John Coltrane’s Moment’s Notice

I was practicing this tune a little bit last year for the first time in ages, (before my daughter was born i.e. when I actually had some time to practice)  when I was asked to prepare a workshop on it for an upcoming jazz summer school I was teaching on (Loire Music Summer School).
Being a habitually very non methodical practicer (I’ve largely just sat down and played a lot over the years, and then de-constructed what I seem to have osmotically developed in order to teach and/or find stuff that I could aspire to practice methodically), suddenly facing the prospect of having to talk about it for 90 minutes to a potentially blank faced room of students spurred me into trying to think creatively about finding some ways to negotiate the tricky changes.

Anybody that’s played or attempted to play this tune will be aware that it flips upside down a device which had become a standard part of the be-bop language repertoire: the semi-tone falling ii-v progression.
So for example, a nice boppy, but quite safe line played on a standard ii-v-i progression like this:
notepad for pdfs (dragged) 1

..becomes a hotbed of excitingly rapid harmonic activity when you compress the ii-v section (Dm7 to G7) into the 2nd bar and insert an identical ii-v but transposed up one semitone into the 1st bar (Ebm7 to Ab7), thus enabling one to impose daredevil semitone pyrotechnics into the line as below:
notepad for pdfs (dragged) 2

Now even though this may seem to the beginner a daunting task to negotiate, because of the frequency of which this device is found in bebop and standard repertoire, it can quickly be assimilated to the degree where it’s possible to throw into improvisations at any suitable (and hopefully tastefully appropriate) point…

John Coltrane’s Moment’s Notice effectively flips this sequence upside down.
So it takes a perfectly innocent ii-v-i progression like this:
notepad for pdfs (dragged) 3

…and transforms it into an at first deceptively straightforward looking sequence as below, where you can see that the same compression of the ii-v (Fm7 to Bb7) into the 2nd bar occurs as mentioned above, but this time the ii-v inserted into the 1st bar is a semitone below the original rather than a semitone above (Em7 to A7)
notepad for pdfs (dragged) 4

So, it’s essentially the same as the other semitone device but coming from the other direction. It seems it should be a simple modification to alter your improvisations to include this. However, try telling this to your brain, fingers and ears the first time you try and play over it!
As well as the immediately obvious fingering problems that one occurs, there is a hurdle when trying to ‘hear’ lines over this sequence.
This is because the original device, coming from above, essentially works as functional harmony: the Ab7 being the b5 substitute of a D7 which is a variation on the original Dmin7 ii chord we started with.
So harmonically speaking, our ears are still detecting a kind of natural resolution, which helps with lines and harmonic direction.
Coltrane’s rising ii-v device offers us no such comfort and familiarity. It requires us to effectively re-train the way our ears think (our ears think?) of semitone resolution in order to build cohesive lines in both directions….. Thanks John!

Coltrane practiced this to the point (as with pretty much everything he did) where he can play over it with such fluidity, it sounds like a walk in the park.
Here’s a transcription I did of the original Coltrane solo. It’s fun to listen to the original (on Youtube) and follow the notes, let alone try and play it.
(You can download this on the downloads page).
Moment's Notice Coltrane solo concert pitch

So, how to go about practicing such a fiendish proposition?
My tried and trusted method of just playing and playing it (with a metronome if possible) served me well but as with a lot of things, I found myself playing the same thing over the same part of the tune a lot of the time,  with (hopefully) slight variations.
Now there is nothing wrong with this at all; Coltrane often repeats himself in a similar manner on this tune, and indeed this sort of unforced repetition is vital for building some fluidity into  an improvised approach. It’s like having a set of dependable old friends to call on.
But there was definitely a need for something more tangible for the students to get their teeth into.
After some consideration, I resolved to adopt a series of set approaches to the matter, upon which I would write a relevant line which could be transposed and used to practice approaching these rising ii-v patterns.

These set approaches were:

  • Transposition
  • Inversion
  • Leading Note Approach
  • Rising/falling approach
  • Falling/rising approach
  • Enclosures
  • Parallel falling minor 7th shapes
  • Rising quartial groupings
  • Falling quartial groupings
  • Diatonic (rising)
  • Melodic minor substitution

Of course, these are only exercises and do appear on the surface quite formulaic, but as with all exercises for improvising  will surely open up aspects of vocabulary previously undiscovered in ones own playing were they to be practiced and absorbed diligently.

Here they are. I’ve made a worksheet for all instruments which you can access on the downloads page.

Transposition: As the name implies, this exercise uses a phrase which is perfectly transposed up one semitone from the 1st bar to the 2nd bar. In this case rising up the minor 7th arpeggio and descending down the relevant mixolydian scale (but that’s a rather soul-less analysis. As with all these, just play the phrase).

Inversion: This approach roughly mirrors the shape of the first phrase into the new key centre of the 2nd bar so you get a variation in melodic direction (play the thing).

Leading note approach: This utilises a semitone approach from below to chord and/or scale tones from the relevant key centres for each of the chromatic ii-v’s to form a phrase (play it before you think any more!)
Leading note

Rising/falling approach: This approach builds a phrase using a rough strategy of rising up chord or scale tones for the 1st ii-v and consequently falling down chord/scale tones for the 2nd ii-v.
Rising falling

Falling/rising approach: As with the previous example but unsurprisingly (given the name) a reversal of procedure.
Falling rising

Enclosures: This approach uses a circular decorative type enclosing devise to create tension and accent upon the arrival onto a chord tone – in this case the 5th note of the 1st bar and the 1st note of the 2nd bar, and to a lesser extent the 5th note of the 2nd bar. (Really, just play this one instead of trying to analyse it first)

More enclosures: Just because they’re such fun.. (this time the ‘target’ notes are the 5th note of 1st bar, and the 1st and 7th notes of the 2nd bar)
More enclosures

Parallel falling minor 7th shapes:  This approach utilises the chord tones of the relevant scales to build intervalically identical perfectly transposed minor 7th shapes which fall nicely under the fingers (technically dorian to mixolydian for each bar, but in real terms the same scale for each chord. i.e. E dorian is the same as A mixolydian – both being modes of the D major scale which is the parent scale of this particular ii-v). There’s also a sneaky Eb lydian in the final bar. Play it!
parrallel falling min7

Rising quartial groupings: A quartial grouping is a group of notes based upon the interval of a perfect 4th which can be played over a chord, and moved around in a manner of parallel transposition. Exponents of this style are McCoy Tyner and Chick Corea amongst many others. So in this example, for the first ii-v the grouping starts on the root of each chord, rises a 4th, rises another 4th then drops a min 3rd. For the Emin7 this spells out E A D B. It is then repeated on the A7 with the result: A D G E. The grouping also works starting on the 5th of each chord which is what happens on the next ii-v in order to perpetuate the smooth rising feel of the line. So for the Fm7 it’s C F Bb G and Bb7: F Bb Eb C.
Note the grouping starts a quaver before the start of each bar/chord for purposes of phrase leading and anticipation.
Definitely just play it instead of reading this again and you’ll get the gist..!
rising quart gr

Falling quartial groupings: As the name suggests, this exercise is the reverse of the last one. In this example the grouping for the 1st ii-v starts on the 4th of the chord, rises a 4th then falls by a min 3rd and a 4th. For the 2nd ii-v starts on the root and follows the same pattern. Intervalically it’s exactly the same grouping of notes as before, just arranged in a different order. Play it and see.
falling quart gr

Diatonic (rising): This exercise simply uses notes from the relevant diatonic modes related to the chords to construct a rising scale over the changes. The same can also be done in a falling pattern.

Melodic minor substitution: This one creates an interesting alternative sound by substituting all the chords for a melodic minor scale relative and arpeggiating. So Emin(maj7) uses E melodic minor scale. Rather than write the relevant v chord (A7#11) which would use A lydian dominant scale (which is a mode of E melodic minor) I’ve chosen to simplify the process by thinking of each bar as just the ii that provides the source parent scale. Clear as mud? Play it and you’ll get the idea…
mel min shape sub

All these are just examples of exercises which you can construct and practice in order to widen the choices your “ear” has when exploring a tune like Moment’s Notice. Obviously, of paramount importance in playing any jazz solo (in fact in embarking on any kind of musical endeavour) is the awareness and creative use of rhythmic variation. So try grabbing an idea from above, for instance, putting on the metronome and playing with that idea as a rough template or starting point for your improv, and see what happens.
You may get completely frustrated and have to slow the metronome down and try simpler stuff – which is actually great for progress, or you may find yourself flying on an endorphin laced rush of exciting jazz creation – which is also great for progress. You may also (more probably) find yourself somewhere in the middle of these two – which is also great for progress.
Yes, you guessed it… Playing your instrument is great for progress.. So go and play.
Hope this post has been helpful for those who have made it this far down.
All the exercises can be downloaded on a worksheet for all (most) instruments on the downloads page.

Finally, here’s a video of me having a blow around the sequence. Not meant to be a demo of the above, more just a warts and all example of me practicing. Some errors and also some bits in there that I can’t deny I enjoyed.





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