Improvisational Practice Cycle

I have been reading the article ‘On Practicing’ by Simon Purcell to help me develop ideas on how to incorporate aspects of Woody’s style into my own playing. Simon is the head of the Jazz Faculty at Trinity College of Music, and, as well as being a fantastic jazz pianist, he has thought deeply and written extensively about jazz education. You can find the article ‘On Practicing’ and other jazz learning resources on his website,

In the article, Simon talks about the Improvisational Practice Cycle, which ‘may be represented as a continuum of 7 stages (mirroring language acquisition), process of internalisation and degrees of use.’ The 7 stages are:

  1. Attraction
  2. Reproduction
  3. Application
  4. Manipulation
  5. Modification
  6. Transformation
  7. Readiness

I have been thinking about how I might use the Cycle in my own practice. One area of Woody’s playing that I am attracted to is his use of pentatonic scales – how might I utilise the Improvisational Practice Cycle to improve my use of pentatonic scales?

  1. Attraction – the fact that I want to study Woody’s use of pentatonic scales and incorporate some of it in my own playing shows I am attracted to the idea.
  2. Reproduction – this can come in two different ways. The first is transcribing pentatonic phrases from Woody’s solos and reproducing them note for note. The second is more abstract – reproducing an underlying concept commonly used by Woody (for example, the use of the pentatonic scale based on the tritone of a dominant chord).
  3. Application – using the ideas reproduced when playing a tune. For example, inserting licks at various points of a tune, or using the pentatonic based on the tritone over every dominant chord.
  4. Manipulation –  the ability to vary the ideas being worked on flexibly and in different contexts. For example, being able to vary ideas rhythmically, and being fluent in all keys.
  5. Modification –  altering certain elements of the idea while still referring to the original form. A freer, less methodical form of manipulation.
  6. Transformation – the idea is used as a springboard, and is itself transformed into something new.
  7. Readiness – being able to incorporate pentatonic scales as Woody does (and in new ways I have developed myself) when improvising without having to think about it. Internalisation of pentatonic scales and the various uses of them.

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