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Hello and welcome to a NewJazz theory lesson. In this video we will learn some simple but very useful jazz piano exercises. These exercises will help us a great deal when improvising jazz and modal jazz. Now let me try to play a little solo to demonstrate the sound we can make when mastering these exercises. This solo is actually not very complicated. It may sound complicated… but as a matter of fact it is build upon some very simple techniques…
And it is these techniques we are going to explore in this lesson. The big secret is to simplify everything. So we are going to use only these 3 fingers. And we place the three fingers in one simple hand grip… like this! Every exercise in this lesson will be about this hand grip and these 3 fingers. It happens that this hand grip is very powerful. Mastering this 3 finger hand grip we can play the pentatonic scale and all the church modes… and we can play chromatic and inside and outside the scales.
Furthermore it is also very easy to augment the handgrip using also finger 4 and 5 playing more advanced stuff. I will show you all this later on in this lesson. with this very simple 3 finger handgrip we make a strong and solid foundation we can use when playing a solo. Ok, let’s look closer at this hand grip. Having the thumb on a given note… we place the second finger on the minor third… and the third finger on the perfect 4th compared to the thumb note. Now the idea is to place the thumb of the hand grip… at the correct locations on the keyboard to form the different scales. Let’s start with a very simple and easy exercise… playing the C minor pentatonic scale. Now let’s put some green markers on the c and g notes. These markers will help us when we rehearse because if we place the thumb of the hand grip on the marked keys we will play the C minor pentatonic scale. Now we set up a 3 bar loop containing sixteenth notes with a four four time signature.
And let’s start up in a really slow tempo, like 60 BPM. Now we make a simple left hand bass giving us the 4 meter and the keynote C. We have to decide a finger pattern or motif for the hand grip. Let’s choose the 1-2-3 motif… and write it on the sixteenth notes. The trick is to play finger 1-2-3 and continuously move the thumb of our hand grip to the different markers on the keyboard.
So here we go. This is a very simple exercise – I know. More stuff will come later. We just need to start simple and make some groundwork first. Having a pattern containing 3 notes against the sixteenth notes we have a metric with 3 against 4 so our motif will continuously be displaced compared to the beats and the bars. in this way we practice the motif in different rhythmical inversions. Having played the 3 bar loop the motif starts all over with the thumb hitting the first beat. Notice, the hand grip completely controls and manage our piano fingering 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3… Letting the hand grip direct our piano fingering gives us some great advantages when playing a solo.
Because when the hand grip takes control we can in return free our mind to express the music. We will discuss that further in the end of this lesson. Now we will expand our note material and add some green markers to the d an a notes. Maybe you are just a little bit curious now. What happens when we place our hand grip with the thumb on the marked keys? Having the C note as our bass and keynote we got the C Dorian scale. Let’s start the metronome, and let’s play the Dorian mode using the 1-2-3 motif. It is the same principle as with the pentatonic scale…
But now we have added two more locations to the hand grip the d note and the a note. And again remember, this is an exercise, not music. We have to practice before we can play any music. Later on in this lesson we will incorporate music into the exercises. That will be fun. But we just have to wait a little longer. Let’s speed up this exercise to 120 BPM If you are able to speed up this exercise to more than 120 BPM you are really fast and a pro on the three first fingers. Personally I will spare you playing any faster… then I avoid you guys laughing at me when I can’t hold the speed and rhythm. If it seem totally impossible to reach 120 BPM then don’t worry.
Everything has a beginning. Start up in a slow speed. Get the grip of the grip. Have patience. Then every day you can speed up the tempo a little bit. It’s all about practice. Let’s try out another motif for our hand grip. What about the 3-1-2 motif. Let’s set the metronome to 60 BPM and the Dorian sounds like this. So here we have another exercise to rehearse… using the 3-1-2 motif. Again the hand grip is controlling the fingering: 3-1-2, 3-1-2, 3-1-2… And we always have the thumb on the marked keys. Let’s speed up the exercise to 120 BPM With our 3 fingered hand grip we can make many variations on the motif. We can play 1-2-3, 2-3-1, 3-1-2, 3-2-1, 2-1-3 and 1-3-2 So in this case we have 6 different motifs to practice. We can practice those motifs using only the c and g location giving us the C Minor pentatonic scale. And we can add the d and a location playing the C Dorian scale. It is also possible to combine the different motifs for example 1-2-3 – 1-3-2 or an inverted version 3-2-1 – 3-1-2 Well there are lots of combinations that we could rehearse.
You can also make closed phrases. It could be this phrase 3-2-1 – 3-2-1 – 3-1-2 sounds like this. And we can play the same motifs but at different locations forming a different phrase. And we can move the phrase so it starts off beat. As you can see we end up with millions of possibilities using this simple 3 finger hand grip. It’s like counting the stars on the heaven – we will never get done. So this simple hand grip gives us endless ways to make exercises and endless ways to paint our star heaven of music.
Let’s set the metronome to 100 BPM. Now we play the Dorian scale using the positions at the green markers. But now we put in some natural breaks. And we are not using a particular motif like 1-2-3 or 3-1-2 and so on. We are mixing the different motifs and we are just fooling around. When I rehearse I often start with a strict exercise for about 30 minutes… and then I take 15 minutes just fooling around like this… incorporating the exercise into my music. I think the fooling around exercise is very important… else our music will end up sounding like an endless repeating borrowing exercise… and we don’t want that. We want our music to live, to be random to be something that is just messing around in our heads and hearts something we can’t explain. If we can get there, THEN we play music. Well our music still need some substance I think.
Now we are going to discover som very easy ways to expand our 3 finger hand grip to make our music more colorful and thrilling. When we master the 3 finger hand grip… it is very easy and straightforward to expand the grip adding the fourth finger. Having the grip located with the thumb on c… we could add the tritone blue note, the gb note. It is same procedure having the grip on d the blue note will be here. and with the grip on g… the blue note is here. and on a… blue note. Let’s start the metronome and try this out. Now listen… the sound of Dorian mode is now more dissonant, bluesy and colorful Still we are using our 3 finger hand grip… as our mental home base. So the exercises we made earlier in this lesson makes the groundwork. That’s why it is easy for us to add the fourth finger.
It’s like putting a trailer on the hook. Finger 1, 2 and 3 represents the car, the engine. The 4 finger is the trailer that just follows being pulled by the car. In another Newjazz lesson we use this blue note when playing jazzy blues. I will paste a link to that lesson in the description below. There are other interesting openings we can hook onto our 3 finger engine. We can actually have the entire minor pentatonic scale in our hand. So if our 3 finger hand grip is on c… then we add the fourth and fifth finger on the g… and bb note. So here is the C minor pentatonic scale.
We can do that on every marker or location. Having the hand grip on d… we can expand to the D minor pentatonic. And having the grip on g… we can expand to the G minor pentatonic. And with the grip on a… we have the A minor pentatonic scale in our hand. Notice that the e note… inside the A pentatonic does not belong to the C Dorian scale. It should be the eb note. This e note… is the ONLY note… that does not fit the C Dorian. Else we are home free. Let’s start the metronome again. So now we play the C Dorian scale occasionally using all five fingers. Still the 3 finger hand grip is my engine. And remember, if we use the A pentatonic grip…
We must be aware of the 4th finger. This note does not not belong to the C Dorian scale. But the thing is that I occasionally like the more bright sound from this C major third… disturbing the C Dorian minor third. Then we have a nice counteraction between minor and major. Let’s try also to mix in the blue note. Not all the time, just occasionally. So far we have behaved being faithful to the scales not destroying them too much. But now we will break the boundaries totally and make some exercises playing chromatic.
Now, if we rehearse some chromatic exercises with our hand grip it will be easy for us to play inside and outside a specific scale. A technique many jazz musicians use to make tension and release in their solos. So let’s construct a chromatic exercise. Well this is quite straight forward, because we just add some additional markers to the keys. Let’s put on markers on the eb notes… and the bb notes. These two new locations are definitely outside the C Dorian right? Let’s start the metronome and make a strict exercise using a specific motif… let’s choose the 1-3-2 motif. With this exercise we actually practice to play in and out. When the thumb is on the c, d, g, and a notes… we play inside the C Dorian. When the thumb is on the eb or bb… then we play outside. So we are shifting between playing inside and outside. Having done this strict exercise using a specific motif… we also just have to make a fool around exercise…
To hear how the new outside locations sound when we improvise more freely. In this case we added the eb and the bb locations. But it could also be any other outside locations. They all give us a different sound. In this case we have added two locations giving us two similar clusters so we have the locations placed in the same manner here… and here. In this way… we retain structure and composition in our solo. By the way… in another lesson from NewJazz… we create a totally chromatic… atonal and non-diatonic sound. Instead of playing scales we make the sound using a composition of structures, sequences and patterns. I will paste a link to that lesson in the description below.
Let’s try to add the 4th and 5th finger to our hand grip. And what about also using the 4th finger blue note. Well it works great I think. Now we will discover how to use the simple 3 finger hand grip to play all the 7 church modes. We are going to use a simple but very useful tool. The CIRCLE OF CHURCH MODES. With this tool we can look up all the church modes and find out where to place our hand grip. In another lesson from NewJazz we build this circle of church modes.
I will paste a link to that lesson in the description below. Let’s look up our C Dorian mode. Then we just find the Dorian mode on the lower disc… and then we point the c-key on the upper disc to the Dorian mode. Now we have all the C Dorian keys pointed out: c, d, eb, f, g, a and bb. Playing the C Dorian we already know that we must place our grip on c, d, g, and a. So let’s put on a paper clip at each location for our hand grip: c, d, g and a. Now we can also observe on the circle of church modes that the locations for our hand grip… are at the Dorian degree… Phrygian degree… Aeolian degree… and Locrian degree.
These four degrees are universal. So it applies to every mode in every key that we must place our hand grip at these four degrees. So let’s see how it works and look up another mode on the circle of church modes. Let’s say we want to play the C Phrygian mode. then we set the circle of church modes to Phrygian… and C. Then we can observe that the C Phrygian contains the notes: c, db, eb, f, g, ab, and bb. So where to place our handgrip when playing the C Phrygian? At the four degrees pointed out by the paper clips. So we can place our thumb on the Dorian degree bb… the Phrygian degree c… the Aeolian degree f… and the Locrian degree g. So let’s move the green markers to the new keys.
Let’s start the metronome and try to play the C Phrygian placing our hand grip on the new locations. Using only 3 fingers we now play a Phrygian solo. Let’s try to expand our 3 finger hand grip also using the 4th and 5th finger. So with the 3 finger engine we can play all 7 modes. It is just a matter of finding the correct locations to place the thumb of the hand grip. And the locations are always at the Dorian… Phrygian… Aeolian… and Locrian degree. On the circle of church modes we looked up the C Phrygian scale. And we could observe that the hand grip should be placed on the notes bb, c, f, and g. Compared to the C Dorian we played earlier we have actually just moved all the green markers down a whole step. Let’s try also to play some outside locations. So now I just choose some random outside locations… playing inside and outside the Phrygian scale. When the thumb is on a green marker we play inside… when the thumb is not, we play outside.
This is a fooling around exercise mixing different motifs. But as we did earlier we can of course also rehearse specific motifs like 1-2-3, 2-3-1 and so on. Everything is all the same as when we rehearsed the C Dorian scale. Now we have just changed the tonality, that’s all. If you want to know more about the church modes you may consult another lesson I made digging really deep into the modal theory. I will paste a link in the description below. Let’s talk a little about the advantages of the 3 finger hand grip system. The thing is that the 3 first fingers are the strongest and fastest by nature. That’s why the exercises shown in this lesson only concern rehearsing these 3 fingers. We must of course also exercise the last two fingers but they will just never get the same potential no matter how much we practice. So the idea in this lesson is to benefit from the nature and physiology of the hand. So that’s why we use the first 3 fingers to make a strong engine. Having a strong engine we can always hook on the two last fingers. Making a simple hand grip containing only 3 fingers also makes thing easier for us we don’t have to think too much about advanced techniques when playing a solo…
It’s all in the hand grip. Instead of thinking we can concentrate on feelings and expression, playing music from our heart. A subscriber asked me about those hand grips I often use in different aspects: “What if I change the tonality” he said “should I then use the same piano fingering?” that’s a really good question and the answer is YES. This is the whole idea. When moving my thumb to different locations on the keyboard I use the same piano fingering, the same hand grip no matter the tonality or location of the hand grip. It can give some awkward finger transitions once and awhile, I know. But the big advantage using the hand grip is that I can play the solo without thinking too much because I can use the same simple piano fingering system all the time.
So I would rather make some awkward finger transitions once and awhile than placing my fingers in a more classical correct manner. In a static classical composition it is different. Then it may pay off to find the most suitable places for the fingers not thinking in hand grips. But when we play a spontaneous solo we also need a spontaneous tool. We need a hand grip that is suited for rehearsing, repetition and variation.
A hand grip that splits the phrases into small recognizable motifs. A hand grip that is fast, strong and simple. A hand grip that makes our mind free from overthinking so we can use our energy on expression and feelings. This video must have an end. My name is Oliver Prehn. And I really hope you can benefit from the exercises and the 3 finger hand grip. In the description below I will paste a link to a playlist with all music from NewJazz. The songs are a mixture of modal blues, rock, funk and jazz. Erik Frandsen plays the drums and I play the keyboards. So enjoy listening and enjoy playing music….
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