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#2238844 - 02/28/14 04:10 AM Fingering for scales & improvisation  
Joined: Feb 2010
Posts: 125
saiman Offline
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saiman  Offline
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Hi all

I have a question which I pondered on for a while:

How important is learning fingerings for scales for improvisation (pop & jazz). When improvising it is seldom that you land on a key exactly in the position that a certain fingering teaches you. In this context, how important is it to spend a lot of time working out fingerings for scales. Ultimately I want to develop speed and technique when improvsing but in your experience how have you achieved this?

Espcially with the pentatonic scales there are so many different fingering suggestions. Some involve positional playing with handshifts, some promote the thumb under method.

As a beginner I get confused in terms of which approach to spend time on. As always time is precious and I dont want to be wasting time on something that doesnt benefit me in the long run.

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#2238931 - 02/28/14 09:40 AM Re: Fingering for scales & improvisation [Re: saiman]  
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KlinkKlonk Offline
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in bepop, fingerings are very unorthodox, lots of thumbs on black keys. I personally dont think scales as they are thought of in classical piano training do you much good in improvising, but, the mindset you apply to them is helpful when practicing "improvised" phrases - play legato and even in tempo without losing control.
as for fingerings for phrases you have to work them out yourself. train yourself to be able to execute them starting with any finger, even the most uncomfortable one. within reason.. transpose the phrases to all keys etc etc

#2238957 - 02/28/14 10:48 AM Re: Fingering for scales & improvisation [Re: saiman]  
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chrisbell Offline
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This is what I always do:
I play a scale in the cycle of fifths. (C, F, Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, B, E, A, D, G)
ie: c-dorian, f-dorian, etc
I practice scales in thirds, broken thirds (two directions), sixths, etc.

or I'll play in a diminished cycle: C, Eb, Gb, A

I'll practice scale/chord relationships:
m7 = dorian
m7(b5)= Locrian #2
13(b9) = half/whole diminished
7alt = half-diminished/whole tone

So I'll play a Cm7 (LH) and play the c-dorian (RH), etc

I'll then use a tune I'm working on as my practice background, say Autumn Leaves:
C-7, F7, BbMaj7, EbMaj7, A-7(b5), D7(b9), G-6/9
I'll play:
C-dorian, F-mixolydian, Bb-major, etc etc

I'll practice scales starting on all the notes of the scales.ie: start a C-dorian on a Eb, or F or D or . . .

#2238961 - 02/28/14 10:55 AM Re: Fingering for scales & improvisation [Re: saiman]  
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KlinkKlonk Offline
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KlinkKlonk  Offline
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dont forget hippophrygian, very important scale

#2238967 - 02/28/14 11:03 AM Re: Fingering for scales & improvisation [Re: saiman]  
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chrisbell Offline
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Especially if you're playing quasimodal.

#2238968 - 02/28/14 11:05 AM Re: Fingering for scales & improvisation [Re: saiman]  
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JazzPianoOnline Offline
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you are right- when you improvise, you are composing in the moment so how is knowing fingerings going to help you play what you are making up as you play? however, melodies are in large part scale fragments so having the fingerings of scales in your hands will help out in terms of speed as you improvise.

while chrisbell above outlines a thorough method for learning scales, scales are highly overrated when it comes to improv. scales are to improv as the alphabet is to written language. while they are essential building blocks of music, scales tell you nothing about how to form coherent, grammatically and syntactically correct melodic ideas. the easiest way to learn this is to study and play transcriptions. when you imitate a master improvisor you will intuitively learn the rules for building logical melodic ideas.

so i would say focus less on scales and more on listening to whatever music it is that you want to be able to play. transcribe it (there are amazing software tools available for helping with this task, my favorite is transcribe buy seventhstring.com) and play it and imitate the soloist on the recording. if you don't want to transcribe there are countless resources for transcriptions. whether you transcribe yourself or use ready made transcriptions, this is the most effective way to learn how to improvise.


br
bill@jazzpianoonline.com
www.JazzPianoOnline.com
Step-by-step, easy-to-follow online jazz piano lessons.
#2238971 - 02/28/14 11:10 AM Re: Fingering for scales & improvisation [Re: saiman]  
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chrisbell Offline
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I say no to transcriptions. Its a waste of time, time better spent just listening and "getting" into the artist you love and want to emulate.
By all means, put on a track and play along with it, trying to imitate what the pianist is doing.
Remember: Imitate, Integrate, Innovate

#2238994 - 02/28/14 12:17 PM Re: Fingering for scales & improvisation [Re: saiman]  
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rintincop Offline
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Scale fingering helps instill a basic command of the instrument. It will carryover into improvisation in all sorts of unexpected ways. The fingerings are is essentially the same for all scales no matter where a run starts starts. Never disregard the essential need for mastering scale fingering. To do so is either negligence or laziness. Scale fingering is so basic and fundamental, it is not something one should even consider avoiding. I would say forget about serious playing if you are not up to mastering scale fingerings.

#2239011 - 02/28/14 01:07 PM Re: Fingering for scales & improvisation [Re: saiman]  
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saiman Offline
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saiman  Offline
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Hi all

Thank you so much for all the helpful thoughts especially Chris, I will most certainly use your ideas.

I am aware of the importance of transcribing which is why I do hearing and playing exercises every day (book my Moehrke). However, I am doubtful that just transcribing will give you the speed, accuracy and technique that pure technical exercises can assist with. I guess my challenge will be finding the right balance between exercises and making music. I stumbled upon a book on pentatonic scales by Nordal. Will give it a shot and coupled with Chris' suggestions see where it takes me. Thank you again

#2239012 - 02/28/14 01:07 PM Re: Fingering for scales & improvisation [Re: rintincop]  
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Cudo Offline
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Cudo  Offline
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Originally Posted by rintincop
The fingerings are is essentially the same for all scales no matter where a run starts starts.


I can't follow you. What do you mean when saying "the same for all scales"?


#2239107 - 02/28/14 04:48 PM Re: Fingering for scales & improvisation [Re: saiman]  
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Michael Martinez Offline
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Michael Martinez  Offline
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My opinion is that it is not important to study or work on fingering as a separate thing. Just use whatever fingering comes most naturally. It's more important to concentrate on the notes you play and the reason you're playing them.
Originally Posted by JazzPianoOnline
scales are highly overrated when it comes to improv. scales are to improv as the alphabet is to written language. while they are essential building blocks of music, scales tell you nothing about how to form coherent, grammatically and syntactically correct melodic ideas.

Absolutely correct (and well written.) The reason a scale, by itself, is kind of meaningless is because a scale doesn't tell you what are the "important" notes. It doesn't tell you which notes make more sense as targets and which ones are better skipped (in a particular part of the song or improvisation.)
By the way, glad to see you posting on here. Your site is one of the very few online music instruction sites worth a darn.
My opinion on transcribing is as follows: a musician should not attempt to transcribe solos, especially bebop or sophisticated jazz solos, until they already have a solid understanding of harmony, including jazz reharmonization methods. If you jump ahead of yourself, you're not going to understand what you transcribe and you'll have a hard time internalizing it.
you will intuitively learn the rules for building logical melodic ideas.
Originally Posted by rintincop
Scale fingering is so basic and fundamental, it is not something one should even consider avoiding. I would say forget about serious playing if you are not up to mastering scale fingerings.

It can help with your technical ability, but it's not necessary. There are examples of recorded jazz pianists who only used two or three fingers when they solo'ed.
Originally Posted by saiman

I am doubtful that just transcribing will give you the speed, accuracy and technique that pure technical exercises can assist with.

Unless you already competently improvise by ear, you shouldn't focus on "speed and accuracy." These things are best left to a later time.
Quote

I guess my challenge will be finding the right balance between exercises and making music.

Forget exercises. Focus on making music.


Music Educator, Computer Engineer, avid reader of literature, enjoyer of the outdoors
http://www.michael--martinez.com/music/
#2240707 - 03/03/14 02:59 PM Re: Fingering for scales & improvisation [Re: saiman]  
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Exalted Wombat Offline
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Exalted Wombat  Offline
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London UK
When improvising, the aim is NOT to slip into memorised patterns and scales, surely? Though the 'this scale fits this chord' technique can get you over those moments when inspiration fails, many players rely on it far too much!

#2241139 - 03/04/14 09:40 AM Re: Fingering for scales & improvisation [Re: saiman]  
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RonDrotos Offline
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RonDrotos  Offline
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I love reading through all the varied responses to these questions! It shows that different things work for different people, and that's entirely valid. One of the cool things about improv is that if you're playing a phrase and the fingering gets awkward, you can just change the phrase to reflect your current hand position. How great is that?!

Even though I agree that there are no preset fingerings for improvisation, I'll just add one thought: When a great jazz pianist like Keith Jarrett or Chick Corea says that they just make up the fingerings as they go along, even in classical music, remember that they have spent many hours playing scales and classical pieces at some point in their lives. Keith Jarrett started strict classical lessons at an extremely early age and has stated that as an adult he went back and learned scales in 6ths and other technical exercises that he missed earlier on.

So learn your scale fingerings, then forget them as your fingers develop an 'intuition' about where to go on the keyboard.

Coincidentally, I just posted a short video on fingerings a few days ago. You can check it out here if you're interested:
http://keyboardimprov.com/lessons/tip-of-the-week/

Good luck!


Ron Drotos
rondrotos@keyboardimprov.com
#2241639 - 03/05/14 01:36 PM Re: Fingering for scales & improvisation [Re: saiman]  
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Olly Wedgwood Offline
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Olly Wedgwood  Offline
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I recommend practising major, minor (harmonic and melodic) scales and arpeggios (major seventh, minor seventh, half-diminished and diminished) and pentatonic, making sure the fingering is smooth over 3 or 4 octaves both hands.

I believe this develops 'muscle memory' for fingerings, which switches on whenever we find similar patterns in our improvisation.

The more variety of scales and arpeggios you can dream of, the better in my opinion - also great for technique and strength (especially if you swing the rhythm)

Hope that helps!


Writing fun and original jazzy, bluesy, soulful and latin piano sheets at OllysPianoSheets.com smile
#2242707 - 03/07/14 04:22 PM Re: Fingering for scales & improvisation [Re: saiman]  
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rintincop Offline
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rintincop  Offline
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The Tortoise and The Hare... Some seem to look for rationalizations for being lazy (short cuts).


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