3 Jazz Exercises to Practice Every Day
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If you own a smartwatch, then you know that this modern device does much more than tell you the time. It also tracks your steps and heart rate, providing you with feedback throughout the day. Depending on your activity, you receive either celebratory notifications or friendly reminders to get busy. That’s because activity is a strong indicator of the results that will follow. When it comes to jazz improvisation, your practice activity also determines your outcome. In today’s Quick Tip, Jonny shares 3 Jazz Exercises to Practice Every Day. This daily jazz practice guide is designed to keep you on track to reach the next level in your jazz improvisation. You’ll discover:
- Scale Exercises for Jazz Improv
- Chord Exercises for Jazz Improv
- Pattern Exercises for Jazz Improv
Each jazz exercise category is broken into daily drills for students of all levels—from beginner to advanced. In fact, you can quickly navigate to the jazz exercises for your skill level with the following links:
- Beginner Jazz Exercises
- Early Intermediate Jazz Exercises
- Late Intermediate Jazz Exercises
- Advanced Jazz Exercises
Would you like to get better at improvisation? These jazz exercises are a big step in the right direction.
Lesson Overview: What are Jazz Exercises?
When it comes to jazz improvisation, our goal is to create melodies “in the moment.” While that may sound rather daunting to a beginner, there is actually plenty we can do to train ourselves for improv success.
First, we need to think about what components go into a melody? For example, consider the following sample improv line:
Sample Improv Line
As it turns out, there’s not too many ingredients available. Essentially, there are three big categories:
- Stepwise Motion (Scales)
- Arpeggio Motion (Chords)
- Sequence (Patterns)
That’s right! All your favorite melodies are comprised of phrases in which the notes are connected by stepwise motion and arpeggio motion. The third category, sequence, combines scale and arpeggio movement into a recurring pattern that begins on various starting notes.
Because all composers and improvisors create melodies from these three categories, we can boost our improv skills simply by practicing jazz exercises that isolate each type of melodic movement!
For your convenience, the examples in this blog are organized in a slightly different order than they appear on the lesson sheet. Specifically, the following sections allow you to easily access scale, chord and pattern exercises for your skill level, all in one place.
Beginner Jazz Improv Exercises
[Skip to Early Intermediate Exercises]
If you are a beginner piano student, you probably already practice scales, chords and patterns in some form or another. For example, classical piano training often emphasizes practicing scales with both hands in parallel motion and contrary motion. In addition, classical training usually includes playing chord progressions or cadences. Finally, students are frequently assigned preparatory exercises by composers such as Hanon and Czerny, which are often based on patterns.
Daily piano drills are important for jazz students too. However, as jazz musicians, we are better served by practicing scales, chords and patterns in a more integrated way. For example, jazz improvisation demands that we be able to accompany ourselves while simultaneously executing various scales, chords and patterns. In addition, we must be able to switch between various scales, chords and patterns on a moment’s notice. The following daily jazz exercises for beginners takes all of these demands into account.
Jazz Scales Exercise—Beginner
The next time you sit down to warm up (later today or tomorrow 😉), instead of rattling off two-handed scales, try the jazz scale exercise below. Notice how this Scale Shifting Exercise seamlessly connects all 12 major scales in the right hand over a left-hand comp pattern. Since this is a daily warm up, consider alternating between a swung 8th notes (for jazz and blues) and straight 8th notes (for Latin, pop, rock and contemporary styles). A good target tempo for beginners is 100 BPM. In fact, you can even play along with this video, which employs a medium swing feel. (Lesson Resources: Backing Track 1a)
Scale Shifting Exercise—Beginner
Nice job! Next, let’s turn our attention to a beginner improv exercise that uses chord outlines.
Jazz Chords Exercise—Beginner
An intriguing improv line typically contains a mixture of steps, skips and leaps. If fact, if you only use stepwise motion in your lines, it will tend to sound rather amateur. (Note: the term skip refers to the interval of a 3rd, whereas a leap is any interval larger than a 3rd.)
Professional musicians don’t just randomly employ skips and leaps in their lines. Instead, their use of skips and leaps are most often derived from arpeggio motion, also known as chord outlining.
The following Outlining Diatonic Triads Exercise helps develop intuitive use of skips based on familiar root position triad shapes. A good beginner target tempo for this exercise is 100 BPM. (Lesson Resources: Backing Track 2a)
Outlining Diatonic Triads Exercise—Beginner
Great job! After you’re comfortable with this chord exercise in C major, you’re ready to move on to another key. In fact, PWJ members have access to our Smart Sheet Music which allows for easy transposition of this material into any key.
Next, let’s play a beginner jazz exercise based on melodic patterns.
Jazz Melodic Patterns Exercise—Beginner
Jazz musicians frequently use recurring melodic patterns called sequences in their improvisation. A melodic sequence is a musical device that repeats a melodic pattern from different starting pitches.
In the following Interval Patterns Exercise, you’ll learn to play melodic sequences using a variety of interval sizes at 100 BPM. (Lesson Resources: Backing Track 3a)
Interval Patterns Exercise—Beginner
Great job. Remember to move on to additional keys once you’re comfortable with this pattern exercise in C major. For example, if you are currently learning a jazz standard like “Mack the Knife” in B♭ major, then it makes perfect sense to practice your jazz exercises in the key of B♭.
Well done…you have completed the beginner level material for today’s lesson on 3 Jazz Exercises to Practice Every Day. If you a solid beginner, consider bookmarking this page for future reference. As your jazz piano skills grow, you can return here to pursue the remaining jazz improv exercises in this lesson.
If you’re the curious type, you may want to continue reading to grow your conceptual understanding of other jazz improv techniques. It never hurts to “peak behind the curtain” to see what’s back there, even if you’re not ready to integrate these exercises into your daily practice routine.
When you’re all finished with today’s lesson, be sure to visit the conclusion section for links to additional resources.
Early Intermediate Jazz Improv Exercises
[Skip to Late Intermediate Exercises]
This section contains jazz improv exercises for early intermediate students. The substance of these exercises is the same as the beginner exercises in the previous section. However, as an intermediate level player, you’ll benefit from playing along with the videos in this section, which are modeled at a faster tempo. Let’s get started!
Jazz Scales Exercise—Early Intermediate
When buying a car, one of the considerations that certainly factors into your decision is terrain. In other words, your geography and climate automatically make some decisions more or less practical. The same is true with scale exercises. As a jazz musician, you want to make sure that your daily scale exercises are well suited for the terrain of jazz repertoire.
The following Scale Shifting Exercise is designed to meet the demands of jazz piano students in two ways. First, the format assigns separate functions to each hand—melody in the right hand and accompaniment in the left hand. Most traditional scale exercises do not embrace this paradigm. Secondly, this exercise trains students to seamlessly connect different tonal centers in real time. This is a must for jazz students! Try playing along with the following early intermediate Scale Shifting Exercise at the target tempo of 150 BPM. (Lesson Resources: Backing Track 1b)
Scale Shifting Exercise—Early Intermediate
Great job! You’re ready to move on to the next jazz practice exercise.
Jazz Chords Exercise—Early Intermediate
Just as a craftsman or craftswoman has more than one tool in their workshop, we as jazz musicians need to bring more than one improv technique onto the bandstand. Remember, scales only represent stepwise motion.
The following Outlining Diatonic Triads Exercise helps develop intuitive use of skips based on familiar root position triad shapes. A good early intermediate target tempo for this exercise is 150 BPM. (Lesson Resources: Backing Track 2b)
Outlining Diatonic Triads Exercise—Early Intermediate
Great job. Did you notice that this exercise only contains 3rd and 2nd intervals? That’s because it is based on a root position triad shape. To explore additional variety, you can also play the exercise by connecting diatonic chords in 1st inversion and in 2nd inversion. When this exercise is played with all triad shapes (root, 1st and 2nd), you’ll have played chord outlines containing 2nds, 3rds and 4ths.
Alright, you’re ready to move on to the next jazz exercise.
Jazz Melodic Patterns Exercise—Early Intermediate
The third and final early intermediate jazz improv exercise is an Interval Patterns Exercise. This exercise will familiarize your ears and fingers with melodic interval patterns spanning as small as a 2nd to as wide as a 7th. A good early intermediate target tempo for this exercise is 150 BPM. (Lesson Resources: Backing Track 3b)
Interval Patterns Exercise—Early Intermediate
Once you’re comfortable with these early intermediate jazz exercises in C major, be sure to move on to additional keys. For example, the intermediate level jazz ballad “Misty” contains sections in the major keys of E♭ and A♭ (and a few other brief tonicizations.) Therefore, learning these jazz exercises in E♭ and A♭ will help you build confidence with your improv lines on “Misty.”
Well done, you’ve completed the early intermediate level material for today’s lesson on 3 Jazz Exercises to Practice Every Day. Be sure to bookmark this page for future reference. As your jazz piano skills grow, you can return here to shed the remaining jazz improv exercises in this lesson.
When you’re all finished with today’s lesson, be sure to visit the conclusion section for links to related resources.
Late Intermediate Jazz Improv Exercises
If you are a late intermediate piano student looking to grow your improvisational fluency, these jazz exercises are for you. The 3 daily exercises in this section will train your ears and fingers to hear and play various melodic shapes that includes stepwise motion, arpeggio motion and intervallic sequences.
Jazz Scales Exercise—Late Intermediate
As you grow as an improvisor, an important skill to develop is the ability to read and interpret chord symbols linearly. That’s right, the chord symbol is not just for your left-hand chord voicing. It also represents a specific chord/scale relationship that is used while improvising. Jazz musicians call these relationships modes.
What are modes in jazz music?
Modes are scales formed by starting on different degrees of a source scale or parent scale. While this principle can apply to any type of source scale, musical modes are most commonly associated with the seven modes of the major scale.
Why are modes important for jazz improvisation?
Here’s a quick example that illustrates why modes are so important for jazz improvisation. Let’s say you’re playing a jazz standard like “All the Things You Are.” Throughout the form, the chord symbol Fm7 appears three times. Chances are, you’ll probably play the same voicing in your left hand each time. Perhaps a chord shell (R–7–10) like F-E♭-A♭ or a rootless B voicing (7-9-3-5) like E♭-G-A♭-C. However, when it comes to soloing on “All the Things You Are,” each of the Fm7 chord symbols do not represent the exact same harmonic situation.
The example below shows that the tonal shift from A♭ major to E♭ major affects the 6th scale degree of our F minor sound.
Are you beginning to see why modes are so important? If so, then you’ll want your daily scale practice to reflect this reality.
The following Jazz Modes Exercise allows you to learn and master each of the 7 modes that come from the major scale. A good target tempo for this exercise for intermediate students is 150 BPM. (Lesson Resources: Backing Track 1c)
Jazz Modes Exercise—Late Intermediate
Nice work! As you transpose this exercise to various keys, you’ll also be reinforcing your awareness of chord/scale relationships. Now, let’s move on to a chord exercise for jazz improv.
Jazz Chords Exercise—Late Intermediate
Practicing diatonic 7th chords linearly is another great way to develop your improv sound. The following Outlining Diatonic 7th Chords Exercise will familiarize your ears and fingers with these melodic shapes. This is also a great exercise for developing your swing feel. A recommended target tempo for this exercise is 130 BPM for intermediate students. (Lesson Resources: Backing Track 2c)
Outlining Diatonic 7th Chords Exercise—Late Intermediate
Great job. For a deep dive on diatonic 7th chords in all 12 keys, check out a full-length course on Diatonic 7th Chords Exercises (Intermediate). Now, let’s move on to a jazz exercise that incorporates various intervallic patterns.
Jazz Melodic Patterns Exercise—Late Intermediate
Some of the most intriguing improv lines are those that use pairs of intervals in a sequential pattern. The following Paired Interval Patterns Exercise explores melodic patterns formed from 3 different interval pairs: 4ths and 2nds, 5ths and 3rds, and 7ths and 6ths. An intermediate level target tempo for this exercise is 150 BPM. (Lesson Resources: Backing Track 3c)
Paired Interval Patterns Exercise—Late Intermediate
Once you’re comfortable with these late intermediate jazz exercises in C major, be sure to move on to additional keys. For example, “All the Things You Are ” moves between the major keys of A♭, C, E♭, G and E. Therefore, to accelerate your improv growth, you’ll want to be able to play these jazz exercises fluidly in A♭, C, E♭, G and E major.
Well done, you’ve completed the late intermediate level material for today’s lesson on 3 Jazz Exercises to Practice Every Day. Consider bookmarking this page for future reference. As your jazz piano skills grow, you can return here to pursue the advanced jazz improv exercises in this lesson.
When you’re all finished with today’s lesson, be sure to visit the conclusion section for links to additional resources.
Advanced Jazz Improv Exercises
This section of today’s lesson contains 3 daily jazz exercises for advanced students. Each exercise focuses on a different improv approach—scalar exercises, chordal exercises and pattern exercises. The substance of these exercises is the same as the late intermediate exercises in the previous section. However, as an advanced player, you’ll benefit from playing along with the examples in this section, which target faster tempos. Let’s begin with the scalar approach.
Jazz Scales Exercise—Advanced
As an advanced piano student, you’ll want your daily scale exercises to incorporate a modal lens. We explained why this is so important in the previous section. The following Jazz Modes Exercise allows you to learn and master each of the 7 modes that come from the major scale. A good target tempo for this exercise for advanced students is 200 BPM. (Lesson Resources: Backing Track 1d)
Jazz Modes Exercise—Advanced
Nice work! Now, let’s move on to a chordal exercise for jazz improvisation.
Jazz Chords Exercise—Advanced
Jazz musicians frequently build tasteful lines in their solos by combining stepwise motion with diatonic 7th chord outlines. The following Outlining Diatonic 7th Chords Exercise will familiarize your ears and fingers with these melodic shapes. A good target tempo for this exercise is 180 BPM for advanced students. (Lesson Resources: Backing Track 2d)
Outlining Diatonic 7th Chords Exercise—Advanced
Great job. Be sure to visit the following full-length course for additional jazz exercises and examples with diatonic 7th chords:
Now, let’s move on to a jazz exercise that incorporates various intervallic patterns.
Jazz Melodic Patterns Exercise—Advanced
Some of the most intriguing improv lines are those that use pairs of intervals in a sequential pattern. The following Paired Interval Patterns Exercise explores melodic patterns formed from 3 different interval pairs: 4ths and 2nds, 5ths and 3rds, and 7ths and 6ths. A recommended target tempo for this exercise for advanced students is 200 BPM. (Lesson Resources: Backing Track 3d)
Paired Interval Patterns Exercise—Advanced
Great job. Remember, PWJ members can easily transpose all of the exercises in today’s lesson to any key with our Smart Sheet Music.
Conclusion and Additional Jazz Exercises
Congratulations, you have completed today’s lesson on 3 Jazz Exercises to Practice Every Day. In addition, you’ve taken some giant steps toward your next improvisational milestone. If you enjoyed today’s lesson, then you’re also likely to enjoy the following PWJ Resources:
Check out our course series on 2-5-1 Soloing with...
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Michael LaDisa graduated from the University of North Texas with a major in Music Theory & Composition. He lives in Chicago where he operates a private teaching studio and performs regularly as a solo pianist. His educational work with students has been featured on WGN-TV Evening News, Fox 32 Good Day,...
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