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100% improv or to some degree practised/rehearsed/planned/worked out?

Profusia

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I've left it too late to ask this question but I'd still be interested to read people's views tomorrow...

My question is basically about people's approach to improvising in terms of having some ideas rehearsed versus completely improvising on the fly. Is rehearsing just plain cheating?

Ok so tonight I get to for the first time ever stand up and improvise in front of a bunch of people I've never met. Its a brand new band being put together by my tutor for a trial session. I get the feeling there'll be at least 20 people there and many who are really rather good! He's given me a piece to have a go at using Bluescale.

I'd love to be able to just pitch up sax in hand and improvise to any piece off the cuff there and then but after not quite 4 months learning sax that's still a long way off. Meanwhile, what should my approach have been. Obviously I've been noodling away and inevitably a few ideas have surfaced but I don't have the armoury of riffs, licks and tricks to fall back on that many of you guys will have. So do I just play my fledgling "tune" and flutter my fingers up and down the bluescale for effect. That's pretty much the plan at the mo :)

Thoughts/advice?

Cheers
 
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Wade Cornell

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At four months there's probably not much you can do. It's not just riffs and well worn licks that make an improvisation it's being able to play an alternative melodic line. This is a lot like singing but using the sax as your voice. Doodling within the chord structure is usually a starting point as you might be able to play various notes from within the chord structure that fit. There are many "players" who never go beyond this type of doodling.

Don't know where you are in terms of knowing and being able to play chords. This would be your primary practice at your stage. Are the chords written down? Can you play those chords?

Practice for more advance players depends upon what style and sort of player you wish to be. The big divide is between ear melodic type players and those who are more formulated and mainly "play the changes".

If playing known tunes most would certainly have had a few goes at this and develop ideas. Knowing the melody give you ideas for alternatives that fit within the feeling of the tune. Although it's less like improvising many will work out fairly exactly what they will play. There are sections on this site where players can play "standards" that they have worked up. It's doubtful that any contributing to those sections would be playing without either knowing these tunes, reading the charts, or practicing them until they have a routine down that's worth recording. When you are playing live it's similar, but you don't have the opportunity to keep doing takes until you are happy with the result. If really improvising, then you might be playing something that you've never played and have to hear what's happening and contribute on that basis.
 

jbtsax

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I have found over the years it is best to play those patterns, riffs, musical ideas that you have practiced and are comfortable with when playing in public. In other words, don't try new stuff on the fly and hope it works out for the best. It almost never does because you are nervous and self conscious to begin with.

Ideally "improvisation" is just that, but no one can be fluent in any language until they have mastered the vocabulary and sentence structure The language of jazz is no different. Until that mastery begins to happen, it is ok to quote other people and play what you have rehearsed in public performance. Use your private practice time to work out new ideas and get them ready for the next performing opportunity.

Play along cd's are great for learning to improvise. One of my favorites for beginning jazzers is Jamey Aebersold's "Maiden Voyage". If you subscribe to Smart Music, you have access to this album and many others that you can take the songs at any tempo and any key you like.
 

Colin the Bear

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We'd all love to just pitch up and knock them dead to anything that is thrown at us. In the real world it takes some of us a lot of work to get a piece ready for performance.

Stick right in the heart of your comfort zone. Confident simplicity with good rhythm and tone trumps adventurous experimental dissonance every time.

Having said that the pressure of the situation can bring out the best in you that you didn't know was there.

The most important thing for a band player after competence is compatability and a flexible attitude.

Good luck.
 

Nick Wyver

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I've never deliberately learned any riffs or patterns. It's all done on the fly. Obviously, though, if I play a song often enough, certain ideas crop up more regularly - but I don't think I ever rely on them.

What comes out depends on many things - the audience, the band, which sax I'm playing, the acoustics of the room, the PA, my mood, my sobriety (or otherwise), etc. - so I never know what's going to happen in advance.
 

Profusia

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Thanks for the replies guys. I actually thought there'd be a lot more feedback on that question. But not complaining as quality is always better than quantity :)

Update: Really enjoyed the trial band rehearsal and the good news is the pub were happy so we have the room on an on-going basis. As for my first semi-public improv... I didn't know how it would work but in the end anyone who was up for it got the nod in turn to play a couple of times through (24 bars in all I think). I thought my turn was never going to come and had serious dry mouth nerves by the time the nod eventually came. I'd worked out a bit of a tune idea over the 2 previous days but had never heard the backing/rhythm so wasn't sure if it would fit. Within the first 2 notes it was clear it didn't so I switched into full on noodling in G bluescale and I thought it went really really well, by my own very limited standards of course. To be honest I have no idea what I played and had no idea where I was on the page either but I liked the effect none the less. Got nice comments afterwards anyway although of course people may have been being polite. Looking forward to having another go.

I'm learning about chords and which modes to play over them but am nowhere near ready yet to be able to do it. I can't recognise a chord, work out the mode, determine the effective key, spot the safe arpeggio notes, AND play something melodic to suit until it would be about 4 bars too late as yet, but hopefully that will come and I look forward to trying some more advanced improvising on that at some point in the not too distant future hopefully.
 

Colin the Bear

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Like everything, the more you do it, the better you get. Softly softly catchy monkey.
 

Chris

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I'm learning about chords and which modes to play over them but am nowhere near ready yet to be able to do it. I can't recognise a chord, work out the mode, determine the effective key, spot the safe arpeggio notes, AND play something melodic to suit until it would be about 4 bars too late as yet, but hopefully that will come and I look forward to trying some more advanced improvising on that at some point in the not too distant future hopefully.

Learn how to play simple melodies using chord tones then progress to more advanced ideas. Take the tunes you are working on and play through them.Play Roots of chords, then 3rd's, 5th's and 7th's. Make up a simple rhythm as you play each chord tone..

Chris..
 

Profusia

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Learn how to play simple melodies using chord tones then progress to more advanced ideas. Take the tunes you are working on and play through them.Play Roots of chords, then 3rd's, 5th's and 7th's. Make up a simple rhythm as you play each chord tone..

Chris..

I've really only literally just started having a go at this. I started with playing bluescale over backing which is quite nice, and have also tried developing a melodic idea over chords using major, dorian, and mixolydian scales (as appropriate to the chord), and also picking the safe arpeggio/chord notes. All of these work nicely. My problem is being able to improvise it at any kind of meaningful speed which I'm sure will come with lots and lots and LOTS of practice.

I did have a bit of an epiphany on the way from work to swimming last night. I suddenly realised that if I see an m7 chord (eg Bm7) then all I need to do is flatten 2 notes (i.e. lose 2 #s or add 2 flats to what would be the major key signature of the root note) and I have the dorian scale. And if I see a dominant chord (eg B7) then just flatten one note (i.e. lose 1 # or add 1 flat) for the mixolydian. No-one had ever told me that! I was busy working back a tone (or a fifth) to figure out how many sharps or flats would be safe.

Of course that's just the easy bit... I still then need to somehow "see" the notes of the chord's arpeggios. I've heard it said that most jazz musicians "see" chords in their head either on an imaginary keyboard, or on an imaginary stave (being the 2 most common ways). I don't have that, and as a result if I want to know what is a fifth above or below a note I have to work through the alphabet slowly. So my next task is to start thinking of notes on a stave and trying to "see" the chords in my head. I don't think this should be too difficult with a bit of effort and hope that these 2 revelations will accelerate my ability to pick out the notes to play over chord symbols. However I would very much welcome anyone else's hints and tips on ways to get from Bm7 to B, D, F#, A in an instant.

PS Hope I got the arpeggio correct! :shocked:
 

Ivan

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Well done Profusia... many gigs yet to come?
 

aldevis

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I've really only literally just started having a go at this. I started with playing bluescale over backing which is quite nice, and have also tried developing a melodic idea over chords using major, dorian, and mixolydian scales (as appropriate to the chord), and also picking the safe arpeggio/chord notes. All of these work nicely. My problem is being able to improvise it at any kind of meaningful speed which I'm sure will come with lots and lots and LOTS of practice.

I did have a bit of an epiphany on the way from work to swimming last night. I suddenly realised that if I see an m7 chord (eg Bm7) then all I need to do is flatten 2 notes (i.e. lose 2 #s or add 2 flats to what would be the major key signature of the root note) and I have the dorian scale. And if I see a dominant chord (eg B7) then just flatten one note (i.e. lose 1 # or add 1 flat) for the mixolydian. No-one had ever told me that! I was busy working back a tone (or a fifth) to figure out how many sharps or flats would be safe.

Of course that's just the easy bit... I still then need to somehow "see" the notes of the chord's arpeggios. I've heard it said that most jazz musicians "see" chords in their head either on an imaginary keyboard, or on an imaginary stave (being the 2 most common ways). I don't have that, and as a result if I want to know what is a fifth above or below a note I have to work through the alphabet slowly. So my next task is to start thinking of notes on a stave and trying to "see" the chords in my head. I don't think this should be too difficult with a bit of effort and hope that these 2 revelations will accelerate my ability to pick out the notes to play over chord symbols. However I would very much welcome anyone else's hints and tips on ways to get from Bm7 to B, D, F#, A in an instant.

PS Hope I got the arpeggio correct! :shocked:

Since I love to be pedantic....
Until about 1959 jazz musicians did not link a chord to a scale. Arpeggio comes first. Then you extend it.
If you have the opportunity of putting your hand on a keyboard, simply building chords will help you a lot.

In the meantime have fun with the blue scale. You can also try some dorian modal stuff, like "So What". It works great with my students.

About the OP, if I try something at home, I will find my playing too predictable on stage. I better get the thrill of not knowing what I am doing.
 
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Wade Cornell

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Of course that's just the easy bit... I still then need to somehow "see" the notes of the chord's arpeggios. I've heard it said that most jazz musicians "see" chords in their head either on an imaginary keyboard, or on an imaginary stave (being the 2 most common ways).

I don't know where you got this information from but would highly recommend against this practice. If you are trying to visualize what is an auditory art form you are translating and not in the music. You need to HEAR the intervals and know the notes you wish to play. It's good practice and theory to understand everything on paper, but can you imagine trying to think of even the easiest tune and then try to picture this on paper in order to play it? That is the antithesis of improvisation. If that's the only way you can play, then do whatever you must, but it's like learning to walk with crutches. If you have a teacher that has told you this, then I'd find another teacher.
 

Colin the Bear

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It's useful to use a keyboard to understand or explain harmonies and chord structures and why things work. However thinking piano on saxophone is too much to deal with while composing on the fly. Just blow the thing and listen to what you're playing. A "wrong" note can be resolved in the next phrase

I found this article whilst looking for something else. You might find it useful.

http://www.garciamusic.com/educator/articles/unlocking.standards.html
 

Profusia

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I don't know where you got this information from but would highly recommend against this practice. If you are trying to visualize what is an auditory art form you are translating and not in the music. You need to HEAR the intervals and know the notes you wish to play. It's good practice and theory to understand everything on paper, but can you imagine trying to think of even the easiest tune and then try to picture this on paper in order to play it? That is the antithesis of improvisation. If that's the only way you can play, then do whatever you must, but it's like learning to walk with crutches. If you have a teacher that has told you this, then I'd find another teacher.

No it wasn't a teacher. I read it on-line most probably. I've only being playing 4 months and have tried a bit of ear training (online) at my teacher's recommendation. I made some progress in hearing intervals when one note was played after the other but am so far hopelessly unable to identify intervals when 2 notes are played together. Hopefully that will come with time but meanwhile I want to learn as much as I can and dive in. The way that I learn is to understand the theory and logic of something first before I can let go and let it bypass my conscious and just sink in. When I improvise in Bluescale I just let go and don't think much about what I'm playing. No way I can do that for arpeggio notes to play over chord symbols yet. Hopefully that will come just like it did with bluescale once I have the right notes to pick from available in my head. While I'm persevering with that, with any luck maybe getting used the sounds of the chords and what notes work with them will be going on in the background without me even realising it. Well I can but hope and try.
 

Profusia

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It's useful to use a keyboard to understand or explain harmonies and chord structures and why things work. However thinking piano on saxophone is too much to deal with while composing on the fly. Just blow the thing and listen to what you're playing. A "wrong" note can be resolved in the next phrase

I found this article whilst looking for something else. You might find it useful.

http://www.garciamusic.com/educator/articles/unlocking.standards.html

Thanks, I'll give that a read :)
 

Koen88

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I have little to none understanding of chord and chord progressions (though i''m starting with music theory again) and I can still improvise without much preparation.

to me it's not that much different in knowing what to improvise or improvise by ear.. I listen and play along the main melody of a song and the notes I "can" play get into my fingers/ears... I instinctively know what note to play, what not to play, or how to play it.. (if you play a "wrong" note, play it twice thrice and resolve it to a decent sounding note)

I never had any lessons or courses in chord progressions or improvising but if you trie to improvise a lot; play songs on youtube or anything alike by ear and try to vary the melody.. you''ll learn a lot.

https://soundcloud.com/koen-bidlot/just-the-two-of-koen

the end solo (3:02) on the link above, was my second try... there are things that could''ve gone better, but I had just one afternoon time for this.. also I think if I rehearse too much I loose a bit of the emotion which I bring into the improv..

But i''m well aware of the theoretical advantages out there, and if I can combine this with the music in my head it will only get better.. but that''s a matter of time...

thats my 2 cents..
 

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