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Advise on Improv

Lil' Nick

New Member
Messages
2
I've been playing the sax for 5 years now, but I'm only now learning how to improvise. And I am really getting tired of being lightyears behind my section leader in my school's jazz band. He's a pretty cool guy, but I wish I could keep up with him better.

I don't have a very strong music background, so I would love any advise that will help me become an all around better musician. (sight-reading, improvising/playing by ear)

Thanks
 

Rico Vandoren

Member
Messages
141
Hi Nick,
There's a Jamey Aebersold book called ' Patterns For Improvisation ' by Oliver Nelson. Its quite heavy going, but it certainly helps you to get your fingers around the keys.
Other than that, just play along to your favourite music ( jazz or otherwise ). Obviously, the more you do it in a live situation, the more confident you'll become.
 

Pete C

Member
Messages
344
Hi Nick,

I think the single most important thing you can do for improvising is to learn the common chords (Maj 7, min 7, 7, m7b5) in all 12 keys and be able to play the correct chord arpeggio on the sax at the drop of a hat when you see the chord symbol.

cheers

Pete
 

Young Col

Well-Known Member
Messages
2,419
Hi Nick
All that Nico and Pete have said, plus listen to lots of players. But do start with more straightforward stuff. If you begin with Ornette Coleman or Albert Ayler, or even Coltrane (or possibly Parker for that matter) you'll find it too hard going to start with and end up dis-spirited.
YC
 

BigMartin

Well-Known Member
Messages
3,904
Hi Nick
All that Nico and Pete have said, plus listen to lots of players. But do start with more straightforward stuff.
YC
Anyone particular? Would you call Stan Getz straightforward, for instance? (his playing, not his lifestyle, obviously ;}).
 

caruso

New Member
Messages
22
Improvisation is one of those tricky things. There are so many different approaches to learning to improvise that it can be challenging when first starting out. The best thing you can do is figure out how you learn best and then find an approach of learning to improvise that fits this learning style.

On my blog I have been writing about various approaches to jazz improvisation. You might want to look there for ideas.

The best Advise I can give you at the moment is this. Listen and I mean really listen to great improvisers. Try and get into their music by asking your self questions. Think, " What makes this improviser sound so good? What elements are they using in their playing that I can incorporate into my own playing? How are they approaching the music? How do they accent, and articulate the notes?"

When learning to improvise well you must keep in mind that it isn't just the notes that you play that matters. It is more how you play the notes that makes it sound good or bad.
 

caruso

New Member
Messages
22
Would you call Stan Getz straightforward, for instance? (his playing, not his lifestyle, obviously ;}).
I think Stan Getz is a great guy to listen to. He has a great sound and is very melodic. He also has a very unique playing style. Getz was one the very first saxophonist that I really dug. Up to this day he is my favorite saxophonist. Especially when he is pared with Kenny Barron. Their music together is just beautiful.
 

old git

Tremendous Bore
Messages
5,545
Lil' Nick,
You will have already noticed that there are some archaic teachers on this site. Suggesting that improvisation is tricky can easily be disproved. Head back to one the forerunners of jazz, probably the blues. Those country blues guitarists were not the most sophisticated of musicians but what they did with the three chord bash was remarkable. The early jazz players simply decorated tunes, so start playing a blues against a backing track in your favourite key and experiment. If your noodled note sounds good, remember it and see where else it fits in. If it sounds wrong, change it quickly and claim you invented BeBop.
 

Lil' Nick

New Member
Messages
2
Thanks a lot guys. I think a lot of the problem I have is freaking myself out instead of actually taking the first steps.
Haha, now that I think about it I have been listening to the wrong guys to start off with. Because what Parker and Coltrane do is just crazy to me.

So, I am gonna start on this advise and take it one step at a time.
I guess I would just like to ask for any good players that I should start listening to (Johnny Hodges, Paul Desmond, Charlie Parker, and Coltrane have been the ones I've been listening to a lot so far.) and thank you all for your advice. It's really appreciated.
 

BigMartin

Well-Known Member
Messages
3,904
Haha, now that I think about it I have been listening to the wrong guys to start off with. Because what Parker and Coltrane do is just crazy to me.
Glad I'm not the only one! And don't get me started on Ornette Coleman. What the ****? Maybe when I'm grown up I'll learn to appreciate these guys, but I doubt it (well, OK, Parker has his moments). Johnny Hodges and Paul Desmond sound pretty good to me, though, and not too complex (not that I've actually tried to analyze any of their stuff).
 

ManEast

Member
Messages
203
Hi Nick,

I think the single most important thing you can do for improvising is to learn the common chords (Maj 7, min 7, 7, m7b5) in all 12 keys and be able to play the correct chord arpeggio on the sax at the drop of a hat when you see the chord symbol.

cheers

Pete
I Like that one Pete !

With that in mind...I would take a look at Volume 2 (chord studies) Technique of the Saxophone by Joseph Viola (Berklee Press)
Also Vol 24 and 21 of Jamey Aebersold.
 

saxnik

Member
Messages
381
Blues all the way for me (hope I'm not one of the archaic teachers that OG refers to).

Learn Blues scales, and apply them to blues changes, to train your ear a bit. If your blues (like in Jamey Aebersold 'Blues in all keys') is in Bb, obviously you'll need the C blues scale on tenor, or G on alto.

The next thing to do is to identify the basic blues chord changes and apply the appropriate scale for each chord, not just the one for the key of the whole blues - so if you're using Bb Blues again, use C, F and G blues scales on tenor, or G, C and D on alto, over the appropriate chords.

This helps your ear to understand chords going past, and to join in appropriately (using the valuable advice given below!) by adding in embellishments, chord tones and all the other stuff. It's a long process, probably just as long as learning to play in the first place, so don't assume it's 'easy' or automatic in any way. The better your ear is, the easier you'll find it though, so ear training is very useful as a sideline study!

Good luck,

Nick
 

old git

Tremendous Bore
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5,545
Nick,
I was simply pointing out that if you suggest to a pupil that learning something is "tricky", "difficult" or "a long process", you are making a stick for your own and the pupil's back.

Maybe just judging by whether it sounds good or not and then helping them to understand why, by providing the theoretical reasons if they would like them, might be a better method. Even then there are snags, as to what is acceptable and therefore the theory, advances with time.
 
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half diminished

Senior Member
Messages
1,302
I'm finding the key to improvising better (I am improving albeit slowly) is yes learn your scales/arpeggios so they're under your fingers but its the ability to hear melodies in your head and to reproduce that sound on your instrument that makes improvising work well. Less is invariably more and it about use of rhythm, syncopation, timing and well-placed silence. My teacher is a top jazz saxophonist and it never fails to amaze me how fantastic she can sound with just a few notes and simple but well chosen rhythms.

You need to hear and reproduce/play intervals well and to do that you need to develop your ear and relative pitch. That comes in my experience from listening to the best musicians and I often do so with the dots in front of me or even better, transcribe the tune you are listening to yourself. Also try listening and then playing the phrase you just heard. Transcribe is great for this.

Where my teacher started me is with Three O Clock In the Morning by Dexter Gordon. it's a great tune but very transcribable for a beginner transcriber. Another good trick is to play 'embedded' tunes by ear. So that's stuff like Happy Birthday, Christmas carols, hymns, Annie's song (John Denver) etc etc. Gets your ears and hands working together. Play it in all the keys which is quite a challenge on some tunes.

Another thing to try is learn a jazz standard well and start embellishing the melody. You'll learn a lot from that exercise too.

What I am finding is I now pretty much know when I'm improvising well (not that often) and when I'm 'off the mark' (most of the time). But I am shifting from one to the other albeit as I said earlier slowly. Above all keep it interesting and keep practising and keep listening to good music. It'll all start to come together eventually.
 
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old git

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The question that would be interesting to hear your answer to Ian, (BTW:-The beer that YC and I bought you in Croydon was not affected by our made up sewer leak :)) is, do you judge the quality of your improvisation by your ears or by your knowledge of musical theory?
 

half diminished

Senior Member
Messages
1,302
The question that would be interesting to hear your answer to Ian, (BTW:-The beer that YC and I bought you in Croydon was not affected by our made up sewer leak :)) is, do you judge the quality of your improvisation by your ears or by your knowledge of musical theory?
By my, and 'informed others' ears. I am told I am quite 'musical' with my improvisation and that I am improving but I can't say I always know exactly where I am in relation to and for spelling out the changes. I am beginning to know when something works and does not and I know when I've played a 'bum' note.
 

old git

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5,545
That's a good response, Ian.

Now if you can tell when it's a bum note, why not encourage Lil' Nik to use the same method?
 

old git

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5,545
What I'm suggesting Ian, is that it is a chicken and egg situation. Let's encourage Li' Nik to have a go at improvisation first and then if he/she wishes to know the theory behind it, then tell them.

I still find it difficult to imagine one of our palaeolithic ancestors, holding a learned discussion on musical theory before trying out his new bone whistle. :) Willing to admit I'm probably wrong.
 
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