Beginner First steps to improv..how?

Discussion in 'Playing' started by Medusa, Jul 14, 2017.

  1. Medusa

    Medusa New Member

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    I've only been playing 6 months, but making reasonable progress according to my teacher. I'm currently working on the Jamie Abersold Maiden Voyage 54 book.
    The tunes.. no problem (ok I may not be exactly **** hot but I can read and play them with accuracy and reasonably good timing. And I can manage the blues scales . But when I try to put a little together on my own..it just sounds awful. (I suppose I could call it 'experimental' :D )
    I have no idea how to start.. I think I'm trying to make it complicated instead of instinctive. Any tips please, before the neighbours start to complain? Really really basic tips...
    Cheers!
     
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  3. jbtsax

    jbtsax old and opinionated

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    A good place to start is to play simple tunes without the music. Choose a starting note, hear the melody in your mind's ear and pick out the notes on the saxophone. It may be slow and awkward at first, but with practice it will come faster and easier.

    To transfer playing what you hear in your mind to improvising on tunes start with just a single note. For example put on the backing track to Summertime and using just one or two pitches sing along with the recording using du's and dots. Focus on creating interesting rhythms with the limited number of notes you have chosen. If the chord changes and the note you picked no longer fits, simply change to a neighboring tone above or below that sounds good. When you are comfortable improvising a rhythmically interesting melody with your voice, then do the same on the saxophone.
     
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  4. brianr

    brianr Senior Member

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    I agree with John, above.

    learning to play by ear, is crucial.
    in fact, I think unless you develop your ear to some degree, you will never become an improviser.

    I feel there are 2 sides to this (both similar) and both need practice

    1) learning to play what you can hear/sing inside your head.
    As john says, practice with simple tunes. Nursery rhymes etc
    Go one note at a time, be correct before you move on. Hear the next note inside your head . Sing it inside your head or sing it out loud. Whatever works.
    Then find it on your sax

    2) learn to play/duplicate what you hear others play. usually people refer to this as "transcribing"
    it means you listen to something and then try to find the notes on your sax.

    in the early stages of getting this together, it doesnt matter what instrument you try to copy. a vocalist is good. But aim to start doing it with a sax player eventually.
    E.g. When I started this, I learned by ear every note played by the sax player in a UK band called "UB40. "
    Why them? They were the only Lps I had with sax on them!!!
    I learned so much from that.

    what to transcribe?........ anything that appeals.
    it has to be not too much of a challenge. Something that you can hear fairly easily.

    Ive recently been lent a book by a friend.
    Bob Mintzer 15 easy jazz/funk exudes.

    It is fantastic. But not in the way it is intended. There is a book along with it, showing exactly what he is playing.
    But the important learning tool is the CD of him playing .
    I would suggest throwing the book away and using his playing as a transcribing /aural process.
    Or, if you cant bring yourself to throw away the book, resist looking at the music.
    It will not benefit you in the way Im talking about , to read this book.
    reading it will benefit you in other ways, but not in the crucial way that Im talking about.

    Learn it all by ear.

    The phrases are not too fast. Are usually nice and short, are not too high or low, and not too technically difficult.

    It is a perfect way in to transcribing

    I highly recommend this.

    Ps .....be patient. 6 months in is nothing. You are at the start of a long journey.

    Also, don't change the stuff you practice too soon. Stick with the same stuff for a decent time before changing to new stuff. Im meaning technical stuff.

    Be patient

    Good luck
     
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2017
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  5. altissimo

    altissimo Well-Known Member

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    Just keep trying, the awfulness will diminish with time... your own explorations of what you can do on the instrument are part of the learning process, you'll pick up the theory as you go along, but it's only guidelines and best practices
    Every great improviser wasn't great when they started, but they had the determination to keep trying.
    there's a lot of trial and error involved. A lot of great improvisers make mistakes or things didn't come out the way they intended. Learning how to cope with your errors and incorporate them into your playing is part of the process - sometimes that 'wrong' note will take you in a new direction - go with it and see where it leads.
    Try playing the notes of the melody in a different order, add other notes and see if they fit, if you play things that sound good try variations on them, if you play things that sound bad try to figure out why they sound bad and see how to improve them, often you're never more than a semitone away from a note that works.
    It's all about tension and release - varying amounts of consonance and dissonance
    There will be times when it all seems awful and you'll want to give up - tomorrow it'll be different
    Try not to be too judgmental, accept your mistakes and just carry on, confidence is a big part of being good - if you play it like you mean it it doesn't matter if it's not perfect - and what is perfection?
    A great deal of our daily lives involves some form of improvisation - we don't plan out every conversation nor can we predict every journey, circumstances change and we adjust to cope with them. Music's the same, listen intently and react accordingly. Develop your instincts and learn to trust them.

    There's an anecdote about Thelonious Monk coming off stage after a gig looking miserable and dejected "what's wrong?" someone asked "Oh, I made all the wrong mistakes" he replied
    One of the guys I learnt improvising from used to quote Samuel Beckett - "try again, fail again, fail better" and that came from someone who has nearly 50 years experience of playing.

    t's the path of discovery that leads you to interesting places
     
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  6. MandyH

    MandyH Sax-Mad fiend!

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    Sing along to the backing tracks, so you get a feel for the length of the phrases.
    Work out one note that will work in each bar / 2-bars / 4-bars and play only that.
    If your sheet music shows which chords go in each bar, play only the tonic.
    Then when you are getting some rhythms together that marry up to the phrase lengths, you can add in a 2nd note - maybe the 3rd or the 5th, or the blue note (if that's relevant in your music).
    Leave spaces.
    Don't always start at the beginning of the bar - maybe come in on beat 2 of 4, or on a quaver up-beat....
     
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  7. Tiberius

    Tiberius Senior Member

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    I'm little more advanced than you, so not really advice, but I can describe my journey, the things that helped me and those that didn't help much.

    First, you need to give yourself some advantages. So to me that's things like picking a sensible song to improvise over. Something like Summertime (I think John mentioned it above). There's 3 things your after:

    First there shouldn't be lots of changes, that's just confusing, so things like Body and Soul I think are out.

    Second, a medium pace I found the best. Too fast is obviously not for beginners (no bebop :)), but too slow isn't good (for me) either.

    Third, try to pick something in 'sensible' scales. As a beginner, there's no way I'm going to solo easily when I have to try and remember 6 sharps...it's not gonna happen. G is good, strangely, I don't find C easy to play, the root is right on the break, and it's the only C that is 'easy' to play.

    Then, I think you have to know the song, the melody, and the chord sequence/where it changes. Then there's a few ways of doing it, I've tried them all. My teacher likes to outline chords. So things like playing the root/3rd/5th of the current chord works. Then you can just play the scale...well, a scale, might not necessarily be the 'Major' scale.

    But above all, the number one tip, record it, play it back, note what went right, what went RIGHT!!, and what went not quite so right.

    Oh...and don't play like all the time. Play something, then shut up for a bit, then play again :)

    Those things helped me, but I guess you have to find the things that will help you.
     
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  8. Jazzaferri

    Jazzaferri Well-Known Member

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    one thing I recommend to improvisation students is to try one note solos.

    One needs a backing track and some knowledge of theory to choose the right note. Best to try over short phrases 2-4 bars at first

    its not easy to do a meaningful 16 bar one note solo but one learns lots about rhythm and listening
     
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  9. nigeld

    nigeld slow learner

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    My teacher started me on improvisation with learning the blues scale (key of D minor is easy) and then noodling on top of a simple 12-bar blues backing track. The good news is that almost anything one plays sounds reasonable as long as one stays in the blues scale. But more importantly, I could keep going round and round, and after a while the feel of the chord changes began to sink in. We used iReal Pro and Bessie's Blues for the backing track. If you have an iPhone or an iPad, iReal Pro is great for producing the backing track, because you can set it to any key and any tempo and get it to keep looping.

    The next step was to play a backing track while looking at the chord chart and to play the root note from each of the chords. Then try more than one note (e.g. root and 3rd), and so on. We slow the track down enough for me to keep up.
     
  10. Jazzaferri

    Jazzaferri Well-Known Member

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    To learn the form, I teach the arpeggiate your way through the form method. First quarters on simple songs then eighths (quavers semis)
     
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  11. AlanT

    AlanT Senior Member

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    Medusa -Theory gives me a headache so I don't use it. The very simple thing I started to do is throw in fills (xtra notes I add to the music whenever possible) For example a whole note at the end of a written phrase is an invite for a fill or you can play a run of notes up to or after a written note, after awhile you can expand on those extra notes to create improv. I have never considered the form or chord changes that some think is so important and have come up with some very satisfying improv nonetheless. Some of histories best improvisers were not 'schooled' in theory and in fact could not read a lick of music but what they did have is great ears and feel.

    Once you've played your instrument long enough and know a piece of music well enough your fingers will automatically find notes that fit that are not on the written page and off you go. If you want to expand on that later and be schooled in theory that's fine but this is a good jumping off point and simple basic where to start that you requested.
     
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  12. StageFright

    StageFright Member

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    I'm new to this whole sax thing let alone improvisation, but this is the path I've been taking to try and get started in improvisation. I've found that adding note(s) to "embellish" the melody is a relatively easy way to start experimenting with improve. A simple turn around at the end of a phrase can sound nice and add some interest to the phrase. Within a couple of months I was starting to "hear" in my head simple melodic embellishments and find my fingers wanting to do those things almost automatically. I flub a lot, and its still pre-school level stuff but it is getting better with time and practice.

    Good Luck
     
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  13. StageFright

    StageFright Member

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    True. Almost anything you do sounds reasonable in a blues scale.
     
  14. Tiberius

    Tiberius Senior Member

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    To me, this was a false crutch. It wasn't a help. As you say, you can just play anything and it "works".

    That's why I prefer something like Summertime, where not always does everything fit, but close. You only have a couple of notes to change and then you can hear how you are highlighting chord changes. You can hear when you get it right or wrong.
     
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  15. nigeld

    nigeld slow learner

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    The point was to get a bit of confidence that "improvisation" was not impossible. And blues scale noodling is a backup mechanism if things go wrong.
     
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  16. Saxlicker

    Saxlicker Well-Known Member

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    Lots of good advice in this thread and taking a snippet of what you asked...
    This approach is coming at you from a bit of a tangent because it's a video created for learning a bamboo flute tuned in a pentatonic scale. The guy is funny which you may not pick up on in this single video (he'll probably come across as a little more 'out there') unless you watch many things. Actually he is a little 'out there' :confused:

    But none the less it shows how a simple approach can be really effective. Home is all holes closed and you basically go for a walk.....well you'll see. Leave a couple of notes out of the blues scale and you are back to pentatonic....have fun.
    The poignant points are really at 4 mins onward and 6 mins onward just as a simple way to show how the notes will work together.

     
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2017
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  17. Jazzaferri

    Jazzaferri Well-Known Member

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    Theory is just English (or whatever other written/spoken language) to describe what we hear in our mind. Unless one has a gifted ear that has been well developed from an early age some training in understanding of how Western music works will always enhance one's improvisation.

    Noodling is not improvisational music....it is noodling...but it does work when one has nothing else to offer.

    noodling the curtail shot exceptionally foot housed salacious

    Improvisation is telling a story using sounds to describe things we cannot use our words for.
     
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  18. StageFright

    StageFright Member

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    Excellent distinction.
     
  19. nigeld

    nigeld slow learner

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    I don't accept that there is a distinction between "noodling" and "improvisation".

    "Improvisation" means creating music spontaneously. It doesn't mean doing it in any particular way.
    "Noodling" means improvising in a casual manner.

    Of course, each of us may prefer some forms of improvisation to others, but that doesn't invalidate the alternatives.
     
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  20. Tiberius

    Tiberius Senior Member

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    I hear this. I'm simply saying what helped me progress and what didn't. As stated above, such noodling isn't really improvisation. For each person what helps may be different. For me this didn't help, for others maybe it will.

    Another thing that didn't help me is the concept of singing. Again I'm sure it might help some people but it didn't help me. Perhaps because I've never been happy singing anyway, just as I say, it didn't help me.
     
  21. Nick Wyver

    Nick Wyver noisy

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    I wouldn't knock blues scales. I've been playing 45 years and I still use them - and I'll bet almost every other instrumentalist who plays blues uses them too.
     
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