Song 1

  1. The I, IV and V Chords
  2. Kia Lora
  3. Phrasing - Rhythmic Activity
  4. The 8-bar Blues
  5. Practice - Major scale
  6. Session Materials


Song | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | ?? |

Down - Top - Links)

S 1.1 - The I, IV and V Chords

There are thousands of songs in Jazz, Popular and Country music, and many other styles, that use only three chords in their chord progression :

I chord - IV chord - V chord

These are the major triads (3-note chords) built on the first ('tonic'), fourth ('subdominant') and fifth note ('dominant') of the major scale, using chord tones which belong to that scale.

Together these three primary triads define the major scale in one single key.
For example :

Major scaleI ChordIV ChordV Chord
C majorC = C E GF = F A CG = G B D
F majorF = F A CBb = Bb D FC = C E G
G majorG = G B DC = C E GD = D F# A

Note that the same two major triads can occur in the major scale in two different keys, but the third major triad makes it a unique combination.

You should in general reflect this important relationship in your improvisation and use the same scale for all three major chords.

In the key of C for example use the C major scale over all three chords and not the C major scale over the C chord, the F major scale over the F chord and the G major scale over the G chord.

The Roman numeral for each chord reflects the unique function each chord has in relation to the tonality of its parent scale.

The differences between the three major triads comes more into focus when we add a fourth chord tone (belonging to the same major scale) on top of each of the triads.

Audio 1.1

This converts the the V triad chord into a dominant 7th chord.
The two other major triads become major 7th chords.

The improvisation scales for the three chords are (as pointed out already) derived from the same major scale.
In C :

For Cmaj7 use the C major scale = C D E F G A B C
For Fmaj7 use the F Lydian mode = F G A B C D E F
For G7 use the G Mixolydian mode = G A B C D E F G

In practice this means that you think of the same series of scale tones but a different note becomes the tonic note ('focal point') of the series each time a new chord starts in the song.

The I, IV and V chords form a small segment on the Circle of Fifths.

the I chord is always in the centre of the segment

the IV chord is its neighbour going in anti-clockwise direction

the V chord is its neighbour going in clockwise direction along the Circle of Fifths.

Therefore if B represents the I chord in a song, then E will be the IV chord and F# will be the V chord in the chord progression.


The Circle of Fifths also represents a handy transposition device for Bb- and Eb-instruments.

To transpose a key signature, chord or note from the Concert key of a piano or guitar to the Bb- instrument notation (for trumpet, clarinet, tenor and soprano sax) go two steps along the Circle in clockwise direction.
For example Concert Bb becomes a trumpet C. Concert E becomes a trumpet F#

To transpose from Concert key to Eb- instrument key (alto sax, baritone sax) go three steps along the Circle in clockwise direction.
For example Concert Eb becomes an alto sax C. Concert D becomes an alto sax B

Down - Up - Top - Links)

S 1.2 - Kia Lora

I am not sure of its name, I don't know where it comes from or who wrote it, but I will never forget this song !
It was the very first tune I learnt when we started the Bougainville Jazz Band back in the late 70s on the exotic island of Bougainville (in the Pacific Ocean NE of Australia).

In hindsight this marks the turning point in my life, the moment that I started to think about leaving my profession as a scientist and turning to music.
Kia Lora is therefore a most appropriate start for the Improvisation 2 Series.

Kia Lora is a typical 3-chord song. The V chord is a dominant 7th chord, I and IV are triads.


This is a very simple song. You can improvise over it using one scale only.
Still, I urge you to go through the standard practice routine you should apply to each and every song. This will firmly install the chord progression into your mind and enhance your creativity and improvisation output.

The regular routine is :

  1. Play the chord root tones of the progression in 4-beat notes (semibreves). If a chord applies to half a bar only, play the root tone for 2 beats.
    When you can play this from memory play the root tones using a rhythm pattern.

  2. Play the chord tones of each chord in crotchets (1-beat notes). When you can play this from memory play the chord tones using a rhythm pattern.

  3. Play the scale tones appropriate for each chord in quavers (half beat notes).

  4. Use a rhythm pattern for improvisation over the song, using all chord tones and scale tones. When you can do this comfortably use a second and perhaps third rhythm pattern.

Root tones 1.2 - Chord tones 1.3 - Scale tones 1.4

Using a predetermined Rhythm Pattern is a simple method of achieving two important things.

  1. It helps you to keep track of where you are in the songs chord progression.

  2. It helps to build a repertoire of good Jazz phrases in your mind.

You can extract good phrases from melodies or from solo fragments of famous players.
Simply ignore the note pitches and write the phrase down in rhythm only (as show under '4.' above).

A blank Rhythm Pattern page for writing your own patterns is included.
Just print out copies as you need them.

(Down - Up - Top - Links)

S 1.3 - Phrasing : Rhythmic Activity

Besides learning which notes to play in your improvisation, it is equally important to learn how to play these notes in a musically interesting way.

This involves understanding and development of good musical phrasing. This aspect is extensively covered in the Improvisation 2.

One of the most useful tools for building good phrases is the variation of rhythmic activity levels.

  • High rhythmic activity areas are created by short notes, like quavers and semiquavers (eighth notes and shorter).

  • Low rhythmic activity areas created by long notes, like minims (2-beat notes) and longer and also by rests.

But the two levels are relative.
In a succession of mainly 2- or 4- beat notes a few crotchets (1-beat note) represent high rhythmic activity.

In a succession of many quavers on the other hand, a few crotchets will produce low rhythmic activity.

Below some two bar segments going from high rhythmic activity to low rhythmic activity.

Audio 1.5

Here two examples with a reverse sequence, going from low activity to high activity. Note that activity levels can extend across bar lines, in fact this usually creates more interest as it is less predictable.

Audio 1.6

Down - Up - Top - Links)

S 1.4 - The 8-bar Blues

Included in this session are two Play-a-Long tracks for practising rhythmic activity levels.
It is the old 8 bar blues chord progression :






The first track is 8 x 8 bar blues in F, then 8 x 8 bar blues in G.

The second track is 8 x 8 bar blues in Bb, then 8 x 8 bar blues in C.

Use the examples provided to get started.
Then use your own notes and own rhythm patterns.

C- instruments
8 bar bluesI chordIV chordV7 chord
Key of GGCD7
Key of CCFG7
Key of FFBbC7
Key of BbBbEbF7

Transpose the examples from the key of C to the other three keys.

Bb- instruments
8 bar bluesI chordIV chordV7 chord
Key of AADE7
Key of DDGA7
Key of GGCD7
Key of CCFG7

Transpose the examples from the key of D to the other three keys.

Eb- instruments
8 bar bluesI chordIV chordV7 chord
Key of EEAB7
Key of AADE7
Key of DDGA7
Key of GGCD7

Transpose the examples from the key of A to the other three keys.

Down - Up - Top - Links)

S 1.5 - Practice : Major scale

The major scale is the single most important scale in all Western music, be it Classical, Jazz or any other style. You should know this scale therefore inside out in all twelve keys. Here two ways of practice using backing tracks, but play them first without the track until you are comfortable with them.

Play each major scale in quavers up to the 9th and back over 4 bars. Play all scales in Circle of 5ths order, starting on C Concert (D for Bb instr., A for Eb instr.).

The first example below gives you time to think of the next key to play in.
The second example continues straight into the next key without a break.

Audio 1.7

There is also a P-a-L track with 8 bars in each key. You can use this for both scale practice and phrasing.

The 8 bar blues progression played once only in all twelve keys.
On this track you play the same scale four times but starting on at different notes for the I, IV and V chords. It also helps you to know these three important chords in all keys.

Audio 1.8

Down - Up - Top - Links)

S 1.6 - Session Materials

ItemMidi fileSheet music
Kia LoraDemo P-a-L C instr.Bb instr.Eb instr.
Easy Key for Eb instr. (C)E-PalC instr.
8 bar blues in F and Gin Bb and CC instr.Bb instr.Eb instr.
8 bar blues (1x in 12 keys) P-a-LC instr.Bb instr.Eb instr.
Major scales (in Circle of 5ths order) 4 bars each8 bar eachp.1p.2
Transposing InstrumentsTransposition Tables
Circle of FifthsLarge Diagram
Rhythm Patterns Blank sheets

(Up - Top - Links)

© 2003 Michael Furstner (Jazclass)