Improvise a Solo Over Any Jazz Standard On Piano
Get free weekly lessons, practice tips, and downloadable resources to your inbox!
In this piano lesson, you are going to learn easiest approach to improvise a jazz piano solo over any jazz standard. When it comes to improvising a solo over jazz standard, it can be very confusing to understand which scales you can use to improvise over certain chords. Oftentimes there are multiple scales that you can use with one chord. Furthermore, many jazz standards like All The Things You Are have many chords. Therefore, you could hypothetically use hundreds of scales to improvise over one tune. If this sounds overwhelming to you, then I have good news for you! You can solo over most jazz standard using one or two “parent” scales. When you reframe jazz chords as expressions of one parent scale, soloing will become tremendously easier for you. In this piano lesson, you will learn:
- The Chord Progression for All The Things You Are
- The Dominant 7 Identifier
- Diatonic Chords for 4 Keys
- Jazz Chord Progression Analysis
- How to Connect Your Jazz Lines
Whether you are new to jazz piano or have experience playing jazz piano, this lesson will help you make better sense of chord progressions so that you can solo comfortably and confidently over any jazz standard. Let’s dive in!
How to NOT Think of Jazz Soloing
Let’s say you open your fake book to the tune All The Things You Are. This is a classic jazz standard and an excellent tune to master soloing and improv on. Below are the chords for this song:
You see this first chord, F minor 7, and you think “What scale do I use on F minor 7?”. Then you see the next chord, Bb minor 7, and you think “What scale do I use on this chord?”. If you take this approach, you will have to learn about 30 different scales because there are about 30 chords in the song. Friends, there is a much simpler way to think about soloing on a jazz standard.
By the way, if the chords for the above tune don’t look familiar, you can learn all of these chords in our Level 2 Foundations Learning Track.
Soloing with Parent Scales
Soloing with parent scales is a framework of soloing that does not look at each chord. Rather, it looks at all of the chords combined and their relationship to a parent scale. In other words, the Parent Scale approach says that you can solo over a series of jazz standard chords using only one parent scale. With this approach, you can take long chord progressions and simplify them down to a parent scale of 7 notes. Next, let’s discuss what a Parent Scale is.
What is a Parent Scale?
A Parent Scale is simply a major scale, and almost all jazz chords belong to a parent major scale by way of diatonic 7th chords.
What are Diatonic 7th Chords?
Diatonic 7th chords are 7th chords that come from the underlying major scale. For example, if you play a 7th chord on every note from the C Major Scale, you end up with 7 Diatonic 7th chords:
We call the first chord the “one chord”, and it is a C Major 7. The second chord is called the “two chord”, and it’s a D minor 7. If you continue this up the piano, you end up with E minor 7, F major 7, G dominant 7, A minor 7, and B half-diminished 7. All of these chords use notes from the C Major scale. Therefore, they are all related to the parent scale, C Major, and you can use the C Major scale to solo over them.
If you don’t know your Diatonic 7th chords, you can learn them in all 12 keys with exercises in our Diatonic 7 Chord Exercises course.
Now that you understand that the C Major Parent Scale can be used over all of the above 7 chords, you might be thinking “how do I identify the Parent Scale to solo on particular jazz standard? Don’t some of the chords above occur in multiple keys?”. The answer to this is yes, but there is one chord in particular that will help you understand what key you’re in, and we call it the Dominant 7 Identifier.
The Dominant 7 Identifier
To understand what the parent scale of a jazz standard chord progression is, you need to look for the Dominant 7 Identifier.
What is a Dominant 7 Identifier?
The Dominant 7 Identifier is a Dominant 7 Chord that occurs in a song, and it often tells us what the parent scale is. For example, if you look at the diatonic 7th chords in C Major, there is only one Dominant 7 chord, G7. This Dominant 7 chord only occurs naturally in the key of C. In other words, if you play diatonic chords in the other 11 keys, you will never encounter another G7. Therefore, a G7 in a song provides a strong indication that a chord progression is in the key of C. It’s important to note that the G7 is a 5th interval above C, which means that the Dominant 7 Identifier signals that the parent key is a 5th interval down. Next, let’s find our Dominant 7 Identifiers in All the Things You Are:
All The Things You Are Chords
If you look at the first few chords of All the Things You Are, you’ll discover the first Dominant 7 chord, Eb7. This indicates that we might be in the key of Ab, which is a 5th interval down. We can test this by playing the diatonic 7th chords in Ab:
After playing the Diatonic 7th chords in Ab, you’ll discover that the first 5 chords of All the Things You Are use these diatonic chords. Therefore, you can use the Ab Major Scale to solo over the first 5 chords of All the Things You Are jazz standard. Pretty cool, huh? Next, let’s look at the next 3 chords: Dm7, G7, and CMaj7.
Dm7, G7, and CMaj7
The next three chords do not belong to the key of Ab, so how do we figure out what the Parent Scale is? Firstly, we find the Dominant 7 Identifier, which is the chord G7. Secondly, go down a 5th to C, which indicates the parent key. Thirdly, test the parent key of C it by playing our Diatonic 7th chords in C:
As you can see from the above example, the 3 chords fit perfectly with our diatonic chords in C. Therefore, you can use the C Major Scale to improvise over these chords. Next, let’s look at Section 2 of All the Things You Are.
In section 2 of All the Things You Are, the chords look very similar to the first chords in the song, but they are a little different. Therefore, we should run a test to see what the parent scale is. Firstly, find the Dominant 7 Identifier, which is Bb7. Secondly, go down a 5th interval to see which Parent Key this indicates, which is Eb. Thirdly, play our diatonic chords of Eb to see if they match the progression:
After playing the Diatonic 7th chords in Eb, it is clear that the first 5 chords of this progression belong to the key of Eb. Therefore, you can use Eb Major Scale to improvise a solo over this section.
Am7, D7, and GMaj7
The last 3 chords of this progression do not belong to the key of Eb, so what Parent Key do they belong to? To test this, first find the Dominant 7 Identifier, which is D7. Second, measure down a 5th interval to find the Parent Key, which is G Major. Third, test this by playing the Diatonic 7th chords in G Major:
After playing the Diatonic 7th chords above, it is clear that the 3 chords match the diatonic chords in G. Therefore, you can use the G Major Scale to improvise over these chords.
Putting It All Together
Now that you understand how to find Parent Scales to solo over a jazz standard chord progression. I recommend using this idea to find the rest of the parents scales for All the Things You Are. You’ll discover that you can solo over this entire jazz standard using a handful of major scales, which makes soloing so much easier.
Now, if you want to learn how to create interesting lines over this progression, I recommend our 2-5-1 Soloing Course. If you want to learn how to master connecting your scales, I recommend our Soloing Over a Turnaround Courses (Beginner/Intermediate, Intermediate/Advanced). Finally, to learn more exotic scales for soloing, check out our Scales for Improv Over 7th Chords.
Thanks for learning, and see you in the next Quick Tip!
More Free Lessons
Learn to play "Shchedryk," the famous Ukrainian holiday carol more popularly referred to as "Carol of the Bells," in a jazz piano style.
This contemporary jazz piano arrangement of the traditional holiday classic "The First Noel" sounds so beautiful that it's bound to strike a chord.
Learn a beautiful jazz piano arrangement of "O Come All Ye Faithful" ("Adeste Fideles") and jazz arranging tips for other holiday favorites!
Looking for downloads?
Subscribe to a membership plan for full access to this Quick Tip's sheet music and backing tracks!
Get instant access to this Quick Tip and other member features with a PWJ membership!
Guided Learning Tracks
View guided learning tracks for all music styles and skill levels
Complete lessons and courses as you track your learning progress
Download Sheet Music and Backing Tracks
Engage with other PWJ members in our member-only community forums
Become a better piano player today. Join with the 14-Day Free Trial today!