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3 Classic Patterns All Jazzers Should Know

I’ve mentioned surrounding tones here on LJS before, and I want to expand on this idea and offer a few more useful ways to practice surrounding tones in a melodic context.

Check out this post for a quick review of surrounding tones.

Below are three surrounding tone melodic ideas that are great to practice in all 12 keys. As you play through them:

  1. Treat it like a technical exercise and start slowly in all twelve, gradually increasing the tempo (using a metronome). Try playing through them in different keys cycling up or down in half-steps, whole-steps, thirds, fourths, and fifths.
  2. Try adapting these same patterns to other modes and scales – use your imagination!
  3. Try singing the melodies in a few keys to train your ear.
  4. Start to vary them and internalize them – make them your own, and use them as a basis for generating your own vocabulary!

Here is a classic diatonic surrounding tone pattern where the target notes outline a chord arpeggio and a scale.

Here is the same idea (surrounding tones around target notes which outline an arpeggiated chord and a scale). The first set uses diatonic surrounding tones above the target notes and chromatic surrounding tones below the target notes, the second set uses completely chromatic surrounding tones above and below.

Here is the “Donna Lee” chromatic passing tone/neighbor tone melodic pattern (taken from the last phrase of Charlie Parker’s tune).

Hope you enjoy practicing through these. Patterns are great to practice to not only help develop technique but to hone in on specific concepts like surrounding tones. You’ll find that when you practice exercises like these you will develop a lot more flexibility in your playing.

Josiah Boornazian
Josiah Boornazian
Josiah Boornazian is a saxophonist, composer, educator, and scholar primarily active in Brownsville, New York City, Miami, and California. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Jazz and Applied Saxophone at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. For more information, please visit:


    • Hey there! Josiah is part of our writing team, but I can step in and answer this for you until he gets around to it. He's using surround tones as he mentions in the post to approach the target notes. This is resulting in them not landing on the downbeat. This is something that is quite common in jazz language, and he is emulating it here. It can be great to land on a strong chord tone on down beats sometimes, but jazz musicians often anticipate and delay these resolutions. Thanks for the question!


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