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Pattern 135 246

  1. General
  2. Practice with Metronome
  3. Practice over Single Chord
  4. Practice over II-V-I segments
  5. Practice with Modulation
  6. Practice in Quavers
  7. Practice in Semiquavers

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DG 6.1 - General

A digital pattern is a combination of 2, 3, 4 or more relative note positions (described in numbers) which is progressively repeated up or down a specific scale. For example the Pattern 135 246 over the C major scale progresses upwards like this :


Practice of digital patterns over scales is enormously important for all instrumentalists, but especially for improvising musicians. The objectives are :

  1. To develop greater instrumental skills and fluency

  2. To gain a deeper knowledge of each individual scale

  3. To gain a broader appreciation of the variety of sounds contained within a scale

  4. To develop exiting sound modules for inclusion in one's improvisation

In principle any scale you learn should be subject to digitals practice. But unless you have the luxury (like I had) of unlimited practice time, it is sensible to prioritise as follows :

  1. Top Priority
    • Major scale
    • Mixolydian mode
    • Dorian mode

  2. Second Priority
    • Pentatonic scales
    • Harmonic minor scale

  3. Great when you find the time
    • 8-note dominant and 8-note diminished scales
    • Lydian dominant scale
    • Whole tone scale
    • Chromatic scale

The good news is that when you have practised digits over the major scales in all keys, you have at the same time covered all Mixolydian and Dorian modes. They use the same notes, only start on a different one.

Likewise the major and minor pentatonics cover the same notes, so do the Harmonic minor and Lydian dominant scales, and also of course the 8-note dominant and 8-note diminished scales. Therefore above list is actually not as daunting as it may look at a first glance.

Always remember that music is a skill that you develop over time. Never just focus on one thing only. Always work a little each time on a range of musical aspects and gradually it all will come together for you in the end.

How to Practise
There are of course as many digital patterns as imagination lets you think of, and by all means develop some by yourself. However I have selected six basic patterns which are simple but great both for developing good instrumental skills and to use in improvisation. They all have in common that they can create drive ("forward motion"), excitement and build up increasing tension over 2 to 3 consecutive bars.

I suggest you work on one single pattern at a time for two weeks (half a month), then go on to the next one. In just two weeks it is unlikely that you cover all routines dealt with in this lesson, but in time you will come back to it and progress further.
Once you are on top of all six patterns you can of course swap them around in your practice routines as you wish.

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DG 6.2 - Practice with Metronome

First practice should always be using a metronome.   There are two hugely important things you must do.

  1. Always play from memory. Do not read from written music
    It is OK to check the sheet music, or write the pattern out if you are unsure of the pattern in a particular scale. But as soon as you start playing, do not look at the music but try to get through from memory.

  2. Always play slowly, without hesitations, stumbles or errors
    If you can not do this, switch back to a slower metronome tempo until you can, and only speed up the tempo when you can flawlessly play the pattern over the entire prescribed range. By ignoring this and stumbling on, you are learning absolutely nothing !!

Here is the notation for Pattern 135 246 played in triplet quavers over the C major scale. Try to play over a range of at least 2 octaves on your instrument if you can.

Audio 6.1

Correct fingerings
When playing digital patterns always make sure to practise using the appropriate fingerings, suitable for high speed executions.

For keyboard in general use the same fingering for a specific digital pattern throughout, regardless of the positions of the black keys. This works best in most cases with only a few rare exceptions.   Use fingers 1 3 5, 1 3 5 for the present pattern (1 2 4, 1 2 4 is also fine).

For saxophone use the keys you use for the proper playing of scales at high speed. This means for example.

  • When a C is next to a B : use the side key C
  • When a C is not next to a B : use the middle finger C

  • When a Bb is next to a C : use the side key Bb
  • When a Bb is not next to a C : use the biskey Bb

  • When an F# is next to an F : use the side key F#
  • When an F# is not next to an F : use the low E or D key

Other instruments should follow similar correct fingering rules as specified in a text book or by your instrumental teacher.

Here is the notation for Pattern 135 246 over the C Mixolydian mode.

Audio 6.2

Here is the notation for Pattern 135 246 over the C Dorian mode.

Audio 6.3

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DG 6.3 - Practice over a Single Chord

The next step is to get comfortable playing patterns in a real musical setting. And with this your objective is changing, moving further ahead.

  • While practising with a metronome your objective is to develop greater technical facility and fluency on your instrument.
    Therefore every single scale you work on should include practice of digital patterns.

  • However when you start practising with a musical backing track your objective is to develop the facility to incorporate digital patterns in your improvisation.
    In this case you work in first instance on those scales you are most frequently going to select for this purpose.
In other words, when improvising you are (hopefully) in complete control of what you want to do and when. It is therefore unlikely that you (at least initially) will choose to run a pattern through a scale with 5 flats or 5 sharps. More likely you will find a chance to do that over a relatively easy chord (in the song you are working on), requiring a scale pattern with only 1, 2 or at the most 3 flats or sharps. Therefore focus at least initially on the easier scales.

Here is Pattern 135 246 over the C Mixolydian mode, played in triplet quavers over a single C7 chord backing track.

Audio 6.4

Practise starting on different chord tones, both going up and down, and listen to the musical effect it produces.

On the single chord backing tracks in the Play-along Library, each track contains two single chords, a perfect 5th apart. First one chord is played for 8 bars, then the next one (a 5th down) for 8 bars, then back to the first one again. And so on.

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DG 6.4 - Practice over II-V-I segments

When going up or down one octave in pitch we have several musical roads we can travel.

  1. Within a single beat you can jump from say a C to the next C one octave higher.

  2. Using an arpeggio (broken chord) you arrive one octave higher in half a bar.

  3. With a quaver scale run it will take one full bar to arrive one octave higher

  4. But with a 3-digit pattern in triplet quavers (or a 4-digit one in semiquavers) it takes a full 2 bars to reach our destination.
This aspect is illustrated on the Diagram shown below.


Depending on your creative intention (or instinct) at any moment during play you can use any of these roads above. All of them of course have their merit.
However the digital pattern stands out in three distinct ways. Within a single octave range, using a digital pattern :

  1. You can play faster (more notes per beat) : creating great excitement

  2. You can sustain the run longer (2 bars +) : creating ever increasing musical tension

  3. In addition the relatively small pitch range required for digital runs is, from a practical point, especially welcome for instruments with a limited pitch range like flutes and saxophones. If gives them much greater choice of where to start and end their run.

To take full advantage of the above considerations you should look for suitable 2 bar opportunities in songs to use digital pattern runs. And where better will you find these than in the numerous IIm7 - V7 and IIm7 - V7 - IΔ segments present in virtually every song in the Jazz and Popular music repertoire ?

Practice over IIm7 - V7 - IΔs in several keys is therefore an essential element of digital pattern practice.
Here is a IIm7 - V7 - IΔ in the key of C major. The pattern is in triplet quavers.

Audio 6.5

Experiment with starting on different notes, especially chord tones (1, 3, 5, 7, 9) of the IIm7 chord. Then watch where it takes you to.

On the II-V-I backing tracks in the Play-along Library, each track contains two II-V-I segments, a perfect 5th apart. First a 4-bar II-V-I segment in one key is played for 4 times (16 bars total), then the next 4-bar II-V-I segment (a 5th down) plays also 4 times, then back to the first one again. And so on.

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DG 6.5 - Practice with Modulations

To create even more musical interest you can select 2 bars with one chord modulating to another chord. In such case, after the first bar the underlying scale changes for the 2nd bar and hence the pattern also. In most cases it is only a difference of 1 or 2 flats (or sharps), and therefore not all that difficult, but of course this aspect requires practice.

You can pick any two bars in any song for this, but the embellished blues is a good example and a great way to practise on.

Audio 6.6

Once again start on different chord tones, playing patterns both up and down.

Included in the Play-along Library are embellished blues tracks in five different keys. This is ample material for meaningful practice.

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DG 6.6 - Practice in Quavers (8th notes)

There is one final and most important aspect of digital pattern practice.
So far we have practised the 3-digit pattern in triplet quavers. In other words the digital pattern and the rhythm used are synchronised.

But what happens when the pattern and rhythm are mismatched ?
We can achieve this by playing a 3-digit pattern in quavers. Doing so suddenly produces a totally new perspective and sound scape. Instead of a regular beat on the first digit of each pattern segment, beat accents now fall in turn on all of the digits as the run progresses.

Here is Pattern 135 246 played in quavers over the C Mixolydian mode.

Audio 6.7   Audio 6.8

First practise this new technique very slowly with the metronome. Once you can master that, start practice with the backing tracks.

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DG 6.7 - Practice in Semiquavers (16th notes)

Once you are comfortable in playing this pattern in quavers (eighth notes : 2 notes to each beat), gradually increase the metronome tempo. Then start practising the same pattern but in semiquavers (sixteenth notes : 4 notes to each beat).
Here is Pattern 135 246 played in semiquavers over the of the C Mixolydian mode.

Audio 6.9   Audio 6.10

Be meticulous with your timing, and record yourself occasionally (while playing with the metronome) to check on how you are doing.

When using a digital pattern in Jazz improvisation remember that in swing style the quavers should be swing quavers. The semiquavers however always remain straight.

Once you master all aspects presented in this lesson you have the ability to apply this digital pattern in your improvisation at three different speeds.

  1. in quavers
  2. in triplet quavers
  3. in semiquavers
Depending on both your skill level and the tempo of the song you should in most cases be able to use at least two of above tempos for digitals over any song.

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© 2007 Michael Furstner (Jazclass)