Random Progressions: Practicing Jazz with Chance

by Patrick Hinsberger (14.04.2023)

Quality beats quantity. This also applies to practicing. Much more important than the number of hours we spend with our instrument is how we use that time. Endless, monotonous repetition of difficult passages is not always helpful. Creativity is the key. Or chance: Random Progressions allow us to easily create a variety of personalised exercises that are perfectly suited to our abilities.

Patrick Hinsberger

Foto: © Jana Haus

Patrick Hinsberger |

Homepage: http://patrickhinsberger.de/

Patrick Hinsberger studied jazz trumpet with Matthieu Michel and Bert Joris and graduated from the Hochschule der Künste in Bern (Switzerland) in summer 2020. With his band, the patrick hinsberger group, he mixes the traditional elements of a jazz sextet with the influences of modern electronic music.

He is also active as a sideman in various pop and jazz formations (Silent Explosion Orchestra, Tonkult Bigband, Kicks'n Sticks, billet doux) an ("Wie übt eigentlich...?") on the subject of practice: What Is Practice?

Variety improves the brain's ability to learn

The ability to play a piece of music in a certain way is good and important. However, it does not necessarily mean that you will become technically confident and musically versatile. Several studies have shown this (e.g. „It's Not How Much; It's How: Characteristics of Practice Behavior and Retention of Performance Skills“). Practicing with many variations helps to develop this confidence for concerts in the rehearsal room. It does not matter if we actually use these variations during the concert. They allow us to keep practising in a fresh and stimulating way and, at best, even to get into a state of flow.

In flow with Random Progressions

An important prerequisite for getting into a flow state is that the exercise is perfectly suited to our ability. It should not be too easy, otherwise we get bored. But it shouldn't be too challenging either, or we'll give up in frustration. So we look for the sweet spot: the level of difficulty that is slightly above our current ability. The Random Progressions are a tool to create such exercises for yourself.

One exercise – many uses

As the name suggests, Random Progressions are a random series of twelve chords, notes or keys, depending on which exercise you choose. The rule is: the more unusual and less logical, the better.

If you have trouble choosing a random series at the beginning, I suggest you visit the website TwelveTones. Every time you reload, the random generator will give you a new twelve-tone series to start using straight away.

The peculiarity of the Random Progressions is that you determine the difficulty and its use. This makes it interesting for advanced players as well as beginners.

Let's take the following twelve-tone row as an example:

Warm up

This series can now be used throughout your practice day. If you play a wind instrument, this series is the ideal way to start your practice session with long tones.

Scales and chords

If you play piano, guitar or bass, you can warm up your fingers by using the notes in this series as a starting point for scale practice. These can be major/minor scales at first, but later they can be advanced scales such as dominant scales (HM5, altered, etc.) or symmetrical scales such as semitone - wholetone / wholetone - semitone. Wind players can also practise scales with this series.

Next, you could play broken triads: Assign a colour to the notes for each type of triad (major, minor, diminished, etc.). Variation: Practice the chords in their inversions. Depending on the chords and tempo, you may find yourself thinking twice.

If this is too challenging for you at first, you can practice intervals that you determine in advance.


There are numerous chord progressions in jazz that we encounter again and again. The best known is certainly the II-V-I progression. The random progressions can be used as a starting point for a number of exercises in conjunction with the II-V-I chord progression.

  1. First, imagine that each note in the twelve-tone row represents the root (I chord). One possible exercise is to play the corresponding II-V progression resolving to the root chord. At the beginning you can use triads or scale fragments, later you can play licks or your own melodies.

    II-V-I for the first two notes of the example row: Bb and E.

  2. Now imagine that the notes in the twelve-tone row represent the dominant (V chord) and that you play the corresponding II chord. This exercise is particularly valuable for indicating different tensions over the dominant (e.g. in the bridge of "I Got Rhythm"). Of course, there are no limits to your imagination and basically any progression is possible. Here too, licks or melodies can be practised in different ways through all keys - a skill not to be underestimated, especially as jazz musicians.

Further reading textbooks:


  1. Robert A. Duke, Amy L. Simmons and Carla Davis Cash: „It's Not How Much; It's How: Characteristics of Practice Behavior and Retention of Performance Skills“, in: „Journal of Research in Music Education“ 56/4 (Jan., 2009), Sage Publications, Inc., S. 310-321.
  2. Susan Williams: „Quality Practice“.
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