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Improv Phobia

Luluna

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At 51, this shouldn't scare the living daylights out of me but it DOES. Some people are afraid of public speaking, heights, spiders and snakes - 12 bars of chord changes makes my knees sweat, heart race, my throat closes and I FREEZE. I develop a mental block for all the theory I've ever learned and literally panic. I can sight read my butt off - but give me those horrible empty bars - terrifying.

I've searched and read previous posts, and purchased and downloaded Mr. Thomas' scales and beginner advice.

Technically, I'm fine. Mentally, I'm not.

The mountain that needs to be scaled: a solo section in Wayne Shorter's "Footprints" and Chick Corea's "Spain".

GULP.
 

TimboSax

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It can be daunting.

Bearing in mind I am a theoretical dunce, what about trying this: don't make it up on the spot, there and then. Make it up beforehand. Learn a collection of runs, each one maybe a bar or two. Make them up, nick 'em of other pieces of music, whatever. The key point is that you go to do the improv and you already know what you're going to play.

That's is how I learnt guitar improv, indeed how many of the guitarists I looked up to as a kid learnt: listen to the greats and learn how to play the runs that they play. As you get more into it you then learn to break them down further and further, until you can start incorporating it naturally into your own style. But that's for later. Right now, just prelearn your improv :D

I find that as I'm learning sax, I'm doing this again. I'm tootling along and working out how to play little runs and fills. Listening to other players and trying to pick up on small bits and pieces of their playing. Of course, I'm finding that not being able to play the bloody sax in the first place is a bit of a hinderance, but it sounds like you won't have this problem :)
 

Luluna

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Thank you for the advice, the theory I learned in the 70s and 80s seems to have disappeared from my memory banks so your viewpoint is especially helpful. Seems like guitar players were always encouraged to "noodle"? Back in the day improv wasn't part of the curriculum until you got to college and it was trial by fire, or firewater (whichever worked).

I used to sit down and write it all out on a separate sheet of staff paper before rehearsals. There is only one other female in the band (a young student) and she is more petrified than I am. Would like to set a good example for her and overcome my Improvaphobia and encourage her to put her feet in the fire as well.
 

BigMartin

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There's a huge gap between knowing what to do theoretically and putting it into practice. I've been working at it for 3 years now. It's definitely improving, but s-l-o-w-l-y. I'm not saying this to put you off, but to make you fell less bad about not being able to do it straight away. There are new skills to master. Just keeping your place in the chord sequence as you play is something I've really struggled with, and according to what I've read everyone still gets lost sometimes.
 

Luluna

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I just don't want to faint in front of a rehearsal room full of college kids! Thanks BigMartin :) It's nice to know that I'm not alone in the struggle.
 

BigMartin

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Let them know you're nervous in advance. Even (most!) college kids are human and will know what you're going through. And try to resist the temptation to play too much. A few well-placed notes are more effective than dozens of notes, half of which you wish you hadn't played (trust me, I've learned that much from experience).
 

old git

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Park the instrument, sit in the loo and hum the theme so it is so familiar that ts a friend. Stay by yourself and hum or sing some decorations on thew melody, Don't worry if at times it doesn't work, just keep trying. Try it with the sax but alone. The confidence will gradually build up and you will be doing your own thing and you WILL hear applause at the end of your spot.

Now go to it or I'll send round the CaSLM. >:)
 

Fraser Jarvis

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Sounds like a psychological problem rather than actual ability. Ever thought about Hypnosis? seriously...
 

jbtsax

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My advice would be to get Band In A Box or some other program. Put the changes to those 12 bars into it at a tempo slower than the piece you are performing and set it up as a loop. Become familiar with the key and the scales that fit those changes. Then sit all alone in a room and play along with that 12 bars over and over again. When your chops get tired, scat sing some melodic ideas against the changes.

Another fun way to focus on just one element of improvisation is to play the same note throughout, trying to create as much rhythmic interest as you can. Octaves are ok. (Listen to Clark Terry) Then play a solo using two notes, again trying to be as rhythmically creative as possible. Then three notes and so on.

Try creating a "riff" that works in all 12 bars. You may have to change 1 or 2 notes as the chords change. Come up with a "motif" or short melodic idea that you like and move that around. Think of what Paul Desmond does on the bridge of Take 5. It is really easy to come up with 12 bars of interesting melodic ideas when you think in these terms. The rule of thumb when you listen to great improvisors is that they tend to repeat their "motif" 3 times and then move to another idea.
 

MandyH

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Turn the lights out, draw the curtains, play the backing track music, close your eyes and play. Forget the theory, FEEL the music :D
 

Colin the Bear

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Play the tune, no dots, till you have it fast, slow, reggae, waltz, backwards.

For a solo, come in a little late and finish a little early with each phrase, leave out some notes, add a few others. The chord chart and theory are for when you can't work it out by ear.

Answer the drums, answer the bass,

Chromatic runs can get you to where you're going if you lose the plot. The blues scale is your friend and one note bent and meant is enough for four bars. Play with heart not head and have something to say. I like this tune is enough said.

Remember when you play no one has heard it before. It's an original composition.

What's the worst thing that can happen? A bum note? They may not like it? Pffft what do they know lol.

We improvise for ourselves. If others like it that's a bonus.

It's not a window into your soul or an exposing of your darkest secrets. It's just music.
 

aaronrod

Member
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...one note bent and meant is enough for four bars.

I think that has got to be the best piece of practical advice I have ever read for improvisation. If you can, make a face as well, audiences love that!

Seriously, for the audience, it is more about the performance than the notes you play. If you're having fun, the audience will as well, no matter what you play. :)
 

Luluna

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Sounds like a psychological problem rather than actual ability. Ever thought about Hypnosis? seriously...

Does it work? And yes, it is a mental block..... the same one I have for word problems in advanced mathematics.
 

BigMartin

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Does it work? And yes, it is a mental block..... the same one I have for word problems in advanced mathematics.
Ah, now there's something I could help you with :).

Word problems are scary because they make you think about what the mathematics means rather than just aplying some pre-learned formulae. Not unlike improvisation where you have to make some music, rather than just follow a predetermined path. But the rewards when it goes well are worth the struggle in both cases.
 

Tenor Viol

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I think that has got to be the best piece of practical advice I have ever read for improvisation. If you can, make a face as well, audiences love that!

Seriously, for the audience, it is more about the performance than the notes you play. If you're having fun, the audience will as well, no matter what you play. :)
Just don't grimace or make any other indication that the note was 'unintended'.... they don't know that.
 

Luluna

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Improv crisis averted - jazz ensemble director told us (meaning myself and the only other female member of the band) that "everyone can solo except you two" - the guys will cover it. "The fewer solos the better" he said.

I just realized the quickest cure to my phobia - ANGER. >:)
 

BigMartin

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Improv crisis averted - jazz ensemble director told us (meaning myself and the only other female member of the band) that "everyone can solo except you two" - the guys will cover it. "The fewer solos the better" he said.

I just realized the quickest cure to my phobia - ANGER. >:)
Oh, dear! Could be time to find, or start, another band. And while you're about it, see how much trouble you can make for the director. You mentioned college kids: is the band run under the auspices of a local college? Does it get any kind of public funding? If so I expect they have some kind of policy on sex discrimination...
 

jbtsax

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Improv crisis averted - jazz ensemble director told us (meaning myself and the only other female member of the band) that "everyone can solo except you two" - the guys will cover it. "The fewer solos the better" he said.

I just realized the quickest cure to my phobia - ANGER. >:)

Getting back at someone who has slighted you or questioned your ability is one of the strongest motivators I can think of. Use this to your advantage and show that *&%$*&!$ director. You go girl!
 

old git

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Improv crisis averted - jazz ensemble director told us (meaning myself and the only other female member of the band) that "everyone can solo except you two" - the guys will cover it. "The fewer solos the better" he said.

I just realized the quickest cure to my phobia - ANGER. >:)

Jazz ensemble director? Not much of a jazz ensemble, more a community band.

He can obviously manage without you two, so quit and find another group that will let you solo or as others suggested, form your own.

If it wasn't so expensive, would fly across with the CaSLM and fix him.
 
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