Formulas For Applying Jazz Language To Different Harmonic Situations

As the article last Wednesday discussed, learning to apply language to tunes is crucial because it puts the language into context, allowing your ears and fingers to gain an understanding of how to integrate the language into your overarching concept. Over time, the language you practice this way will spontaneously materialize in new form, surprising even you.

You’ll naturally change the language, combine it with other things you know, or even use it in a totally different spot than it was originally. That’s what we’re talking about today: using language in a different place than its original harmonic context. There exist many formulas, which once known will seem obvious, that will assist you in transferring a musical idea to a variety of new situations.

Of course you cannot use these formulas blindly. You must fully understand the melodic material you’re working with and experiment with what works best with those specific lines. Some lines will work perfectly with a particular formula, whereas others won’t work at all.

These formulas are intended to get you thinking about common places that you can take a piece of language. Use them as a starting point to discover other transformation points for your language that you can continue to draw from as you acquire more and more language.

Major line: use over the minor chord a minor 3rd down

This would be: F major to D minor. This is one of my favorites because it is so simple and so effective. It works well with lines that stress the major triad because those notes (F-A-C) are the 3-5-7 of the minor chord.

Here’s a line that I hear George Coleman play occasionally in some form or another.

Major Line George Coleman

You can hear at around 2:40 that he uses a similar line. If you start to listen to him more, you’ll hear him use ideas like ...

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