Diminished Whole Tone Scale Exercise with Pentatonic

The diminished whole tone scale (aka super locrian or Pomeroy scale) has been around for a long time, but it's still a foreign sound to ears that are steeped in basic major and minor scales. For as many years as I've been playing it, it's still not something I find myself idly humming. Nevertheless, it's an extremely useful scale, full of colors and possibilities for chord superimpositions. Think of the diminished whole tone scale as a mode built upon the seventh degree of the ascending melodic minor scale. For instance, a C melodic minor scale contains these notes: C, D, Eb, F, G, A, B, C. Start on B as the scale root rather than C and you've got a B diminished whole tone scale. The scale's primary use is with the altered dominant seventh chord, which it fits like a glove. The diminished whole tone scale contains virtually every common alteration of the dominant chord you can conceive of: b9, #9, +5, and +11. So when you see, for instance, an A+7#9, the A diminished whole tone is a scale option that should come instantly to mind. Like any scale, you can conceive of it as simply a linear repository of tones, all of which relate perfectly to the altered dominant chord. The exercise on this page explores three of the many harmonic possibilities contained within the diminished whole tone scale. Click on the image to enlarge it. Each four-bar line sets a given scale against its respective altered dominant chord.
  • The first two bars use four-note cells to outline the seventh, raised fifth, third, and root of the chord. The chord tone is the last note of each cluster.
  • The third bar is a mode four pentatonic scale built on the b9 of the chord.
  • The last bar concludes with a simple lick that expresses the major quality of the chord, then hits two of its tension tone (#9 and b9) before resolving to the root.
  • . The purpose of this exercise isn't so much to give you a great lick as to help you dig inside the diminished whole tone scale to see what it has to offer. There's plenty more to discover, so consider this a springboard to further exploration. You'd do well to use some kind of harmonic accompaniment as you play this exercise, so you're training not just your fingers but also your ears. Practice hard and have fun! And be sure to visit my jazz page for a large selection of other informative articles, exercises, and solo transcriptions that can help you develop as a jazz improviser. They're all free, so dig in, learn, and grow with me musically.

    The Buttermilk Jamboree and Ed Englerth’s Latest CD, Hope. Dream. Sigh.

    Saturday I played with the Ed Englerth Band at the Buttermilk Jamboree near Delton, Michigan. This was the first of what is likely to become an annual all-weekend event at the Circle Pines Camp in the heart of rural Barry County. It was a fun and interesting festival that combined music and arts with the cooperatively owned camp's longstanding values of ecology and sustainable living. As you might expect, the festival drew an eclectic crowd of every age, from old hippies to young musicians and everything between and beyond. Picture Woodstock in the woods and you've got the idea. In the midst of this colorful hodgepodge, Ed, Alan, Don, and I did an evening performance on the Sugar Bush Stage. Oddly, while we appeared in the online schedule, the paper printout didn't include us. We drew a decent group of listeners regardless, and Ed sold a few CDs from his newly minted album, Hope. Dream. Sigh. The CD is in fact so new that Ed paid extra for an early shipment, which arrived at his door mere hours before showtime. I want to talk a little about Hope. Dream. Sigh. I'm hesitant to say that it's Ed's best effort yet because his last CD, Restless Ghost, is so bloody good. But this CD is at least of that same caliber, and some of the arrangements are easily the most ambitious yet. This is largely due to the way that Ed utilized me on the saxophones. This is the first of his albums on which we...
  • multi-tracked my horn parts to create an entire sax section. The apogee of this approach is the tune "Sad Stories," with its ironic Calypso beat and wacky, humorous slant on relational woes.
  • created faux baritone sax tracks. Since I don't own a bari, and since "Empty Pockets" seemed to flat-out demand the incorporation of a bari, we made one electronically by laying down an alto track and then dropping it an octave digitally. It worked great! "Empty Pockets" cooks, an irresistibly driving, hardcore rocker.
  • made unprecedented use of my soprano sax. I've been reluctant to play the soprano on previous albums because, well, my intonation sucks. Or so I've always thought. But that problem doesn't crop up on this CD. Two songs feature the soprano in a big way, and in both of them the horn sounds fabulous. "I Do, I Don't" klezmerizes Ed's tongue-in-cheek commentary on fantasy living for the not-so-rich and delusional. On the serious side, "When Words Fail" is a minor, blues-drenched look at love that goes the distance when communication breaks down. I got a lot of room to stretch out on this tune as a soloist, and I'm delighted with the results.
  • . Ed is a fantastic songwriter and lyricist who steadfastly resists categorization. That's one reason why I respect him as an artist and love him as a friend. The man has integrity as well as soul. Moreover, in Alan Dunst on drums, Don Cheeseman playing bass, and, I trust, me on the saxophones, Ed has found a small, steady core of fellow musicians and brothers in Christ who grasp and believe in his music. Each album displays growth, new directions, fresh creative expressions. Yes I'm biased. Of course I am--what would you expect? But not so biased that I'd speak this glowingly of Hope. Dream. Sigh. unless I believed it was really just that good. It is. Check it out and see for yourself. I might add that, with 17 tracks, you'll get more than your money's worth. And with that, I'm signing off. Early morning has turned into mid morning and the rest of this Monday stretches before me, with work to do and necessities to attend to. Ciao.

    The Giant Steps Scratch Pad: As Crass a Plug as You’ll Ever Encounter Anywhere

    BUY MY BOOK! BUY MY BOOK! BUY MY BOOK! BUY MY BOOK! BUY MY BOOK! Never mind the rest of the gobbledegook on this page--just go to the bottom and start clicking on shopping carts. As for you less impulsive types: Gosh, I hope I'm not being too forward. In real life, I'm the retiring, wallflower type who would never think of grabbing you by the lapels and shaking you wildly about while protruding my eyeballs at you and screaming, "BUY MY BOOK!" Never. The marketing methods I use to get you to buy The Giant Steps Scratch Pad--available in C, Bb, Eb, and bass clef editions--are far more subtle. I prefer to drop discrete hints, such as sending out glossy, full-color mailers that say things like, "This Father's Day, give Dad the gift that says 'I love you!' Give him The Giant Steps Scratch Pad." Low-key is best, that's what I say. Ummm...did you get the mailer? Well, no matter, because here is your reminder that now is the perfect time to get Dad, or Mom, or your Aunt Bronte who plays the crumpophone, or maybe even your little old self, a copy of the Scratch Pad. Why is now so perfect a time? Because now is such a totally in-the-moment time, and jazz improvisation is such an in-the-moment art form, and Coltrane changes typically fly by at such an in-the-moment, near-light speed, that, overlooking the utter pointlessness of everything I've just written, you really should cough up $9.50 and BUY MY BOOK. Do it. Not only will you be keeping a starving artist in Ramen for a week, but--seriously now--you will also be getting a truly unique and valuable practice companion for jazz improvisers. If you've ever wanted to master Coltrane changes, this book will do the trick. To the best of my knowledge, it's the first practical, hands-on resource for jazz instrumentalists of every kind that helps you develop the technique to play Giant Steps changes. You can find plenty of material on Coltrane's theory, but very little that you can actually wrap your fingers around in the woodshed.* The Giant Steps Scratch Pad fills that gap, taking you beyond theory to application. Here's what you get:
    • * A brief overview of “Giant Steps” theory
    • * Insights and tips for using this book as a practice companion
    • * 155 licks and patterns divided into two parts to help you cultivate facility in both the A and B sections of “Giant Steps”
    • * 2 pages of licks using the augmented scale--the "universal scale" for Coltrane changes
    Click on the image to your left to view a printable page sample from the Bb edition (for tenor sax, soprano sax, trumpet, and clarinet). Print it out, take it with you to your next practice session, and get a feel for what the Scratch Pad has to offer. Each line takes you through the first four bars of Giant Steps changes. Transpose the pattern down a major third for the second four bars. AVAILABLE IN C, Bb, Eb, AND BASS CLEF EDITIONS, AND BOTH IN PRINT AND AS A PDF DOWNLOAD. 32 PAGES. Instant PDF download, $9.50 C edition Add to Cart Bb edition Add to Cart Eb edition Add to Cart Bass clef edition Add to Cart View Cart Print editions--retail quality with full-color cover, $10.95 plus shipping: order here.
    PRAISE FOR THE GIANT STEPS SCRATCH PAD "Ever since John Coltrane recorded 'Giant Steps,' its chord progression has been a rite of passage for aspiring improvisers. Bob's book The Giant Steps Scratch Pad presents a practical approach to Coltrane changes that will challenge advanced players and provide fundamental material for those just beginning to tackle the challenge of Giant Steps.'” --Ric Troll, composer, multi-instrumentalist, owner of Tallmadge Mill Studios "In this volume, Bob has created an excellent new tool for learning how to navigate the harmonies of 'Giant Steps.' This is a hands-on, practical approach with a wealth of great material that will be of assistance to students of jazz at all levels of development." --Kurt Ellenberger, composer, pianist, jazz educator and author of Materials and Concepts in Jazz Improvisation
    ------------------------------- * Unless you're a guitarist. For some reason, I've found a modest offering of good, practical material available for guitar players. You'd think that tenor sax players would be the prime audience for lit on Coltrane changes, but not so. Guitarists are the torch bearers. Sheesh. You string pickers have all the luck.

    Uh-oh! Time for Sax Maintenance AGAIN?!

    So there I am in Ed Englerth's basement tonight, getting set to rehearse for our set this coming weekend at the Buttermilk Jamboree near Delton, Michigan.  I pick up my alto sax, clamp my lips around the mouthpiece and blow, and what happens? FWEEEEEFFFF, that's what happens. My horn goes FWEEEEEFFFF. That's not a promising sign. Hoping it's just the reed, I substitute a different one, but once again, anything from low D down balks like crazy, and the higher notes aren't all that cooperative either. So I take my leak light out of my case and run it down the horn, and what's really frustrating is, I can't see any sign of a leaky pad anywhere. Maybe that's due to my strictly neophyte abilities when it comes to troubleshooting saxophone ailments, but still...not even a pinprick of light shining from one of the palm key pads? Nothing? Next step: remove the mouthpiece and check to make sure it's sealing properly. It is--no problems there. And here's the interesting part: when I put it back on the saxophone neck, my horn plays just fine--for about fifteen seconds. After that, HHAAARRRRNNKKK!!! Nutz. This sucks. So I set the alto aside and do the rehearsal using my soprano. I'm not crazy about that option since my intonation on the soprano sax leaves something to be desired, but I don't have much choice. My alto is unplayable. I'm wondering whether a loose cork or something may have lodged somewhere in the horn and is impeding the air stream. Better that than have to take my horn to the shop for repair work that I just don't have the money for right now. It has only been a few months, after all, since I slapped down $160 to have the sax repadded and ministered unto by my repairman. Whatever the problem is, I've got to get it fixed by this weekend, because I have two gigs, and one of them is a big band gig that doesn't give me the liberty of simply swapping the alto for the soprano. Ugh. Saxual problems. But they can wait till tomorrow to figure out. I'm done thinking about the matter for today.

    Going Beyond the Music

    Last night's rehearsal for our June 11 concert at the Buttermilk Jamboree with Ed Englerth, Alan Dunst, and Don Cheeseman was much more than a shared creative time with three of my favorite musical droogs. Life has been pretty intense lately--financial pressures, Mom recovering from a knee replacement, Lisa struggling with what appears to be a ruptured bicep, physical concerns of my own--and I'd be lying to say that I've born it all with a smile on my face. I haven't. I've felt weary, discouraged, and depressed. So reconnecting with the band and working on Ed's music gave me a badly needed release. I needed to just forget about the rest of life for a while and play my horn with some friends with whom I've shared a love of music for many years now under the auspices of Ed's songwriting. Speaking of which, the guy just keeps getting better and better, and so does the band. Ed's upcoming CD may be his best effort yet, which is saying a hunk considering the benchmark set by his last CD, Restless Ghost. I hope to finally hear the final master tonight, and then I'll know for sure which album is my favorite. What's certain is that we pulled out a few extra stops in the studio with this project, including the use of multiple sax tracks to create the effect of an entire sax section. Also, in an unprecedented departure from my die-hard devotion to the alto sax, I played my soprano on a couple tunes. I may have even played it in tune; I'll find out soon enough. But I was talking about how much I needed to tune up, blow some notes, and forget about the rest of life for while. Music is as much a part of life as anything else. In my case, it's a very good part and a very large part, and I needed to be reminded of that. When I forget what "normal" looks like, nights like last night help me draw back to the center of who God created me to be and reclaim some parts of myself that I sometimes lose track of. It seems that I wasn't the only one. Don and his wife have been going through a difficult, hugely demanding time with their new baby son, who has Down Syndrome and has struggled nonstop with acute allergies. Ed has been dealing with the advancing, age-related health problems of his beloved mother- and father-in-law, who reside with him and his wife, Panda. Alan was the only guy who didn't seem to have heavy stuff going on in his life at the moment, or if he did, chose not to share. But he's been through his own fires. We all have, and last night at least three of us were feeling the heat. So it seemed that the right thing to do, after we had finished practicing, was spend some time talking and praying together. It's so easy to just pack up the instruments and head home without ever thinking to pray. But there's power and healing in the honesty, faith, earnestness, and hope of collectively conversing with our heavenly Father. I would go so far as to say that a band of Christian musicians that bypasses the opportunity to get real with each other and with the Lord is missing what may well be the most vital part of their time together, more important even than the music (though that's important). Real is what the four of us got last night, and it was good. I left feeling not only connected with God and with the guys, but also reconnected with myself. Something about standing humbly and openly in the presence of Jesus has a way of doing that, of reminding me who and Whose I really am. The gloom lifts, the lies and warping influence of the world's nonstop millrace lose their grip, and I discover once again that quiet place where I can hear God speak. It is a place of peace and a place of power. When David spoke in Psalm 23 of God as the one who restored his soul, I understand what he meant. I think, I hope, that all of us last night discovered the potential of prayer and our need to incorporate it into our rehearsals more often. More even than the songs we play and the creative passion we share, the Spirit of Jesus Christ draws us together, and it's the thing that can take our band to the next level--possibly the next musical level, but more certainly the next level of what God has in mind for us. Lord, I thank you for last night's blessing of connecting with you and with my brothers Ed, Don, and Alan through the gift of heartfelt, down-to-earth, unpretentious prayer. Please look after each of my friends. You know their needs and you know mine. Care for us and our loved ones as a shepherd cares for the sheep of his pasture, for that is who you are: The Good Shepherd. Give us to hear and treasure your voice--for in it, and it alone, is life.

    Altered Major Scales for Secondary Dominant Chords

    Some months ago I shared a table of non-diatonic tones and their common uses. This morning I found myself thinking once again about non-diatonic tones, and specifically about an effective way to practice them, one that could quickly translate to actual jazz improvisation. The standard bebop scales came to mind. The insertion of one extra note into a scale--typically a raised fifth in a major scale, and a raised seventh in a dominant (Mixolydian) scale--does more than allow a soloist to move through a scale with ease and land on an octave. It also creates new harmonic possibilities. That principle can be exploited by inserting other tones that also suggest secondary harmonies. Click on the image to your right to enlarge it. You'll see three scales. The first two contain a single added note. Scale #1 includes a raised first, and scale #2, a raised fourth. The interpolation of these notes adapts a basic major scale for use with two commonly encountered secondary dominant chords: the V7/ii (or VI7) and the V7 of V (or II7). In the key of C, which these scales are written in, those chords are A7 and D7. These scales are as fresh to me as they are to you at the time of this writing. Not that I've never played them before; I just haven't made a conscious point of focusing on them as actual scales to invest my time in practicing. I see two benefits to doing do. The first is, obviously, developing technical facility. The second is raising one's awareness of the added notes as harmonic devices, with an eye on the secondary chords that they apply to. Each added note serves as the major third--a critical identifying tone--of its secondary dominant chord. So when you play scale #1, remember that it works readily with the VI7; and likewise, scale #2 pairs with the II7. Many playing situations feature both of those secondary dominants, and often the VI7 moves directly to the II7, which in turn moves to the V7--in essence, coasting around a segment of the cycle of fifths. The third scale incorporates both the raised first and the raised fourth, making it a kind of granddaddy scale that accommodates both secondary dominants. Now, don't look at these scales as magic harmonic bullets.. Rather, look at them as resources that allow you to judiciously select certain tones when you need them as well as furnishing you with good linear resources. It's not all about your fingers mastering the technique of the scales. It's also very much about applying your mind to grasp the uses of the introduced tones. In other words, build harmonic awareness, not just digital dexterity. To assist you, I've included an exercise for each scale that will help you hear how each added note implies a certain harmony. Play these exercises on the piano so you can chord along with the melody line, or else get a keyboard player or guitarist to comp for you while you play the different lines. Have fun! And if you enjoyed this post, drop in on my Jazz page and check out the many other exercises, articles, and solo transcriptions.

    Playing with Another Horn Person

    Last night I moseyed over to Noto's in Cascade and sat in with Kathy Lamar, Bob VanStee, and Bobby Thompson. Kathy is a fantastic vocalist, and with Bob on keyboards and Bobby on drums, she has a rhythm accompaniment with abilities equal to her own. In recent months I've popped in a few times and joined in, and I've always enjoyed myself, but never more than last night. It had been a while since I'd made it out to Noto's, and I thought I'd call my friend Dave DeVos and see if he wanted to join me out there. He did, and when I walked through the door he was already there, setting up his electric bass. Even better, Dan Jacobs was there with his fluegelhorn, which created a format I'm particularly fond of. This was my first acquaintance with Dan, but I'd heard of him and had touched base with him on Facebook. Dan is an accomplished player, and sharing the stage with someone of his caliber is a joy. I love to hear what another capable instrumentalist is doing; that fresh influx of inventiveness and technique tweaks my creativity, suggests new ideas to try, and overall kicks me in the butt. Best of all is the interpersonal exchange, the trading fours and switching back and forth between melody and improvised counterpoints, that kind of thing. As an alto saxophonist, I think I like sharing the stage with a trumpet/fluegelhorn player even more than with a tenor sax player. The variety in sound and approach is greater, and even visually the contrast is striking and, to me, more interesting. Of course, there are some challenges. At least I find there to be. The main one is to play with that other horn person without overplaying. Often enough, I'll just bow out, and I noticed that Dan did the same last night. Actually, I find that approach enjoyable. It's nice to just put down one's horn and enjoy what the other guy is doing. We usually learn more by listening than by talking, and that maxim can certainly be applied to jazz, provided the person we're listening to has something to say. Dan does, and it was really nice to hear him last night and get a chance to make a little music with him. Dan, if you happen to read this, you're great! Thanks for the melodies. I look forward to next time.

    This Week: Gig and Recording Project

    I'm pleased to say that all the time I've been spending these days practicing my saxophone is going to get some practical application. This week Thursday, October 7, I'll be playing with keyboardist Paul Lesinski at The Seasonal Grille in downtown Hastings, Michigan. Then Saturday, I'll be getting together for a recording project over at Tallmadge Mill studios west of Grand Rapids. THURSDAY'S GIG: October 7, the town of Hastings is promoting a Ladies' Night on the Town. With The Seasonal Grille offering a combination of wonderful ambiance, superb Italian cuisine at eminently affordable prices, and a good selection of wines and beers, I'm sure the place will be doing a thriving business. I'm pleased to be providing the music there with Paul. Come on out and get a mouthful, an earful, and a beerful!
    Place: The Seasonal Grille Address: 150 W. State Street in downtown Hastings, Michigan Phone: (269) 948-9222 Time: 6:00-9:00 p.m.
    SATURDAY RECORDING SESSION: I'm really excited about this! The guys I'm getting together with are some of my musical heroes. Ric Troll, owner of Tallmadge Mill Studio and organizer of the get-together, is not only an extremely tasty drummer, and more recently a guitarist, but also a wonderful composer. Anything I could say about him would be too little, and that goes for the rest of the guys as well. Randy Marsh, Kurt Ellenberger, and Dave DeVos are not merely superb players, they're also fantastic, complete musicians, widely known and respected in West Michigan. I'm thrilled that I'll be playing some original music with them this weekend. Look for cuts from the session here on Stormhorn.com in the future as they become available. That's the news for now. It's late and I'm tired. Time to call it a night.

    Update on “The Giant Steps Scratch Pad”

    "If something's worth doing, then it's worth doing right." Hear, hear! I agree with that old axiom. But doing something right often takes longer than we expected when we first got our project underway. In the case of "The Giant Steps Scratch Pad"--my book of licks and patterns for Coltrane changes--it has been taking considerably longer. So I thought I'd share another update for those of you who are interested. Here's the status of the project and my plans for it: * After many a headache and blind alley, the music and text files for the Eb edition are now merged into a single document and the interior of the book is ready to go. * Registration for copyright has been filed at the U. S. Copyright Office. * Rather than use one of the templates at Lulu.com, I've decided to have the cover professionally done by a friend of mine who specializes in graphic design for book and CD covers. I meet with him next week. This should be the last big task (knock on wood). * Once the cover is completed, the Eb edition will be ready for publication through Lulu.com. At that point, I'll just need to set up a store account and make the book available. * Bb, C, and bass clef editions will follow once the Eb edition is published. So tenor sax, trumpet, piano, flute, trombone, and bass players, never fear! I've definitely got you on the radar. It just makes sense, from my standpoint, to publish the material as I initially wrote it first, so I can at least get alto sax player like me underway. That's it for now. When there's more to tell, I'll let you know, so stay dialed in.

    Sax ‘n Wedge: A Life Goal

    This last week I was so preoccupied with chasing storms that I hardly blogged at all. When I did, naturally it was about weather. Jazz, music, and the saxophone have languished in the background, at least blogically speaking. Not, however, in practice. When I headed out west for some dryline action, my horn went with me. It always does. My chase partners know that when I head for any chase over a day in duration, the sax is as much a part of my travel gear as my suitcase, laptop, and camera. Some folks toss a baseball or football while waiting for storm initiation; I practice my saxophone. Any time is a good time to get in a few licks. I have several reasons for bringing my horn along on chases, all of them having to do with eventualities. The most likely scenario is, as I've just said, that I'll get a chance to woodshed my instrument. Far less likely--but still, ya never know--is the possibility of winding up in some restaurant where a band is playing, and it's the kind of band that makes me wish I could sit in for a tune or two. Like I said, unlikely; most Great Plains towns aren't exactly jazz hotbeds. Still, as I learned back in the Boy Scouts, it pays to be prepared. My main reason for taking my saxophone with me on storm chases, though, is because of a particular life goal of mine: I want to get a good photo, or maybe some video, or even both, of me jamming on my sax while a monster wedge churns away in the distance. For that matter, I'll settle for just a nice, photogenic tornado of any shape or size. I just want some kind of visual record that captures the raison d'etre of Stormhorn and the essence of who I am as a storm chaser and jazz saxophonist. Assuming that a storm is moving slowly enough to make a photo shoot practical, my preparations once towers start muscling up are: * Rain-X windows * Remove camera from case and make sure it's ready for action * Get tripod out of trunk * Assemble saxophone Just a handy checklist. Reasonable enough, wouldn't you say? So cross your fingers for me, or better still, pray. This season could be the one where I fulfill an ambition and get some very cool photos to show for it. I'm a maniac, you say? Of course I am. A maniac is just someone with a different kind of dream.