Rebecca Cline



Improvising With Clave

Musicians who seek to play Latin jazz with more rhythmic authenticity often receive glib advice from veteran players: "Just listen to the clave!" To musicians with years of experience, playing with a command of the style probably is as simple as listening to the clave. However, for the uninitiated, merely hearing the five hits that make up the clave pattern is not always a revelation.

Analyzing examples from the repertoire, participants develop an awareness of common rhythmic tendencies of clave-based improvisation. Participants apply several two-bar phrases that work with the clave to a variety of harmonic settings in order to internalize clave phrasing on their instruments.

Chord Tone Soloing

Many improvisers spend a great deal of time learning about which notes to play, without giving a lot of thought to when to play them. As a result, phrases often begin on beat one, and the solos can sound boring and predictable despite well-informed pitch choices. Without learning any new scales, an improviser can dramatically increase the interest level of the solo by being mindful of phrasing.

Practicing phrasing can be just as intentional as practicing chord scales. Participants perform simple two-measure rhythmic exercises over standard song forms to become familiar with starting a phrase on a beat other than beat one. Pitch restrictions allow the improviser to focus on the rhythmic and metric characteristics of each phrase. 

How to Use Chord Scales in Jazz Improvisation

Once we have determined which chord scales to use over a given set of changes, how do we make the scales sound musical? Playing the scales up and down certainly isn't the answer, even though that is often the most familiar reference we have for scales. 

After practicing a variety of scalar techniques, participants will group-compose a solo that incorporates scales that:

  • use a variety of intervals and rhythms
  • are missing one note
  • use passing tones to connect chord tones
  • voice-lead into the next scale