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Improvisation - sexy, but maybe overrated?

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That depends whether you are true to yourself self or not
Isn't it more to do with right player, right gig? You can't (or shouldn't) play with an edgy, brash sound in a Miller Big Band. Might be being true to yourself, but not the music.
 
Colin the Bear

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Is Big Band Jazz? Whole new thread. ;)
 
Keep Blowing

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Isn't it more to do with right player, right gig? You can't (or shouldn't) play with an edgy, brash sound in a Miller Big Band. Might be being true to yourself, but not the music.
I'm not a professional musician and never will be, if I was and played in a Miller Big Band, Iwouldn't be being true to myself
 
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I'm not a professional musician and never will be, if I was and played in a Miller Big Band, Iwouldn't be being true to myself
I know what you are saying, and many will agree with you. Sometimes the situation arises where you have to ask yourself what your job is in the particular situation. And as a pro player, often you have to play what brings in the money. Or you start your own band!
 
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I know what you are saying, and many will agree with you. Sometimes the situation arises where you have to ask yourself what your job is in the particular situation. And as a pro player, often you have to play what brings in the money. Or you start your own band!
I've heard it refered to as artasan to artist transcendation. I kinda get that .
 
MikeMorrell

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Hi @Pete Effamy,

Thanks for posting this question! I've enjoyed reading the responses. I liked reading @jbtsax's thoughts on "musicianship" with with I (unsurprisingly) agree.

I'm just a bog-amateur tenor sax player in a couple of Big Bands and I don't much about improv.FWIW, I think the answer to your question depends a lot on the musical maturity/sensitivity of the audience (and to a lesser extent) on the musical skills of the musicians.

Basically, I think that if improv solos are in some way anchored (however tenuously) to the melody and/or rhythm then the improv will fit. People in the audience will be better able to relate the solo to the song. There are of course very different levels of listening/understanding in every audience.
 
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Pete Thomas

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Improvising is just one aspect of music, and I do agree that with saxophone it does sometimes seem to get out of proportion. I have seen posts by beginners such as "just started saxophone lessons, and currently my teacher is getting me working on 2 5 1 and cycle of 5ths"

What the?

It's great to learn to improvise, but that surely is a beginner jazz improvisation lesson, not a saxophone lesson.

For many people the main thing should be learn saxophone technique if it's a saxophone lesson - you can learn improvement outside of actual saxophone lessons.

So I would say that the number 1 part of learning is actual technique. The other things that are also useful, and are a by-product when appropriate to the specific genre will be reading music, learning tunes, improvising.

But to make improvising a priority in a saxophone lesson? No. My priority would be to learn a tune or two - think about the situation where you tell your friends or family you have been learning saxophone. "Go on," they say, "play something..."

What's going to impress - a well executed Ebm7 - Ab7 or Ebm7 - D7b5, or the Pink Panther / Careless Whisper / Baker Street / ?

reminds me of a girlfriend of mine who came to gigs and seemed to enjoy herself but when I asked her what she thought it was like "OK, but you sounded like you were making it up as you went along..."
 
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Improvising is just one aspect of music, and I do agree that with saxophone it does sometimes seem to get out of proportion. I have seen posts by beginners such as "just started saxophone lessons, and currently my teacher is getting me working on 2 5 1 and cycle of 5ths"

What the?


EXACTLY!
 
s.mundi

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"OK, but you sounded like you were making it up as you went along..."

That made me laugh because I've heard that one. The most recent comment was "It sounds noise."
 
altissimo

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Improvising is just one aspect of music, and I do agree that with saxophone it does sometimes seem to get out of proportion. I have seen posts by beginners such as "just started saxophone lessons, and currently my teacher is getting me working on 2 5 1 and cycle of 5ths"

What the?

It's great to learn to improvise, but that surely is a beginner jazz improvisation lesson, not a saxophone lesson.

For many people the main thing should be learn saxophone technique if it's a saxophone lesson - you can learn improvement outside of actual saxophone lessons.

So I would say that the number 1 part of learning is actual technique. The other things that are also useful, and are a by-product when appropriate to the specific genre will be reading music, learning tunes, improvising.

But to make improvising a priority in a saxophone lesson? No. My priority would be to learn a tune or two - think about the situation where you tell your friends or family you have been learning saxophone. "Go on," they say, "play something..."

What's going to impress - a well executed Ebm7 - Ab7 or Ebm7 - D7b5, or the Pink Panther / Careless Whisper / Baker Street / ?

reminds me of a girlfriend of mine who came to gigs and seemed to enjoy herself but when I asked her what she thought it was like "OK, but you sounded like you were making it up as you went along..."
This very much depends on why you want to learn how to play a musical instrument - if it's your burning desire to be a jazz improviser, then why not start as you mean to go on? Impressing friends and family may not be what you want to do,
If I'd've spent £20 0n a sax lesson and a patronising teacher had me playing stuff like Careless Whisper or Baker Street there would've been a lot of bad language..
I may be atypical, but I knew what I wanted to do when I bought a sax and I've followed that path ever since. Improvisation has been a central part of my learning process, without it I probably wouldn't have bothered at all. Everything I've learned on the sax has come from exploring the instrument for myself and finding new things.
I play gigs and get asked to play on recordings because of improvisation, neither I nor the listeners know what's going to happen, but the fun is in the finding out.
 
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I think learning songs, especially easy ones like Amazing Grace, is a good start, but there's no reason you can't be taught to understand ii V I if that's where you intend to go. One course I'm following (though I don't do this exact lesson) suggested that for beginners to learn All the Things You Are, they can start by playing whole notes on each chord change. Once that's easy, they can add other notes of the triads. Eventually, they'll play the full melody, then add more notes, chromatic stuff, etc. Pretty clever, and a beginner can do it. Does it distract from a program of long tones and scales? Depends on the practice time available and the capacity of the student to learn and retain.
 
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People are missing the point.

Most posts are about learning notes and then more notes. I'm saying that I hear a lot of poorly executed playing going on and adding "random" notes to this (poor choices over chords - as we all do when we start out improvising) will only add to the cacophony.

When I was young I went along to a local big band. To a 15 year old, they were all old blokes. None of them were great at improvising but their sound, tone, vibrato, knowledge of genre etc was very impressive. If they played a tune it sounded nice. So the other notes sounded nice too.
I think a lot of teachers end up using more than tutor book at the beginning as there isn't one book that seems to adequately cover everything. Many, including myself, have tried to write one that has a good mix of tunes to improve all skills and techniques. It can't be done though. The subject is way too vast. People are very different. That's why a good teacher will be able to explain things in several ways, encompassing all the different types of learning.

Perhaps learning to improvise from the outset is a good idea as Randulo alludes to. It would hopefully remove the fear of taking away the music. I'm not sure that the whole ii - v - i approach is good though. Too much information. If you come at it from a point of being quite schooled already and knowing your scales well - can you play Ab major starting on the 4th? - then it's a good approach.

I learned to improvise by transcribing the clarinet part to Kenny Ball's "Midnight In Moscow". I then learned to play it exactly like Dave Jones. If they had needed a dep for that tune they'd not have known the difference. Gradually I added my own notes. I could see how he negotiated the chords by what he played over them. I did lots of transcribing back then. You internalise it if you've had to work it out yourself. I could never get even one of my students to transcribe anything. Even just the tune. Too much like hard work. Adults are better learners in my experience, though most of them believe too much in the adage that you can't teach old dogs new tricks... They might have less time, but they they know how to apply themselves better and are usually better motivated. Headstrong though. But that, I don't mind.

Even when I was at college in the '80's there wasn't loads of reference material around. Going to college to study jazz was still new too. Most of the great players were "ear" players and had learned that way. Whilst they knew how to get around tunes they didn't know what they were doing theoretically.

Louis Armstrong once said about his improvisation:

"First I plays the tune. Then I plays notes around the tune. Then I plays notes around the notes"

Something like that anyway! It's a good place to start. Fill in the gaps later. Parts of "The Jazz Theory Book" by Mark Levine still hurt my head...
 
Pete Thomas

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This very much depends on why you want to learn how to play a musical instrument - if it's your burning desire to be a jazz improviser, then why not start as you mean to go on? Impressing friends and family may not be what you want to do,
Yes, I very much agree this is the way it should be and fits with what I was trying to say. What is taught should always be appropriate to the student. It should always be based on what the student wants whether that is being a jazz improviser or just impressing family and friends with their favourite saxophone tune. I don’t see any value in assuming that mainstream jazz improvisation must be a key part in saxophone lessons unless that is the right thing for a specific student.

But even then, in a saxophone lesson (as opposed to an improv lesson) I think actual saxophone technique is usually the most important thing to learn
 
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For the record, I never mess with ii-V-I because it's not the way I compose or much in music I play, except ballads, of which I stick to the melody. I do love to improvise, and have done on other instruments, so I'm in a different situation. This is one that frustrates my teachers, who expect long tones, scales and arpeggios. I understand the need for these, but I need to express myself daily, so I use part of the time to just riff and mess around over my own changes.

This said, I'm bored by a band that plays tunes without improvisation. That's mostly what blues is, and I can tell you, having accompanied several greats, these guys often are incapable of playing the same thing twice. That reassures me!
 
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Yes, I very much agree this is the way it should be and fits with what I was trying to say. What is taught should always be appropriate to the student. I don’t see any value in assuming that mainstream jazz improvisation must be a key part in saxophone lessons unless that is the right thing for a specific student.

But even then, in a saxophone lesson (as opposed to an improv lesson) I think actual saxophone technique is usually the most important thing to learn
 
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It's difficult isn't it - the whole argument about what you might want to learn and whether you've any business learning it before getting a bit further down the track. This is the conundrum a teacher has as they can see the bigger picture. Does the teacher have a right to dictate? Well, I guess that's what they're being asked to do - guide, from a point of experience. Difficult. I might climb the fence on this one and sit for a bit.

Consider this though:

I want to build a summer house. I don't know anything about digging footings or mixing concrete. I'm not sure on which bricks to use and how to mix the pug. What wood would be best? Should it be treated? Nails? Screws? How do I lay a tiled roof? Will my structure take the weight of the tiles?

Now...
 
Alice

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I'm not a professional musician and never will be, if I was and played in a Miller Big Band, Iwouldn't be being true to myself
It's a good thing that you are not a professional player then :) (If you had to rely on your earnings to make a living and could not afford to pick and choose what you played.)
 
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For the record, I never mess with ii-V-I because it's not the way I compose or much in music I play, except ballads, of which I stick to the melody. I do love to improvise, and have done on other instruments, so I'm in a different situation. This is one that frustrates my teachers, who expect long tones, scales and arpeggios. I understand the need for these, but I need to express myself daily, so I use part of the time to just riff and mess around over my own changes.

No ii-v-i? You must go out of your way to not use it then. The iii-vi-ii-v-i that Bach used is still relevant today and most useful. ii-v-i will inform any overlaying of harmonies upon a static chord. Scales, arpeggios and long notes do make us better players as the facility is greater. I wasted time railing against truly learning scales. I'm a lazy player in terms of practice, though I have punctuated my laziness with periods of intense, diligent practice.

"Just riff and mess around" - I think this is great. Eddie Daniels calls it noodling - see YouTube. Are your teachers that only advocate scales not improvisors? If not, they won't understand how to help you.
 
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My relationship with teachers is complicated. I was playing on international tours before some of them were walking, with world class musicians. Unfortunately, I waited far too long to learn to sing and play wind instruments again. But I'm not a typical student.

As for building a structure, no one was ever killed or hurt by bad saxophone playing. (ok, insert silly jokes here).

Number ONE: If you play for pleasure, play for pleasure. If you want to be in Chick Corea's next band, learn everything about the mastery of the instrument. I'm a very good driver, but I have no interest in racing cars, and so I don't worry about double clutching.

I agree with most of what's being said, I just express my own, very specific feelings and approach.

When I spoke of ii-V-I, I'm saying I do not practice that stuff. If I'm playing a standard ballad, I play the melody and if I improvise a solo, I play what I hear, not what I practiced from someone's idea of hip. I have a lot of books, from Mintzer jazz and blues etudes to Nicolas Slonimsky and Joseph Schillinger. In the jazz methods, I skipped the ways to play 2 5 1. I want to learn how to make the best sounds on the saxophone and play the notes I hear.

Seems to me no one is really arguing opposing sides, just the title :)
 
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