Analysis of “Maiden Voyage” - Introduction
This tune is a modal composition. That is, it has chords of a longer duration, four measures each. Unlike a tune that has a dozen or more chords, changing every measure or even more often, there are only four chords in this piece. The form is AABA - the A section has two chords and the bridge has two chords. The chord progression is: (//: or :// = repeat signs)
//:Ami7, 4 bars //Cmi7, 4 bars ://Bbmi7, 4 bars //C#mi7, 4 bars //Ami7, 4 bars //Cmi7, 4 bars //
Analysis of “Maiden Voyage” - The A sections
All of the scales for improvisation in this tune should be Dorian scales. The A section includes an Ami7 which requires an A Dorian scale (G Major) and a Cmi7 which requires a C Dorian scale (Bb Major). When improvising on a modal tune where the chords don’t change often, it can be helpful to just think of the key signature of the mode. For example, A Dorian is the 2nd mode of G Major so you can simply think one sharp, F#, and you will have the right sound! For Cmi7, just think two flats, Bb and Eb, and you have the right scale. C Dorian is the 2nd mode of Bb Major!
Analysis of “Maiden Voyage” - The B section
The chords in the bridge are Bbmi7 which calls for a Bb Dorian scale (Ab Major) and C#mi7 which requires a C# Dorian scale (B Major). The second chord in the bridge, C#mi7, can be a problem for some improvisors if they haven’t practiced a B Major scale! Most standards and jazz compositions are played in flat keys like F Major, Bb Major, Eb Major, Ab Major and Db Major. So most players are used to playing in those keys and not sharp keys like B Major! Unfortunately, your improvisation will only be as good as the chord you know the least well! I have heard many young players sound very good on three of the four chords in this piece and then sound awful on the C#mi7 because they don’t know that key. Actually, as a part of your general practice routine, it would be a good idea to practice all of your major scales every day!
Analysis of “Maiden Voyage” - Summary of Scales
Only four scales are necessary to improvise on the chord progression of Maiden Voyage:
Ami7 - A Dorian (G Major), one sharp, F#
Cmi7 - C Dorian (Bb Major), two flats, Bb and Eb
Bbmi7 - Bb Dorian (Ab Major), four flats, Bb, Eb, Ab and Db
C#mi7 - C# Dorian (B Major), five sharps, F#, C#, G#, D# and A#
Analysis of “Maiden Voyage” - How to start improvising
At first, practice the scales carefully to make sure you are playing the right notes, that is, getting the right key signature. Then play the chord and listen to how each note in the scale feels to you. If you are not a piano player, sit at the piano, play the chord and hold down the sustain pedal (on the right) to keep the chord sounding. Now you can play the scale on your horn and listen to it carefully. You will form a preference for certain notes that you can then emphasize in your solo. Also, be aware of which notes change as you go from chord (mode) to chord (mode). For example, when you go from the Ami7 to the Cmi7, three notes have to change: B, E and F# become Bb, Eb and F natural. You may like to play a melodic idea that uses that change or you may prefer to build ideas on notes that don’t change. Ami7 and Cmi7 have four notes in common, A, C, D and G.
For more ideas, look at my blog on Modal Improvisation. Try some of the other modal tunes mentioned there. Listen to recordings of Maiden Voyage, especially Herbie Hancock’s on the album of the same title. Copy ideas that you like to use in your solo. Have fun!
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