Focus on Music


A Stepwise Approach to Jazz Improvisation

The materials on this site are presented in a stepwise manner.  The first lessons are very simple, and each successive task builds on the previous assignments.  Each exercise focuses on one or two elements of music at a time.  To learn more about the elements of music, visit

The following lessons are all based on a basic B flat blues chord progression.  The lessons alternate between exercises on the blues, and exercises on the individual chords that are in the blues.  Sample recordings are provided for you to play along, and they are found on the Recordings page.  The audio tracks are very straightforward, but will suffice for working with these exercises.  I also highly recommend a few different apps and recordings for improvisation practice.  While the examples for all of these exercises are based on the blues, they can be used for any jazz composition or chord progression.


The Assignments

Each lesson includes three sections: 

Composition - Memorization - Improvisation

Composing allows us to create a musical idea without any time constraint.  We can relax and jot down our ideas as we please, and also expand our musical vocabulary.  Memorization reinforces what we have learned through the composition process, and it serves as a bridge to playing music by ear.  Practicing improvisation for each of these exercises helps us to respond to musical situations more quickly, and helps us learn how to play jazz.

Your goal with each step is to arrive at the point where improvisation is effortless.  Develop good habits so that you can create music without having to think about every detail, because when you are improvising on a jazz tune, there is little or no time to think about what you are playing.  By the time you have thought about what to play, the moment in which you need to play it has already passed.

Another goal in learning to improvise is to find what sounds good.  More specifically, find what sounds good to you, not what you think might sound good to other people.  If you find what sounds good to you, you will know it when you hear it.  If you are constantly trying to find what sounds good to other people, you will be guessing and won’t necessarily be in touch with the music.

And lastly, if you are going to learn how to play jazz, you must listen to jazz.  Find recordings of your favorite jazz musicians and listen to them frequently.  Listen to different styles of jazz as well as music from different historical periods.  Also, try to figure out jazz music by ear, and play along with recordings.  Remember that if you are going to learn a new language, you must first listen to that language being spoken by others who have mastered it.

Start Improvising!




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