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TitlePracticing Jazz
Tags Pitch (Music) Harmony Chord (Music) Scale (Music)
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Page 1

Practicing Jazz
by Rob Boone

(ITA Journal, Summer 1995)
(The Trombonist, Spring 2004)

One of the first things noticeable when listening to great jazz trombonists is their mastery of the instrument,
a seemingly effortless swing and an astonishing command of creative improvisatory skills. Although many of
the best players in jazz and other musical fields probably possess a good dose of natural ability, much practice is
necessary for a player to develop into a great performer. In addition to learning tunes, jazz theory, listening and
playing with other musicians, jazz craftsmanship must be practiced diligently.
Try to modify limited practice time to include jazz elements. Adapt your current warm-up and practice
sessions to cover jazz scales, harmony and patterns. Long tones provide a useful opportunity to experiment with
slide vibrato. Play transcribed solos during etude practice to provide an additional workout in melody, phrasing
and endurance. There are many books in bass clef available today that provide a wealth of information pertaining
to jazz. A list of some of these books appears at the end of this article.
Use harmonic variation in warm-ups to keep the drills interesting. Exercises that traditionally outline major
triads can be altered to outline minor, diminished or augmented triads (Example 1). Arpeggiating different chords
breathes new life into old stale exercises and provides wonderful ear training. After achieving a degree of success
with triads, advance to seventh chords such as major seven (MM7), minor seven (mm7), dominant seven (Mm7),
and others. When one chord becomes too familiar, throw in a harmonic “curve ball” and modify it. Try your hand
at half diminished, minor major seven (mM) and augmented seven chords.

Example 1: use of harmonic variation in traditional warmups

Modify your scale practice to include scales often used in jazz music with a variety of traditional and jazz
articulations (Example 2).

Example 2: scale practice in swing style

Prominent scales for the three main harmony groups include:
1) Major harmony: major scale, lydian mode and major pentatonic
2) Minor harmony: dorian mode and minor pentatonic
3) Dominant seventh harmony: mixolydian mode, lydian flat 7, diminished, bebop (Example 3), whole tone,
diminished whole tone and blues scales. Many other scales are useful for jazz improvisation and will become
apparent as your harmonic knowledge increases.

Example 3: descending scale pattern

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Page 2

Chord arpeggiation has always been an important part of warming up for brass players and flexibility practice.
Example 4 contains an expanding chord outline pattern that can be modified to target higher or lower registers. Try
outlining a variety of chord types to keep the exercises from becoming uninteresting. Build a repertory of chords
and scales that can be comfortably drawn from in jazz improvisatory situations.

Example 4: chord outline pattern. Vary harmony, key and articulation

Trombonists can adapt and create exercises that explore other idiomatic jazz and contemporary techniques such
as doodle tongue, turns (Example 5), multiphonics and against-the-grain playing.

Example 5: expanding turn exercise on a descending scale. Use alternate positions to create a natural slur.



The next exercise provides a good workout with pentatonic against-the-grain exercises that cover many keys
by “fretting” the shape of the drill up and down the slide (Examples 6a and 6b). Pay attention to intonation in the
alternate positions, especially with the top target note in each exercise.

Example 6a: against-the-grain exercise (descending version). Use a light tongue on the first note of each slur group.

Example 6b: against-the-grain exercise (ascending version)

Modify exercises to create several variations usable as “licks” in your improvisation (Examples 7a and 7b).

Example 7a: against-the-grain “lick” (descending version)

Example 7b: against-the-grain “lick” (ascending version)

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