Melodic Improvisation: Easy Jazz Piano Tricks

melodic improvisationWould you like to learn melodic improvisation? You’re in the right place.

In the video below, Steve explains some neat melodic improvisation tricks to a Jazz Inner Circle student.

Getting your melodies to have that singing, emotional quality is necessary to captivate your audience. This lesson will help you achieve that.

Take 3 minutes and watch the video below. Steve will break down melodic improvisation for you.

Melodic Improvisation Video Tutorial

5 Tips To Dig Deeper Into Melodic Improvisation

Now that you’ve taken a few minutes to watch the video above, let’s go further into these melodic improvisation tips.

How Different Chord Shapes Leads To Melodic Expansion

melodic improvisationOne of the secrets of melodic improvisation is the knowledge of chord shapes.

Given the nature of the piano, each chord shape for every key makes use of different fingerings.

While this may seem like a disadvantage, this can actually serve as inspiration.

Each unique shape follows a certain contour that can give rise to a particular melody. Use this to your advantage.

Also take note that these shapes you play are emotional chords. Each kind of chord gives rise to a particular emotion.

In that way, any solo based on a specific chord shape will deliver the same kind of emotional quality.

Some melodies are easy to play within certain jazz piano chords. Given this sort of logic, the more chord shapes you know, the more melodies you can access.

Are you hungry for more chordal knowledge? If so, then I have good news for you.

melodic improvisationOur Premium Jazz Lessons has a chord library that provides a step-by-step way of learning essential jazz chord voicings.

Coupled with the improv drills library, you will learn melodic improvisation 10 times faster than most students.

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The next question is how do we make those chord shapes flow more smoothly to create a more melodic sense? Find the answer below.

Why Smooth Voice Leading Creates A Melodic Sense

melodic improvisationIn chord tone soloing, smooth voice leading provides the answer to finding melodies within chords.

The important idea presented in smooth voice leading is that of tension and resolution.

Using particular smooth voice leading patterns will allow you to take advantage of common and neighboring tones.

A good example of melodic sense in smooth voice leading is whenever a 7th of one chord becomes a 3rd of the next chord.

You can clearly see this in action when you play a Dm7 in root position and then move to a G7 chord in the 2nd inversion.

Another really interesting pattern is the 3rd of a ii chord becoming the flat 7th of the V chord and then resolving down to the 3rd of the I chord.

For example, the F of a Dm7 chord (3rd) is a common tone shared with G7 (F is the flat 7th of G7). This flat 7th resolves nicely down a half step to the 3rd of C (E).

To apply these when improvising lines, simply improvise along chord shapes that follow those smooth voice leading patterns.

Simple enough, isn’t it?

Guess what. You can do more than just that. How? Check out the next tip.

How Position Shifts Provide New Melodic Ideas

melodic improvisationPart of learning smooth voice leading is the study of chord inversions.

Learning chord inversions means practicing position shifts.

The amazing thing about changes in position is that it leads to more ideas for melodic improvisation.

We said earlier that different chord shapes can lead to different melodic ideas.

You need position shifts to tie these different chord shapes together.

Position shifts will also help you go beyond an octave in jazz improvisation.

Going beyond an octave provides a different tone color or register to make your solos more exciting.

However, you have to do more than just that to make your improvised melodies exciting.

How To Play Arcs In Melodic Improvisation

melodic improvisationTo be able to perform any meaningful melodic improvisation, there has to be some shape to it. You have to play it in arcs.

If you look at an arc, you see three things: a beginning, a peak, and an ending.

The beginning of any improvised solo should be a good melodic idea. It can easily be based on chord tones or a melody from a scale.

This first idea doesn’t have to be complex. It just has to be memorable.

Here’s one example: McCoy Tyner plays a small variation of the melody of “Passion Dance” to start his solo:

Now, going towards the peak of the arc is a gradual ramp up.

This is where you bring in more ideas, play different rhythms, different pianistic effects/tricks, and create more variations

In the same video, check out how McCoy Tyner ramps up the solo to its peak.

To end your solo, you need to end the arc in a memorable way.

In the McCoy Tyner example, he chose to end it using powerful tremolos of a melodic idea.

There are a number of different ways you can end your arc with an impact.

Here are some examples:

  • When you start in the middle range of the piano, ramp up and end high.
  • End with powerful bass octave passages If you’ve spent a lot of time soloing in the upper register,
  • Start with longer rhythms in the beginning, ramp up with intense fast ones in the middle, and then end with a bluesy hook.

The only limit to ending your melodic improvisation strongly is your imagination and technical skill.

melodic improvisationSpeaking of technique, do you feel that your technique is inadequate?

Are you having a hard time during improv when you try to play what you hear in your mind’s ear?

Fortunately, we have the perfect solution to address that issue.

The Jazz Improvisation Super System provides a complete method that shows you step by step how to improvise over the world’s greatest jazz songs with ease.

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How To Strike A Balance Between Novelty And Familiarity

melodic improvisationMelodic improvisation should always sound fresh yet familiar.

The best way to do this is by striking a balance between novelty and familiarity.

One simple way of doing this is by using some ideas from the head of the tune. However, improvise some variation of it.

Some ways for you to improvise variations are inverting the melody, playing in reverse, playing different rhythms, and adding embellishments.

Another way of balancing novelty and familiarity is through some form of repetition.

If you introduce a new melodic idea, repeat it just enough that it will make it memorable.

For example, there are some licks that follow a pattern and would be very good for repetition. Check out Oscar Peterson’s piano improv in C Jam Blues:

If you listen to his entire solo, you will notice that he repeats some phrases every now and then. However, he doesn’t overdo it.

Remember this guideline: If you repeat something too much, people will get tired of it. If you play too many new ideas, people won’t understand.

And so, what’s the best way of putting all of these tips together?

Warning! Are You Practicing Jazz Piano The Wrong Way?

melodic improvisationDespite spending all that time practicing, do you still find yourself clueless when it comes to jazz piano?

You may have been spending countless hours on lessons and tutorials by these so-called “experts”.

The only problem is after all that, you still are completely ignorant about what things require your focus on the piano.

Fortunately, there is a way for you to know exactly what’s worth practicing to reach your jazz piano goals.

The Jazz Inner Circle provides the clearest roadmap to go from clueless novice to masterful jazz pianist.

The best thing about the Jazz Inner Circle program is you’ll have the opportunity to work one-on-one with world-class jazz piano mentors.

These mentors know all the tricks of the trade from years of touring and recording experience.

melodic improvisationInside the Jazz Inner Circle, you’ll discover:

  • “The Ultimate Jazz Workout Training System.” This is where we implement a complete practice program to build your jazz piano talent in record time.
  • Access to over 50 hours of Steve’s high-level jazz intensive workshops.
  • “Jazz Piano Decade In A Day Mastermind” – A full day of personal training live.

However, slots for this program are very limited. I highly recommend going here to find out more and sign up for the Jazz Inner Circle.

I hope you enjoyed learning all about melodic improvisation. If you have questions, suggestions, or more to add to this lesson, feel free to leave a comment below.

Have a great time working on these jazz piano improv tips. Always remember that we have your back in terms of your musical journey.

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Mark A. Galang, OTRP, MAM-MT(c)

Mark Galang is one of our contributors at He loves teaching all styles of music especially jazz, blues, rock, classical, and Christian music. Mark is also a licensed occupational therapist in the Philippines that combines music therapy intervention with occupational therapy.