Bopology 101:
Introduction to solo lines in the BeBop idiom

(The midi files in this article were input manually in Band-in-the-Box. Except 'Stella'.)

If you don't already have the VanBasco midi player, get it! When playing midi files, it has a piano that you can watch like a player piano. This is fantastic for understanding what the pianist is doing . It also has speed control so you can slow it down to cop cool tricks. It's so much nicer and intuitive to watch what the pianist is playing while listening to it, than just listening to it by itself. You'll find the (FREE!) VanBasco midi player at:

Midi Riffs 1-8 are played at 105. They are set at this slow tempo to make it easier for the student to hear and understand the lines. To hear them played more "musically", bring the tempo up to around 145.

The improvisational principles here are applicable to any instrument, so if you'd like to see the midi files in this lesson displayed in standard music notation, simply save the file to disk, then open it up in any decent notation program and voilá!

* * * * * * *

The riffs here are not really intended to be practiced in every key. They are only intended to illustrate the principles involved in constructing solo lines in the Bop idiom. What you should do is practice the PRINCIPLES in every key. Spend a month in one key constructing as many interesting musical ideas as you can based on what you learn here. Soon you'll find that you'll be able to easily "visualize" the notes corresponding to the different chords and you'll begin to find that the more you fool around with these ii-V7-I changes the more fluent you'll become. The deeper you look, the more you'll find.

Switch to a different key the next month. Do not even try to duplicate the cool lines that you found in the previous key. Just use the principles to keep coming up with NEW stuff. You'll be amazed! By the time a year has gone by, you'll have mastered the principles in all keys, you'll be able to execute incredible Jazz solo lines right off the top of your head and those riffs will be all yours.

* * * * * * *

I'd like to preface this with a short discussion of western musical scales.

The most compact scale is the twelve tone chromatic scale. It is made up entirely of half-steps.

There are many scales made up of alternating half-steps and whole steps, ie. diminished scale, diatonic (and all its modes), melodic minor ascending (and all its modes).

The harmonic minor has half-steps, whole-steps and even a minor third!

Charlie Parker's revelation was: "What if we played the extensions of a chord as if they were scales?"

If we can have a minor third in a scale, why can't we have an entire scale just made up of minor 3rds? "But," you're thinking, "isn't that diminished 7th chord?" Yes, it is. But from here on out we'll be thinking of these notes as the extensions of a 7b9 chord. And we can play these notes using the same melodic tricks we would play with any scale! Think of it as a "mega-scale."

And if we can have a scale made up of just minor 3rds, why not a scale that has alternating minor 3rds and major 3rds? We will be thinking of this "mega-scale" as the one we'll use over minor quality chords.

And the "mega-scale" that's built with alternating major 3rds and minor 3rds is what we'll use over a major quality chord.


To summarize:

Over a Dm you can play any of the extended chord tones in any order all the way up to the 11th ( D F A C E G ), and include either diatonic or chromatic passing tones between the chord notes.

Over G7 (or its tritone substitute Db7) you can play the chord tones of Abdim7 in any order (this yields  3 5 b7 b9  in EITHER G7 or Db7 - so it doesn't matter WHAT the bass player is doing, you can't go wrong), and any passing tones you'd like to throw in between those diminished 7 chord tones can be chromatic, diatonic relative to the tonic or pulled from the appropriate diminished scale

in most cases
G[1] Ab[b9] Bb[b3] B[3] Db[b5] D[5] E[6] F[b7]

Note that using the exact same scale over the Db7 tritone substitute yields the exact same relations, ie.
Db[1] D[b9] E[b3] F[3] G[b5] Ab[5] Bb[6] B[b7]

Over Cmaj7 you can play any of the chord tones of Cmaj13(#11) in any order. Passing tones are generally diatonic to the tonic.

* * * * * * *

Here are two super simple (yet musical!) examples to give you the basic concept of using "mega-scales"
over a ii-V7(or bII7)-I progression in B major.

(piano fingering:  T = thumb  I = index  M = middle  R = ring  P = pinky ).

Example 1:

first chord        C#m ( ii minor )

analysis           11th    9th     b7th    5th

notes              F#      D#      B       G#

piano fingering    R       M       T       I

2nd chord          F#7 ( V7 )

analysis           3rd     5th     b7th    b9th

[alt 2nd chord     C7 ( bII7 )]

[alt analysis      b7th    b9th    3rd     5th]

notes              A#/Bb   C#/Db   E       G

piano fingering    M       R       T       I

3rd chord          B ( I Major )

analysis           M7th    9th     5th     M7th    3rd     5th

notes              A#      C#      F#      A#      D#      F#

piano fingering    M       R       I       M       T       I


Example 2:

first chord        C#m ( ii minor )

analysis           b3rd    5th     b7th    9th

notes              E       G#      B       D#

piano fingering    T       I       M       P

2nd chord          F#7 ( V7 )

analysis           5th     3rd     b9th    b7th

[alt 2nd chord     C7 ( bII7 )]

[alt analysis      b9th    b7th    5th     3rd]

notes              C#/Db   A#/Bb   G       E

piano fingering    R       M       I       T

3rd chord          B ( I Major )

analysis           5th     M7th    9th     3rd     5th     M7th

notes              F#      A#      C#      D#      F#      A#

piano fingering    I       M       P       T       I       M

* * * * * * *

Bopology 101: The Riffs

Riff 1 (2 bars)

                                           BAR 1 beats 1&2 (ii)
G# hinge leading into a complete ascending Am9 arpeggio (lower A

                                      beats 3&4 (V7b9 or bII7b9)
to higher B) followed by a descending dim7 arpeggio (higher A to

                                    BAR 2 (I)
lower C) followed by a boogie-blues 5-b3-3-5 tag.


Riff 1 Guitar Tab

Riff 1 Notes:

The hinges used in these exercises are all one note chromatic hinges starting just below the initial target note of the arpeggio. It is equally possible to begin with a one note chromatic hinge just above the first note of the arpeggio.

Other more complex hinges are also possible and frequently used in Jazz:

turn hinge
       (ex: target - upper neighbor - target - lower neighbor --> target)

multiple note chromatic hinge (ascending or descending)

collapsing hinge
       (ex: M2 above target - M2 below target -
            m2 above target - m2 below target --> target)

The use of the diminished arpeggio over the V7 or bII7 substitute chord turns the chord (either one) into a 7b9. The beauty of this is that it works over whichever chord the rhythm section chooses to play, and since the b9 is a naturally occurring higher partial of the overtone series it is truly consonant but adds tension at the same time.

Riff 2 (2 bars)

                                                 BAR 1 beats 1&2 (ii)
F# hinge leading into a complete descending Am7 arpeggio (higher

                          beats 3&4 (V7b5 or bII7b5)
G to lower A) followed by two F# quarter notes followed by a

                           BAR 2 (I)
Parker style diatonic tag ( D-B-C-D ).


Riff 2 Guitar Tab

Riff 2 Notes:

On beats 3 & 4 of BAR 1 there are F# notes, this note works equally well over either any type of D7 chord (its M3) or Ab7 chord (its dom7).

Wynton Marsalis has been quoted as saying "In order to really play Jazz, you need to master the Blues." Be that as it may, there are times when one may consciously choose to avoid any Blues inferences as in the diatonic tag on BAR 2 (compare to the Boogie-Blues influenced tag on Riff 1 BAR 2).

Riff 3 (4 bars)

                                           BAR 1 beats 1&2 (ii)
G# hinge leading into a complete ascending Am7 arpeggio (lower A

                                          beats 3&4 (V7b5 or bII7b5)
to higher G) followed by a snippet of the A diminished scale (higher F# [with an upper neighbor G in the triplet on beat 3] to

BAR 2 (I)
lower D) followed by an accented octave D followed by a semi-chromatic (Bb missing) roll-off which ends on an F# hinge leading

                           BAR 3 beats 1&2 (ii)
into a complete descending Am7 arpeggio followed by the

          beats 3&4 (V7b5 or bII7b5)BAR 4 (I)
ascending A# diminished scale (lower A# to higher G).


Riff 3 Guitar Tab

Riff 3 Notes:

Diminished scales ( W-H-W-H-W-H-W-H ) are very useful over the V7/bII7 chords. The diminished scales are not completely "in" nor are they completely "out." As such they can almost be thought of as "half chromatic & half diatonic." You'll find every Jazz musician uses them frequently.

The "ii diminished scale" (the diminished scale that has as its first four notes the same first four notes as the ii minor scale - in this case Am) contains the following notes when played over either a V7 or bII7 chord:

Root - b9 - b3 - M3 - b5 - P5 - M6 - dom7

As such it can easily be thought of as the Boogie-Blues scale with a b9 to "Jazz" it up.

The "ii# diminished scale" (the diminished scale that has as its first four notes the same first four notes as the ii# minor scale - in this case A#/Bb minor) works great when played over either a V7#5 or bII7#5.

Choosing which diminished scale to use in the above cases was a function of the final target note.

In the case of the A diminished snippet (BAR 1 beats 2 & 3 thru BAR 2 beat 1), the target note is a D. The "ii diminished scale" is the more common of the two diminished scales used over the V7/bII7 chords and because of its "Boogie-Blues" relationship there is more inherent consonance.

In the case of the A# diminished scale snippet (BAR 3 beats 2 & 3 thru BAR 4 beat 1), it was chosen because the target note is a G. The notes leading into the G ( E & F# ) yield a stronger (and virtually diatonic) cadence.


The use of the (semi)chromatic scale (BAR 2 beats 2 & 3) is a common vehicle in all types of Jazz solos. Care however must be taken not to overdo the use of chromatic scales as they can conjure up images of corny Lawrence Welk clichés or circus Calliopes. Therefore it's a good idea to break up the chromatic scale by omitting a note or two here or there. The choice to omit the Bb in this case was to avoid "Bluesy-ness."

Riff 4 (2 bars)

                                               BAR 1 beats 1&2 (ii)
A# hinge leading into an incomplete descending Am9 ( higher B to lower C ) followed by a G# hinge leading into an

beats 3&4 (V7b5 or bII7b5)
ascending dim7 chord ( lower A to higher F# ). The final F# of the ascending dim7 chord acts as a hinge leading into a

                           BAR 2 (I)
first inversion descending Gmaj7 ( higher G to lower B ).


Riff 4 Guitar Tab

Riff 4 Notes:

Typically the last note on BAR 1 beat 2 would have been an A, but since the next chord to be played starting on BAR 1 beat 3 begins on an A, the choice was made to do the G# hinge trick.

The final note of the ascending dim7 chord (F#) is (conveniently) the hinge into the initial note (G) of the descending Gmaj7 chord.

A cursory look at this riff reveals that we have a "descending-ascending-descending" contour. Many of the riffs presented here share that aspect, you will also note that the opposite arpeggio contour (ascending-descending-ascending) also occurs with regularity.

Part of the point of this exercise is to make you aware that there are many permutations possible here using the "upsy-downsy" arpeggio formula and to encourage you to experiment with other similar combinations using arpeggios of 4 notes (four 8th notes OR an 8th note rest then an 8th note then a triplet), 5 notes (two 8th notes then a triplet OR a triplet then two 8th notes), 6 notes (two triplets), and/or etc...

Always bear in mind though that this is MUSIC, and that you will probably stumble upon some combinations that sound like nothing more than boring exercises. Try to erase these from your memory banks as soon as you can, and only retain those which have a truly MUSICAL quality.

Riff 5 (2 bars)

BAR 1 beats 1&2 (ii) and beats 3&4 (V7b5 or bII7b5)
Ascending A diminished scale (lower G# hinge to

BAR 2 (I)
higher D) with D octaves over the G chord then up to an E octave (the G Major's Maj6th).


Riff 5 Guitar Tab

Riff 5 Notes:

This riff takes advantage of the fact that the ii dim scale has as its first 4 notes the same first 4 notes of the ii minor scale (A-B-C-D) played over the ii minor chord. Therefore, the line starts out as completely consonant.

After the first two beats of BAR 1, the chord changes to a V7 (or bII7) quality and the diminished scale over it gives a "misterioso" feel to the underlying harmony.

Finally, it resolves to the fifth of the G tonic (still part of the ii dim scale), with a little bump up to the tonic's major sixth to provide a bit more motion at the end.

This riff is totally simple, yet completely effective. It's musical, cool yet not pretentious nor contrived.

Riff 6 (4 bars)

BAR 1 beats 1&2 (ii)
Eighth rest followed by an incomplete descending Am9 arpeggio (higher B to lower E) followed by a

          beats 3&4 (V7b5 or bII7b5)
descending dim7 chord (upper C to lower D#) followed by a

           BAR 2 (I)
convoluted G major pentatonic scale which includes its common chromatic passing tones (b3 & #5) then ending on an F# hinge into a

BAR 3 - beats 1&2 (ii) beats 3&4 (V7b5 or bII7b5)
descending semi-chromatic roll-off (higher G to

BAR 4 (I)
lower G). [It's semi-chromatic only at the very end where the F# replaces the "expected" Ab.] The final cadence is capped by a high GMaj7 chord on beat 3.


Riff 6 Guitar Tab

Riff 6 Notes:

For the first bar and first full beat of the second bar, continuity is provided by the ascending line of each "lead note":

     BAR 1 | Beat 1.5    B lead note
     BAR 1 | Beat 3      C lead note
     BAR 2 | Beat 1      D lead note
     BAR 2 | Beat 1.5    E lead note

The "convoluted" pentatonic scale is an illustration of how the pentatonic scale can be used creatively in Jazz without necessarily invoking images of Blues clichés or (in the case of the major pentatonic scale) Country & Western hokum.

The descending chromatic line is salvaged from corniness at the very end of the line by substituting the F# for the "expected" Ab. This substitution yields a much stronger cadence (F# leading tone into G).

The GMaj7 chord on BAR 4 beat 3 completes the riff.

Riff 7 (2 bars)

                                            BAR 1 beats 1&2 (ii)
B hinge leading into an incomplete ascending Am9 (lower C to higher B) followed by a

                             beats 3&4 (V7b5 or bII7b5)
descending diatonic scale snippet ("C" [with an upper neighbor triplet] - "B" - "A") followed by another

                         BAR 2 (I)
descending diatonic scale snippet ("C" - "B" - "A" - "G" - "F#") ending with a "pop-up sixth" (lower D to higher B).


Riff 7 Guitar Tab

Riff 7 Notes:

This entire riff is totally diatonic! This illustrates that playing Jazz does not have to always be "out there" to qualify as a true "Jazz Idea." Jazz is as much a state of mind as anything, the phrasing and "feel" of this riff makes this as "Jazzy" as any of the other riffs presented here.

Riff 8 (2 bars)

              BAR 1 beats 1&2 (ii) | beats 3&4 (V7b5 or bII7b5)
B hinge leading into a descending diatonic scale (higher C to

BAR 2 (I)
lower B)


Riff 8 Guitar Tab

Riff 8 Notes:

ANOTHER DIATONIC RIFF? "This isn't Jazz, all you're doing is 'running the scale'" you might be thinking...

First of all, it's all in how you play it and the feeling you put into it. If you feel like you're just running the scale, then it'll sound that way.

If you feel like you're making a real statement, and that you're playing this because it's what seems to you to be the best thing to play at this moment in time - being true to the music itself - then you're playing Jazz!

There's nothing wrong with throwing in a little do-re-mi from time to time, especially when you hold the conviction that you're actually saying something by doing so.

Riff 9 (4 bars)

                                            BAR 1 beats 1&2 (ii)
B hinge leading into an incomplete ascending Am9 (lower C to higher B) followed by a

beats 3&4 (V7b5 or bII7b5)
dim7 arpeggio (higher C to lower A) followed by an

                    BAR 2 (I)
incomplete ascending GMaj9 (lower B to higher A [no G]) followed by a descending chromatic line (higher G# to lower D), then a B hinge leading into an

BAR 3 beats 1&2 (ii) | beats 3&4 (V7b5 or bII7b5)
ascending whole tone scale (lower C up to high G#), then A to

BAR 4 (I)


Riff 9 Guitar Tab

Riff 9 Notes:

BAR 1 consists of the same upsy-downsy motion illustrated in many of the above exercises (ascending Am9 followed by a descending dim7), so there's nothing new to say about this - except that there are hundreds of combinations of these (depending on which type of Am chord you're using: Am or Am7 or Am9 or Am11, and depending on how many or how few notes you want to stuff into a measure, and depending on whether you decide to begin by ascending or descending...) AND THEY ALL WORK!

The GMaj9 arpeggio (BAR 2 beats 1 & 2.1) is a cool thing to do whenever you're in the mood, and the point of the descending chromatic roll-off, led by the GMaj9's A note, is to get you set up for the ascending whole tone scale to come.

The whole tone scale's initial note is preceded by a "surrounding note figure" (D-B-C) which serves to launch you into outer space.

The whole tone scale usually sounds pretty weird. The trick is to think of it in a similar way to the diminished scale, ie. "a little bit IN and a little bit OUT." In this case, the whole tone scale I've chosen is almost entirely IN. The only notes that are definitely OUT are the G# and A# in BAR 3 beat 2. The rest of the notes are all diatonic.

If the first (lower) G# in the ascending whole tone scale riff (BAR 3 beat 2.2) were properly resolved (as in the case of the second [higher] G# which resolves into an A {BAR 3 beats 4.2 & 4.3}), it wouldn't sound so strange. Instead it just carries on into another non-diatonic note - the A#/Bb. If you don't like this note, you could always change it to one of its diatonic neighbors. But once you play this through a few times it might begin to grow on you. Whole tone scales are an acquired taste, after all.

The A#/Bb (the flatted third of the G major scale) can often be felt as "bluesy." Except in this case it's being played over an Am chord. Its saving grace is that it's being played over the weakest part of a weak beat. As every Jazz musician knows, you can play almost any note you please over the "weak-end" of a weak beat.

At the end of BAR 3, I use G# then A to cadence into the G. I could've chosen to play A# instead of the A to continue in the whole tone mood, but I wanted a strong cadence to give a sense of finality and satisfaction, and the A does that much better than an A#. In this way, the G#-A choice (BAR 3 beats 4.2 & 4.3) acts as a kind of mini-hinge leading tone into the A (5th of the V7) which then resolves neatly to the G.

Riff 10 (2 bars)

                                             BAR 1 beats 1&2 (ii)
C# hinge leading into an incomplete descending Am11 arpeggio (higher D to lower C) to

             beats 3&4 (V7b5 or bII7b5)
an ascending dim7 arpeggio (lower A to higher C) to

             BAR 2 (I)
a descending GMaj6 arpeggio (higher B to lower D).


Riff 10 Guitar Tab

Riff 10 Notes:

The 11th works great over a minor harmony, always has and always will. This is further illustration of how extended arpeggios over the minor quality can be used to great effect.

The use of the dim7 arpeggio over the V7 and bII7 has already been fully discussed above and this is just one more example of its use in the "upsy-downsy" contour.

The use of the GMaj6 arpeggio over the major tonic gives this riff a "fiesta" feel.

Riff 11 (2 bars)

Playing "spare" is something that should also be investigated. It's not always necessary to fill up every measure by throwing notes around like confetti. It's not even necessary to start every riff at the beginning of the bar, as illustrated here.


Riff 11 Guitar Tab

We begin with a relatively long 8th note rest followed by a snippet of the A diminished scale ( A - B - C - D - Eb ) then a suspended 4th (G) over the V7 resolving to its natural conclusion (the 3rd of the V7, [F# of course]) followed by an incomplete ascending GMaj7 ( D - F# - B - D ) (the G is missing). This gives a distinct Brazilian Jazz feel to the riff, but don't ask me to explain it, it just came to me out of the blue.

Riff 12 (4 bars)

                                                   BAR 1 beats 1&2 (ii)
C# hinge leading into an incomplete descending Am11 arpeggio (higher D to lower E) to

             beats 3&4 (V7b5 or bII7b5)
an ascending dim7 arpeggio (lower C to higher D#) to a

             BAR 2 (I)
D - D - B ( 5th - 5th - 3rd ) thing over the tonic, followed by a bluesy ascending chromatic figure ( Bb - B - C ) leading into

BARS 3 & 4
a fun little Boogie-Blues style tag figure which (if treated in terms of the tonic) translates into:

b3 - 3 - b5 - 5 - I - bI - I


Riff 12 Guitar Tab

* * * * * * *

That completes these exercises for beginning BeBop solo improvisation. The only recurring element that has not been fully discussed is the preponderance of the "surrounding note figure" (SNF) which is used throughout these exercises. The SNF is a very useful tool for constructing melodies in all styles. Go back through the exercises and see how many you can find.

* * * * * * *

Live audio example of Bopology 101 principles:

Piano solo over "Stella by Starlight" changes (midi)

Notation and Explanation of "Stella" solo:

Notation of Solo ideas over Stella changes (pdf)



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