Ron Fix

Saxophonist | Educator

Mr. P.C. Minor Line

So you've transcribed your favorite solo, now what? You've memorized it. You've written it down. You understand the theory. How do you turn this newfound knowledge into something you can use? You don't want to just play licks and regurgitate the solo, but make those lines your own and blend them into your vocabulary.

To explain this, I'm going to use John Coltrane's solo from Mr. P.C. as an example - specifically the first half chorus. This is the version off the Giant Steps album.

I'm always looking for ways to stretch out ideas. When I was first starting out with improvisation, I found that on minor or dominant vamps (modal tunes), I would run out of ideas rather quickly. So I was always on the the lookout for ways to take something simple, like a minor scale, and expand upon it.  The opening line Coltrane plays on Mr. P.C. is one of those lines.

Mr. P.C. (short for Mr. Paul Chambers, the bassist on this recording) is a minor blues. Each chorus is 12 measures long. The line Coltrane plays (see the attached PDF) is just a minor scale with upper and lower neighboring tones. The lower is a half-step below the scale tone, and the upper is a diatonic (within the scale) third above the scale town. Example: The scale tone is D, the lower neighbor is C#, the upper neighbor is F.

 Click image to view PDF

Click image to view PDF

Now, I could just play the first three measures of Coltrane's solo verbatim in my improvisation, but that wouldn't be very creative. So what I've done is expanded upon this idea and turned it into an exercise.

In the example I've used the D harmonic minor scale. I could have used any minor scale, but my ear likes the flat 6 and major seventh sound. I've written the line out in multiple keys. Try to play it in every key; write it out if you need to. Writing the exercise out in every key is OK if you're just starting out, but I highly recommend working these lines out in your head as soon as you're capable.

 Click image to view PDF

Click image to view PDF

Once you've mastered this idea in every key slowly, work on getting it up to faster tempos - 16ths at 120 bpm is a good goal. I try to go for 32nds at 60 bpm. It's the same, but it forces you to rely less on the metronome.

Try applying this approach to other transcriptions, and you're vocabulary will expand dramatically!


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