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The Woodshed: Transitional Lines

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JJ Rocks Article # 54:
From St. Croix Music Magazine, Issue # 10, July, 2007
This is a continuation of a subject that I mentioned in last months article “Escaping from the pentatonic prison”. Several times I mentioned “transitional lines’ and I would like to tell you a bit more about that. But before I do, please make note that this simple approach to enhancing your improvisation can be used by any instrument. So there won’t be any notation or charts. It’s just a way of thinking when soloing that makes a player sound more intelligent than someone who just relies on the shapes of the pentatonic or major scale safety nets.

I’m sure that most of you have heard of “common tones” when it comes to soloing through changes. For those who don’t know the term, it’s when you are soloing and use a note that is not only in your current chord, but also in the next chord that adds smoothness to your transitions. But there are transitional lines that have even a simpler approach. It just has to do with knowing at least one note in the chord that’s coming up next, then making that note the last note in your current phrase as it overlaps the next chord. This makes a player sound more intelligent then someone who just relies on geometric shapes and stationary licks from records.

If you are playing an instrument that depends on arpeggios like horns or woodwinds, just think ahead to the next chord and try to plan on ending your phase with a note from its arpeggio. And try a note that’s note a common tone. For example if you are on the “one” chord you could be heading for the “third” but instead you hit a “flat third” just as it passes over the “four” chord. And of course the flat third of the “one” chord is the flat seventh of the four chord. This is a very elementary system if you are a musician and not someone who just plays for fun. (Like in this month’s “Musically Speaking” article.) All you have to know are basic major scale intervals and chord construction, and many ten year old student musicians know that.

Some people think that improvisation is just unplanned soloing that comes from your soul. Horse feathers! A good soloist can not only play from his soul but shows a command of the musical elements that make up the music that he (or she) is playing. So even though it may appear that they are driving blindly, they are very aware of what’s up ahead around the next musical turn.

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