Ep1. What does the ideal jazz musician know how to do?
Fundamental Features of Jazz
To answer this question one must first know what kind of music constitutes jazz. Even if one believes that jazz cannot be defined, it is agreed on by all parties that it is a style of music created at the turn of the 20th century by mostly African Americans combining the two musical scales of the diatonic (European) with the pentatonic (blues) scale, using syncopated rhythms, and improvisation. Therefore, at a minimum the ideal jazz musicians must know these three aspects.
For a defense of these three features (hybridization of the diatonic/pentatonic musical scales, with syncopation and improvisation) playing a central and fundamental role in jazz see the jazz video presentation of "The Complexity of Defining Jazz: The Galactic Model” (2016) – Main talk, Parts I and II given by Drs. Ring and Otwell.
In The Serious Jazz Practice book, guitarist author Barry Finnerty, who played with many jazz artists including Miles Davis, includes topics on the diatonic scale that includes diatonic interval and triad studies, including spread triads and quartal triads, with diatonic interval variants and use of seventh chords.
What are diatonic triads?
- Triads Tutorial
- List of All Major Scales with Notes, Diatonic Triads, & Relative Minors
- Chords and Harmony: A Players Guide - Diatonic Triads
- Reverb.com's "Learn to Play: Diatonic Chord Progressions
This section consists of excerpts that have been edited from the author's at Reddit.com's music theory page.
A diatonic scale is one in which each of the seven letters (A-G) appears once (either natural, flatted or sharped). Diatonic is also used to refer to notes or note clusters “within the key,” where the key is based on a diatonic scale.
A chord is any number of notes sounded simultaneously. A triad is a chord made of three notes where the distance from each note to the note above it is what musicians call a "third," which means either 3 or 4 semitones. A diatonic chord is one built from the notes of a diatonic scale. So a diatonic triad is simply a 3-note chord (with the structure described above) that comes from a diatonic scale. If a musician forms a three-note chord within the key of C major, then he/she has formed a diatonic triad.
A "third" is a musical interval or relationship of pitches based on the letter names assigned to notes. A up to C is a third because it spans the space of three letters (A B C). A triad is a three-note stack of thirds, such as A C E. Not all thirds sound exactly alike because the pitch difference from letter to letter is not always the same, and the quantity descriptor "third" doesn't account for sharps and flats, which will change the precise sound of the third (the quality).
Diatonic refers to notes which belong in a given diatonic scale. Diatonic triads, then, are the chords that occur naturally when all the notes used belong to the operative scale. So in C Major (C D E F G A B C), a diatonic triad starting on C will be C E G (C Major). A diatonic triad starting on D would be D F A (d minor). If you change the key, the chords will change even if you start with the same root note. For example if we change to C natural minor (C D Eb F G Ab Bb C), the diatonic triad starting on C would now be C Eb G (C minor).
At Reddit.com's music theory page Sperry023 points out that learning diatonic triads is a fantastic way to improve playing by ear and basic composition because it gives you a head start on what harmonies (chords) are "supposed to work" in whatever key you are in, although they are a bit generic.
Two Aspects of Triads
Because a triad is a three note chord where the three notes are in intervals of some type of 3rd apart, there are two aspects or ways of looking at the 3rds, the Quality and the Quantity.
- Quality indicates how many half steps between each 3rd, as in three half steps is a minor third, four half steps is a major 3rd.
- Quantity indicates the distance in the letters of the intervals (C E G), (C d E), ( E f G).
The diatonic triads are the chords naturally found in any given key. For a major key, the quality of these chords are I ii iii IV V vi viio). If you have a chord, say C# major, some may think a major 3rd above C# is F, but since C-F is 4 letters apart, this would be considered some type of 4th. F would have to be respelled as E#.
Just so you have triadic formulas, smallest to largest, the four types of triads you can build are Diminished (min 3rd, min 3rd), Minor (min 3rd, maj 3rd), Major (maj 3rd, min 3rd), and Augmented (maj 3rd, maj 3rd). In the natural major scale, there are no augmented triads, though these can be found in other circumstances, such as in the harmonic minor scale (the III would be III+ because of the raised 7th in the scale).
A triad is a chord made up of a root, a third of any size, and a fifth of any size. A diatonic scale is a major scale and its modes and the three forms of the minor scale and their modes. So, a diatonic triad is one whose root, third, and fifth are from one of the diatonic scales.
Examples of Diatonic Triads
- The first three notes of the Star Spangled Banner (American national anthem) are three notes of a major triad.
- The song "Happy Birthday" is diatonic.
- "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" is diatonic.
- Diatonic triads in the C Major scale are formed from C, Dm, Em, F, G, Am, B°, whereas the diatonic triads of C harmonic minor are Cm, D°, Ebaug, Fm, G, Ab, B°
Other features of jazz music
Of course, Barry Finnerty also includes a discussion in The Serious Jazz Practice book of the pentatonic musical scale, various types of arpeggios (seventh chord, diminished and augmented, and quartal). The modern jazz musicians also should be cognizant of whole tone scales, diminished scales, and chromatic scales.
A pentatonic scale is a musical scale or mode with five notes per octave in contrast to a heptatonic (seven-note) scale such as the major scale and minor scale. Pentatonic scales are very common and are found all over the world. They are divided into those with semitones (hemitonic) and those without (anhemitonic).
Blue tonality and inflections, patterns of musical call-and-response, phrasing closely reflecting speech, spontaneity or improvisation, an emphasis on individualized style, a willingness to foreground emotional intensity, and a range of characteristic rhythmic effects.
What standard jazz songs does a jazz musician know?
At JazzStandards.com it is noted that “40 percent of the compositions included on jazz CDs today are arrangements of the 1000 compositions found at JazzStandards.com.
- Overview of jazzstandards.com. A list of the 1000 most-frequently recorded jazz standard compositions (Click on Songs) with detailed information on the top 300 jazz standards including origins, historical notes, musical analyses, and CD suggestions, with concise biographies, a decade-by-decade look at Jazz History through the trends, events, and people who shaped the jazz standards canon. Also a seven-part series on Jazz Theory and references to hundreds of songs.
- Marc Sabatella gives a list of 92 jazz standards titles and how they are typically played in his chart of jazz standards.
- Wikipedia on jazz standards
- Wikipedia list of jazz standards
- Hal Leonard Real Book's list of jazz standards. An index to all songs from 26 volumes of Real Books.
- Learn jazz standards. An Index of Jazz Standards including a biography, chord charts for C, Bb, and Eb instruments, a play-along, and popular recordings to help you learn it.