Introduction to 3/4 time 

Most popular music that we listen to on charts such as the Billboard Hot 100 and Hot Country Songs consist of "four on the floor" 4/4 time. While this is the most common time signatures in the Western music tradition, 3/4 follows closely behind in prevalence. 

3/4 time 

3/4 is a simple time signature that represents and consists of three quarter notes. 
Ex. 1 

Its basic feel is comprised of a stressed beat on beat one, as in a waltz.  
Clap and/or sing on a fixed pitch the following rhythms to get accustomed to 3/4 time. 
Ex. 2 - 5
(♩= 80)

When you become comfortable performing these rhythms in 3/4, revisit them again with the addition of the 3/4 conducting pattern shown in Ex. 1.13. Begin with your hand positioned in front of your face, and swipe down for beat one. Glide your hand to the right for beat two, and then move it diagonally upward to your starting position for beat three. 
Conducting while singing all exercises is a great way to solidify your sense of time, accurately execute each rhythm, and keep your place in the piece of music. 

Ex. 6 
The following practice exercises will include aspects of everything you have learned so far in your sight singing studies, applied to this unit’s focal point: 3/4 time.  
They will be diatonic examples including I-IV-V-! progressions and relative pitch interval practice. These practice exercises will also focus on ascending and descending intervals of thirds and seconds. 
Take a moment to fill out the numbers of each note, if needed. 
Remember: Always practice with a metronome to reinforce and strengthen your rock-solid sense of rhythm. 

Ex. 7 - 14
(♩= 80)

Ex. 15 - 22
(♩= 90)


Introduction to the Blues 

During the beginning of the 20th century, Bessie Smith’s use of the twelve-bar blues took the music industry by storm. Ever since, a wide span of genres have derived their most basic chord progressions from the blues signature I-IV-V harmonic rhythm. In the jazz blues style, these are all dominant chords (I7-IV7-V7).
At its core, the 12-bar blues can be analyzed as:
Ex 5.20
I7 I7 I7 I7
IV7 IV7 I7 I7
V7 V7 I7 I7
Let’s use the key of C in this chapter, for reference.
On a lead sheet, this most basic blues form looks like this:
Ex 5.21

You are most likely already familiar with this chord pattern, as some variation of these three makes up a majority of the music across the globe!
To become even more familiar with this progression, let’s sing the seventh chord arpeggios of this blues form.
Ex 5.22

Now, building off of our knowledge of guide tones, let’s sing a common jazz rhythm (dotted quarter – eighth) with the guide tones of this blues progression. You may get together with a partner and sing in two-part harmony, switching voice parts at will.
Ex 5.23

Notice the half step relationship between the 3rds and 7ths from one chord to another. We will continue to find these patterns as we analyze more complicated blues forms.
As the 1930’s came along, a new “color” was added onto the 12-bar blues pallet with the superimposition of the subdominant chord. It would appear in the second bar, as well as the tenth bar:
Ex 5.24
I7 IV7 I7 I7
IV7 IV7 I7 I7
V7 IV7 I7 I7
Take a look at this slight variation of the blues form, as it would appear on a lead sheet:
Ex 5.25

Let’s sing these seventh chord arpeggios as they now appear:
Ex 5.26

Finally, let’s sing through these guide tones:
Ex 5.27

Jazz blues form
As the blues form became intertwined with American jazz music in the 1940’s and 1950’s, the standard tonic-subdominant-dominant progression was expanded with substitutions and chordal variations.
The concept of a blues “turnaround” was born, with the final four measures leading back to the root chord with a series of perfect fourth intervals.
Ex 5.28
I7 IV7     IV° I7 v7    I7
IV7 IV° I7 III7    VI7
ii7 V7 III7  VI7 II7    V7
Here is the jazz blues form as it would appear on a lead sheet:
Ex 5.29

Now, sing the arpeggios of all the seventh chords in this new but familiar blues form. Pay attention to the series of ii7-V7-(I7) movements that take place (mm 4-5, mm 8-9, mm 9-10, mm 11-12).
Ex 5.30


As you can see and hear, there are naturally smooth-feeling voice leading tendencies from all guide tones throughout these 12 bars. Let’s sing through them in two-part harmony.
Ex 5.31

The bebop blues
The bebop blues form was born from the mind of Charlie Parker, in his bebop blues masterpieces such as “Now’s the Time,” and “Billie’s Bounce.” This form involves even more chordal variation with the use of chromaticism (such as the #IV°7 chord), and involves a more intricate turnaround with the use of the V7/ii chord that resolves as expected to the ii chord:
Ex 5.32
I7 IV7  I7 v7  I7
IV7 #IV°7 I7 V7/ii
ii7 V7 I7  V7/ii ii7  V7
It would look like this on a lead sheet:
Ex 5.33

Now lock into your tonal center, concentrate on the chromaticism and sing these arpeggio outlines of the bebop blues form’s seventh chords:
Ex 5.34

Finally, sing these guide tones throughout the bebop blues form in that signature dotted quarter – eighth note rhythm:
Ex 5.35

Simply put, the possibilities for embellishment on a blues form are endless! You can make this tonic-subdominant-dominant progression as simple or complex as you would like. The tonic-subdominant-dominant progression: three chords, and nothing but the truth.

Introduction to Seventh Chords (& the Augmented Triad) 

Seventh chords are merely triads (root, third and fifth) with the note an interval of a seventh above the root added.
In the early days of Western music, the addition of a seventh above the root of any given triad was used as an embellishment, also known as a color tone. Compositions then progressed in such a way that nearly every seventh chord became an unstable harmony; and therefore added forward motion with a gravitational pull towards resolution. The one exception to this concept is the major seventh chord, which often stands alone without the need for resolution as the tonic chord.

Major seventh chord
Major seventh chords are usually constructed on the first or fourth scale degree of the diatonic scale. Notated with the suffixes maj7, M7 & Δ it is comprised of the root, a major third, a perfect fifth, and a major seventh.
Ex. 1

Dominant seventh chord
The dominant seventh chord is perhaps the most important seventh chord, as it is the first of its kind to appear in classical music. Notated with the suffix “7,” this chord’s gravitational pull is to resolve up a fourth (typically a V chord resolving to the tonic). It is comprised of the root, a major third, a perfect fifth, and a minor seventh.
Ex. 2

Minor seventh chord
In a major key, minor seventh chords are typically built on the second, third or sixth scale degree. They consist of the root, minor third, perfect fifth, and minor seventh, and are notated with the suffixes min7, m7 & -7 .
Ex. 3

Minor 7th (b5) chord
Comprised of the root, minor third, diminished fifth, and minor seventh, minor 7th (b5) chords are built upon the seventh degree of the major scale. They are notated with the suffixes -7 (5) & ø .
Ex. 4


Fully diminished seventh chord
A fully diminished seventh chord is made of three superimposed minor thirds. This type of diminished chord contains a double-flatted seventh, whereas the half diminished seventh chord contains simply a single-flatted seventh. Notated by the suffixes °7 & dim7 , it is comprised of the root, minor third, diminished fifth, and diminished seventh.
Ex. 5

  Augmented triad
An augmented triad is a chord consisting of two superimposed major thirds. Its name is derived from the fact that it is a major triad with a raised (or augmented) fifth. Noted by the suffixes aug & +, it is comprised of the root, major third, and augmented fifth.
Ex. 6

The following exercise will be give you a workout of all of the various seventh chords we have covered. Sing through the outline of each seventh chord, and really concentrate on the intervallic relationship between each note. Incorporate this practice into your daily routine, and your tonal memory and ability to master these seventh chords will become greater each day.
Take it slow at first. The most important thing right now is to recognize where each pitch falls within the seventh chord.
You may repeat this exercise in chromatically ascending keys until the entire vocal range is covered. Take a moment to fill out the numbers of each note, if needed.
Ex. 7
(♩= 70)


Jazz Transcription - "Autumn Leaves" 

One of the most critical aspects to our development as total musicians is listening.
If one wants to be a virtuoso violinist, he or she must not only practice for eight or more hours a day, but must be constantly listening to violin concertos and orchestral masterpieces. In this same way, singers must listen to as much vocal music as they can. To become comfortable with the often-mysterious concept and feel of “swing” in the jazz idiom, it is crucial to be listening to and transcribing melodies and improvised solos as often as possible.
This blog post will examine two main aspects of approaching and performing jazz melodies and solos: Interpretation (how one uses the lead sheet’s written melody as a guide, and then composes his or her own melody with embellishments and changes to the written rhythms), and improvisation (how to use “guide” or chords tones from one chord to another to create an improvised solo).
To best demonstrate these studies, we will dive into Miles Davis’ 1958 arrangement and studio recording of the classic Johnny Mercer composition, “Autumn Leaves.”

First, let’s take a look at the melody as originally written by Mercer.
You may take a moment to label the notes of the melody, and sing through the chart using the syllable “la.”
You may also complete a Roman numeral analysis of the chart, for a better understanding of the movement and relationships between chords. This will be useful once we discuss guide tones later in the chapter.
Ex. 1
 Notice how the original melody is comprised of whole, half and quarter notes. This melody was designed to be interpreted by each individual artist in his or her own unique way.

Jazz musicians seldom perform swung melodies with solely whole, half and quarter notes. We know that the “swing” feel comes from the underlying triplet subdivision above a pair of eighth notes; with an emphasis on the second eighth note of the beat. Thus, you will often hear these on-the-beat melodies performed with several unique subdivisions, including swung eighths, eighth note triplets, and sixteenth notes. 

Let’s take a look at Miles Davis’ interpretation of this classic melody, and ask ourselves: how do Davis’ rhythms and melodies differ from the original composition?
You may take a moment to label the numbers of each note, and sing through the chart.
Note: In your practice, listen to the recording multiple times and take in the attitude of each swung line. Use DSS as a rule of thumb: Don’t Stop Swinging!
Ex. 2
Once you feel comfortable singing through Miles’ unique interpretation of the melody, you may begin to think about your own unique interpretation. Use the original melody as your guide. 

Spontaneous composition of a jazz standard’s melody is the first step towards improvised soloing over the form. Let’s take a look at the concept of guide tones.
Guide tones are the closely related tones from one chord to another that can be targeted and used as anchor notes during improvisation. These tones usually consist of the third and seventh scale degrees, along with any altered notes that the chord contains.
Many jazz standards are largely comprised of a “circle of fourths” movement. This is true of the signature ii-V7-I progression that many standards contain.
“Autumn Leaves” is a prime example of this “circle of fourths” harmonic movement.
Take a look at example 3 to assess how these guide tones move and progress. You will notice that the voice leading patterns consist of staying on the same note and/or half step motion.
Sing through these chord progressions with a partner using the guide tones, in two and three-part harmonies. You may take turns switching voice parts, and may also label the numbers of each note, if needed.
Ex. 3
Now, let’s take a look at the first chorus of Miles Davis’ solo from his recording of “Autumn Leaves” off of the album “Dr. Jekyll.” 

While studying this masterful solo, pay attention to the guide tones he uses from chord to chord. Pay attention to the intricate syncopated rhythms, as well as the simple melodic phrases he uses.
Take a moment to circle the guide tones, as well as fill out the numbers of each note.
Ex. 4

Remember: Learning how to improvise doesn’t happen overnight. It takes years of listening and practicing to become confident creating spontaneous compositions above a series of chord changes. Transcribe as many melodies and solos as you can. Doing so will bring you closer to the point where you are able to express your own unique voice with creativity and confidence.

Tension & resolution 

Become a better songwriter, composer and improviser by learning about the principals of tension & resolution.

In tonal music, tension and resolution refers to the gravitational pull of non-chord tones or extended chord tones (dissonance) to the consonant chord tones of the key center.
The key center is established by the tonic chord. We know that the tonic chord of any key is comprised of the root, third, and fifth scale degrees of the given key. Let’s use the key of C as an example.
Ex. 1
In the key of C major, the notes C, E and G make up the tonic chord, C major:

Ex. 2
In the key of C minor, the notes C, E♭ and G make up the tonic chord, C minor:

The key center is also defined by the dominant to tonic relationship of a given key. In the key of C major, this would be the relationship between the dominant, G7, and its resolution to the tonic, C major.
Parallel to this concept, the key of C minor’s key center is also created by the relationship between the dominant, G7, and its resolution to the tonic, C minor.
Extended chords are triads (chords built from thirds) with notes added or extended beyond the seventh scale degree. Ninth, eleventh and thirteenth chords are extended chords. The thirteenth is the farthest extension diatonically possible, because a thirteenth chord is comprised of all seven possible tonal degrees.
This being said, most extended chords do not typically use all of the chord members. Later on in this chapter (ex 1.21), you will see the following scenarios diagramed:
  • When it is not altered, the fifth is usually omitted
  • In an eleventh chord, the ninth is usually omitted
  • In a thirteenth chord, the eleventh is usually omitted
These scale degrees will not be omitted if they are altered to create a special texture within the passage of music.
Before diving into the diagrams of each extended chord, let’s take a look at the C major scale and observe the positions of each extended note:
Ex. 3

With this foundation in mind, let’s take a look at the various ninth, eleventh, and thirteenth chords that most commonly appear in Western music.
Ninth chords
Ex. 4

Ex. 5

Ex. 6

Ex. 7

Eleventh chords
Ex. 8

Ex. 9

Ex. 10

Ex. 11

Thirteenth chords
Ex. 12

(thirteenth chords, continued)
Ex. 13

Ex. 14

By now you should understand the difference between consonance and dissonance, which are defined by the notion of tension and resolution. Each tension tone possesses a tendency of resolution. This occurs in two major settings: within the same chord and between two chords, usually a dominant to tonic progression.
In both scenarios, you will notice the following resolutions:
  • The fifth scale degree resolves to the tonic note.
  • The seventh scale degree resolves to the tonic note.
  • The second (ninth) scale degree resolves to the tonic note.
  • The fourth scale degree (eleventh) resolves to the third scale degree.
  • The sixth scale degree (thirteenth) resolves to the fifth scale degree.
First, let’s take a look at tension/resolution within the same chord. We will continue to use C major and minor as our key center.
Resolution of non-chord tones within the same chord
Ex. 15
The second scale degree tends to resolve to the tonic note.
C major:


C minor:

Ex. 16
The fourth scale degree tends to resolve to the third scale degree.
C major:

C minor:

Ex. 17
The sixth scale degree tends to resolve to the fifth scale degree.
C major:

C minor:

Ex. 18
The seventh scale degree, also known as the “leading tone,” has a gravitational pull towards and tends to resolve to the tonic note.
C major:

C minor:

Resolution of extended chord tones within the same chord
Ex. 19
The ninth scale degree tends to resolve to the tonic note.
C major:

C minor:

Ex . 20
The eleventh scale degree tends to resolve to the third scale degree.
C major:

C minor:

Ex. 21
The thirteenth scale degree tends to resolve to the fifth scale degree.
C major:
C minor:

Here are two additional extended chord tones and their resolution to chord tones in the key of C major:
Ex. 22
The flatted ninth scale degree tends to resolve to the tonic note.

Ex. 23
The augmented eleventh scale degree tends to resolve to the fifth scale degree.

By far, the most common example of tension and resolution within the same chord is found within the dominant chord, especially in its suspended fourth composition:
Ex. 24
(V7sus4 – I)

Tension/resolution from one extended chord to another chord
The majority of the non-chord tones and extended chord tones are found in the dominant chord. Remembering the tendencies of each extended tone from earlier in this chapter, take a moment to observe the following tensions and resolutions in a dominant to tonic progression.
Ex. 25
(V7 – I)

Ex. 26
(V9 – I)

Ex. 27
(V11 – I)

Ex. 28
(V13 – I)

Tension substitution
Tension itself as a tension substitution
Now that we understand the basic tension/resolution tendencies within the same chord and within the dominant to tonic relationship, it is time to apply this foundation to the concept of tension substitution within a multiple-chord progression.
While certain styles of music contain many examples of tension and resolution within the same chord, one of the staple spices of jazz music is the practice of tension and resolution within unique and pattern-based chord progressions. As you are learning about in Harmony & Theory 4, one of the most common chord progressions in the jazz idiom is the I – vi7 – ii7 – V7 progression.
Take a look at example 1.46. Here you will find this very progression in C major, which contains the following seventh chords in this progression: Cma7 – Ami7 – Dmi7 – G7. While these chords are the foundation for the I – vi7 – ii7 – V7 harmonic movement, there are several ways to manipulate the color of the chords in a practice known as tension substitution.
Staying in the key of C major, here a few examples of the extensions each chord can be comprised of:
  • The I chord can be:
    • Cma7, Cma9, Cma9(#11), Cma13
  • The vi chord can be:
    • Ami7, Ami6, Ami7(b5), Ami9, Ami11, Ami13
  • The ii chord can be:
    • Dmi7, Dmi6, Dmi7(b5), Dmi9, Dmi11, Dmi13
  • The V chord can be:
    • G7, G9, G11, G13, G7(b9), G7(b5)
When these chords contain any type of extension, that note may be used in the melody of your improvisation.
Sing through the following exercise, and take note of the types of extensions each chord contain. This will serve as an introduction to tension substitution, therefore the melodies will remain primarily diatonic. Focus on creating a clear and resonate tone, especially on the tied eighth notes, which often serve as the suspended tension.
Take a moment to fill out the numbers of each note. Once you feel comfortable with original key of C major, you may repeat this exercise chromatically until the entire voice range has been covered.
Ex. 29

Non-chord tone to chord tone resolution exercises
To deeper implement the practice of resolving non-chord tones to chord tones, it is important to further establish the key center by locking into the tonic chord scale.
For examples 1.31 and 1.32, sing the tonic’s major scale, and then follow the pattern of resolving the 6th, 4th, and 2nd scale degrees to their appropriate chord tones.
Within each four-bar exercise, very chord will be a variation of the tonic chord.
Continue the circle of fourths modulation pattern until all 12 keys are covered.
Ex. 30
Perform exercise 32 in the same exact fashion as exercise 31; only this time, each four bar exercise will be in a minor key.
Ex. 31


Extended-chord tone to chord tone resolution exercises
The next two exercises will be comprised of five-bar patterns demonstrating the practice of tension and resolution with extended chord tones.
Instead of singing a scale, we will perform arpeggios of the tonic seventh, ninth, eleventh, and thirteenth chords; and then resolve the extended chord tone accordingly.
Note: Watch out for the syncopated rhythms, and tune into the upper register of your voice for these exercises. The nature of extended chord tones falls in the upper register, well above the tonic note. When you perform these higher notes, you may want to use your head voice. Be sure to feel the resonant vibrations in your forehead, and always perform these exercises with a pure, glistening tone.
This time, continue the circle of fifths modulation pattern until all 12 keys are covered.
Ex. 32
Perform exercise 33 in the same exact fashion as exercise 31; only this time, each five bar exercise will be in a minor key.

Ex. 33

In closing, tension and resolution is a powerful tool for you to incorporate into your songwriting, composing and improvisation. Understanding how dissonance and consonance work within a piece of music is a valuable asset to your musicianship. Remember, you are always a half step away from salvation! -AV

Snow White and the Seven Modes 

In modern Western music, a mode is a specific scale that uses the same set of notes as the major scale, in the same order, but starting from one of its different scale degrees. Each root note of the different modes acts as the tonic, and therefore each mode contains a different sequence of whole and half steps.
The classification of this modern system of modes, also called the church modes, was born in Gregorian chant by ca.1000. Each mode’s name can be traced back to the literary work of Guido of Arezzo. In his writings Dialogus de musica and the Micrologus, eight modes are defined, each according to three elements: The final (the pitch on which melodies in that mode end), the intervallic relationship of other pitches to the final (the scale type), and the ambitus (the range of pitches available from that scale type).

Just like the Seven Dwarfs, each mode presents a contrasting mood and spirit. 

Let’s dive into the modes by examining its final (root) note, the mode’s scale and its sequence of intervals, and the seventh chord that is derived from each mode.
Designated as the first mode, the Ionian mode is the modern major scale. In the key of C major, it is comprised of all natural notes beginning on C, and is also known as the C major scale.
Its step sequence is: WHOLE – WHOLE – half – WHOLE – WHOLE – WHOLE - half
Ex. 1


Dorian is the second mode. In the key of C major, it is comprised of all natural notes beginning on D. The Dorian mode is nearly identical to the natural minor scale (see Aeolian). The only difference with respect to the natural minor scale is the sixth scale degree, which is the interval of a major sixth (M6) above the tonic, rather than a minor sixth (m6).
Its step sequence is: WHOLE – half – WHOLE – WHOLE – WHOLE – half - WHOLE
Ex. 2
Phrygian is the third mode. In the key of C major, it is comprised of all natural notes beginning on E. The Phrygian mode is very similar to the natural minor scale. However, the difference lies in the second scale degree, which is a minor second (m2) above the tonic, rather than a major second (M2).
Its step sequence is half – WHOLE – WHOLE – WHOLE – half – WHOLE – WHOLE
Ex. 3

Lydian is the fourth mode. In the key of C major, it is comprised of all natural notes beginning on F. This mode is nearly identical to the Ionian mode (major scale), with the main differentiation being the fourth scale degree, which is an augmented fourth (A4 or +4) above the tonic note F, rather than a perfect fourth (P4).
Its step sequence is WHOLE – WHOLE – WHOLE – half – WHOLE – WHOLE - half
Ex. 4

Mixolydian is the fifth mode. In the key of C major, it is comprised of all natural notes beginning on G. The sole tone that differentiates this mode from the Ionian mode (major scale) is its seventh scale degree. In the Mixolydian mode, the seventh scale degree is a minor seventh (m7) above the tonic note G, rather than a major seventh (M7).
Its step sequence is WHOLE – WHOLE – half – WHOLE – WHOLE – half - WHOLE
Ex. 5

Aeolian is the sixth mode, and is also called the natural minor scale. In the key of C major, it is comprised of all natural notes beginning on A. It is also called the A minor scale.
Its step sequence is WHOLE – half – WHOLE – WHOLE – half – WHOLE - WHOLE
Ex. 6

Locrian is the seventh and final mode. In the key of C major, it is comprised of all natural notes beginning on B.  Its signature scale degree is the diminished fifth (d5). This interval makes the triad diminished, and so it is the only chord and scale in which the tonic to dominant relationship is a diminished fifth (d5) rather than a perfect fifth (P5).
Its step sequence is half – WHOLE – WHOLE – half – WHOLE – WHOLE - WHOLE
Ex. 7

Work on locking into the sequence of steps and intervals from one note to another in each mode. You most likely already have a grasp on singing the major scale (Ionian mode), so all you have to do now is sing that same scale starting on the seven different notes. Internalize the sonic qualities and unique characteristics of each mode.
Sing/play through this next exercise, performing each mode's scale and then the corresponding seventh chord outline.
 Ex. 8
Now it's time to put your practice to use on a new song. This chart is a rock ballad containing elements of all seven of the modes that appear in modern Western music.
Using your knowledge base that you acquired from this post, identify and label each mode that you come across throughout the chart. This is always a good thing to do before performing any piece of music; analyze the song and mentally prepare yourself for the task at hand.
You may want to fill out the numbers of each note, if needed.
Ex. 9

“Fall Into My Arms”
Anthony Viscounte

Improvising over "Happy Birthday" 


Improvisation is the act of spontaneous rhythmic and melodic composition within a piece of music. Occurring in genres as distinct as jazz, gospel, blues and R&B, the performer essentially creates a melody on the fly. Vocal improvisation can be executed by inventing an entirely brand new melody, and/or creating variations on the written theme as the chord changes glide by underneath. It is one of the greatest elements of musical freedom, and the feeling of expressing oneself by instantaneous composition is unparalleled.
The general principal of improvisation is to first establish the melody of the piece. Let’s use the simple tune “Happy Birthday” as our foundation for this lesson.
First, sing through the original melody in its original time signature.
Ex 1.1
(♩= 120)


Obviously this tune is very familiar to you. Now, take this same melody and adapt it to a jazz swing feel:
Ex 1.2
(♩= 120)

The swing groove is driven by the underlying swung eighth note feel. The first and third eighth notes in a triplet pattern are used to create that unique swing groove. Notice in example 1.2 that the majority of notes are comprised of quarter and half notes. While these rhythmic values are used occasionally in swing, and standards from the Great American Songbook are often written with quarter notes and half notes, they are meant to be adapted to swung upbeats: where eighth notes typically fall.
Sing through this next example of “Happy Birthday” as a seasoned jazz musician may interpret it:
Ex 1.3
(♩= 120)

There are a few things to note about this example. First, take a moment to observe the differences in rhythmic values. How did the performer manipulate the downbeat rhythms from the original melody?
Next, you will notice a chromatic passing tone in measure 5. These types of notes are extremely common interpretation tools within the jazz idiom. 
Finally, take a look at the text. Notice the “oh”’s and “ah”’s interspersed throughout. As a vocal improviser, we have the liberty to artistically add stylistically appropriate lyrics to the written lyrics. These added lyrics are used to add definite pitch rhythms to propel the song forward. Some examples of the most common lyrics used as improvisational tools include: “yeah,” “hey,” “alright,” “well,” “oh,” “ah,” “uh huh,” “you know,” “let’s go,” “come on,” “woo,” and “baby.”
Now that you are comfortable singing the eighth note swing version of “Happy Birthday,” sing through this next example that contains swung triplets and even more chromatic passing tones throughout:
Ex 1.4
(♩= 120)


In example 1.4, pay attention to the melismas (a sequence of multiple notes that are sung with the same syllable) that appear in measures 1, 5, 7, and 9. Concentrate on precise articulations and intonation of each note as it passes through.
Swung triplets are tremendous tools to incorporate into your jazz vocal improvisation techniques. They are the driving force of all swung music, so they will undoubtedly give your improvised solos a substantial sense of forward motion.
Now that we have multiple versions of the “Happy Birthday” melody down pat, let’s begin our assessment of the melodic elements of scat soloing.
The first step of vocal improvisation is to understand what chord scales you should use above each series of chord changes. “Happy Birthday” is a fantastic song to begin learning how to improvise with, as it essentially contains three chords: I-IV-V, throughout.
Ex 1.5
(♩= 120)

Before singing through these chord scales, let’s begin by identifying the corresponding scales with the various seventh chords that appear in Western music:
Ex 1.6
Major 7th chord Ima7 Major scale
Major 7th chord Non-Ima7 Lydian scale
Minor 7th chord imi7 Natural minor scale
Minor 7th chord Non-imi7 Dorian scale
Dominant 7th chord V7 function of Major key Mixolydian scale
Dominant 7th chord V7 function of Minor key Altered scale
Dominant 7th chord non-V7 function Lydian b7 scale
mi7(b5) iimi7(b5) Locrian natural 9
dim7 viidim7 Diminished scale
Now, take a look at the syllables used. The syllables “DU VEE DU VEE” are great starting points to begin creating scat syllables. To begin speaking the language of scat, just like the way we learned how to speak, it is crucial that you listen to all of the great scat singers of the 20th century and beyond. Engulf yourself in the music of Louie “Satchmo” Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Leo Watson, Connie Boswell, Mel Torme, Slim Gaillard, Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, Leon Thomas, Al Jarreu, Urszula Dudziak, Lauren Newton, Jay Clayton, Bobby McFerrin, Kurt Elling and so, so many more.
Continuing with our scat studies, sing through the triad outlines of each chord change:
Ex 1.7
(♩= 120)


While vocalists cannot on their own realize chord changes, it is crucial that we understand the compositional make up of the chords that sweep by underneath our soloing. In order to do so, we first must sing this triad outline: the first, third, and fifth scale degrees of the chord.
Next, we shall expand the basic structure of the chords by adding the appropriate seventh scale degree into our chordal outline. In a similar fashion to example 1.7, sing through example 1.8 with crisp clear accuracy:
Ex 1.8
(♩= 120)

Now that we understand the basic seventh chord outlines of this piece of music, let’s dive even deeper and sing through all of the possible extensions from each chord. If you have studied chord extensions before, you will recall the typical extension notes of a seventh chord include the 9th, #11th and 13th.
Sing through these triplet rhythms and outline each extended chord. Take it slow at first, and then build up to the specified tempo marking.
Remember: Before singing, always look ahead and think about the appropriate places to take a breath. Using your full breath support is crucial when singing a piece with many consecutive eighth notes.
Ex 1.9
(♩= 120)

Notice the new syllables “shu be du be.” Concentrate on your diction and let the syllables roll off the tongue. It is helpful to picture yourself performing these notes as a trumpet player; letting the text of each note flow right into the next one in the same way the notes from a horn do.
Sing through the following exercise containing downbeat passing tension tones.
Ex 1.10
(♩= 120)

Now that we are comfortable singing through nearly every possible aspect of the chord changes of “Happy Birthday,” it is time for you to create your own unique scat solo.
First, sing through the melody, interpreting it in any stylistically appropriate way you see fit. Use swung rhythms, triplets and chromatic & diatonic passing tones.
Then, use the scat syllables of your choice to spontaneously compose a brand new melody. Use the original melody or “head” of the tune as your starting point and musical foundation. Rely on every motif, riff, lick and line that you’ve heard before. They lie in the deepest storage boxes of your musical memory and they will guide you along the way.
You may sing through the melody, perform your scat solo once or twice through the form, and then sing the melody again. You may also sing through the melody with a partner, and then take turns improvising through the form; finally singing the melody once more together. Express yourself to the fullest and have fun!
Remember: If you land on a funky note that may not exactly “fit” the chord, you are always a half-step away from salvation.
Ex 1.11
(♩= 120)

Wynton Marsalis, one of the great jazz musicians of our time, performed “Happy Birthday” at a clinic in Marciac on August 4th, 2007. He demonstrated the endless possibilities for soloing over this simple song form, and created a spontaneous improvised composition over the chord changes.

Perform the following transcription of the first two choruses of Wynton’s solo with a partner. One vocalist should scat the solo using the provided syllables, and the other should sing the traditional “Happy Birthday” melody underneath the solo. This may also be performed with the aid of piano or guitar accompaniment.

Ex 1.12

First two choruses of “Happy Birthday” by Wynton Marsalis

Whew! If you've made it this far, I guarantee that when your family sings "Happy Birthday" at Uncle Rodney's party this year, your improvising will earn you the "life of the party" status that you so greatly deserve. 

Tips for better sight singing 

How do you get a singer to stop singing? Put some sheet music in front of him/her. 


As singers, we tend to rely on our ears rather then our eyes. Most of us would greatly prefer to sing back a melody after hearing it a few times rather than sight read it. The thought of getting a call to come and do a background vocals session, where you must sight read harmony notes right on the spot, terrifies most of us. 


But in order to make that giant leap from "good singer" to "first-call musician," it is important to practice sight reading music on a daily basis. 


Here are a few tips that are intended to remind you of the most efficient ways to improve as a sight reader.


Rhythm is key.


Arguably the most important aspect of sight singing is performing the correct rhythms. If you sing incorrect pitches but sing the proper rhythms, you at least will not have lost your place within the music. Before you go on to master the melodies of a new song, your rhythm reading needs to be rock-solid.


When you first learn a new exercise, it is helpful to at first forget about the pitches and clap through the rhythm. You may even sing the rhythms on one note. Once the rhythm is mastered, the melody will become that much easier to read through.


Forget about the mistakes.


When we sing a wrong note or miss the correct rhythm, our natural tendency is to go back and fix the mistake. While this is our human nature, you must fight this urge and continue to chug on through the piece of music. Stopping and rewinding to attempt to correct your mistake throws off the entire piece of music, especially when you are performing in any type of group setting. In fact, your mistake will be much less noticeable to your audience if you continue to sing through the piece instead of stopping.


It is crucial to learn how to keep singing through mistakes. Doing so will help you keep up with the ensemble, your judges will regard your musicianship as higher than if you had paused, and your audiences will enjoy the music much more if it is uninterrupted.


Choose a comfortable tempo.


While the composer will always provide suggested tempo assignments to his or her piece of music, remember that in a practice setting, you are always in control. Singing the correct rhythms, melodies and expressions is far more important than the speed in which you practice the piece, especially as you are in the beginning stages of learning how to sight sing.


A great tip is to locate the most difficult passage before you attempt to sing it. As you read it in your head, think about the most comfortable tempo for you to perform that passage. Base your starting tempo off of that tempo.


A common mistake singers make is briefly scanning over the first few bars of the passage, noticing there are just a few simple rhythms, and then immediately begin singing. Often times, more complicated rhythms and melodies appear later on in the piece of music. Locating those passages and picking a comfortable tempo based off of them will allow you to deliver the music more accurately and confidently.


Always look ahead.


It is always helpful to be scanning ahead, at least one measure in advance. As you sing the notes of your current spot in the melody, keep your eyes moving ahead to the next group of notes. This will ensure that you are prepared for the upcoming twists and turns. You must always think like a chess player: one step ahead. Doing so will allow you to comfortably deliver the correct melody. 


In conclusion, if you have a powerful, beautiful tone, and can fly through killer runs with the greatest of ease, that's fantastic. You're a great singer, and you will have many great opportunities because of your voice. But if you're a great singer that can read music, the opportunities are endless! You will get the call for recording and performing sessions at a much higher rate than someone who can't get to the studio or stage and read right on the spot. 


While all of the coordination involved can be tricky at first, practicing this skill daily will be a worthwhile investment of your time. Do it! 


For more information, take a look at Anthony's "Sight Singing 1" at the Berklee Bookstore.



Vocalists in the world of instrumentalists 

Jennifer power walks down the jam-packed Massachusetts Avenue in Boston, MA. She holds a dozen pages of sloppily crinkled loose pieces of sheet music that she downloaded from the Internet, and looks down at her watch. Rehearsal was supposed to start three minutes ago. “AGH,” she gasps.
“On second thought,” she thinks to herself, “this is my rehearsal. Surely I can arrive a little late. The guys in the band must be thanking their lucky stars to get the chance to accompany an incredible singer like me. They can wait.”
She arrives at the rehearsal room to see the pianist, upright bassist, guitarist and drummer all set up and ready to go. It’s time to begin preparing for their wedding cocktail hour gig, and she has picked a handful of tunes she’d like to perform.
Jennifer places the first piece of crumpled-up sheet music in front of the pianist.
“Do you have a copy for me?” the guitarist asks.
“Yeah, how about for me?” echoes the bassist.
“No, I only brought one copy. How about you all come over to the piano and read off of the pianist’s copy?” Jennifer says, impatiently.
The instrumentalists look at each other, all locking eyes and exchanging an unspoken and unanimous thought: “Oh great, she’s one of those vocalists.”
“Well, what’s the tune?” the guitarist asks.
“I Get a Kick Out of You,” Jennifer answers confidently. “Do you guys know what one?”
“Yeah, of course!” they all reply. These cats are seasoned players, and have memorized nearly every tune imaginable from the Real Book. Not only this, but they can all pretty easily play any tune in any key. They’ve been practicing hard for their entire musical lives, and on-the-spot transposition is something they’ve worked diligently on in their practice routines.
“So what key would you like to sing this in?” the pianist asks.
Jennifer pauses. She had never thought to figure that out before arriving to the rehearsal. “The one Ella sings it in, obviously,” she snaps.
The instrumentalists all exchange another weary glance. “Can you tell me the letter name of the key? Is it in E♭ major?”
“I don’t know! You guys figure it out!”
“Ugh,” the bassist groans.
The pianist shakes his head. “Can you sing the first few bars for me?”
Jennifer gladly belts out the first line, “I get no kick from champagne. Mere alcohol doesn’t ‘hmm hmm hmm’ all.” “Uh, I don’t have the lyrics memorized all the way, let me look at my lyric sheet.”
The pianist has phenomenal aural skills and quickly figures out what key Jennifer would like to sing the classic Cole Porter tune in.
“She wants to sing it in the key of A major, guys.”
“Awesome, that’s a tritone above the original key!” the guitarist sarcastically exclaims. This is going to be a long rehearsal, he thinks to himself.
Jennifer doesn’t really know what that means. She starts to grow irritated.
“What’s with all of this talking? I want to start singing!”
“We have to figure out some basic parameters of the tune before we begin,” the pianist rebuttals. What kind of intro would you like?”
“I don’t know, just play something jazzy!” Jennifer shouts.
At that instant, all pandemonium breaks loose in the rehearsal room. The bassist smashes his upright against the concrete wall. The guitarist rips all of his guitar strings off and chucks them across the room. The pianist starts repeatedly bashing his head on the keys. The drummer attempts to light his snare drum on fire.
Fantastic rehearsal, Jennifer.
Okay, so maybe the last part about all pandemonium breaking loose (hopefully) isn’t something that would truly happen. However, everything else in that story about Jennifer’s rehearsal couldn’t be closer to the truth of the horrifyingly typical situations that inexperienced vocalists put themselves in, time and time again.
In the world of instrumentalists, vocalists are often not taken seriously. Instrumentalists place a huge stigma upon singers, and unfortunately, this stigma is solidified on a consistent basis. Band members often feel that singers cannot communicate with the band, that we don’t know the music well and that there is a division between the musical knowledge base of the instrumentalists and vocalist.
Throughout this blog, we will fuel ourselves with the necessary knowledge to not only be able to communicate with instrumentalists intelligently, but to efficiently prepare ourselves for every rehearsal and performance situation. We’ll learn how to create lead sheets, how to communicate the form of any given tune, how to count off the band with the correct tempo and groove/feel, how to improvise, and how to do all of the little things to give instrumentalists no choice but to view us as serious, professional musicians.
The necessities of singing and communicating with a band
In order to destroy any possible chance of this stereotype being projected onto you, here is a list of things that are absolutely necessary for a vocalist to know and prepare.
1). Know the tune, inside and out. You must learn the music fully, before you bring it to the band. Begin by analyzing the form of the song. Is it AABA? Verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus? Verse-refrain? ABAC? Learn the background of the song. Who is the composer? Which singer made it famous? Is it from a musical? Which one? You must also be aware of the chord changes. Analyze them fully. Know where the ii-V7-I’s are. What are the harmonic patterns? Are there any key changes? These are all standard things that instrumentalists do before they rehearse with a band; and in order to get the respect of the instrumentalists, you have to think like an instrumentalist.
2). Know your key. Figure out the key you desire to sing the tune in. If you are singing it in a different key than the original, make sure you know exactly what key your version will be in before you come to the rehearsal. Go to the piano. Sing the first few bars of the tune and figure out what “do” is by using your ears to match your “do” with the correct note on the piano. Your ear training skills have prepared you well for this- so do it!
3). Learn the written melody first. So many vocalists simply listen to a version of the tune, and rely solely on their ears. They’ll sing the song like they hear it, with all of the licks and lines that the famous singer performs. Of course, you should absolutely make the tune your own; with your unique twists and turns. However, the very first step is to learn the actual melody, as the composer intended it to be played. Ella didn’t just start singing her own rendition of the melody right away. She learned the exact notes as written on the sheet, and then brilliantly made it her own. It is crucial that you do the same thing.
4). Listen to at least five different versions of the tune. Don’t just settle for one version. Get on YouTube or Spotify and explore several different versions of the tune. You will instantly attain ideas for different arrangements, intros, endings etc. Listen to multiple takes from multiple artists, and then make the tune your own.
5). Learn to count off the band correctly. First, figure out the tempo of your tune. Before you begin your count off, take a moment to internalize the exact pace and speed of the tune. Next, be aware of the genre, groove and feel of the tune. Snap or clap on every beat while you give a standard verbal numeric count-off, or at least on beats two and four. Figure out the time signature, and use those numbers to count off. Is the tune in 4/4? If so, a standard “one, two, three, four” will do the trick. Is it in 3/4? Then you’d better make sure you count to three when communicating your tempo to the band.
6). Learn how to create lead sheets. One of the best ways to set the tone for your professionalism as a vocalist in the world of instrumentalists is to walk into the rehearsal or onto the band stand with crisply clear, accurate, perfectly legible and specific lead sheets. You may create them by hand if you have neat penmanship, but it is recommended to use a music notation software program like Finale or Sibelius. Even though the best players will often know many of the standards that you select by heart, nothing gains respect more than coming in completely prepared with the correct chord changes, form and arrangement all nicely laid out on a sheet of paper.
7). Don’t blame your mistakes on the instrumentalists. Even if we know the form by heart, we are human and sometimes may get lost in the form. When this happens, a common tendency is to get frustrated with the band, even though you’re the one in the wrong! Don’t let this happen. Shake it off and own up to your error.
8). Always bring a microphone and cable to the rehearsal and gig. Just like a guitarist will always bring his guitar, amp, cables, pedals etc, we must bring all of our necessary equipment to every performance situation we encounter.
Remember, preparation is 95% of the battle. If you show up prepared, with all of these tools in your musical toolbox ahead of time, you have the greatest possible chance of being viewed as a true professional by the instrumentalists. You must respect yourself to earn the respect of others, and the best way to respect yourself as a musician is to practice, prepare, and perform with the same knowledge-base, clarity and confidence as the instrumentalists you will be working so closely with for the rest of your professional life.