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Beginner Clarification on improvisation

saxyman

Member
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267
I have been getting interested in improvisation and have read a few books, but not one seems to say this is what improvisation is and leaves me with the question:
When a score is written with just the chords over the bars, what does that actually mean: is it that you plays the arpeggio of that Chord in that bar or just a number of notes from it.
Perhaps someone will give me a very simple explanation.
 

BigMartin

Well-Known Member
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3,904
I have been getting interested in improvisation and have read a few books, but not one seems to say this is what improvisation is and leaves me with the question:
I'm no expert but I'll have a stab at it, and the more experienced players here can set me right.

When a score is written with just the chords over the bars, what does that actually mean: is it that you plays the arpeggio of that Chord in that bar or just a number of notes from it.
It means that the harmony at that point in the music is based on that chord. As a sax (or other melody instrument) player what that usually means is that the corresponding portion of your solo should emphasise the tones belonging to that chord, eg by placing them on strong beats or holding them for longer than non-chord tones. The non-chord tones that you use in between the chord tones may be suggested by examining the chord sequence to see what key you're in at that point, or usisng chromatic runs, enclosures , etc, or you just choose them by ear according to what you think will sound good. Or you may want to play "outside" the harmony and avoid the chord tones altogether. It's a question of taste and style.

Playing the chord arpeggios is a good practice technique for learning the chords and fixing the sound of them in your mind, but on it's own it's not going to make for a very interesting solo.

Perhaps someone will give me a very simple explanation.
I doubt it. I haven't seen one yet. ;}
 

Randy Hunter

Member
Messages
34
I'm no expert but I'll have a stab at it, and the more experienced players here can set me right.

It means that the harmony at that point in the music is based on that chord. As a sax (or other melody instrument) player what that usually means is that the corresponding portion of your solo should emphasise the tones belonging to that chord, eg by placing them on strong beats or holding them for longer than non-chord tones. The non-chord tones that you use in between the chord tones may be suggested by examining the chord sequence to see what key you're in at that point, or usisng chromatic runs, enclosures , etc, or you just choose them by ear according to what you think will sound good. Or you may want to play "outside" the harmony and avoid the chord tones altogether. It's a question of taste and style.

Playing the chord arpeggios is a good practice technique for learning the chords and fixing the sound of them in your mind, but on it's own it's not going to make for a very interesting solo.

I doubt it. I haven't seen one yet. ;}
BigMartin gave a great reply. My suggestion is that you learn the arpeggios and scales that the chords are constructed from, then learn to think of them as a vocabulary from which you create a musical story about the chord progression. Ultimately, you want to know your vocabulary so well that you respond to the music much the same as you might respond in a verbal discussion about a topic in which you are well versed. You can work toward this by practicing patterns based on the scales and arpeggios to a given chord progression. It is also beneficial to go ahead and begin practicing patterns on the different types of scales- major, mixolydian (dominant), and dorian (minor 7). Your musical language skills will develop over time with this kind of vocabulary practice. Of course, it helps to have a skilled teacher.

Randy
www.randyhunterjazz.com
Lessons page: www.beginningsax.com/Jazz Improv Lessons.htm
 

Sweet Dreamer

Senior Member
Messages
505
I've been getting really interested in improvisation myself. I've started out with basic blues forms simply because most people who teach blues improvisation stress that this is a good place to start, you can expand into everything else from there. or at least so they claim.

I've just ordered the following Blues Improvisation book. This is a book that Paul Inglis recommended in another thread entitled "Blues scales" in the "Playing" forum. After seeing Paul's recommendation I looked up the book and read about it, it appears to be a book that addresses the actual art of improvisation.

Blues Improvisation Complete: Bb Instruments, with Play-Along CD
(you can also get his in Eb, or C) I chose Eb for Alto sax.

51DC3F1WH8L._SL500_AA300_.jpg


Although as BigMartin and Randy Hunter have both pointed out, improvisation is a personal art. It's ultimately a matter of personal expression. So there is no concrete technique or methodology that could be called "The Correct Methodology of Improvisation" for if there were such a thing, then it would no longer be improvisation, but instead it would be a very rigid technique.

Having said that, the more techniques you have under your belt the more tools you'll have for your artistic musical expression. Just like a painter will have more tools for expressing their art if they also know more techniques.

So any techniques you learn will be more tools under your belt. How you apply them is what makes your musical art unique.

I haven't received my copy of the Blues Improvisation Complete book yet so I can't say what it's like, I'm taking Paul's word for it that it's a worthwhile study. Although I did read descriptions of the book and reviews. Even though it states that it's "Blues", according to what I've read it actually covers various genres of music such as Latin, Fusion, Rock, as well as Blues.

At my level I'm bound to learn something. There's really nowhere for me to go but UP.
 

jeremyjuicewah

Well-Known Member
Messages
1,890
Getting into this myself. I record a backing track of any kind of music. I work out a few phrases in my head and play them. Over five or six hours in a week I learn what parts of what scales I can use, good notes to miss out, good notes to finish a phrase on, good notes to resolve to. Sometimes a note that really shouldnt fit does. Not strictly improv I suppose but I'm building up a bank of phrases and knowledge and most importantly learning what a note will sound like before I play it. I record because what I hear when I play is absolutely not what I am playing. Its influenced by what I want to play. So I have learned to stop making the short jumpy notes that show I do not know where I am going next and to cut out the bleating disconnected notes that sound good in my head but ruin a nice peice of music. I know there are good rules and guides for improvising but they are rooted in theory which is too deep for me just now. At least, the jazz stuff is. Most of my study is in sight reading and I find this kind of free stuff great fun. Its no answer to your question but I think its on topic.
All the best
Mike
 

saxyman

Member
Messages
267
God I am getting bogged down here.
Thanks I believe I understand what you mean now, its not the technically of it, its just the understanding (basic) of what its about.
I understand music, and as a novice i am happy playing from scores allbit not very good.
All answers seem to be too complicated all I need to know is that: all reading material on the subject takes you through simple stages then all of a sudden you are left thinking where do I go from here, as if the "student" is totally familiar with music, there does not seem to be any explanation as to how, why, and when.
I appreciate there is a need for knowing your scales, arpeggios,(and there,s not short cuts only hard work) etc etc but how does that link into it.
When I see a chord symbol over a bar, what does it mean, that I need to play the notes that form that chord or what? ok not in any particular order, that is where one improvises, is that correct, I just stick with those notes and then on the next bar do the same using the respective notes from that chord?
How do i link them to the melody or do I not do that.
I know it comes from within, but sadly I dont have that skill inside me as of yet so i am trying to get my head round what i should be learning and for that purpose.
For those of you who improvise and have that ability, this question must be hard to understand. So I apologise for going on about it, but it is something that is bugging me and I cannot find the simple answer.
 

BigMartin

Well-Known Member
Messages
3,904
God I am getting bogged down here.
Thanks I believe I understand what you mean now, its not the technically of it, its just the understanding (basic) of what its about.
I understand music, and as a novice i am happy playing from scores allbit not very good.
All answers seem to be too complicated all I need to know is that: all reading material on the subject takes you through simple stages then all of a sudden you are left thinking where do I go from here, as if the "student" is totally familiar with music, there does not seem to be any explanation as to how, why, and when.
I think the problem is that you're looking for a straight answer and there really isn't one ;}.

I appreciate there is a need for knowing your scales, arpeggios,(and there,s not short cuts only hard work) etc etc but how does that link into it.
There's knowing and knowing. I know my scales and arpeggios well enough to play any one of them when I've got time to think about it. But you need have them "under the fingers" enough to play them without thinking so you've got time to think about other things, like what you want to do/say in your solo. And you need to really get to know the sound of the chords/scales. This is one of the things I've been working on recently.

When I see a chord symbol over a bar, what does it mean, that I need to play the notes that form that chord or what? ok not in any particular order, that is where one improvises, is that correct, I just stick with those notes and then on the next bar do the same using the respective notes from that chord?
How do i link them to the melody or do I not do that.

I know it comes from within, but sadly I dont have that skill inside me as of yet so i am trying to get my head round what i should be learning and for that purpose.
One of the best things you can do is listen to as much as possible of the sort of music you want to play. It's the most enjoyable form of learning I can think of. It only comes from within if you put it there in the first place. Otherwise you'd have to reinvent jazz or funk or whatever you want to play all by yourself.

For those of you who improvise and have that ability, this question must be hard to understand. So I apologise for going on about it, but it is something that is bugging me and I cannot find the simple answer.
It's a long road and I'm only at the start of it myself. Having a lot of fun with it though. Try some stuff out. If it doesn't sound great at first it doesn't matter. That's what practice is for.
 
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Chris

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3,821
Chords and improv

Hi Saxyman, What a great thread:welldoneAs you are talking improv then I will look at this from a jazz point of view. All tunes are as a general rule built around basic 251 chord progressions.
When you sit down and play your score you are playing what the composser wanted to hear.
When it comes to improv,it is a case of the individual musician taking those chords and turning them into something new. Based on his or hers knowledge and musical abiltiy.
Most jazz tunes are in more than one key,this is what sets them apart from basic blues tunes. Also this fact makes your improv so much harder as you also have to change key with the song, as well as outline the chord changes in a classic jazz education. The how when and why part of your question can be answered in one way saying that it is just using your creative musical side to turn your knowlegde of scales and arps into music.Improv is up to you, that is why we all work so hard.
You are right you can use chord tones as the chords go by from bar to bar, using rhythm to add interest, but you would soon run out of ideas.You can play off the melody, eg most of Ben Websters playing ( there are a lot of other examples), by adding notes to an existing melody and or only targeting certian chord tones,playing melodic sequences etc etc.The best way is to start simple use simple 251 chord progressions, just use notes from the key you are in. Learn to hear how they sound certain notes will sound better over the 5 chord than over the 2 chord etc etc.Then use chord progressions that change key,learn how to read a leadsheet so you can say C maj here then Bb maj there or whatever is going on.There are many ways to find your musical voice.Hope this goes some way to help.if you have any more questions just ask.

Cheers

Chris
 

jeremyjuicewah

Well-Known Member
Messages
1,890
Sorry Saxyman. I am new to sax but have been around music for years, mostly guitar. The answer to your question direct is yes. Play the notes from the chords indicated and find the ones you like best. Chords and scales are just little packages of music which you can usually rely on not to let you down if you dont know what you are doing. Chords are just part of scales. That is all they are. There are pitfalls but you can only find them out by playing and listening. eg its wise to avoid the fourth note of a major scale. Wise if you want things to sound conventional, not if you like the sound it makes. Finding the key is hard to begin with but to apply scales and chords you have to know it. You can find a key by identifying the root note and trying a scale or two. Jazz is too hard for me to do this, too many changes. Chords and scales are music in a form that can be passed on verbally or visually. Best way to start is to follow whats written. If its not written you have to work it out. Hope that doesnt make it worse, dont have bad dreams,
best wishes
Mike
 

trimmy

One day i will...
Messages
10,272
Hi Saxyman

Iv'e decided to learn jazz and got a bargain off the bay of e, in John o'Neills The Jazz Method (alto) he also does a version for tenor, i'm not qualified enough to give advice on impro as i've only started jazz the last 2 lessons iv'e had, but i can highly recommend the book. My teacher (who plays jazz) had a look in the book and was very impressed with what he saw, he learnt his jazz from Mark Levine jazz method which is another good book but too advanced for me (beginner).

If you can get a copy of John O'Neill's book it will help you along your journey into jazz :)

Kev
 

saxyman

Member
Messages
267
Thanks guys all of you, I have gleaned a lot from all your answers, mind you still a bit confused (mind you at my age that's to be expected).
I think you all have contributed a bit to helping me and I do appreciate it, sometimes especially on a forum one gets a bit wary about asking questions as it can show you as being the novice that you are, but I am not a proud person.
Trimmy,
I have actually just got hold of a copy of that exact book, but for the Tenor and that's what prompted me to raise these questions, I could follow it to a stage then it lost me. Hopefully now I will make some progress.
Do let me know how you get on.
In fairness perhaps I am trying to run before I can walk but the years are rushing by.
Dave M
 

BigMartin

Well-Known Member
Messages
3,904
Trimmy,
I have actually just got hold of a copy of that exact book, but for the Tenor and that's what prompted me to raise these questions, I could follow it to a stage then it lost me. Hopefully now I will make some progress.
I had exactly the same problem with O'Neill's book. The level of improvisation expected jumps rather suddenly and after messing about with some pentatonics and blues scales you find yourself playing 24 bars over 3 different chords and, just to make it even harder to keep your place, you're in 3/4 time. Bit mean I think.
 
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