Random Roots comes with a number of built-in exercises. Some of them are set to be used as is; some of them are meant simply to give you ideas in creating your own. You can see them in the app by tapping on the Exercises tap. There’s one generic Sample Exercise and five folders full of other exercises:

Scale Degrees

This is the most important, foundational work you can do in Random Roots. It’s also pretty dry.

It’s very simple: each scale degree is one particular sound relative to the root. Suppose you choose the major 3rd exercise.

Every time there is a countoff leading to the next key, you get to hear the app play the root of the next key.

During that countoff, you simultaneously do two things:

  1. Listen to the new root and construct in your head the sound of the major third of that key.
  2. Look at the root name (for example, D) on the screen and determine the major third (F#) of that key.
    Then determine how to play F# on your instrument.
Those done, you are all set so that you can play the correct note simultaneously with the downbeat, when it arrives, as you continue to hear its sound in your head. If the two sounds don’t agree, you know you need more work in that key.
Note that you might experience the two parts of (2) as just one step – namely, look at the root name and finger the major third of that key without ever thinking of the note’s name. That’s fine too.

In the Scale Degrees folder you’ll see four exercises: major 3rd, minor 3rd, major 6th, minor 6th. Those are just four out of the 11 possibilities—12 if you include the (trivial) tonic, which is simply the note you see on the screen. I didn’t include them all, so as not to overwhelm, but you should work on them all. You can either duplicate & rename the existing ones to fill in the rest, or download them all using the Browse & Download Exercises function.

Here is a good sequence for you to practice the exercises in:
  1. tonic (the root itself)
  2. major third
  3. perfect fifth
  4. minor third
  5. minor seventh
  6. major second
  7. major sixth
  8. perfect fourth
  9. tritone (diminished fifth)
  10. minor second
  11. major seventh
  12. minor sixth

Don’t tackle them all at once, but don’t wait until you’ve completely mastered one before you go on to the next. Best is to introduce them one at a time (one per week… or per month… or per day, depending on your level) and focus on the new one, while still practicing the other ones in your repertoire.

Chord Voicings

These only apply to you if you’re working on a chordal instrument (piano, guitar, uke, vibraphone…). There are so incredibly many voicings that it’s hard to categorize them all. So I didn’t even try. Instead, I gave a framework to start with, and you can fill in the details. Here’s what I mean…
Inside the Chord Voicings folder I’ve divided the voicings into major, minor and dominant chords. Some (in particular, diminished) don’t fit that bill, but it’s a good start. Within each of those, you’ll find three exercises, labelled:
  • “A” Voicing
  • “B” Voicing
  • Nearest Voicing
I’ve created these as three exercises (for instance, three in the dominant chords folder), but really there should be three such exercises for every voicing you might be studying.
If you’re just getting started, then perhaps you’re just trying to learn two note “shell voicings” in your left hand—those consist of just a third and a seventh. In the case of a dominant chord, the third is major and the seventh is minor.
The terminology “A” voicing is often used to refer to a voicing with the third below the seventh. In the case of a 2-note shell voicing of, say, a G7, that’s just a B with an F above it. In a “B” voicing the third is above the seventh — an F with a B above it.
In the last category, Nearest Voicing, you choose whether the B or the F goes on the bottom according to which is closer to the last voicing you played, whatever that happened to be, in whatever key. This approach adds voice leading, so that the chord-to-chord transitions sound much more natural than exclusively sticking to “A” voicings or to “B” voicings.
These three methods – “A”, “B” and Nearest – apply to a huge number of voicings, and the shell voicings above are the starting point for them all. For instance, you can expand them to a 3-note voicing by placing a 9th above the “A” voicing and a 13th above the “B” voicing. And then into a 4-note voicing by placing a 13th between the 3rd & 7th of the “A” voicing, and a 9th between the 7th & 3rd of the “B” voicing.
Innumerable varieties exist for alterations of dominant chords, not to mention major and minor chords, and for 2-handed voicings for them all. Feel free to make new exercises for each of them that you’d like to practice (by duplicating the existing exercises).

Sample Progressions

Random Roots lets you play notes & chords & phrases that work not just over a single root note, but over moving chord progressions as well. The Sample Progressions folder contains examples of exercises that demonstrate that—by making use of the “Custom Sequence” option under the Form setting.
The idea is not to use these exercises for improvisation. It’s possible to do that, but it goes against the main thrust of the app, which is to force yourself to hear particular things and make sure you can execute them in every key. Rather, to internalize a chord progression, pick a particular phrase (or sequence of chord voicings) to play over that sequence. And another, and another…. And make a unique copy of the exercise for each one, so that you can track your keys and tempo and progress separately for each. Here’s an example of 50+ exercises you can play over the ii-V-I (Half Measure Each) exercise: pdf link. You can download them from the online library, or by scanning the QR code in the pdf.

Simple Song Phrases

It’s a great idea to learn a jazz standard in every key. It’s an even better idea to start with a simple song that you know really well. How about “Happy Birthday”? “Mary Had A Little Lamb”? Even better: take one phrase from a song like that and take it through all the keys before you tackle the whole song.
This folder gives ten suggestions of memorable phrases from simple songs you probably know. Feel free to add more!

Jazz Song Phrases

Same idea as the Simple Song Phrases folder, but for simple jazz songs. Perhaps you’ll want to pick from this one instead when your neighbors are listening.

Just kidding, of course! Part of what makes Random Roots so useful is that it identifies for us, without drama or judgment, the gaps in our ability that have been holding us back… and lets us finally fill them. It’s a humbling process but also an extremely liberating one. Let your neighbors hear you. The embarrassment today will be long forgotten after they hear what you sound like in a few months!

Choose from the Library

In addition to all the built-in exercises, there are lots more exercises you can download from its remote library. To browse there, Go to the Exercises tab in the app and scroll down and choose Browse & Download Exercises. Some of them (marked by an INFO button) have whole blog posts about them which you can read by tapping that button. You’ll find whole sections on things like Approach Notes, Scales, and ii-V-I Progressions. Have fun!

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