady Bird/Half-Nelson. I used the melody of Lady Bird for the majority of my practice today because I wanted to get that (probably more often-used) head memorized. I played through the chord tones of the changes for several minutes to make sure it was all still in my mind, then I improvised over several choruses. I wasn’t executing some of my licks properly, so I took off the backing track and just played the licks over every chord down the circle of fifths, occasionally altering them to fit over dominant or minor chords.


To get more ideas, I put a Dexter Gordon recording of Lady Bird into “Transcribe” and stole three licks.  Played them in all the keys several times, then played the head with him over and over to really get into the groove and match his big sound.

Getting back into improv, I immediately noticed a change in the way I swung and also my harmonic choices. Dexter loves using 6ths, 9ths, and long streams of 8th notes, and I tended more towards these trends after listening to him. I also used the licks I stole over as many different chords in as many different places as possible.


After spending about 40 minutes on Lady Bird, I returned to the head of Half-Nelson for about 10 minutes. I played it in one-measure and two-measure chunks, repeating each chunk 10+ times to make sure everything was just right. I tried to play from memory as soon as possible.


Only 70 minutes today, but sometimes life is just too busy. A job interview and meeting with a faculty member stole my time, as well as a rehearsal. I made up some time by soloing in rehearsal, with the added bonus of seeing some chords for the first time in improvisation (such as minor chords with a major 7th).


Tomorrow will be the first Friday special on things I do outside of music to help me practice more effectively. In addition to my first interview coming Monday, soon after that I will have the opportunity to talk to a name any of you in the jazz world will surely recognize…


Happy practicing!

Click Me

Subscribe for awesome content!