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#2289092 - 06/12/14 09:58 PM Best Way to Practice Sequences? (Levine's "Jazz Piano Book")
GifGaffeGiraffe Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 04/13/14
Posts: 1
This is a playing question, but since it pertains to improvisation and not purely technique, I'm putting it here. Please correct me if it should be in another forum.

I've been working with Mark Levine's "The Jazz Piano Book" for a few months now. It's very good and it's really helping me get a handle on playing from lead sheets. I've really taken my time getting comfortable with every exercise and chapter so I'm well-prepared for whatever's next, but I'm a bit perplexed with where I am right now.

I'm on chapter ten, "Putting Scales to Work," in which he talks about structuring solos using sequences (I glanced ahead to the following chapter on practicing scales--which probably should come before chapter ten but whatever--and I'm doing fine with that; all my scales are at 160 BPM and I'm about ready to bump them up to 170). I've been working on memorizing modes using the exercise he gives and that is going very well, I'm really getting a hold of them very quickly, but I'm not quite sure how to actually practice sequences.

When he introduces them, he just gives you some sequences he's written himself over minor II-V progressions (not II-V-I) and tells you to practice them in all keys, as well as hunt down others in the Aebersold books (I have those on my computer). Simple enough, but I'm a bit clueless. Can you only play sequences over II-V progressions? Do they otherwise not really flow? Are all sequences pre-prepared or are they often formulated on the spot? Because it sounds like he wants you to be so comfortable with linking scales that you don't really need to think about it.

I know these questions seem rather lacking in substance--just because I'm kind of unsure what to ask. I'm weirdly drawing a blank here, because otherwise, I'm pretty sure of what I'm doing. Should I just get comfortable soloing over tunes without using sequences and then take a look at this? Or should I practice soloing specifically with sequences in mind?

And just a quick, somewhat related question: Should I be totally solid with soloing before I go on to learn about So What and Fourth chords? I'm really salivating to get going on those--McCoy Tyner is one of my favorite pianists and I'd love to get into those since they're his signatures, but if it would greatly benefit me to hold on, I'll do that.

Piano & Music Accessories
#2289210 - 06/13/14 03:30 AM Re: Best Way to Practice Sequences? (Levine's "Jazz Piano Book") [Re: GifGaffeGiraffe]
chrisbell Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/11/07
Posts: 1332
Loc: Stockholm, Sweden
I'll answer backwards, follow your bliss if fourths are making an attempt on your mind then play them. The first chord I ever learnt was the So What chord, I was15, I felt I was the coolest guy ever, whenever I got bored, fed up, or disillusioned I went back to So What (and played along to the record).

Sequences are fun to do. They've existed in music as a musical device for hundreds of years. A simple one is: 123, 234, 345, etc etc The 3 can be a major or minor third. You can practice it (with a metronome) as quarter notes, triplets, sixteenths, etc.
Another one is: 1235, 2346, etc. These examples are to played on a scale (modal approach), hence the 123,234. If you want to practice on chord sequences(II V I), then use 123 on each chord or 1235 or 3135 etc etc

And by all means practice to an Aebersold play along.

I never play anything the same way once.


#2289263 - 06/13/14 08:53 AM Re: Best Way to Practice Sequences? (Levine's "Jazz Piano Book") [Re: GifGaffeGiraffe]
Mark Polishook Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/29/12
Posts: 621
Loc: Leicester, UK

One way to deal with sequences is to know they're short musical ideas repeated exactly or inexactly at different pitch levels, either chromatically or diatonically. In other words be clear about the definition and then you'll know what you're working with.

The basic idea with a sequence is pick the short idea of your choice. And then move it around chromatically or diatonically. The idea of a sequence - the reason to use it - is to repeat a motif, a gesture, whatever you want to call some small recognisable group of notes. So in repeating the gesture you're emphasising it - making a point so to speak.

But the sequence doesn't have to be repeated exactly. It can change and it can mutate and morph, etc. That's why it's good to have some basic definition. You'll see from a basic definition how the variants on the definition can and do happen. The definition itself is just a definition ....

The motherlode source for sequences some would say are Bach's Two-Part and Three-Part Inventions. If you have those (the scores) you'll see and hear sequences literally all over the place. They're really instruction books on all the ways you can use and make sequences. Grrrrrr .... for completeness you can transpose, invert, and retrograde sequences. All of that can be exact or inexact in any combination. It just comes down to what you like and what you hear. No one that I know of thinks about sequences like this when they're playing .... so it's more that these are definitions that can help you organise your practicing - if you wish.

About McCoy and 4th chords - sure of course you can immediately begin to follow that path. Because playing what you like is important and essential. But, be aware too that there's a type of playing that some (usually from older generations) refer to as the "pentatonic escape." It's close relative is the "chromatic escape." Which is to say it's not uncommon for musicians who aren't that familiar with chord changes to use pentatonic scales and fourths and chromatic scale to hide that unfamiliarity. Because fourths let you move away from the basic changes fairly easily if you want to they can be used for good and evil. But again, it's comes down to your ear and what you like. That's a much better guide than ideas about good and evil!

About where to use sequences - the answer is wherever you want! It's just a sequencing a motive over whatever you're playing whenever you want to repeat a gesture to make a point. Chris mentioned some of the common sequences ... those are great places to start.

Hope this helps ...

#2289883 - 06/15/14 12:35 AM Re: Best Way to Practice Sequences? (Levine's "Jazz Piano Book") [Re: GifGaffeGiraffe]
Michael Martinez Online   content
Full Member

Registered: 11/22/12
Posts: 384
Loc: California
I say when it comes to improvisation throw scales out the window and focus on "target tones": appropriate tones that establish harmonic changes. As Mark mentioned the pentatonic scale is often used to hide changes because it is basically 'harmonically neutral', the scale avoids the tritone. But anyway, if you start focusing on target tones, then you realize that a scale is just one set of possible tones you can use to connect the targets. Then later you realize that, "hey if I reharmonize that passage then it gives me another set of possible tones to connect the same targets." If you want to stay diatonic, then the scale is equivalent to the key itself. But if you reharmonize into different keys then you get different sets of tones.

take this approach first. Then later you realize the place that sequences have in the scheme of things.

Edited by Michael Martinez (06/15/14 12:54 AM)
Music Educator, Computer Engineer, avid reader of literature, enjoyer of the outdoors

#2305248 - Today at 08:19 AM Re: Best Way to Practice Sequences? (Levine's "Jazz Piano Book") [Re: GifGaffeGiraffe]
ZeroZero Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/31/07
Posts: 218
Loc: UK
Maybe think about band in the box software? This way you can hear what other real pianists are doing, in various styles almost instantly, you can slow it down, change key., loop a couple of bars, etc and emulate of course.
I think you need to listen to other players You don't need the whole chord or scale, its all about applying fragments, as Mart says, in a rhythmically correct way and ensuring you get the chord tones on strong beats most of the time. This sounds daunting until you realise you can work with 3 or even 2 notes or even one note per chord - you don't need to know every note of a chord straight up, you can build, you can simplify.

#2305251 - Today at 08:21 AM Re: Best Way to Practice Sequences? (Levine's "Jazz Piano Book") [Re: GifGaffeGiraffe]
ZeroZero Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/31/07
Posts: 218
Loc: UK
You know I find books limited, for me on line videos are better...you can hear and see

Edited by ZeroZero (Today at 08:21 AM)


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