In this article we’ll be talking about some improvisation tips to help improve your soloing using the jazz standard “On Green Dolphin Street” as our example. Of course, these improvisation tips can be used and applied to any of the jazz standards that you might be studying in your practice sessions. Specifically, we’ll be talking about two concepts: chromatic neighbor tones and common tones.
The chord changes in the first 8 measures of “Green Dolphin Street” are as follows:
Chromatic Neighbor Tones
A great idea to help generate improvisation ideas is to first learn the chord tones and then explore the upper and lower chromatic neighbor tones of each chord tone. Let’s make sure we understand all of these terms. The chord tones are the root, 3rd, 5th, and 7th of each chord. The chromatic neighbor tones are the notes which fall a half-step above and a half-step below each chord tone. Let’s find the chord tones and chromatic neighbor tones for the first chord of Green Dolphin Street, C major 7.
Now, let’s take a look at a couple exercises that get you using chromatic neighbor tones.
Exercise 1: With your right hand, play the chord tone, the lower chromatic neighbor tone, and then back to the chord tone. With your left hand, play the chord in root position.
Exercise 2: With your right hand, play the chord tone, the upper chromatic neighbor tone, and then back to the chord tone. With your left hand, play the chord in root position.
These are great exercises to get you playing through the chord changes and identifying chord tones and chromatic neighbors. Now start mixing it up and taking that first step towards turning these exercises into real music.
Finding common tones among various chords is another excellent exercise for building solo lines. Common tones simply refer to tones which two or more chords have in common, whether they be chord tones or upper extensions (9ths, 11ths, and 13ths). For example, the first two chords of Green Dolphin Street are C major 7 and C minor 7. Which tones do those two chords have in common?
By finding these common tones you can begin building solo lines and linking notes together across chord changes. Let’s start with these two chords – C major 7, and C minor 7. We know that the tones which are common to these two chords are: C, D, F, G, and A. So we’ll start with ‘G,’ the 5th of both chords. We’ll use ‘G’ as the central tone for our solo over these two measures, building a solo using ‘G’ (the common tone) and some upper or lower chromatic neighbor tones. Here’s an example:
Incorporate this study of chord tones, chromatic neighbor tones, and common tones into your practice. Try building a few short simple solos (i.e., 2-4 measures at a time) using these ideas.