Improvisation....help

Basil

Member
Messages
33
Location
on the edge of Dartmoor
Hi. My teacher knows nothing about improvisation, and whilst he is good at reading the dots and teaching me to do so, I want to expand, after 2 years of playing, into improvisation.

I have a few questions/doubts though.

1) Is now the right time, or much too early to learn improvisation ? Apart from a few major and minor scales I don't really know any theory.......a throwback from failing my grade 5 theory as a child......long story for another time......

2) If now is good, where do I start ? Someone I know has suggested that I purchase some books and cd's from www.beecroft.de. They look ok on the web page, but I don't really know what I am buying.

3) Can you learn to improvise properly without a thorough knowlege of theory first ?

I have little doubt that this is a topic that has been visited time and time before, but I really feel lost and need some guidance please....anybody ???
 
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Mamos

Member
Messages
691
Location
Falmouth Cornwall
What sax do you play

If you play Alto then I would recommend this http://www.jazzwise.com/catalog/product_info.php?products_id=9409&osCsid=if3vj8urq202bnn2hlcl8aru35


Or Jamie Aebersold volume 1 get this one anyway, everybody should have a copy

mamos
 
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old git

Tremendous Bore
Can you hear in your mind what you want to play? If you can, isn't it a case of 'chancing your arm' and learning what works for you and what doesn't?

If you cannot even imagine transferring head or soul phrases to instrument, then just learn, consciously, what others have played and marry bits together, with guidance, if you are so unsure.

The answer to question three is that the blues pioneers would have had difficulty telling a l, ll or V from their elbow and the early jass marching bands weren't usually graduates except from the school of life. They relied on whether it sounded good or not, why don't you?

If you wish to know the theory of improvisation, no problems, just use it as back up not the raison d'etre.

*Please excuse the lack of accents, draw them in, if it annoys you* ;}
 
OP
Basil

Basil

Member
Messages
33
Location
on the edge of Dartmoor
Thank you gentlemen. I play alto, a yamaha 62, and I hadn't even thought of Aebersold for some reason, nor had I ever heard of the Ollie Weston book so I will have a go.

OG, I guess you must be right. I can improvise fantastically in my head (well, it sounds ok anyway), so I suppose it is a question of going for it, and getting on a steep learning curve. My problem is that I always have to understand things from first principles, so I tend to over analyse and over complicate. Music theory only explains what we are doing rather than setting a goal I suppose, so I kind of like that analogy.....and some of the early blues stuff is just amazing.

So thank you. I will certainly have a look at these materials, but I will also "just go for it" and will stop trying too hard!!! (with appropriate apologies to the neighbours in advance)
 

Moz

Senior Member
Messages
841
Location
North of Liskeard, Cornwall,UK
Definitely go for it if you can hear it in your head. I do improvise all the time and I can barely name one scale let alone the three million that there appear to me to exist (myxolidian, dyslexian, vulcan, whatever). Yes, if you know your scales fluently and can switch quickly from one to another you will be a better improvisor ('or' or 'er') but can we all be bothered with the drudgery. A professional must surely do this but if one does it for fun then it must stay fun.

The late Humphrey Littleton was said (by himself, I think) to learn the tune from the music then throw away the music. Now Humph can't be wrong can he.


Martin

'Just play the damn thing'
 

Lloyd

Member
Messages
208
Location
Hertfordshire
You might want to take a look at the Creative Saxophone books by Santin & Clark. There are four books in the series; Creative Saxophone, Saxophone Duets, Improvising and Workbook. The first in the series introduces the beginner to improvisation and the later ones, Improvising and Workbook, are aimed at intermediates. I haven't got the Duets book so can't comment on that. They come with backing CDs and cover both theory and practical. I bought mine from Jazzwize and recommend them.
 
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Linky Lee

Member
Messages
182
Location
Salisbury, UK
All the jazz greats seem to say they play what they hear in their head.
The more modern ones just tend to know the theory as well, then they can understand (in a non musical way) what they're playing and can pass it on that way.

People played the stuff before the theory was there.

I come from a classical background and spend all my time trying to get away from the theory whilst improvising. It can be a good way to get into improvising though.

For example, learn the a diminished scale with some chords it sounds nice over (generally anything minor). Just 1 and learn the sound. Now improvise to backing tracks using that sound in your melodies. Use your ears to find the melodies and the notes etc. The theory just gives you the sound without having to stumble across it by accident and develop it as they did way back.
 
OP
Basil

Basil

Member
Messages
33
Location
on the edge of Dartmoor
Thanks everybody for responding. Your comments make me feel much more reassured, and that I can do it.....when I get to perform at Ronnie Scotts I will make sure that you all get complimentary tickets !:welldone
 

Pee Dee

Member
Messages
425
Location
Dorset
What I do is play anything! Up and down the instrument, play all the notes in some sort of order, including the half notes. You'll hear yourself playing some rubbish, simply awful sequences of notes, and now and again you will play something that sounds good. Grasp it! Try and repeat it, practice it, learn it. Don't worry what scale it's in, it doesn't matter. And of course timing is important, better to play one or two notes a bar rather than a load of jumbled up notes out of time - rhythm. Also listen to the masters, and try and copy.
That's my advice at this point of my learning curve. Ask me in six months, and I'll probably say something entirely different:shocked:
 

half diminished

Senior Member
Messages
1,361
Location
Buckinghamshire
Hi. My teacher knows nothing about improvisation, and whilst he is good at reading the dots and teaching me to do so, I want to expand, after 2 years of playing, into improvisation.

I have a few questions/doubts though.

1) Is now the right time, or much too early to learn improvisation ? Apart from a few major and minor scales I don't really know any theory.......a throwback from failing my grade 5 theory as a child......long story for another time......

2) If now is good, where do I start ? Someone I know has suggested that I purchase some books and cd's from www.beecroft.de. They look ok on the web page, but I don't really know what I am buying.

3) Can you learn to improvise properly without a thorough knowlege of theory first ?

I have little doubt that this is a topic that has been visited time and time before, but I really feel lost and need some guidance please....anybody ???
1) Never too early to start but keep it simple

2) Start with just two or three scales - C major and F or G major. Play arpeggios and chords (1,3,5,7,9) based on the 1st, 2nd and 5th of the sales.

3) I would reckon that's enough to get you started
 

griff136

Well-Known Member
Messages
1,045
Location
I live in Exmouth Devon.
1. play along to the radio/cd player - any tune just make up some stuff and have fun.

2. in order to give yourself an advantage learn your scales and arpeggios inside out.

they can be boring to practice but once you have them under you fingers it only takes a few minutes.
 

half diminished

Senior Member
Messages
1,361
Location
Buckinghamshire
Well, at the end of my lesson yesterday Karen and I worked out a new practice regime to help continue to improve my tone, my improvisation, and my reading skills. It's as follows for a 1 hour practice session:


  • 10 minutes on long tones (I use Top Tones for Saxophone)
  • 10 minutes working on reading/rhythm/pulse from Basic Jazz Conception Vol 1 or 2 by Lennie Niehaus
  • 20 minutes on scales - 3 at a time and vary them each time. Playing scales, arpeggios, chords to the 9th, one and two bar phrases/licks. Also varying the articulation - tonguing, slurring, jazz articulation etc.
  • 20 minutes 'playing along' with the head and improvising
  • Listening to as much jazz as possible

So this will be my practice regime from now on though I do often practice for two or on rare occasions three hours so I will double up etc. on those occasions.

I'm finding this improvisation lark hard though to be honest but I guess I'm not helped by the fact I haven't been playing 2 years, I never read music before and I decided to play Jazz only a year ago! The other thing I try to do is to transcribe from listening to 'the greats' playing what I am trying to play.

For instance, I've been working on Doxy, My Little Suede Shoes and Honeysuckle Rose the past couple of months and there are some great recordings from the likes of Parker, Rollins, Dexter, Coltrane, Stitt and others that it's good to listen to. iTunes and Spotify are good for that.

Now I'm starting on So What - it's modal so only two chords to learn - Em7 and Fm7 - but it's going to be hard to not sound boring!
 

Taz

Busking Oracle
Messages
3,626
Location
Rugby UK
Why do people get hung up on theory? As long as you can hear in tune and can pitch your notes correctly then you can find a harmonious note to play. It may take you several attempts to play along with a piece of music, but as long as you are playing what you want, and not the written dots, the you are improvising, however simple it may be. I'm fairly sure that as musicians we all have the ability to hear what we think sound good, so there you have it, my improvisation lesson :w00t: If it sounds ok then do it again! :welldone
 

Mamos

Member
Messages
691
Location
Falmouth Cornwall
I think the more you know the better

If you are happy playing by ear then do that but if you want to learn the theory behind it then I think it will make you a better player.

Plus, if ever you wanted to compose or arrange you will need to know some theory.

I really enjoy the theory side as much as the playing side but then that's just me

mamos
 

griff136

Well-Known Member
Messages
1,045
Location
I live in Exmouth Devon.
I never mentioned theory so I hope that wasn't directed at me and if it was no offence was taken either.

if you intend to improvise wholly by ear to music you are familiar with then to a certain extent the scales and arpeggios are IMHO not as important but they are still important exercises for your fingers and for technique.

if you intend to imporvise using the jamie aebersold/playalong books or any of the real/fake/busking books ior with other people in jam session who use these books - and loads of people do - then knowing your scales and arpeggios is must and mean you can use the chord symbols as a guide for which group of notes to play, knowing that any of those notes in that group that you decide to play are not going to sound "duff".
 

Mamos

Member
Messages
691
Location
Falmouth Cornwall
I never mentioned theory so I hope that wasn't directed at me and if it was no offence was taken either.

if you intend to improvise wholly by ear to music you are familiar with then to a certain extent the scales and arpeggios are IMHO not as important but they are still important exercises for your fingers and for technique.

if you intend to imporvise using the jamie aebersold/playalong books or any of the real/fake/busking books ior with other people in jam session who use these books - and loads of people do - then knowing your scales and arpeggios is must and mean you can use the chord symbols as a guide for which group of notes to play, knowing that any of those notes in that group that you decide to play are not going to sound "duff".
Sorry Griff

I think you may have got the wrong end of the stick

I wasn't directing anything at anyone. I was just stating how I feel about theory.

I apologise if it sounded provocative. I certainly was not meant to be

mamos
 

griff136

Well-Known Member
Messages
1,045
Location
I live in Exmouth Devon.
Sorry Griff

I think you may have got the wrong end of the stick

I wasn't directing anything at anyone. I was just stating how I feel about theory.

I apologise if it sounded provocative. I certainly was not meant to be

mamos
Mamos,

no need to apologise - I was actually agreeing with you - I enjoy the theory side. I did also say that no offence was taken.

It was the post prior to yours that started with " why do people get hung up on theory" that was a smidge provocative but certainly not so much so that my heart beat increased by another beat per minute.

ps i wasnt having a dig at Taz either.

this is a great forum where people are freindly and light hearted we all have our own opinions and that makes for a richer world.
 
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old git

Tremendous Bore
Just to stir things up totally, all those who drive, please write an essay on the problems of flame propagation within four stroke engines including charts of varying ignition timings for spark ignited motors. Compression ratio, valve distribution, injector placing and timing, combustion chamber shape, including a discussion of the Heron head, for compression ignition prime movers and submit before next using a motor vehicle. Of course we will also need further studies of the dynamic handling abilities of vehicles, a discussion of the problems entailed with Ackerman steering systems and informed writings discussing the differences between radial belted road and cross ply race tyres.

Ladies, you have the choice between the above and working diagrams, working description of the mechanism, including the cam shape and timings of your sewing machine.

Yes I know you can use them but should you without being an expert on their theory?

Sorry, failed to realise this only applies to music theory. :D :D :D
 
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