Senior Concert Band – Scales for Improvisation

Great rehearsal last Tuesday – well done everyone.

For next week, please make sure you’ve had a look at the coda, and have got all the right notes. We’ll also work a bit more on balance and articulation (especially the accents).

Our main focus next week, though, will be learning to improvise, using the mixolydian pentatonic scales I handed out last week. You can find copies of the scales here, if you need them (see below for the B♭ instruments example, to see how it looks).

Bb instruments

Please make sure you’ve had a look at these by next week – the more familiar you are with the 5 notes in each of the scales, the more fun you can have. The starting point for your practice this week is to make sure you’ve had a go at the first two bars of each line – that gives you the core notes. The notes on the rest of each line are just taking those notes through several octaves, so you can experiment with that yourself, according to what best suits your instrument.

Basically the way it works is that the notes of those scales are guaranteed to sound good with the chords in Rock Around the Clock. You can even just pick two notes from each of the scales, and play any rhythm you like using those notes, and it will sound cool.

The solo section (bar 33) in Rock Around the Clock is a standard 12-bar pattern based around the B♭7 chord (concert pitch):
B♭7 B♭7 B♭7 B♭7
E♭7 E♭7 B♭7 B♭7
F F B♭7 B♭7

We’ll go through this all on Tuesday, but the basic gist is this:

  • When the chord is B♭7 (that’s C7 for B♭ instruments, and G7 for alto saxes), you play any notes from the B♭7 scale (first line of the scales handout).
  • When the chord is E♭7 (F7, C7), you play notes from the second line of the scales handout.
  • When the chord is F7 (G7, D7), you play notes from (you guessed it) the third line of the scales handout.

Most players will start by choosing just 2 or 3 notes from each scale (or even 1) and that’s fine. We’ll build it up over time, as our confidence and familiarity increases.

Right, I’m off to practice my scales . . .