Bebop Part II – All the Exercises You Can Eat

Dizzy Gillespie, along with Charlie Parker, pioneered the bebop sound

Busy Dizzy: John Birks Gillespie, along with Charlie Parker, pioneered the bebop sound

Bebop is ultimately all about being able to play any chromatic tone on any chord.

Obviously, if we just play chromatically with free abandon, the harmony goes out the window. Theory dictates that we place strong tones on strong beats to best convey the harmony. The principle is simple – these exercises are designed to help you get that theory into your hands and ears.

The exercises should be taken round the keys – but don’t write them out and learn them by rote. What we’re after is mindful, rather than mindless repetition.

Take the following figure as an example:


Our mental process when practising this figure is something like this: “Okay, starting on the downbeat with the dominant 7th, we play a scale tone down to the 6th (or 13th, if you like) and then approach the 5th – our target destination – by playing a semitone above and below it.” It can actually be very helpful to speak this kind of analysis aloud while practising (the first sign of madness). At any point you should be able to name the chord tone being played and the beat it falls on.

Once we’ve got these figures into our bloodstream by learning them with this kind of mental process, they (or bits of them) will become easily available to us when we’re up there soloing for real.

Take them through all the keys. This will help you to learn the “geography” of each key.


The bebop scales add a chromatic passing tone to the basic scales so that strong chord tones occur on the strong beats. The strong chord tones are root, 3rd, 5th and 7th on the dominant chord and root, 3rd, 5th and 6th (not 7th) on tonic major and minor chords.

C7 bebop scale (natural 7th added)

C tonic major bebop scale (sharp 5th added)

C tonic minor bebop scale (sharp 5th added)


This exercise develops flexibility in changing the direction of a bebop scale line.





The use of a half-step whole-step diminished scale over the dominant chord is very common in bebop. Note that the top four notes of this scale are the same as the straight dominant scale – the bit you have to work on is the bottom four notes. Think of it like this: root, split the 2nd (more commonly described as the 9th) in half – raise it and lower it, 3rd, raise the 4th (more commonly described as the 11th).

C7 |  F

It’s good to play the whole diminished scale like this to get the whole picture, but as long as you’re totally solid on your dominant scales, you could condense this exercise by just playing the bottom half of the scale (descending from the sharp 4th).


This exercise features ascending arpeggios and descending scales on the V diminished followed by the nearest possible chord tone of the following I chord.

C7  |  F 

 C7  |  F 


The same sort of “up the arpeggio, down the scale” figure is also commonly used from the 7th of the V chord (or the 3rd of the II). This exercise will work over either a II-V-I or a V-I.

C7  |  F  (or Gm7 C7 | F)


This exercise uses the pattern of scale tone above then semitone below the target chord tone.




Other possibilities are: scale tone above then scale tone below, semitone above then scale tone below and semitones above and below. These enclosures can also be inverted, approaching the target tone from below then above.

It’s also possible to use this kind of enclosure with non-chord tones, but if you play them on the downbeat, the line will resume with the chord tones out of sync. When this occurs you add another chromatic tone, skip a scale tone or syncopate the line to get things back on track.


This exercise is all about taking four, rather than two notes to get between chord tones. The pattern is: descend by scale tone, then approach the target tone by upper and lower chromatic neighbour – with two exceptions. When descending from the 5th to the major 3rd, we have to play down chromatically first in order to leave room for the chromatic enclosure of the target tone. When descending from the 6th to the 5th there’s even less room to manoeuvre, so we have to first descend chromatically then ascend to the target tone. In this context it’s useful to include the descent from the 9th to the 7th on the dominant and minor 7th chords.






A common variation on this pattern is to switch the penultimate chromatic into second place, like this:


There are many other possible permutations – listen out for them, dig them out from transcriptions or just figure them out for yourself (the best option by far). Remember, though, that whatever you come up with has to sound good to you. It has to have the bebop ring to it.


This exercise is a classic bebop lick that fits over either a V chord or the whole of a short II-V, rounded off by a resolving figure using chromatic enclosure of the root of the I chord.

Dm7    G7  |   C


We play the previous exercise over the V chord and precede it by a simple cell figure (1 2 3 4 5 3 2 1) clearly outlining the triad of the II chord.

Dm7   |   G7    |    C


We take the previous exercise and precede it with a phrase to cover the I and VI chords. The pattern over the I chord is the same cell figure as we’ve used over the II chord (1 2 3 4 5 4 3 1). The pattern used over the VI chord can be thought of in the following way: “second, root, chromatic under root, root, fifth, chromatic above fifth, third, fifth”. Note that the final two notes of this phrase form an enclosure of the root of the II chord that follows. This exercise is a very good way of assimilating the “geography” of each key.

C  |  A7  | Dm7  | G7  |  C


This exercise combines a variation on the downward “dither” from 7th  to 5th with a descending triadic cell (5 3 2 1) and finally a descending diminished scale line. As this example demonstrates, there are all sorts of great sounding combinations of these exercises and principles.



This exercise begins with an ascending scale pattern then uses an ascending chromatic enclosure of the 5th. We then play a four-note arpeggio up from the 5th, descend three notes of the diminished scale and approach the target tone (the root) by lower chromatic neighbour.



This exercise gives two common figures for resolving on the tonic chord. The first figure can be thought of as a descending pentatonic, but with the target tone (the 6th) enclosed by upper and lower scale tones. The second figure is a descending scale with chromatic approach to the 3rd (in major) or chromatic enclosure to the 3rd (in minor).



Then there’s this figure, which is very typical of Parker. It’s commonly used in major, but can be adapted to minor. Think of it like this: 5th, scale tone/chromatic up to root, scale tone/ chromatic down to 3rd, then down the major pentatonic (note how it exploits the point in the major scale where scale tones are the same as chromatic approaches). One option then has the line returning to the root (still within the pentatonic scale), as shown:



Don’t want to learn patterns? Want to be a genuine original? Learning patterns would be pointless anyway, because you’d never remember them when you’re soloing for real?

Pianist Bud Powell

Bud Powell was a genuine original… but he knew his homework

Sure, we practise these patterns and fragments so that they’ll be available to us when we’re up there, in action, in the spotlight. But as long as we’re mindful while we practise – as long as we have the right attentive attitude, we’re also training ourselves to apply sound musical principles, and that’s far more important than the lick we happen to be working on at the time. The process is the thing, the lick or pattern is merely the raw material. But it’s still useful and musical raw material.

The journey really is more important than the destination. And the journey never ends. The late and fantastic Michael Brecker never stopped practising, so why should you?

I’d advise against trying to regurgitate great chunks of memorised bebop lines when you’re performing, for two reasons. First, however well you’ve practised it, a “trotted out” line will tend to sound false if you force it. Second, you’ll screw it up anyway. Your expectations will get in the way. But, and here’s the point, DO practise great chunks.

To paraphrase Charlie Parker, explore the possibilities at home then go out and just play.


Be aware that when you put in place a programme of practice in order to change the way you play, it’s going to disrupt your playing for a while. It’s just like the way your body builds muscle – tear, build, heal, tear, build, heal.

So the initial impact of this kind of practice will be to make your playing worse. Don’t panic – stick with it. What you work on now will start to appear in your playing after a few months. If you genuinely want to learn and improve, accept the fact that you have to “break” the way you play now. Have faith that what you’re working on now will eventually sink into your subconscious and then it will appear in your playing. In fact, you’ll find this stuff will start to inform your playing in all kinds of interesting ways that you couldn’t consciously dictate.

For more of this kind of stuff (and how to really drive the neighbours mad), see Bebop Part I – Perpetual Motion Exercises.

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Posted in a) Soloing Scales & Modes
16 comments on “Bebop Part II – All the Exercises You Can Eat
  1. Adam Cole says:

    Thanks for the exercises. Just what the doctor ordered. I’ll be back in ten years for more.

  2. Jako says:

    Question about the “C tonic minor bebop scale (#5 added). Shouldn´t that scale contain B flat instead of B natural? If you meant to write it down like that anyway, it becomes a melodic minor with extra #5, which is nice and useful, but not the most common minor bebop scale (I think).

    • Jason says:

      Sure you can play it that way, but it gives you a Cm7 (II-ish, slightly bluesy) sound.
      It can be and is used in a minor I context, in much the same way as playing a major I as a dominant. Maybe we differ on this, but I regard these as substitutions according to taste.

      Some chord charts give a minor II-V-I as eg: Dm7b5 G7b9 Cm7. In my experience, the final chord is usually played as Cm6 in the bebop sound.

      Hey, it’s a big wide world and I’m happy for people to think differently!

      • Jako says:

        Thank you so much for the quick reply. It´s true, specially with theory bits, that many people tend to think “it´s my way or the high way”. Like you, however, I welcome different points of view. In regards of the scale, I just wanted to be sure it wasn´t a notation mistake, but then I realized all the examples are based on that set of notes, which -as you state- nicely outline a min6/melodic minor sound.

  3. Daniel says:

    I haven’t dug very deep into your fantastic site yet, so maybe this is a dumb question, but, in exercise v, first measure, isn’t the first F an “avoid” note, since it’s on the downbeat? Thanks

    • Jason says:

      Hi Daniel. I do see the confusion.
      You’re temporarily treating this situation as a II-V-I, so you can think of this measure as Gm7 C7. The F falls on a temporary Gm7 and isn’t a problem at all. It also forms a perfectly cool encircling pattern to the G on the downbeat of the C7 chord that follows (F-A-G).
      Even if the rhythm section is just stubbornly playing pure C7, you’re superimposing something. And it does work.
      Welcome on board anyway.

      • Daniel says:

        OK, fine. I took the first half of the measure to be made up of extensions of the C7, i.e. 7, 9 and 11. By the way, is there somewhere where you (or anyone else) cover the concept of avoid notes? The only one I know of is precisely the perfect 11th on some chords, and I’m not even sure which ones, as you can see.

        • Jason says:

          Might post something about that. Basically, a so-called “avoid” note is any note that forms a minor 9th with an important chord tone underneath.
          So P4 on major or dominant is nasty, because there’s a minor 9th between it and the major 3rd in the harmony.
          Likewise b6th on a minor chord (as in the classical minor or Aeolian mode) gives you that scratchiness against the 5th below. And b2nd on Locrian mode (as might be played over a half-diminished chord) gives a minor 9th against the root.
          What about the root above a major 7th in the harmony on a tonic chord, I hear you ask? Well, it’s arguable in this context whether the major 7th counts as a really vital chord tone anyway. And the root, by definition, can’t be wrong. The root can always just turn round and say: hey, it’s my gig, my rules…
          What about b9th on a hip dominant chord, you cry? Well, there are lots of issues, but when you’re playing 7b9 or 7alt, you’re into altered or substituted harmony and the lower reaches of the chord-scale usually have a diminished or passing character.
          Another way of thinking about “avoid” notes is that they’re notes that are so dissonant that they destabilise the chord. Since altered dominants are supposed to be unstable and in transit towards something else, the dissonance isn’t such a problem.
          There’s a lot to it, and different people have different ideas on the matter. And remember dissonance isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Hope this helps.

          • Daniel says:

            It helps a lot! I’m fairly new to jazz; the only reference I had read to “avoid” notes is in a book called How to Play from a Real Book, and the explanation (for the P11) wasn’t as clear as yours.
            Just one other question: from what you say, can I infer that the b13 is only to be used when the 5th is dim.? What about a chord which normally contains the P5, but from which I leave it out? Does that make it less scratchy to play the b13?
            Many thanks

            • Jason says:

              Oh, glad I haven’t just thoroughly confused you!
              Your point about the b13 is on target, yes. As for missing P5s in the harmony, I personally feel they tend to be very strongly implied (by the overtone series) even when they aren’t there. The root naturally puts out a hell of a lot of perfect 5th “radiation”.
              Unless they’re altered. No 5th in the harmony and that tone you’re talking about held above… I’d tend to consider that an augmented 5th, rather than a b13, tbh. It’s subjective of course.

  4. Wellington Mendes says:

    Very thanks!!!

  5. Molto interessante sto applicando questi esercizi sul basso e il contrabbasso con varie sequenze armoniche!

  6. Dietrich Husemann says:

    Great. This is the best información that I got improvise in the style of Bebop. The best things in life are free.

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