Maybe I’m just a math geek, but I love exploring patterns on my horn. A plethora of jazz literature is available on scalar/pattern studies (Jerry Coker, Oliver Nelson, David Baker, Slonimsky, etc.), each offering a veritable buffet of patterns for you to get under your fingers and have in your back pocket. You COULD just open one of these books, flip to any page, read the lick, and transpose into all 12 keys, and repeat. But for me, these books just collect dust on my shelves. Meanwhile I’m practicing patterns almost every day.
In my last post I explored why patterns, when used thoughtfully and judiciously, are essential for the improvising musician. …
=&0=&Here’s a framework.
Patterns are composed of cells, or small, mathematically constructed groups of notes.
Coltrane was famous for his exploration and application of various cells.
Here are the most common variables I toy with:
- # Notes
- # Notes
- Time Signature
Let’s walk through an example:
Here are 2 basic cells. These 2 ridiculously simple elements form the foundation for everything that follows.
Now let’s construct some basic patterns. Just humor me and start here, please!
Combining Cells: From now onward we will use both cells 1 & 2 together to create increasingly complex patterns.
Now you’re ready for the fun stuff!
Once you’ve wrapped your head around the basics outlined in patterns 1-8 above, you can start playing around with the 2 cells in more interesting ways. I’m going to take the same cells, modulate to minor, and iterate on just one idea (you can think of pattern #9 as the base pattern):
Here’s a clip of me applying that last pattern over the tune Softly as in a Morning Sunrise. Notice how you can imply the harmony of minor chords moving in ascending minor thirds by playing this line:
Another way you can use patterns in your improvised solos is to actually move what you are playing in real time with the changes. Let’s get a fresh pattern and see how this works:
Now let’s apply it over the first 4 bars of Green Dolphin Street:
It gets a lot tougher when the changes start moving faster. Here’s one way to kind of make the same pattern work over Confirmation:
Now I know I’d be hard pressed to compute this pattern in real-time, so we can use the same idea, but simplified, to create a melody or motive. Here’s something similar to what Chris Potter might play if here were using our cells:
Let’s start by eliminating what patterns are NOT:
=&0=&. Plug in your David Baker diminished pattern lick over the first altered dominant chord you can find at your next gig, and your solo will be about as tasty as soggy, cold French fries. Yes, they are still French fries, and technically they qualify as food, but would you ever walk into B.K. and ask for “extra cold and soggy fries, please”? Don’t serve your audience cold fries.
=&1=&It’s typically lazy and unimaginative. You should PRACTICE plugging patterns into tunes to get their sound in your ear and notes under your fingers, but please don’t allow that to become your ultimate artistic statement. In my next post, however, I will explore some creative pattern construction techniques that I use to come up with fresh, pattern-based lines. I often find them sneaking into my solos. I am not ashamed of this, as they can be extremely effective vehicles for implying complex harmony, adding the perfect amount of tension or release at the right time. But I think pattern application of this variety is the exception, rather than the rule.
Ok, so =&2=& if most aren’t providing you with a lick to plug in? Here ’s why pattern study is essential for any improvising musician:
1) =&3=& – by studying different scalar permutations in addition to simply running scales across your full range, you will gain incredible fluidity, enabling yourself to speak freely across a harmony during your solo. You can’t be thinking about whether Gmaj7 has an F or F# when you’re trying to create a musical statement.
2) =&4=& – Give your mind a killer workout by moving any pattern across keys, chord qualities, groupings, etc. (more on this in my next post).
3) =&5=& – Envy how the masters are able to develop little ideas and build on them throughout their solos? They’ve spent a lot of time shedding patterns, which is one of many tools that empowers one to tell a story that actually goes somewhere.
4) =&6=& – building off point 3, you patterns are a great way to capture harmonic movement through a single improvised line.
My next post, Patterns: Part 2 – Endless Possibilities, will explore different brain exercises that can be used to create an unlimited variety of compelling patterns. Meanwhile, here are some examples of totally satisfying, highly musical applications of storytelling that spawned, at least in part, from extensive pattern study (and some of my favorite solos):
=&7=& and =&8=&: Switchblade – Notice how effectively both Yahel and Redman move cells around to build out simple ideas.