Jazz Theory Course

  1. Welcome
  2. The Three levels of a Song
  3. About the Course Exercises
  4. Keyboard fingering Rules
  5. Music Notation for Other Instruments
  6. Lesson Material
  7. Songs for Chord Analysis

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JT Intro.1 - Welcome

jtmf.jpg Hello and Welcome to the Jazz Theory Course.

Jazz Theory is very much a misnomer, for much of the material covered under this subject applies to all forms of Western music, including Classical music and all types of Popular music.

It has given me an enormous amount of pleasure and satisfaction to prepare this Course, and I hope that you will enjoy it too and benefit from it.

If you have questions at any time please feel free to ask me.

Make no mistake !   This is a huge huge Course. There is lots of material to firstly understand, then gradually absorb. But don't be daunted about it all. The good news is that it is also enormously interesting, so you won't get bored.

Take it slowly, step by step. Start at the beginning and slowly work your way through. I strongly recommend that you do all the exercises in this Course, it will help you enormously to master the material. I know because I have been there too. It took me several years to learn, absorb and apply in real time improvisation. But I promise you, the reward will be enormous and you will never look back.   Good luck.

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JT Intro.2 - The three Music levels of a Song

Every Jazz tune contains three musical levels :

  1. Melody

  2. Chord progression

  3. Scale progression

You can compare these three levels with a painting.

  1. The melody represents the shapes in the painting.

  2. The chords represent the colours filling and surrounding the shapes.

  3. The scales are the resource from which the melody notes and the chord tones are selected - they represent the palette of the painter.

Audio 1

An improvisation can be guided by any of these three levels.

  1. The improvisation could for example be just the embellishment of the melody.

  2. Or the improvisation could be based on the chord tones of the underlying chords.

  3. Or the improvisation could be based on the entire palette, the underlying scales (which of course include all melody notes and chord tones)

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JT Intro.3 - About the Course Exercises

In the Jazz Theory Course you :

  1. first learn the various elements of music - intervals, chords and scales

  2. then how chords and scales are related to one another

  3. and finally how chords are connected in chord progressions which form the backbone for a song.

Besides a good understanding of Jazz Theory it is most important to develop an instant knowledge of all the component elements (intervals, chords and scales) in all keys.

jt004.gif For this purpose a great number of exercises, quizzes and ear tests are included in this Course.

Writing out intervals, chords and scales in all keys in a variety of ways will help to build up an instant data bank in your memory. This is absolutely essential for good improvisation.

A number of memory building devises are used in this Course. They are great fun to work with and very effective.

  1. Keyboard Diagrams
  2. Manuscript paper
  3. Scale Letters Diagrams
  4. Chord Letters Diagrams
  5. Chord Inversion Diagrams
  6. Chords & Scales Rulers

I urge you to use these devices extensively.

The key patterns of the keyboard present an ideal way of visualising intervals, chords and scales in you mind.

  1. The Keyboard Diagrams included will help to develop this aspect.

  2. I recommend that all non keyboard players learn to play intervals, chords and scales on a keyboard.
    An inexpensive 'intelligent keyboard' (which generates a bass-drums-keyboard rhythm pattern from any chord you play) is ideal for this purpose.

(At most Tertiary Music Institutions all Jazz students have two years of compulsory keyboard lessons for this purpose.)

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JT Intro.4 - Keyboard fingering Rules

Keyboard fingerings for both the left and right hand for a wide range of Jazz scales and Jazz chords are included in the Scales book.

Elementary fingering rules for the keyboard right hand for all scales and arpeggios (broken chords) are : jt003.gif

  1. Always use the thumb (finger No.1) on the first white note.

  2. Start with the second finger (finger No.2) if the scale or chord starts on a black note.

  3. For all 7-note scales use repeat finger patterns of
    1 2 3 - 1 2 3 4 for each octave,
    unless the fourth key of the pattern is black, in that case use the pattern 1 2 3 4 - 1 2 3.

  4. Chromatic scale
    Use the third finger (finger No.3) on all black notes.
    Use the thumb on all white notes, except when two white notes follow each other, in that case use fingers 1 and 2 on the white notes (use 1 2 3 for E F F# and B C C#).

  5. Pentatonic scales
    Use patterns of 1 2 3 - 1 2 or 1 2 - 1 2 3
    (in some keys a thumb must be used on a black note).

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JT Intro.5 - Music Notation for Other Instruments

'Concert key' or C- instruments are : all keyboards, guitar, banjo, bass, flute, recorder, trombone, violin, accordion, mouth-organ ('harp'), voice.

jt002.gif Bb instruments : trumpet, clarinet, soprano-sax and tenor-sax
To match the concert key of keyboards, flutes etc. play in the key 2 semitones higher.
For example for the Blues in C : play in the key of D
For the Blues in F : play in the key of G

Eb instruments alto-sax and baritone-sax
To match the concert key of keyboards, flutes etc. always play in the key 3 semitones lower.
For example for the Blues in C : play in the key of A
For the Blues in F : play in the key of D

The notation for scales and chords are suitable for all instruments.
(There are instruction for where to start for each play-a-long tracks.)

Separate sheet music for the three types of instruments is included for all songs.

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JT Intro.6 - Lesson Material

The Lesson Material Table at the end of each lesson contains exercises and reference material for you to print out.

  1. Keep the scales, chords and other practice material in a separate Practice Folder. All pages which go into that folder are numbered as shown in the Contents Page.

  2. Each Lesson also includes a Facts sheet. Keep these in a separate Reference folder.

  3. Also included under Lesson Materials are pages of Keyboard Diagrams, Manuscript paper, Scale letters Diagrams, Chord letters Diagrams and Chord inversion Diagrams.
    You can print as many sheets of these as you like and use them for writing out scales, chords and other exercises in all keys. Keep these in a separate Exercises Folder.

File Name Contents
jtx000.gif Practice Folder - Contents page






Keyboard Diagrams

Manuscript paper

Scale Letters Diagrams

Chord Letters Diagrams

Chord Inversion Diagrams

Chords, Scales & Modes Ruler

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JT Intro.7 - Songs for Chord Analysis

After going through this Course start analysing songs you intend to play.
I recommend you look at these famous Jazz standards :

All Blues (waltz)

All of Me

All the Things You are

Autumn Leaves

Black Orpheus

Blue Bossa

Fly me to the Moon

Fools Rush in

How high the Moon

How Insensitive

I Got Rhythm

In a Sentimental Mood


My Funny Valentine


Satin Doll

Stella by Starlight

Straight no Chaser (blues)

Song for my Father

Sweet Georgia Brown

What is this Thing called Love

If you like Classical music I recommend you check out these famous pieces :

  • Prelude No.1 from The Well-tempered Clavier (Johan Sebastian Bach)

  • Opus 28, Preludes No.6 and No.7 (Frederic Chopin)

  • Serenade (Franz Schumann)

  • Gymnopedies No.1, 2 and 3 (Erik Satie) - experimentations with scales

  • Gnossiennes No.1, 2, and 3 (Erik Satie) - experimentations with triads and varying bass notes

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© 1998 - 2008 Michael Furstner (Jazclass)