by Gjermund Sivertsen
The Scale To One – Principle

My first real jazz piano teacher showed me an important jazz piano scale principle for longer lines.

This principle is something that I now call the scale-to-one principle. Many people seem to struggle when it comes to create the long lines in their improvisation. Understandable! I did too. But that was before I learned the scale-to-I principle.

See video for this

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A II-V-I Progression (Called Two-Five-One progression) is something we can find in almost all jazz standards written.

Basically it is this:

1. The major scale (diatonic scale) is in C the following notes: C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C
2. If you play a TRIAD starting from C, you get the following chords: C,Dmi,Emi,F,G,Ami,Bmi(b5),C
3. The II-V-I progression is what is written in RED above.

The scale-to-I principle means you use notes from the C scale to improvise over the whole II-V-I progression (IF the chord progression is a Dmi7-G7-C)

Also, many jazz tunes includes only II-V- progressions. You can also here improvise by using the scale-to-I principle.

Now: Think of the G minor chord as the II chord, the C7 as the V chord. 
You can use the Scale-to-I principle here! So you can improvise by using the F scale, since F is the I chord (one chord). You can use this principle if the next chord after C7 is an F or not.

When it gets really interesting:

The scale changing is not that hard! You ONLY need 12 scales! And 6 of them uses the same fingers!

What will probably take you some time is to be able to make the switch quick enough. 

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How to practice:

Here’s how I would do it:

1. Practice the 12 scales so well that you really know them. If you for example find one of them hard, stay longer with the ”hard” scale until it is as easy as playing the C scale.

2. Do the exercises over II-V-I progressions and II-V progressions. If you know how, you could create a play-along track for this. (If you’re one of my members of the jazz piano step-by-step course, just download the play-along-track from the bonus section)

3. Practice the scale-to-1 principle over all the jazz standards you know.

​​​​​​​Please note:
The scale-to-1 principle works in all tempos. I demonstrated this in the YouTube video in a fast tempo over All The Things I Used To Be (Same chord changes as All The Things You Are), but the principle would work just fine in a ballad.

Also note: In the demonstration, I also played the Scale-to-I principle with arpeggios. Still the same principle. (Notes from the I-scale, played as arpeggios).

About the exercises that goes with this lesson

(You can download some of the exercises for free here, and others are for members of the jazz piano step-by-step program exclusively)
This is exactly how I suggest you practice the Scale-to-I principle:

THE II-V-I Exercises:

1. Make a ”line” of notes where you start from the middle area, until the top of the piano (the rightmost keys) and back. It should be a consistant stream of notes where all notes are close. (I refer to this as linear playing in the jazz course).
2. Change the scales so they will fit the chords. For example you start on II-V-I to C, then you can play the C scale. The next II-V-I would be Cmi7-F7-Bb. As soon as you’ll get to the Cmi7, you continue playing the Bb scale. IMPORTANT: Start the Bb scale where you left off when you played the C scale
3. Play this in Eight notes, then triplets, then 16th notes. 
4. When you know this, then you can play the a mix between all of them. Also try to experiment with including more vertical lines (arpeggios) as well as other chromatic and/or altered scales.


(Or other standards)
Do as in the II-V-I exercise, but now you use the chord changes as foundation.
Remember: It is very effective if you have a play-along-track for the tune you choose. 
(See PDF for example of a line (for members))

JUST II-V Exercise:

Yes: I didn’t include the I on purpose. So Dmi7-G7-C#mi7-Ab7-Cmi7-F7 etc.
That’s the sequence of chords.

Or the other way: Dmi7-G7-Ebmi7-Ab7-Emi7-A7 etc.

When you play in a II-V sequence like this, use the same method as in the II-V-I exercise. (If you are a GOLD member of the jazz piano step-by-step course, you can find the play-along-track in the bonus section)

I truly believe the scale-to-one principle can help you if you’re willing to do the work it takes to master this principle. Good luck.