Jazz Scales and Improv

Amber writes “I have ‘composed’ the jazz scales. My friend taught me the B flat jazz scale and I used the intervals of that scale to create the other 11. I am not sure how accurate they are and it would be wise to learn them correctly. What is the best book on jazz scales,3rds,arpeggios ect. as well as improv for flute? Thankyou! :)”

5 thoughts on “Jazz Scales and Improv”

  1. Forget about “books for flute” because many of the best jazz exercise books are either for no particular instrument or for saxophone. I’d reccommend the following:

    “The Jazz Theory Book” by Mark Levine. This one will get you well versed tonal jazz theory. It doesn’t contain exercises, but a good understanding of harmony as it relates to jazz is essential very early in the learning process. Many of the scale concepts you’ll deal with early on are mode based and this book deals with modes very well, as well as giving voice to other harmonies/scales (augmented,diminished,blues).

    “Patterns for Improvisation” by Oliver Nelson. Nelson played flute and saxophones. This is practically a bible of patterns and is well worth studying till your fingers fall off. It’s quite accessible and except for going down to a Bb occasionally, it shouldn’t be too much trouble for flute players.

    “Beggining/Internediate/Advanced Jazz Conception” by Lennie Niehaus. These are full of somewhat fun exercises that test your concepts of melody, rhythm, and articulation, as well as help you deal with key transitions in music. They are highly reccommended.

    Most jazz scales/arpeggios and such are better off not learned from a book, or at least not written out in full. This may seem jarring to a classically trained individual, but having it on the page keeps you from having to think about what you’re playing. It’s better if you read it off the page in one key, then transpose it mentally to the other 11. This takes practice and patience.

    More than anything else, though, get with a good teacher. I’ve learned more scales/arpeggios/patterns/tricks from my teachers over the years than any book could have taught me. Furthermore, the best material I have was passed verbally to me and I’ve never seen it in any book. Find someone who believes in you and watch yourself grow.


  2. Amber, I am not sure what you mean by “jazz” scale, but I assume you are refering to some kind of mode. I think the last anonymous post is more than excellent and quite sufficient an answer. there are a host of books with scales out there. just go to your local sheet music store and ask for a book of modes or “jazz” modes. check out a pentatonic scale book if you want to feel lost. Ha Ha. but here is an excersize I do during warm ups. I pick a scale of the day let’s say C as an example. I then play the C major or ionian mode. I then move to D. starting on d I play the c scale but resolve on d In other words d,e,f,g,a,b,c, and d again. I then move to e and start on e. I do the whole c scale and all of it’s basic modes “by ear”!!(very important) I don’t care what they are called. I just play them. I sometimes change the rythym or feel when I start on a new one like tongue two slur two. thirds, or whatever my imagination can come up with. Now here is the sticky part. I then choose a “mode” of the day and begin experimenting with it, but coming up with melodies based on that mode and that mode only. The trick is in resolving. This builds ideas for melodies you can use during improv. Here is another trick that I find really fun. take a mode like c ionian again and superimpose a flat or sharp anywhere in the scale. here is an example. c,d,eflat,f,g,a,b, and back to c. you now have a strange mode that is challenging to build melodies upon. wait it’s kind of like a minor scale but it is not exactly like one. or how about this c,d,e,fsharp, gsharp,a bflat, and c. it is endless when you think about it. it’s just basic math, but then apply it to a melody, it is not math anymore. It’s improvisation that you are totally in control of.

  3. Yeah the JAZZ THEORY BOOK by Mark Levine is great, the first bit of the book will teach you what modes to use over what chords. I’ve never really looked past there in the book, but I go and get copies of charts (ie. head with chords) and then get GOOD recordings and transcribe solos by ear. Then refer between the transcription and and the chord chart, and with your knowledge of chords/modes – work out what they are playing and the chord extensions that they commonly make. Levine’s book also has stuff about chord extensions.

    And practice your modes and scales arpeggios etc. not by sitting there and crunching through a book – but commit them to memory so that when you are improvising, it is secnd nature to see a chord and pick an appropriate mode.

  4. A really nice response, AC.

    The Nelson book is great. For book work, it covers a lot of territory that you might never think of on your own. You can get by on Jerry Coker’s Jazz Improvisation book, too, but the patterns aren’t as progressive sounding.

    A thought about this question of Bbs popping up in books (I saw another guy refer to a Mel Bay “flute” book that was obviously a repurposed sax or oboe book) … with mastering one’s instrument in mind, one might consider reading the exercise as-is (either skipping the low Bb or popping up an octave) and then transposing up a step. In fact, why not attempt the exercise in all 12 keys?

    I’ve seen some great suggestions for scalar practice techniques. Running through some Aebersold book/CD combinations are always a great thing to do, too.

    And if someone just simply ran out of other great resources, there’s always Slonimsky’s scales and patterns. Supposedly ‘trane hit that book at some early point in his life.

    To add to your “teacher” suggestion, it doesn’t really matter if it’s a flute teacher. You could check in with a classical flautist for embouchure and fingering tips, and then visit with one of your local jazz legends for improvisation and style advice. I’m not sure if younger students think of things like that, but it’s awesome to hit up a great jazz pianist, guitarist or even bassist for a different perspective.

  5. It’s all about the circle of 5th”s. It is the most imporant graphic in all of music. Seek and you shall find, PS. get a teacher.

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