Learning to improv

Discussion in 'Trumpet Discussion' started by Mud, Aug 25, 2012.

  1. Mud

    Mud Pianissimo User

    May 26, 2012
    Noblesville, IN
    I have really wanted to know how to improv, and everyone says "listen to jazz" and "imitate improvisations from good jazz musicians". While in theory, this would be brilliant, sometimes, its like dropping yourself into a country that speaks a foreign language without any prior knowledge of the language, and it can either go rather well, or really bad. I tried, and I really couldn't do it (not the dropping into a different country, but the improv part). I just couldn't catch up with the improv, some of it was really fast, and I couldn't catch up. It was hard enough to figure out the notes they were playing.

    So i was thinking, that it would be easier if i started myself easier. If I simply listened to a song, and tried to figure out its melody, and keep on doing doing that with harder and harder songs, that soon, it would a) be easier to imitate improvisations, b) be easier for me to recognize chords, and what notes go well with them, c) make it easier for me to take bits and pieces from previous songs that i have played, add my own twist to them, and improv on my own.

    Would this help? has anyone tried this? I just think it would be easier to start playing the melodies then slowly go to improv then just attemping to imitate improv right off....
  2. D.C. Al fine

    D.C. Al fine Banned

    May 8, 2012
    Best thing you can do is lean your scales. Then you will know what key you are in.

    There is no real way to practice improv, you just do it.
  3. Mud

    Mud Pianissimo User

    May 26, 2012
    Noblesville, IN
    Sigh. It's just frusterating. :/
  4. D.C. Al fine

    D.C. Al fine Banned

    May 8, 2012
    It is, it really is.

    Best of luck though!
  5. Pete Anderson

    Pete Anderson Pianissimo User

    Feb 27, 2008
    As someone who was just in your position a few weeks ago but now is somewhat competent at improvising... Let me tell you that it's not nearly as hard as you think it is.

    Watch the first 3 videos in this series from Eric Bolvin. It brings you into it gradually and easily: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tobMf2RZL84

    The videos go kind of slow and you'll be tempted to say "this isn't that useful", or to skip through it... Don't. Trust me. Watch them the whole way through and try out the things he's talking about as you go through. You can download MP3's to play along with from his website: ::: Eric Bolvin Music Studios - Music and Trumpet Stuff:::

    The biggest breakthrough for me was the 3rd video on how to play 2-5-1 progressions. I often used to look at all the chords and freak out, and worry about playing in each different key as it came up. However, watching that video I realized that you can pretty much just play in one key and play by ear. You actually don't even HAVE TO strictly follow the chord changes. At the end of the third video he says, "really what it comes down to is I'm just playing whatever notes I want - playing by ear."

    For instance, say we're in the key of F major. ii-V-I is Gmin - Cmaj - Fmaj. If we just noodle around in the key of F we'll be fine pretty much no matter what since the important notes of each of those chords is contained in F major. It makes more sense if you look at the PDF he posted: http://www.bolvinmusic.com/Improv 3/ii-V-I Bb.pdf

    So look at that PDF and listen to this playalong, and just noodle around in F major: http://www.bolvinmusic.com/Improv 3/II-V-I.mp3
    After a while of playing random stuff by ear in F major, try adding in some passing tones and chromaticism. You're improvising! Easy peasy!

    Another saying of his that I really like is when he says, "you don't have to play a million notes." It's intimidating when you listen to Charlie Parker or something and he's playing a million notes, but you don't need to do that especially when you're just starting out learning.

    Obviously there is a whole world of improvement to be made and you're just starting to speak the language... But it's really not hard at all to get to the point where you can take a solo and make non-musicians think you know what you're doing.
    Last edited: Aug 25, 2012
  6. Haste2

    Haste2 Piano User

    Jun 16, 2010
    There are so many approaches that can work great.

    For instance, improv heavily relies on patterns. Playing a pattern through chord changes is one thing beginners seem to never do. But if you can play a simple melodic idea... then play it again through the next chord changes by changing just one or two notes, you really sound like you know what you're doing.

    Pete Margulis, a former member of the Glenn Miller band, once said that learning how to play all the necessary chord progressions on the piano makes a world of difference as far as "hearing" correctly.

    There's a million other tips that could be given. Really, I think choosing your own path to learn is just an opportunity to make your improvising unique.
  7. DaTrump

    DaTrump Forte User

    Oct 21, 2011
    Huntsville, Texas
    I think one of the hardest things for many to overcome is actually knowing where you are in the horn without thinking about it. What I did was play along to classical pieces as I'm more affiliated with the style and keys and, to me, feels much simpler. Once I got a feel for that, and knew my way around the horn, I worked the blues scales like crazy and built up my vocab and VOILA!
  8. BachStrad1

    BachStrad1 Pianissimo User

    Apr 9, 2012
    Kalamazoo MI
    Mud, I've been where you are. It is frustrating. I am a classically trained musician and improv was a part of my education that was totally neglected. No one ever sat down and worked with me on it. For a long time, I thought that it was just an innate talent that some people were naturally good at it and others just weren't and I counted myself in the "others". I got a book with a CD to play along with the changes I thinks it's Jazz Essentials. It was good, but I still struggled, especially playing in dance band with a guy who is phenominal.I had to work SO HARD on my improv, and he just seemed to play "stuff" and it sounded great. One of the best days of my life was the day I walked into rehersal and he was working on a riff. I realized that he had to work, too, I just didn't see it because it happened in the "woodshed". One day after rehersal, he sat down with me and we worked on some basic blues riffs and changes and that was my breakthrough. I can now sit down with background CD's and play without any music and I'm really pretty impressed with myself. Everyone learns differently and I learn kinetically, by doing. Don't give up, but find the way that works for you and keep trying. It is a skill that can be learned.
    DaTrump likes this.
  9. duanemassey

    duanemassey Piano User

    Jul 14, 2009
    Don't start with faster tunes. Listen to Chet Baker or Paul Desmond on their mellower stuff. Start with a simpler tune, even 12-bar blues. Repeat, repeat, repeat....
  10. fuzzyhaze

    fuzzyhaze Mezzo Piano User

    Nov 22, 2009
    Newcastle-Upon-Tyne UK
    Get yourself some play along jazz books, like the Jamie Aebersolds and the Hal Leonards. These are standard tools for learning to improvise. Also play the blues in all the major and minor keys, this is the root of ALL popular music. Books covering bebop chord progressions and 2 5 1 turn arounds will get you familiar with the the standard key changes in jazz. Play with people, jam with people, pester other musicians to let you jam with them and finally be patient it takes time and frequent practise but it is a skill that anyone can acquire.

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