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Is There an Easier Way to Improvise a Solo?


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SkrubCern
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 03, 2017 5:29 am    Post subject: Is There an Easier Way to Improvise a Solo? Reply with quote

So far, I've been told a few ways to plav an improvised solo. the first way is to just do it by ear and listen for notes that sound good in the music that you are soloing in. The second way that I've learned is that you have to memorize a bunch of scales and all the chord changes in songs. the final way is that I've been told that there is really no way to teach someone how to improvise and that they have to learn it on their own. But with these methods that I use, none of them seem to be working for me. Am I doing something wrong?
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Pete
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 03, 2017 5:57 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Practice the melody of the song, and work on slightly embellishing at first. As you get further away from the melody, use the chord changes/key centers as reference. Using scales is not improvising. Knowing the scales will help you to maneuver through chord changes.

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dstdenis
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 03, 2017 6:21 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

It definitely helps to be familiar with the chord structure and scale patterns that were used to build the tune you're playing. They provide the skeleton upon which the melody and harmonies were hung, and they also will often be the backdrop for your improvised solo.

It also helps to listen to recordings of tunes in the style of the piece you're going to improvise to and see how other players came up with ideas for their improvised solos.

You should also play along with recorded backgrounds, like Jamey Aebersold and such, to get experience and confidence in trying to put a solo together. Start with really simple melodic fragments that fit with the chord changes and get comfortable with making up things on the fly. As you gain experience, your confidence will grow.

This is how my band directors taught me and other students to improvise in middle school and high school jazz band. Everyone got a chance to play over 12-bar-blues changes just about every day. It's a great way to develop the experience, knowledge and confidence you need to get started with improvisation.
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TrumpetMD
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 03, 2017 6:52 am    Post subject: Re: Is There an Easier Way to Improvise a Solo? Reply with quote

SkrubCern wrote:
So far, I've been told a few ways to plav an improvised solo. the first way is to just do it by ear and listen for notes that sound good in the music that you are soloing in. The second way that I've learned is that you have to memorize a bunch of scales and all the chord changes in songs. the final way is that I've been told that there is really no way to teach someone how to improvise and that they have to learn it on their own. But with these methods that I use, none of them seem to be working for me. Am I doing something wrong?

The OP asks a good question: " Is There an Easier Way to Improvise a Solo?" The short answer is "no".

This question comes up often. It reflects a feeling that there is a secret or a shortcut that you have to figure out. But the reality is that it take years of thoughtful practice to learn how to improvise.

You need to learn the jazz language - chords, scales, patterns, and style. You need to listen to good players, imitate their approaches, and practice transcriptions of their solos. You need to learn the jazz standards. You need to learn as much as you can in all 12 keys.

If you're interested, find a good jazz method to work from. I started with the Aebersold method (his free jazz handbook, and volumes 1-3 of his play-alongs), but there are other good methods out there. There are lots of good online resources out there, too.

Mike
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kfeldt
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 03, 2017 6:58 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'll be curious to see the responses to your question. I think the answer is something like: D) All of the above.

I started focusing on improvising this year (basically starting from zero), and it's been hard/frustrating, but I feel like I've improved a lot. Here's what I've been working on, it's sort of a combination of the things you've mentioned:

1. "Free" improvising with a drum track or with nothing. It allows me to work on ideas, rhythms, articulations, etc without worrying about hitting "right" notes.
2. Improvising on simple tunes with simple changes, like "When the Saints Go Marching In". I approach this as trying to progressively embellish the melody. With this, I mostly take the "by ear" approach you mentioned, where I'm listening for the key points in the tune where I need to play the changes. When I figure something out by ear, I'll usually go back and look at the chords to see why it worked or didn't work.
3. Improvise on modal tunes, so I have a few bars for each change (Maiden Voyage, Canteloupe Island, etc). Here, I'm memorizing the changes and playing more scale type patterns (more horizontally).
4. "Transcription" I don't actually write solos down, but I do play along and try to copy articulation, rhythms, and other elements of style.

(5. Scales. I think it goes without saying that you need to be comfortable with your scales, what notes are chord tones, etc.)


What I've learned though, is that other aspects of soloing (interesting rhythmic ideas, sense of time, articulation, sound, etc) are maybe more important than playing "right" notes. I'm not saying right notes aren't important, but I improved a lot faster when I stopped worrying about that quite so much.

I also try to work on something specific when I'm practicing improvising. I feel like it's not productive to just mindlessly noodle around.
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GeorgeB
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 03, 2017 7:23 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

In my younger playing days I did some improvisation, usually during jam sessions with various musicians I knew. But it was never the kind of improv I would have liked it to be. Sometimes it went well and other times it was messy. I didn't know any method. I just blew what I thought sounded right to me.
50 years later I'm playing again, and unless the solo is written for me, I don't mess with improvisation. Now songs I know well, and play for myself, family or friends ( most are old standards ) I do embellish them here and there, and once in awhile I'll take it a little further, and some may call that improvisation.
I still have not learned any method, I just play what sounds right and good to me, always being carful to never stray too far from the melody. The only thing I can say for sure is you really have to know and get intimate with the song. And that takes time.
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drboogenbroom
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 03, 2017 7:55 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

To echo much of what has been said:

In much of my experience teaching high school players to improvise, I find that this skill, more than any other, with the possible exception of range, seems to carry the weight of "natural talent" in their mind.

There is a very strong belief, at least at that age and in this place, that any level of study to improvise is simply cheating. It doesn't help that we had a sax "teacher" here for a while who also very strongly espoused this belief.

Like any skill it will come more quickly to some than others. But like any skill it can be learned. To quote someone whose name I can't remember from some book I can't recall the title of: "If you are in a hurry to get somewhere, take the longest and surest rout"

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kehaulani
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 03, 2017 8:05 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Pete wrote:
Practice the melody of the song, and work on slightly embellishing at first. As you get further away from the melody, use the chord changes/key centers as reference.


Scrub, a way of how this can evolve is illustrated on the following link: http://www.melmartin.com/html_pages/Interviews/konitz.html

I learned this approach, beginning g with the tune, then layering on, little by little, additional embellishments. Don't be impatient. Listening voraciously and studying and making transcriptions is a way to learn, but it's a long process. One thing at a time. (Learn what you need to learn as it comes up, not as required all at once.)

Also, I find it helpful to know where I'm going and how to get there. Identify the major points in the music and aim for those places in your music.
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RandyTX
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 03, 2017 8:24 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I've been enjoying an app called iReal Pro lately for this sort of work. I'm sure there are others like it, but it has a huge library of existing charts in it, you can pick the style of rhythm section playing, and any overall key plus your instrument transposition, tempo, levels of bass, piano, drums, guitar, than get after it.

You can also enter your own changes for anything not already in the library.

Pretty nice package, for about 12 bucks.
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Richard III
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 03, 2017 8:30 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Practice singing or whistling the melody and embellish that. Do that a lot. The next time you play, it will work into your playing.
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HERMOKIWI
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 03, 2017 9:35 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I personally believe that skillful improvisation is learned by the same essential process by which people learn to speak verbal language and that, in that regard, developing the ability to command the instrument sufficiently to instinctively adhere to melodic structure is the most important element.

In my experience students do not work sufficiently on developing this foundational ability. Instead, they see improvisation as a series of "licks." So what we tend to hear are poorly executed licks placed with questionable reference to the melodic structure separated by total confusion and chaos. Sometimes I think even that description is generous. Students try to run before they can walk.

Seriously, do people learn the English language by starting out with diagramming sentences and memorizing Shakespeare? Jazz students seem to think starting out by studying music theory and memorizing Charlie Parker licks is the way jazz improvisation skills are developed. In my view this is not an accurate concept of what is truly foundational in the development of jazz improvisation skills.

That's not to say that music theory can't be important or helpful or that learning Charlie Parker licks can't be useful. It's just that, in my view, having sufficient command of your instrument to instinctively adhere to melodic structure is the primary essential source of proficiency in jazz improvisation.

Play a recording of a song. Play along starting with whole notes. When you can stay within the melodic structure without missing then play along with half notes. Then with quarter notes. Then with eighth notes. You're essentially playing like you're the bass player in a combo. You don't use a chord chart or any other written material. You just play by ear until you automatically (instinctively)associate pitches with the muscular movement and airflow necessary to produce those pitches.

That's exactly the same thing you do when you speak language, you don't think about saying the words, you just say them because the muscular movement and airflow necessary to say them has become automatic (instinctive).

You can quickly learn to sing an unfamiliar melody can't you? That's because you automatically (instinctively)associate the pitches with the muscular movement and airflow necessary to sing the pitches (and you don't need to know the names of the notes or the chords or any music theory in order to do this).

So, why can't you do the same thing on your instrument? The reason is because you haven't trained yourself to do this. The process to train yourself to instinctively produce pitches is the exact same process you used to learn to instinctively speak language and instinctively sing pitches.

When you can do the above exercise and stay within the melodic structure without missing you've built a solid foundation to start developing your own improvisational language.

Nothing about any of this is easy. It took you a long time to learn to speak language but the process you used worked and it worked well. Language is sounds. So is music. We produce sounds when we speak. We produce sounds when we play our instruments. It's the same in music as it is in language. So. if you want to learn to express yourself with improvisation start by using the same method you used to learn to express yourself with language. The above exercise is a good place to start.
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Ed Kennedy
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 03, 2017 9:44 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

1. Learn all scales and arpeggios - fluently
2. Practice playing on blues changes through the circle of fifths (all 12 keys)
3. Take one standard tune each week and play it through the circle of fifths and, as others suggested, embellish the tune.
4. Practice tunes slowly, out of tempo, arpeggiating the changes.
5. Get the Charlie Parker Omnibook - learn to play Bird's solos
6. Transcribe - pick recorded solos you like by artists you admire and transcribe their solos. Ear training 101.

And, no, it's not easy. If you want to just sound good on a particular chart without going through all that, do like the symphony guys on a pops gig, learn a specific solo and play it every time. (Like the Bobby Hackett solo on In the Mood)
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homecookin
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 03, 2017 10:33 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ed Kennedy wrote:
1. Learn all scales and arpeggios - fluently
2. Practice playing on blues changes through the circle of fifths (all 12 keys)
3. Take one standard tune each week and play it through the circle of fifths and, as others suggested, embellish the tune.
4. Practice tunes slowly, out of tempo, arpeggiating the changes.
5. Get the Charlie Parker Omnibook - learn to play Bird's solos
6. Transcribe - pick recorded solos you like by artists you admire and transcribe their solos. Ear training 101.

And, no, it's not easy. If you want to just sound good on a particular chart without going through all that, do like the symphony guys on a pops gig, learn a specific solo and play it every time. (Like the Bobby Hackett solo on In the Mood)


This is GOOD ADVICE !!!
And BTW... There is no easy way to become a good jazz player
It takes tons of practice, and you have to be willing to go to sessions
and stand up and play with the Rhythm Section and be willing to make
mistakes.
And you will make mistakes, but you have to work through all that.
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rufflicks
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 03, 2017 11:11 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Some good things from Jeff. Might look at his stuff.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IPt7ol-wn2s&list=PLbH1STURex5SA_SpqE4bE-BcujXPDjvBk

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Bill Ortiz
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 03, 2017 11:34 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Lots of good advice here. I would add that learning to improvise takes work like learning a new language. While learning all the scales are important, as well as incorporating the melody, it's about learning the language. This comes from building vocabulary and a lot of critical listening to learn concept and feel.

While you are composing spontaneously while improvising, it's important to build your foundation by learning basic and commonly used licks, phrases and melodies-this gives you the basis to create your own ideas as well as teaching you style and phrasing. Happy endeavors-it's a fun journey :)
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Drklobz
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 03, 2017 11:35 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I haven't been on TH much recently for a number of reasons, but I happened to be browsing today and noticed your post. Much of what others have posted is good advice and you can approach improvisation from a number of different perspectives/angles. Learning improvisation is part of a journey that you'll have to commit some time to. But, that doesn't mean it has to take a long time to get to a place where you can play something confidently and fits the composition.

I'd like to invite you to check out some ideas of mine. I have A LOT of free tips that I used to post weekly on my blog (and had links here on a post called Weekly Jazz Tips). You can check any of those out at http://jasonklobnak.com/blog

-or-

I've recently started a Facebook Live weekly thing called Improvisation Thursdays geared specifically for beginners or others that have been frustrated with their current journey. It's free, the videos are around 10 minutes, and I share about how I approach improvisation and teach it to students. You're more than welcome to check it out at http://facebook.com/jasonklobnakmusic too.
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Hugh Anderson
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PostPosted: Tue Oct 03, 2017 7:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

When I was in school and couldn't improvise one single note, a guy who could improvise said, 'just jam around in a key to start. See what stuff sounds like.'
I would add:
play notes in sets of 4
scale wise
with a skip
a bigger skip
chromatic
frame a chord
up a 2nd, down a third
down a step, up a half step
start on the down beat, then the same thing on an upbeat
pieces of a song
each one backwards
sequence it, only once or twice
learn swing 8th and doodle tongue, probably later
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SkrubCern
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 04, 2017 5:16 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

RandyTX wrote:
I've been enjoying an app called iReal Pro lately for this sort of work. I'm sure there are others like it, but it has a huge library of existing charts in it, you can pick the style of rhythm section playing, and any overall key plus your instrument transposition, tempo, levels of bass, piano, drums, guitar, than get after it.

You can also enter your own changes for anything not already in the library.

Pretty nice package, for about 12 bucks.


yeah, I have the app. One of my saxophone friends showed it to me and I've been using it ever since. but my solos are not "up to par" still.
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Turkle
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 04, 2017 5:56 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I used "Patterns for Jazz" by Coker for many years. Part of my daily routine is based on the exercises in that book.

If you want to get fluent at improv, you have to master your instrument across all keys, scales, chords, intervals, digit patterns, etc. There's just no substitute. You have to have them in your ears and fingers.

It took me about 5 years of solid practice of my scales and arpeggios, and memorizing and transcribing solos, before I was ready to perform improvised music at a professional level.

BUT! If you're just looking for something more basic, just learn to play over the blues in every key. That will get you surprisingly far in this world!
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Richard III
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 04, 2017 6:33 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I know a very accomplished improviser who can only work from chords. He does it very well. He is quite educated and learned it that way. I know another one who just hears things in every song and remembers them. He starts with the melody and other stuff just starts coming out. The first plays clarinet in my band and other plays baritone (trombone part). Both methods work. I say examine your talents and go the direction that your leanings take. I'm like the second guy. I hear it and can play it. Stuff just naturally happens when playing without a lot of thought. Trying to teach that doesn't work unless you are naturally absorbtive to music.
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