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Jazz Improvisation : «Antecedent-Consequent Phrases», Part 1
Reno De Stefano, Ph.D.
The Jazz Language
It is not uncommon to speak of jazz as a language. Many books have been
written on the subject, expounding on the uniqueness of this indigenous
American art form. If jazz is a language, then it must have its own musical
vocabulary, its own distinctive words and phrases that must be learned through
the transcription and analyses of recordings. Learning to improvise jazz requires
skill in manipulating and combining the extensive vocabulary that has developed
and crystallized in the past century through the contributions of the great master
improvisers such as Louis Armstrong, Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Wes
Montgomery and others.
This clinic proposes to explore some fundamental words and phrases of
the jazz vocabulary and to analyze their individual construction. We will suggest
ways to effectively connect the phrases and their different variations. The
diverse elements of the vocabulary are first presented in fragmented form for
analysis. Then we combine and connect these motifs with other fragments to
form complete coherent musical phrases that are presented in a final jazz etude
and in a «Bird Blues».
b7 to 3 resolution
Jazz players understand the importance of being able to improvise on the
«changes». That is, the ability to effectively delineate chords during a solo
improvisation. Chord arpeggiation or change running, as it is sometimes called,
is a fundamental technique required from every jazz improvisor. Once this skill
has been internalized one must then learn to gracefully connect the successive
chords in a progression to form coherent musical phrases. Since the IIm7-V7
progression is widely used in jazz, it is most appropriate to study possible
connections of these chords.
From our study of tonal music theory we learn that the b7-3 resolution,
where the seventh of the IIm7 chord resolves to the third of the V7 chord, is one
of the strongest available resolutions. Using this type of voice-leading in
improvised melodies increases our change-running efficiency. Renowned
baroque composer J.S. Bach also employed this type of voice-leading in his
chorales and his other works of the 18nth century. This type of resolution is a
commonplace device and examples abound in all tonal music.
Ex.1 Antecedent Motifs
In ex.1 we present nineteen different antecedent motifs which have been
transcribed from various jazz recordings. We call them antecedent motifs
because they usually always precede the V7 motifs illustrated in ex.2. We can
find these motifs in the improvisations of Charlie Parker, Wes Montgomery, Joe
Pass, Jimmy Raney Clifford Brown and in the solos of many other great
improvisers. These antecedent motifs outline the Dm7 (IIm7) chord in a linear
or arpeggiated fashion and always connect to the G7 (V7) chord through the
aforementioned b7 to 3 resolution. That is, the seventh (C) of Dm7 always
resolves to the third (B) of the G7 chord, systematically creating strong melodic
voice-leading. Notice that in the list of antecedent motifs (on Dm7), six motifs
start on the root, five start on the third, four start on the fifth, two on the seventh,
and two on the ninth.
Ex.2 Consequent Motifs (3 to b9 motif)
In ex.2 we have illustrated eight consequent motifs all beginning on the
third (B) of the G7 (V7) chord. Within each of these consequent motifs the third
moves in various ways to the b9 (Ab) of the G7 chord, hence the term «3 to b9
motif» – an extremely common occurrence in improvised solos. The first four
consequent motifs ascend to the b9 (Ab) by arpeggiation or by leap. The next
four motifs are fundamentally similar to the first four, however they are
transposed an octave lower after the third (B) is played. The fourth motif in
measure 4 and the eighth motif in measure 8 contain the (b5, Db) of G7. This
motif may also be regarded as the tritone substitution of G7 since (Db-F-Ab-B)
are also chord tones of the tritone chord, Db7.
Ex.3 Antecedent-Consequent Phrases
In ex. 3 the two motifs, antecedent and consequent, or the b7-3 resolution
and the 3 to b9 motif, are combined and interlocked through various
permutations to form coherent musical phrases on the IIm7-V7-I progression.
The b7-3 resolution, by definition, ends on the third of the dominant chord, G7.
Therefore the third could now proceed to the b9, causing the two motifs to
overlap, with the third serving as both the resolution tone of the b7-3 motif and
the beginning of the 3 to b9 motif.
Ex.3 illustrates sixteen phrases that were constructed through the various
combinations of the antecedent and consequent motifs. In reality there are 128
possible phrases that can be produced through the different permutations of
these antecedent and consequent motifs.
Guitarists should try to visualize voicings of Dm7 and G7 and then learn
the various antecedent-consequent phrases in selective positions where they can
easily see these chords forms. Try to memorize the antecedent-consequent
phrases of ex.3, playing these in a few preferred positions of the guitar
fingerboard before proceeding to ex.4
Ex.4 Antecedent-Consequent Etude
Ex. 4 is a jazz etude that transposes the different combinations of
antecedent-consequent phrases illustrated in ex.3 through the cycle of fifths.
This short study enables the jazz student to explore the phrases in different keys
and in diverse positions on the guitar fingerboard. We suggest once again, that
guitarists learn the various phrases in positions where they can visualize the
chord formation (voicing) on which they are playing. The lines are usually
playable in more than one area of the guitar fingerboard, especially if one
chooses to transpose the various phrases an octave higher or lower when
During a practice session one should put the metronome click on the
second and fourth beat of the measure (similar to the drummer’s high-hat
accents on a 4/4 pulse) and work the etude up to a comfortable speed. We have
kept the etude rhythmically simple so that one may concentrate on internalizing
the melodic content more easily.
Ex.5 «Bird Blues»
We have integrated the various permutations of antecedent-consequent
phrases within the «Bird Blues», a popular form of 12-bar blues that developed
during the bebop period (ca. 1940-55) and was named after Charlie Parker who
composed many themes (Chi-Chi, Blues for Alice, etc.) on this harmonic
structure. The harmonic scheme in this type of blues contains a series of II-V7
chords moving through the cycle of fifths (m.2-4) and a series of II-V7 chords
descending chromatically (m.6-9). It is in complex, fast-changing, harmonic
contexts such as this one that mastery of the antecedent-consequent vocabulary
becomes an indispensable tool for the creative improviser.
Reno De Stefano, Ph.D. is Assistant Professor of Jazz Studies at the University
of Montreal where he teaches jazz guitar, combo, jazz history and jazz eartraining. He is a recording artist and performs in jazz duos and trios in the
Montreal area. He has given numerous clinics and conferences and has
published articles in the International Dictionary of Black Composers, IAJE
Research Papers, and Just Jazz Guitar Magazine.
Reno De Stefano
18 Benoit
Kirkland, Québec
(tel) (514) 426-3049