Jazz Ukulele - Improv

Yes! You can play jazz on a ukulele!!!

What is Improvisation?


Improvisation or “improv” is the art of creating solos, licks and riffs and are one of the parts of creating music that gives beginners and intermediate players trouble. They might be turned off by having to learn “scales” or already know a scale or two but are having trouble making music. There is a perceived mystery or magic to where the ideas come from. Throw in the difficulties of fingering on instruments with the capability of playing the same note in alternate location on the fingerboard like the ukulele and guitar. And it's no wonder players struggle with improv. It's like a box of crayons and a blank page – “Where do I start?”

Improv is composing melodies in real time. This series of lessons are intended to take the mystery out of creating your solos, licks and riffs.

Hint: It's not the number of crayons that you have it's what you can do with them.

As a young crayon artist I was sure I'd be a better artist if I got my hands on my older cousin's box of 64 crayons with the sharpener. Well when I did I became really good at sharpening crayons. Turns out it's the crayonist not the crayon.

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Improvisation is More Than Just Scales

Most people think, to learn improvisation you really need to master you scales. That's true - but it's just a starting point. Granted scales are a big part of what you draw from for improvisation. There's also intervals, arpeggios and sequences and how you use and apply them.

Essential Jazz Scales?

A scale is not really “Jazz” or “Blues” or “Rock”. A scale is just a collection of notes. It is how a scale or theses collection of notes are used. Some are more common in one style vs. another.

In Jazz we can base all the scales that we will ever need off the Major (Ionian) and Natural Minor (Aeolian) scales. From theses two scales you can create or derive the any other scales you need for playing jazz.

Here are the Major / Ionian and Natural Minor / Aeolian scale shapes to memorize.

These two scales are core, key and/or references scales. Whatever you call them they are very important.

Essential Scale for Exploring Jazz

Contemporary Scales

All scale examples are shown with a C root for comparison.

Modal Scales

  • Ionian ( C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C’ )

    the Major scale is one of the first scale a lot of musicians learn. Especially on the piano where C major is the white keys only.

  • Dorian ( C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C’ )
  • Phrygian ( C, Db, Eb, F, G, Ab, Bb, C’ )
  • Lydian ( C, D, E, F#, G, A, B, C’ )
  • Mixolydian or Dominant ( C, D, E, F, G, A, Bb, C’ )
  • Aeolian or Natural Minor ( C, D, Eb, F, G, Ab, Bb, C’ )
  • Locrian ( C, Db, Eb, F, Gb, Ab, Bb, C’ )

Traditional Scales

  • Major ( C D E F G A B C’ )
  • Natural Minor ( C D Eb F G Ab Bb C’ )
  • Harmonic Minor ( C D Eb F G Ab B C’ )
  • Jazz Melodic Minor ( C D Eb F G A B C’ )
  • Diminished ( C D Eb F Gb Ab A B C’)

    Here is a FREE download of the Diminished scale using the QuickStart Series Scale Fingering format.

  • Whole Tone ( C D E F# G# A# C’ )

    Here is a FREE download of the Whole Tone scale using the QuickStart Series Scale Fingering format.

Altered Scales

  • Mixolydian +4 or Lydian Dominant ( C D E F# G A Bb C’ )
  • Mixolydian -2, -6 ( C Db E F G Ab Bb C’ )
  • Mixolydian -2 ( C Db E F G A Bb C’ )
  • Mixolydian -6 ( C D E F G Ab Bb C’ )

Supplemental Scales

  • Inverted Diminished ( C Db D# E F# G A Bb C’ )
  • Super Locrain ( C Db Eb Fb Gb Ab Bb C’ )

* There is some overlap with these essential scale, with some just alternate names for the same set of notes.

DERIVED SCALES - From these essential jazz scales other scales can be derived for use in the jazz idiom.

The Blues

The Blues - a progression, a scale, a felling. The blues is at the heart of all American music. IT's found it's way into rock, country, folk. R&B and Jazz. It's a great vehicle to explore jazz.

The Mixolydian Scale and the Blues

The Mixolydian scale, sometimes called the Dominant scale is a great place to start when learning to soloing in more advanced jazz styles. This is a great “bridge” scale widely used in the blues, rock, and R&B styles. It's a great scale to get your feet wet with when exploring jazz.

The Mixolydian scale is created by lowering the seventh scale degree of a major scale one half step. This gives the Mixolydian scale a formula of (1 2 3 4 5 6 b7 8).

The Blues is the most common song form in music and can easily “jazzed” up with 4-part chords .

In Jazz we can base a lot of the scales that we'll ever need from the Major (Ionion) and Natural Minor (Aeolian) scales. From theses two scales you can create the essential scales you need in jazz styles.

C Blues

Here is a basic blues progression using seventh chords and a sample solo using the Mixolydian scale over each chord.

The chords are C7, F7 and G7. The C, F and G Mixolydian scales will be used.

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Just browsing over both books, they look fantastic! I'm a guitarist and uke player for over 25 years and was thinking about writing a ukulele book but you've already written what I think are the best, most comprehensive and thorough books I've ever seen for the instrument. I just might end up buying every book you've written and I'll be giving my highest recommendation for your books to my friends and students. Thank you so much for taking the time to write such great books!Peter Rhee

Aloha, Curt, All I can say is WOW! What you have accomplished is simply incredible! All the bestGlen Hirabayashi, The Aloha Boys

Folks, if you haven't stopped by Curt's site, do so right now! ..And get his books, they are fantastic. This guy knows his stuff and is able to pass it along too.Alan Johnson Proprietor, The 4th Peg

I can highly recommend Curt's Uke books — I have four of them and they are excellent.fatveg — Portland

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