When you first learned about minor chords in jazz you were told to play the dorian mode over them right?
Everyone is told that, and it’s true, the dorian mode fits over minor chords… but only sometimes.
So in this lesson, I’m going to show you how to avoid a very common mistake.
We typically get introduced to the minor chord in jazz as the ii7 chord in a ii V I progression. That dorian mode and minor 7 chord arpeggio fits perfectly over that.
The problem is that there are other types of minor chords in music, that function differently and dorian mode is not always the best fit for them.
The great saxophonist and teacher Eric Alexander wants to help you with that.
22 Minor Key Explorations by Eric Alexander
Fixing the way we treat tonic minor chords is the topic of Eric’s latest BetterSax course.
It’s called 22 Minor Key Explorations, the follow up to his previous course 21 Major Key Explorations.
So here’s an example: a minor 6 chord is the root, there’s a flat 3rd, 5th and a natural 6th.
When we treat that 6th as a chord tone instead of the flat 7, it gives us more of a tonic minor sound. Think of songs like Summertime, Alone Together, Nature Boy, etc., these are all in minor keys, meaning that the 1 chord is minor.
In these types of tunes, you’ll commonly see the one chord written as minor 7, minor 6, and sometimes even minor major 7.
So the first thing you want to know, is that these chord types are generally interchangeable for tonic minor chords.
In jazz harmony, context is everything.
So sometimes when we see a minor chord, it is going to be functioning as the ii minor, sometimes it will be the vi minor, the iv minor, the iii minor, and sometimes it will function as the minor i chord.
If we play the dorian mode every time we see a minor chord and don’t take into account the harmonic context, we can run into trouble.
The scale we discussed above, is commonly referred to as the minor bebop scale. It’s the ascending melodic minor scale with a chromatic passing tone between the 5th and 6th.
In the above video, I’ll break down how you can apply this to an excerpt from the 22 Minor Key Explorations Course.
Once you have that jazz language template down, you can play it over a backing track. Then you’ll want to expand the pattern through all 12 keys.
I prefer to do this in my head. At first, this is more difficult and takes longer than reading them. But it’s necessary, if you want to be able to access the information in your brain when improvising.
The course does include a pdf book with all of the minor key jazz language templates written out in all 12 keys.
I devote a part of my daily practice sessions to learning lines like these in all 12 keys.
That might sound like a chore, but it is actually a lot of fun and helps me improve several areas of my playing at once.
I’m working on technique, rhythm, time feel, articulation, sound, plus I take these things into the altissimo range which helps a lot up there. It’s all about developing and expanding my jazz language vocabulary.
Working on lines like the ones in 22 Minor Key Explorations and 21 Major Key Explorations pays big dividends over time.
The idea is not necessarily to be able to plug particular lines into solos verbatim. We want to develop the habit of playing things that sound good and work in a variety of contexts.
The more of this type of practice we do, the more flexibility we will have when improvising.
Now check out this video lesson next where I show you the most effective way to practice pentatonic scale patterns. Something I wish I had started doing much earlier on.