The Four Directions

A significant part of practicing jazz improvisation consists of working on scales, chords, and patterns. Practicing them in a thorough manner will enable you to obtain the most benefit in the shortest amount of time. Unfortunately, we often get caught up in practicing this material in the same incomplete way everyday.

For instance, we may run up a scale from the bottom of our horn, to the top, and back down again, like this:

Jazz scales full range of horn

Or, perhaps we will run up the scale in diatonic seconds and reverse it coming down. These are fine places to start, but eventually you’ll want to mix it up a bit. However you currently practice, start to practice everything in all four directions. Nearly every pro I’ve ever studied with emphasized this technique.

First direction: Up, Up

To illustrate the various directions and how to go about practicing them, I’ll use the major scales moving chromatically. Later, I’ll suggest other options that you’ll definitely want to try.

This first example depicts the “Up, Up” direction.

Up Up

  1. Start as low as you can on your instrument (always practice full range).
  2. Play the scale one octave ascending.
  3. Then move up chromatically to the next scale and repeat.
  4. Continue in this manner until you’ve gone as high as you can.
  5. Now begin to descend in the same manner you ascended, root of scale ascending an octave, however now you will move down chromatically after each octave completion. See the example below:

Jazz Scales - Up, Up - Descending

Second Direction: Down, Down

This second direction shows “Down, Down,” and you’ll use the same directions as before, but this time starting at the top of the scale and descending instead of ascending. Make sure once you reach the top of your range to descend in the “Down, Down” manner.

Jazz scale - down, down

Third Direction: Up, Down

Now you’ll alternate directions by first “Up” and then “Down.”

Jazz scales - up, down

Fourth Direction: Down, Up

And finally you’ll switch the previous alternating directions to “Down” followed by “Up.”

Jazz Scales - down, up

Applying all four directions

This technique has a lot of power, as it can be applied to just about any melodic material you are working on.

  • Triads
  • Seventh Chords
  • Intervals
  • Triads based on intervals other than thirds
  • Note groupings like Coltrane’s favorite, 1235
  • Pentatonic scales, Hexatonic scales, etc.
  • Transcribed lines
  • Lines you created
  • Any scales for that matter, including scales you create!
  • Seriously, everything.

Check out this video of Mark Turner warming up. Sounds like he knows a bit about practicing in all four directions…

Things to Try

  • Change root movements – These examples were Chromatic (All Keys), Try Diatonic (Just one key, exploring its modes), Major thirds, Minor thirds, Fourths (Cycle movement)
  • Vary and explore different rhythms
  • Use different articulations

Practicing in all four directions has huge benefits. I urge you to explore this simple yet powerful method and I’m sure the rewards will be well worth the effort.

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