Pentatonic Power Part by Laura Lowe

I’m happy to repost this excellent article from a blog by Laura Lowe.  Since attending our 88 Creative Keys piano improvisation workshop, Laura has become an advocate for fostering creativity alongside traditional music reading skills in the piano studio and that makes me happy. – Bradley Sowash Author: Laura Lowe In my last post, I explained the pentatonic scale and why it’s such a useful tool for for helping students learn to make their own music. I’m discovering that lots of folks aren’t familiar with this scale and its versatility! Carl Orff and Zoltan Kodaly both incorporated pentatony (isn’t that a fun word?) in their widely-used methods for childhood music education, noting that it was a native tongue for the folk songs children already knew and also that the absence of half-steps made it easier for children to sing in tune. In elementary classrooms today, children often play onOrff instruments which their teachers … Read more…

Trading 4’s With the Blues

With it’s roots in the lamentations of slaves, the lyrics and tone of American blues genre is often deliberately grim, “Woke up this morning, blues was fallin’ all around…”  However the degree of “bluesiness” can be regulated by the number of “blue” notes the improvising musician chooses to employ.   In previous posts, I discussed the pentatonic and bright blues scales as collections of “fallback” notes for improvisation.  Here are the formulas for review: Pentatonic Scale Formula: Scale degrees 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6. Bright Blues Formula: Scale degrees 1, 2, b3, 3, 5 and 6 Here’s how they work out in the key of G: G Major Pentatonic Scale = G  A  B  D  E  G (G major scale minus C and F#) G Bright Blues Scale = G  A  Bb  B  D  E  G (pentatonic plus flat 3rd) A stock boogie bass line on the blues progression … Read more…

Twelve Bars for Ten Fingers

One of the most popular chord progressions in American music is the 12-bar blues. Like a coloring book, it provides an outline or picture frame for 10 (or less) fingers to fill with colorful chords and melodies.  There’s nothing quite like using this standard to teach the three primary chords and encourage creativity. This is definitely a two-pronged assignment worth incorporating into your curriculum. Usually, I’m in a hurry to get the potential improvisers on board so I tend to throw them into the 12-bar blues as soon as possible using this 12-bar blues “cheat sheet”. I begin (regardless of age or experience) by coaxing them to play along with me accompanied by a Clavinova style, the iReal b “band” or at least a metronome.  Here are specific steps I use to get them comfortable with the pattern. 1) Ask the improviser to choose one hand or both (depending on ability) … Read more…

Bright Blues Scale Improv

In a previous post, I discussed the pentatonic scale as a collection of “fallback” notes for improvisation that will sound good in almost any style or chord progression that stays in one key. Scale degrees 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6 You can also think of it as a major scale minus the 4th and 7th notes. C Major Scale = C  D  E  F  G  A  B  C C Major Pentatonic Scale = C  D  E      G  A      C (major scale minus 4 and 7) Like a painter preparing his or her palette for a new still life, a great way to bring a bit of jazzy color to this “pitch palette” is to add the flat 3rd “blue” note to the pentatonic scale.  The result is a note collection that I like to call the bright blues scale. C Bright Blues Scale = C  D  Eb … Read more…

Pentatonic Improv

Imagine a collection of notes that would sound good regardless of when or how you played it. Such a thing exists.  It is called the pentatonic scale and it is one of the great secrets of improvisation. Creative musicians around the world playing many different styles rely on these 5 notes (a “nickels worth”) as a basis for improvisation. For tunes that stay in one key, the pentatonic scale will sound good regardless of how you order the notes or what chords are under your improvisations (5 notes worth their weight in gold). The reason this works is because there are no half steps to create dissonance.  Pentatonic Scale Formula: Scale degrees 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6 The pentatonic scale is similar to a major scale except that the 4th and 7th scale degrees are omitted. For example: C Major Scale = C  D  E  F  G  A  B  … Read more…

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