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Old 06-09-2013, 04:21 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Jazz Improvisation

I am a member of my school's jazz band, and I would like to improve on my improvisation skills. Whenever I am asked to solo on a song, I usually just play a bunch of notes that sound good. However I'm pretty sure that there is a certain structure to jazz improvisation that I'm not getting. If anyone could point me in the general direction on this, it would be appreciated. I play sax, if that helps at all. Thanks.
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Old 06-20-2013, 07:50 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Hey! I originally started playing jazz on guitar and have since morphed over to woodwinds (flute/sax).

As for improv, your first goal should be to aim for the third of every chord. A lot of times, you get there from the seventh of the chord before it. But you should teach yourself to build chords, Root, 3rd, 5th, 7th, and practice those arpeggios on all notes, all qualities.

You can look up backing tracks to most tunes with a rhythm section playing the changes on Youtube and that will help you get used to hearing it.

The second best thing I can offer you is to transcribe solos from famous players (not just of sax but other instruments, too), and learn them. I transcribed plenty of Paul Desmond when practicing guitar improv. You can also find a lot of transcriptions from famous players online.
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Old 07-25-2013, 08:39 PM   #3 (permalink)
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I'd recommend looking at Pat Metheny's, Bela Fleck's, and Herbie Hancock's stuff. Their solos are legendary!
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Old 07-31-2013, 01:27 PM   #4 (permalink)
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This is from an excellent article on playing improvisational saxophone by Ash Furrow:

Quote:
1. Given that you know the basics of saxophone playing, learn your major, minor, dominant 7th, and Pentatonic/Blues scales and arpeggios IN ALL 12 KEYS. It is extremely important to be comfortable in all 12 keys (Not every song is in the key of C, G, or F). Although this may seem boring at first, it is the essential building blocks of improvisation (I bet John Coltrane and Charlie Parker were more than comfortable in all 12 keys).

2. After becoming comfortable in all twelve keys, learn how these scales and arpeggios fit into the twelve bar blues. Being the simplest and most common set of changes, the blues is essential for the beginning improviser.

3. Now that you've got some chord changes in your head, what are you going to do with them? Improvisation is quite literally composing on the spot, and it can be very intimidating in the heat of the moment. Listening to your favorite players improvise is a great way to get ideas--you can even transcribe (figure out for your own use) a cool lick you find in a solo and learn it in all twelve keys, and use it in your own soloing.

4. Alright, now you have the scales, the chord changes, and the vocabulary; you just simply need to put it together. You may find that you aren't playing well enough in time when you play passages of eighth notes or sixteenth notes or triplets. Work some time into your practice routine where you just play eighth notes with a metronome at a slow tempo in any given key or perhaps any given set of chord changes. Slowly speeding up your metronome will gradually put you right in the pocket, allowing you to play faster (but remember that the ability to play fast is not the ability to make a good solo, it is one of your tools to HELP your solo. You wouldn't want to through a whole pepper shakers worth of pepper onto your food would you? It would overpower your meal as a whole. Use your fast technical stuff to spice up your solo, not to dominate it).

5. An extremely important aspect of Jazz is the conversation the soloist has with the rhythm section. You don't need to fill every beat with notes--give your audience some time to take in your last idea, and give your rhythm section some time to respond to you. Jazz is simply another language we use to communicate--and you wouldn't want to talk to someone who just talks and talks and never listens to you, would you? The same goes with jazz.

6. Finally, be creative. Use different rhythms, syncopate, swing 8th notes to fit the style, build a sequence, repeat motifs, and just get into the music.
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Old 08-01-2013, 05:45 PM   #5 (permalink)
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You need to know the chord progression of the number you're playing. In jazz, you generally see ii-V7 or ii-V7-I. Another popular progression is I-vi-ii-V otherwise known as the doo-wop progression. When the Roman numeral is in lower case, that chord is played minor and when it is upper case, it is played major. V7 is the dominant 7th chord. It has a major root-third-fifth structure but with a minor 7th on top. This is the chord you will virtually always resolve back to I with. Its major-minor structure also allows you to change keys. Extremely important chord!

Blues is generally I-IV-V but this is a variation of ii-V-I (IV is sometimes substituted for ii and vice-versa). All these chord progressions come to us out of classical music where they are all found in abundance.

So, take a C major scale: C D E F G A B C'. C is I, D is ii and G is V7. You would do the same for any scale.

Now here is a typical jazz chart:



Notice that first bar is labeled as D-7 which is the D minor 7th chord. The next is G7. We want to find the key center of these two. Whenever you see a minor chord followed by a major chord, it's dead giveaway that it's ii-V7 or ii-V-I. So if D is ii in the scale, what is I? It would be C. And what's the fifth position on the C scale? That would be G and the fifth position is always a major scale with a minor 7th so it is G7. So in the first bar, the notes you have available to you are D, F, A and C for the D minor 7th part. The next chord, G7, gives you the notes G, B, D and F. You don't have to play all these notes, these are mainly what is available (there are others but we won't go into that now). But notice that both chords have D and F in them so you might want to concentrate on those two throughout the first two bars.

The third bar shows an E minor 7 and an A7. It's still ii-V but the key center has changed. If E is ii then I is D major 7 so the key center is D major. The fifth of the D major scale is A so we play A as the dominant 7th or A7. In the third bar you have the following notes available to you--E, G, B, D, A and C# but you might to emphasize using the E and G since they are common to both chords.

And you go through the whole number that way. Now you can just play the notes that are written on the staff which is the melody but that's really a reference--something to build off. You don't have to play it all if you don't want to. You don't want to play it straight because it's stripped down and pretty boring.

Now there are little tricks used in jazz--various note patterns and what not for handling certain situations. I don't know what they are for sax. I'm a double bassist. Yes, I use this same scheme to walk the bass. When you hear a bassist walking it and you wonder how he knows what notes to play and why it's never the same thing twice--he knows what chords he's playing at any given point and is choosing different notes each go-around so that it's always different. For sax, though, particularly bop, you're cramming so many notes in a space that I'm not at all sure how that works.

Now, if you're not playing off charts, you need to make some!!! Jazz is chart-crazy! Every professional jazz band plays from charts. There are even books crammed with charts for every jazz standard out there. These are called "fake books." The best fake book out there is called "The Real Book" (irony intended) and you can order it off Amazon. You have to have it! Your band MUST get their arrangements down through charts!! I cannot emphasize that enough. Once you get used to the charts, you can go out there and wing it without anything and sound great. But if you have no charts to work from first and you're just standing there trying to solo--it will never work. Charts help you visualize how a number is structured so that you know what notes you have available at any given point in the piece.

Hope this helped. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to get in contact with me. I'm here to help.
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Old 08-01-2013, 05:57 PM   #6 (permalink)
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There are a number of REAL BOOKS out there. I recommend the one shown below--the sixth edition by Hal Leonard. I was trained off this thing. It's crammed with standards but, oddly, some notable ones are missing but this will certainly get you started. It worked for me. In fact, I still use it.

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Old 08-01-2013, 06:10 PM   #7 (permalink)
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The Real Book is the single best training resource for a jazz musician. At Berklee School of Music it's the first book they hand you when you walk through the door. I purchased my first Real Book way back in 1979, and I still have it.
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Old 08-01-2013, 06:29 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Oh, it's invaluable. I know people like other versions of it but I recommend what I was trained with. Even if you don't want to play standards (and that can be pretty boring), the lessons you learn about jazz structure just from playing these lead sheets is invaluable. You have to learn to play jazz from charts and fake books.
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Old 08-05-2013, 06:22 AM   #9 (permalink)
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If you wanna improve your improvistion skills check out the aebersold play-alongs. maybe not satisfying to play with a boring cd, however, i can recommend it and it helped me a lot!
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Old 08-05-2013, 09:44 AM   #10 (permalink)
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The is also a wealth of jazz instructional videos on YouTube. The advantage of video is you can actually watch the players position their hands on the guitar, piano or wind instrument while they play. I learned a lot from observing various jazz & blues guitarists right hand technique and how they use a guitar pick or their fingers in relation to their left hand work on the fretboard. I was surprised to find out that most of the great guitarists use all four fingers and the thumb of their right hand to play because the flat-picking technique limits the range of your playing.
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