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My jazz improv teacher keeps ragging on me for not playing the "chords" but the thing is I don't really think of things in chords rather than scales (i.e. D-7 G7 and Cma7 all mean the C major scale for me. and etc.)

What's the point in learning the chords rather than the scales?
Thanks in Advance!
 

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I am by no means even passable in improv, but i would say that once you know the chord tones, and you start to base your scales around those notes, your playing is going to be alot more based.
Also, hen you know the chords, you can also start to do things that you wouldn't do if you are always playing in a major scale, like tri-tones for example.
There is nothing wrong with playing in the scale, that certainly works, but by learning chords you can improve your improvisation skills as well as add more variety.
 

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You need to know all of your chords and scales. Start with major chord scale theory, that is the major modes and major, minor, dominant seventh and half diminished chords. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Pick up The Jazz Theory Book by Mark Levine, a very useful book. This book contains great explanations of chords and scales and the relationships between them, not to mention every other aspect of jazz improvisation. It is a very comprehensive and easy to understand book with lots of great examples and excersises.

Chris
 

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You need to emphasize the chord tones for the chord you're playing. That usually means placing chord tones on downbeats, arpeggiating the chord, doing approach notes to chord tones, etc. When you hear a good soloist, you hear the chord progression in their lines. You do hear Dm-G7-C instead of a C major scale.
 

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If you take your reasoning to the extreme, all you need to know is the chromatic scale. Just 12 notes. But that won't get you there. It's the relation between notes you play that makes all the difference, which is why just running a scale gets boring. There's no way to answer your question in full here. The short answer is you DO need to know the chords, not just a major scale.

And actually, not all chord tones are created equal. Some are more important to the harmony than others, namely the 3rd and 7th. And some chord tones give a certain specific feel or add spice, like the chord extensions and altered chord tones (i.e. the 9th, 6th, b5, or #9, etc.). Chord tones function as "target notes" that will give your playing some structure and help create interesting melodies.

Etc, Etc, Etc. Your teacher is right!
 

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Things started to click for me when I started doing chords on piano. It's much easier to 'get' everything about music theory on the keyboard!
 

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hakukani said:
Things started to click for me when I started doing chords on piano. It's much easier to 'get' everything about music theory on the keyboard!
+1.

For as little as $300 (or less, for all I know) one can pick up an electronic keyboard with some passable piano sounds, a headphone jack, and a volume control (so you can play chords any time of the day or night). Back in the 1980s, I used a Fender Rhodes for this purpose, but today's modern electronic keyboards are cheaper, much lighter, and more versatile.
 

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You need to emphasize the chord tones for the chord you're playing. That usually means placing chord tones on downbeats ... I can't go along with this theory. That's why David Baker's bebop scales work so well. The EXTRA note that turns the upbeats into downbeats, is huge! Get a copy of The Jazz Theory Book, by Mark Levine.
 

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harmonizerNJ said:
For as little as $300 (or less, for all I know) one can pick up an electronic keyboard with some passable piano sounds, a headphone jack, and a volume control (so you can play chords any time of the day or night).
Some of the cheapest Yamaha ones are around $100-$150 new, and sound surprisingly decent.
 

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+3 on the piano stuff

Yeah, I've got a low-end Yamaha keyboard in my dorm room, and it is tremendously helpful for several of my classes (music theory, aural perception/sightsinging, keyboarding, etc). One of these days I need to get a midi interface so I can plug it into finale, but until then I'll just use the school's keyboards for that.

Specifically in relation to your topic, I think that by learning the chords properly, it will give you a greater expressive capacity where after a while, you'll be able to intuitively explore many more options than you would doing essentially scales.
 

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So hey Bluelight you're getting some good answers here. You know in a way it's like asking why do you need hiking boots if you want to go backpacking, never mind climbing Mt Everest. Is it starting to make sense? It will eventually. Take heed.

I like your name. One of my favorite tunes is "Blue Light Boogie" by Louis Jordan. Very cool tune and yeah, you gotta know the chords to play it.
 

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As others have mentioned, the keyboard is an essential tool to the improviser, regardless of what instrument they play as their main axe.

Most top level performers have more that a bit of time on the piano/keyboard as a result. I don't know that I could have fully grasped what I presently understand about theory if I didn't utilize one, frankly.
 

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There's a famous story about Miles Davis asking Dizzy Gillespie a question about what to play over a certain chord (or something like that) and Dizzy told him: "Miles you have to study the piano."

I can't really play piano, but I can play any chord on it, try out harmony parts, and play progressions (rather clumsily, but it works) to see how they sound. I'll join the crowd and say this is essential.

Hey BlueLight are you still with us?
 

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Discussion Starter #17
YES!! I am very thankful for this advice, and will start learning to play the chords rather than just one scale throughout!

As for practicing progressions/chords on the piano, how do you guys practice that?
 

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I started by learning cycle of fifths in the left hand, 3rd and 7th of a dom7 in the right. The 3rd and seventh form a tritone, and as you go around the cycle of fifths, and move the tritone down by a half step each time, the chord gets voiced 7th on top, 3rd on top etc.

Like this: lh C, rh E- Bb--next-- lh F, rh Eb-A--next lh Bb, rh D-Ab-- etc.

Then do the same exercise, only making every other chord m7, to get ii7 V7--ii7 V7.
 

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BlueLight said:
As for practicing progressions/chords on the piano, how do you guys practice that?
The first step would be to learn the piano keyboard. The white keys are a C major scale. The black keys are all the sharps and flats. Etc. Then learn to spell chords (in thirds). Then learn to play them on the keyboard. Finally you need to learn a bit about how to "voice" the chords so you move each chord tone to the next closest chord tone, stepwise. That is, by half step or whole step. Before you do that you want to simply learn the chords in root position, though.

Hakukani, that's a great exercise. Do you play the chord roots in your left hand?
 

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JL said:
T
Hakukani, that's a great exercise. Do you play the chord roots in your left hand?
I try to.;):D
 
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