Tom Bergeron

Saxophonist | Band Leader | Recording Artist | Record Producer | Professor of Music - Retired

Theory & Improv

Theory & Improv

This is an evolving area of my website, with tools for improvisors and others who want to better understand the inner workings of tonality.

Chord Cycles

These are 12-key sequences of chords or short chord progressions. Chord Cycles are an efficient way of practicing melodic patterns in all keys.


This curated set of licks comprise short excerpts from two main repertoires:

  • Solos by well-known jazz artists
  • Tunes from the Brazilian choro tradition


  • Choose a lick that you like.
  • Memorize it, paying attention to its harmonic context.
  • Choose an appropriate Chord Cycle.
  • Apply the lick to each successive chord or progression through 12 keys.

I have taught music theory for more than 40 years.

For ten years, I taught students to play and improvise on saxophone — first at Crescent Music Studio in Ann Arbor, Michigan, then at Lane Community College in Eugene, Oregon. I also taught theory to my K-6 students in the Eugene public schools.

From 1987 to 2018, I taught theory at the university level, first at Eastern Oregon University, then at Western Oregon University. At these institutions, in addition to the theory essential for improvising, I taught Freshman Theory, The Great American Songbook, and Songwriting.

What I share here is a distillation of theoretical principles that I hope you will find useful. Check back periodically as I develop this site!