Musical Composition, Theory and Songwriting/Improvising beyond the printed score


Hello Professor DowDell,

I've been playing jazz piano for many years but cannot seem to progress any further than just reading printed music. I don't comprehend how to improvise beyond what is written. Is their a specific approach that would help?

Thanks Claudio

Hello Claudio and thank you for contacting me through

Improvising is simply your interpretation of the material you're playing. You're retelling the tune in your own words, expressing how the music makes you feel. A good improvised solo should be reflective of the tune you're playing.

A good starting place would be to follow the structure of the tune using the same chords but paraphrase the melody. Play it just a little differently than how it is written by slightly altering the melodic line and/or the rhythmic feel.. Here is an outline of the 3 methods of improvisation:

Then as you gain comfort, extend farther from the written notes toward something more your own interpretation. When soloing over the chord changes, there are certain scales of notes that work better than others. Here are a couple helpful charts:

As you get more proficient, you can also experiment with re-harmonizing the chords and changing the rhythm.


Thanks for the interest,

D C DowDell
Professor of Music
A Passion for Jazz!
studio: (619) 855-2069

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D C DowDell


D C DowDell will answer questions about Jazz improvisation, composition, chord voicing, scales and modes, practice techniques and ear training. Professor DowDell also enjoys discussions on Jazz musicology and the evolution of style.

D C DowDell is a professional Jazz pianist/composer who currently teaches online Jazz studies at A Passion for Jazz!. Professor DowDell has been teaching music for over 30 years at 2 major universities, several community colleges as well as accepting students for private study.


American Federation of Musicians
National Music Teachers Association
International Association of Jazz Educators

Bachelors of Music Education from UCLA
Masters of Music Composition from UNT

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