Discussion in 'Jazz / Commercial' started by Lazorphaze, Feb 16, 2004.

  1. Lazorphaze

    Lazorphaze Piano User

    Feb 3, 2004
    I have one question about improvising(keep in mind this is for alto sax and trumpet):
    How do you do it?
    I've had about 5 performances with improvised solos, and they don't really seem to come out good, except for one, where I really wasn't nervous, and played out, even though my solo sounded like crap.
    I can improvise on the blues scales ok, but that's really my limit. In summer improv camp, we did a bunch of stuff with chords, but they really didn't tell me how to use those in improvising (in my opinion, that was a waste of money.)
    So should I just keep practicing the particular solo, when I have one? It seems that helps.
  2. bugler16

    bugler16 Pianissimo User

    Dec 14, 2003
    Learn all of your scales, I mean all (major,natural minor,harmonic minor,melodic minor,dorian,phrygian,lydian,mixolydian,lochrian,whole tone,octatonic (half/whole whole/half),blues, bebop, altered dominant) Learn your scales and the chords that go with them at least to the 9th. Also work with b5's,#5's, b9's,#9's,#11's,13's etc. Then learn licks used by other players across certain chord changes and learn them in all keys. Take all of this information meld it all together practice it until you forget it and use bits and pieces with your own stuff. Learning improv is like learing a language, first letters (scales), then words (chords/chordal suggestion), then sentences (licks), and finally take it all and start to have independent thought and speak it with that language.
  3. gzent

    gzent Fortissimo User

    Nov 5, 2003
    Rochester, MN

    I agree with bugler16 to a point. It is definitely good to learn what those chord symbols are all about. But, IMO, it is more important to develop an outstanding ear if you want to improvise well.

    Back in the late 70's I began by playing along with music on the radio and tapes. Get used to playing melodies without music. This trains you to be able to unconsciously play a given pitch without thinking about it.

    Also, listen to pro improvisers soloing with clear, strong rhythm sections behind them, particularly piano. Recently, I've found a lot of nice improv. solos from the trumpets in Harry Connick Jr.'s big band. I'll play his 'Songs I Heard' CD and play along to get a feel for what the horns are doing.

    IMO, you have to master the skill so that it becomes so natural that you don't think about what chords come next or the notes you are playing, you just feel what you want to play and your ear makes sure you are going where you need to. Its more fun and practical than simply mechanically playing scales and licks you have practiced to death.

    Good Luck,

  4. bugler16

    bugler16 Pianissimo User

    Dec 14, 2003
    I thought that I had clearly included training your ears. But I'm not always as clear as I think I am. Yes you must have good ears. When I said taking licks from other players I meant to transcribe them off of recordings. This I feel is the easiest and most logical first step in training your ears and then to move into the chords provided by the rhythm section. I agree your ears are of extreme importance.
  5. jazz_trpt

    jazz_trpt New Friend

    Jan 28, 2004
    Champaign, Illinois, USA
    All the advice you've gotten so far is good. Transcribing helped (helps) me out alot, especially if I take licks I don't get and break them apart to figure out how they work.

    Obviously one needs a handle on scales and a healthy dose of listening, at the very least, to be able to improvise with confidence.

    Let me make a suggestion. I haven't tried this with anybody, I assume it's a common type of exercise, but maybe you'll find it useful.

    Do this exercise -- take a blank sheet of staff paper, and on the first system, make room for three bars of music. Write a ii7-V7-I sequence, one per bar, for this example G-7 | C7 | Fmaj7.

    Without attaching stems, write noteheads where the quarter notes go using chord tones under each chord. For example, in the first bar, maybe D F D Bb, second bar, Bb E C G. Try and keep the intervals within a fourth of one another for this attempt. Keep the last bar simple.

    Now fill in between the notes with other notes from the scale for each chord. If the notes are a third apart, like the E->C in the second bar above, you might use a D as a leading tone. These notes can either be chord tones or nonchordal scale tones, for the purposes of this exercise.

    You don't have to fill in ALL the notes to make a line, you could just fill in half, it's up to you. If you're leaving quarter notes in, stem them; for the rest, beam them into eighth notes.

    Now play it and listen to what it sounds like.

    This is basically what's going on using a purely diatonic approach to playing over chord changes. The reason this (probably) sounds more "right" to you than what you're used to playing off the top of your head is that you're stressing chord tones on the beat, reinforcing the underlying harmony.

    This is NOT precisely what most players do -- most good players incorporate some anticipation or delay of resolution, chromatic (non-chordal) guide tones, altered extensions to the chords, etc. Also, proficient improvisors have alot of different rhythmic combinations internalized that they can pull out of a hat to make their solos interesting. This comes with focused listening, memorizing, and/or transcribing.

    I guess my point is, there's more to it than the above exercise. But I think it's useful in demonstrating what sounds "good" to your ear.

    Try it again with different "between" notes, rhythms, etc. Create triplets if you want to spice things up, or leave a beat or two of rest on the downbeats. See what comes up that sounds interesting to you.
  6. JackD

    JackD Mezzo Forte User

    Nov 30, 2003
    Manchester / London
    This may seem obvious, but if you're really interested in playing jazz, get a good jazz teacher. My jazz playing has improved a lot since I've started seeing a good teacher regularly.

    In the meantime, this site is useful:
  7. NickD

    NickD Forte User

    FWIIW, coming from me...


    I am essentially a student jazz player. I've been a lead player for many years, but last summer, I finally got a real bug up.... well, let's just say my drive to improve my jazz playing escalated.

    I agree with every word posted so far. I am adding to them with the above disclaimer. I would never hold myself out as some sort of jazz hot shot. I am just trying learn this art. So, I offer these ideas with great humility.

    I have found that playing tunes I KNOW in all keys completely by ear really helps. I'll just sit down and run a tune around the cycle of fourths as a warm up. Doing this has an added side benefit. It will help you with work. When I play gigs we rarely have charts or even lead sheets for standards, and if there is a singer on the gig, it is REALLY up for grabs. I have to be able to play any tune in any key when the band leader points at me. So, this sort of practice has practical side effects.

    I'd also take the time to learn old horn licks to old rock and R&B tunes. It will help with jobbing and give some extra ammo for ideas.

    There is another exercise the SEEMS to help me (I can't really be the judge). I have always marveled at my jazz instructors (the late Joe Daley and the amazing Richie Corpolongo) ability to just play a tune and blow on it COMPLETEY UNACCOMPANIED and hold it together in time and harmony. Richie will play a tune a capella, go inside and outside of the changes and never miss a beat. So, I figured if I am ever to be able to call myself a real jazz player, I'd better learn this. I've been doing blues and rhythm changes around the cycle with a metronome. I also work on some more transparent standards and jazz standards he same way. It is a gradual process for me, but it does help on gigs when I get to play in the original key.

    I hope this helps a bit, FWIIW coming from me.


  8. Ash

    Ash Pianissimo User

    Jan 18, 2004
    Just to add my 2 cents, improvise as often as you can! Nothing hurts anytime of playing less than infrequent practice. Be it with Jamey or your school jazz band, do it regularly! If you can find a small combo setting, that's even better. One more thing, don't get boggled down in technical jargon! The scales, modes, and chords are all essential, but don't forget why you like to improvise. Be sure to keep some creativity in there, and fun.

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