William Flynn

Guitarist | Composer | Educator

So How Do I... Use Enclosures?

When it comes to learning the jazz language, enclosures are an essential and "must know" device. Although their potential chromaticism may confuse or frighten developing improvisers, enclosures are such an integral part of the bebop vocabulary that it's impossible to develop an authentic understanding of the jazz language without spending time working on enclosures. In the following post, I'll explain what an enclosure is and discuss two specific ways that I like to use them.

What is an Enclosure?

An enclosure is a musical device in which a goal note is surrounded from above and below with auxiliary tones that act to direct the listener's ear to the goal note. They can involve either one or two auxiliary tones both above and below the goal note, but typically do not involve more than that. The following examples illustrate several standard ways a jazz musician might enclosure a goal note using two, three, and four notes. In each instance, C is being enclosed as the goal note. They are each given an alphabetical label, which I will use to identify them later in the post.


Okay, so that's a bunch of enclosures, but what's so great about them and how does one use them? Well, I like to use enclosures to achieve two goals:

1. To Create Chromaticism

Although enclosures do not have to contain chromaticism (the first enclosure in the example above is diatonic to C major), they usually do, and are a great way to introduce chromaticism to your playing. Developing improvisers seeking more chromaticism in their playing often struggle in the early stages of exploration due to the fact they don't understand how to effectively use chromaticism to ornament the strong tones within a progression. Enclosures are a great way to introduce chromaticism into your lines in that they require you to think through the chromaticism and goal note before you play it, therefore helping you make a stronger resolution. A great way to internalize this process is to practice enclosing the chord tones of various 7th chord harmonies. The following example illustrates the notes of a Cmaj7 arpeggio being enclosed. Each enclosure is bracketed and labeled to show its correspondence to the list of enclosures from the previous examples. The goal notes of the Cmaj7 arpeggio have parentheses around them.

That's a pretty cool line! The chromaticism of the enclosures adds a lot of interest to it, and the fact that the enclosures are resolving to the notes of the Cmaj7 arpeggio gives the chromaticism a lot of strength and purpose. You'll also notice that the line is quite long, given the fact that our source material was simply a Cmaj7 arpeggio. This leads me to the next way I like to use enclosures:

2. To Extend Lines

Enclosures are a great way to create long, weaving, scalar lines that contain both chromatic interest and purposeful resolution. To demonstrate this, let's start with a short and simple ascending major bebop scale (a major scale with a passing tone between the 5th and 6th scale degrees).

Now, there's nothing wrong with that line--it's a perfectly valid idea to play over a Cmaj7 chord. However, it's not very interesting. It's very short and straightforward, with no changes of direction and no chromaticism besides the passing tone between 5 and 6. Let's insert some enclosures into that line to try to make it a bit more interesting...

Hey, that's a pretty sweet line! Not only is it an entire measure longer, but it contains a lot more chromaticism and a lot of changes of direction. And all we did was insert a few enclosures![divider]

Practice Suggestions

So what's next? How can you practice this stuff? Here are several practice suggestions:

  • Study the list of enclosures from the first example of this post. Practice each of those enclosures as resolving to all 12 chromatic notes.
  • Once you are comfortable utilizing any of those enclosures on all 12 chromatic notes, think of those notes as chord tones, and practice making the resolutions within the context of a 7th chord harmony. For instance, all the enclosures in the example are written as resolving to a C. How can a C function as a chord tone? Well, it can function as root of a Cmaj7, 3rd of an Abmaj7, 5th of an Fmaj7, 7th of a Dmaj7, root of a Cmin7, 3rd of an Amin7, etc. Thus, after practicing all the ways to enclose a C, you can practice all those enclosures in the context of all the ways that C can function. Make sense?
  • Practice utilizing enclosures on all your scales and arpeggios. How interesting and complex can you make basic material sound simply by adding enclosures to the mix?
  • Improvise over simple progressions (ii-V-I, easy standards, etc.) utilizing enclosures of the progressions' chord tones. Practice focusing on certain chord tones. For example, improvise over "All the Things You Are" by starting each measure with an enclosure of that chord's 3rd. How long can you keep this going? How musical of a solo can you take by exclusively using enclosures?
  • As always, be sure to transcribe solos of the jazz masters to see how they use this stuff.

 Did this post help give you a better understanding of how to use enclosures? Do you have any questions you want addressed in the Jazz Tips Blog? Leave your comments below!