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Improvisational Approach

Jaston10078

New Member
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Guildford
Hi guys, i'll start by saying that i don't play Sax, i'm a guitarist - but as all good Jazz Guitarists know, it is important to think like a sax player in order to sound like one (which for most Guitarists is the goal!)

The guitar is a very visual instrument and a common method for playing changes is to learn your arpeggio shapes and link them through the changes using voice leading and common tones etc - however, it comes to a point where these shapes become muscle memory and the player no longer needs to think of the notes within that arpeggio and relies heavily on pre-conceived licks and shapes. For example, if a guitarist sees Bb7, he may know his roots are and i know the arpeggio shapes from those roots and will not need to think of the actual notes within the chord.

I feel that this is where i am in my playing at the moment - so i am trying to break this habit by thinking in new ways. I would really appreciate it if you guys could help me out!

Here's my question: (please excuse my ignorance of the logistics of Sax playing)

When running through changes, do you instantly recall the note names of every chord tone (and allowable extension/alteration) available to you? I.e. if you see Bb7, do you instantly think "Bb D F Ab" (*omitting extensions and alterations to make a point*) – If this is the case then i guess it is almost like sight-reading the notes you see in your head which as a guitarist, would have huge advantages in terms of keeping ones lines fluid and coherent.

Thanks in advance for your help guys!

James
 

saxnik

Member
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381
Location
Poole, Dorset, United Kingdom
Hey James, I'm no guitarist but here are my thoughts for what they're worth:

I learned to improvise jazz by jamming along to stuff, by which I mean playing tunes and countertunes (including licks) along with the recordings.
Then I did a lot of practice on scales (and modes more importantly) and got to learn what they sound like over the chords. When reading chord symbols I don't think in terms of complete arpeggios, I think about guide tones such as the third, the seventh, or whatever other extensions. From there I then work out a melodic line using a scale that fits the sound of the chord and let my ear guide me from there.

In summary - play modes not arpeggios to sound like a sax player?!

Hope this helps,

Nick
 
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dooce

Well-Known Member
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Daventry
All I can add to this discussion is that if my sax solos ever get to sound as good as Richard Thompsons guitar solos, I will die a happy man...... :welldone
 

Moz

Senior Member
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North of Liskeard, Cornwall
I think a lot of saxophonists when confronted by the symbol Bb7 think "I wonder what that means" and then play the right note or something that fits just as well; I know I do. Couldn't give a monkeys what the chord is, it'll be in concert pitch anway so not much use directly, not to me at least. My music teacher and I disagree about how much theory you need to improvise -- I think none and she thinks all...so we are quite close :D

Cheers

Martin
 

Mamos

Member
Messages
691
Location
Falmouth Cornwall
I don't know a lot of theory to be honest but every time I learn something new my playing jumps ahead and a whole lot of other bits of theory make sense to me.

I think learning music is like learning a language. (yes that old chestnut )

The people who become really fluent and sound like a local get inside the language. They study the grammar and structure and learn about local dialects. Within a few years they could almost be a local and sound totally natural and feel at ease when conversing.
You can put them in any situation and they will confidently shine.

Other people just get by. They learn things as and when they need to. As a new situation comes up they muddle through and get the gist of what is going on around them. They can make them selves understood and people understand them but it is a struggle.

To the locals these people are always going to sound like a foreigner albeit one who is making an effort.

I would love to be fluent in this language we call music. Not just jazz but it would be great to put in any musical situation and know enough about the language to not just get by but to shine.

Just my opinion and I am not trying to change others opinions.

Some people want to be fluent while others are happy to just get by. I depends what you want to get out of playing music.

At the moment when put in a musical situation I am just happy not to play the wrong notes and to kinda melt into the mix and not stand out too much. In other words, getting by.

That situation will not keep me happy for long



mamos
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
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Just north of Munich
I agree - and as one who's had to learn, mostly unwillingly, a few languages (mostly computer) over the years I'd like to add - some people have an aptitude for it - in other words their brains assimilate the rules/structures much more easily than other peoples. Here pattern/sequence type thinking helps a lot. Musicians call it progressions... And variations when the progression or the ornamentation changes.

There's something else as well - feel - my oldest (who's learning clarinet) has a superb feel for music - and can read the dots, play it through and then start expressing the music. So can my wife. Me not... I can feel when something's not right, but I don't know from reading the dots what will work and what won't. I haven't got a blind clue. It's this feel that we try to develop by learning the theory and experimenting. And by woking at it, the feel develops - as the brain is trained into this way of thinking.

I'm really interested by the modal concept for impovisation. We often hear pieces that are in different modes - or which switch modes for a few bars. But I'm still trying to work out how I know a piece is in major when it's not playing scales. I think it's the sequence of intervals - I hope it is, cos it'll tie everything together nicely.
 

Semiquaver

Member
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102
Location
Hertfordshire, England
if you see Bb7, do you instantly think "Bb D F Ab"

James
I think you need to know the spelling of a chord to have any chance of playing something interesting. Just having a stab in the dark does not work well IMO.

So yes i do think chord tones. But my knowledge of them is limited and so I usually mess around with the melody. I try to learn all the chords but cannot practise enough to get them internalised in my memory.

And to continue the language metaphor. If you want to just say 'good morning' or 'two beers please' you can get by with just limted knowledge of a language.

But if you want to speak it and make yourself completely understood, you have to get beyond the greetings page.

I have started studying bebop jazz with its history and harmonic theories. I have found it a facinating subject and can now see the direction i want to look at with my playing.

I do not have a ghost of a chance of playing like Trane or Monk but to hear what they do with harmonies and changes is, a feel, a good inspiration to look beyond the melody line in note choice.
 

Linky Lee

Member
Messages
182
Location
Salisbury, UK
The analogy is very true, but the only way to become fluent in a language is through listening, putting yourself in situations, muddling your way through and learning from it. - Something I'm doing right now (studying abroad).

You might not consciously need to know the theory, but your brain picks up on the patterns and you create the guidelines in your mind and play accordingly, this is how the greats did it.

They didn't have endless backing tracks available at varying tempos, books like 'jazz theory for beginners' and access to thousands of superb quality recordings on a little MP3 player in their pocket. They did it by listening, copying and learning.
 

Phil Edwards

Senior Member
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1,335
Location
East Sussex
Great post Mamos, agree entirely and I'm trying to get there too.

...I have started studying bebop jazz with its history and harmonic theories. I have found it a facinating subject and can now see the direction i want to look at with my playing.
Semi, what are you reading/listening too, as I want to develop more bebop style playing. Many years ago I didn't get it but my tastes have moved much more towards bebop. Any good material that you've found?

Phil
 

Semiquaver

Member
Messages
102
Location
Hertfordshire, England
Phil as for reading wiki is full of stuff with good links to the main players. i know it is seen as an unreliable source but it is a good free start.

Listening. I started with Coleman Hawkins. I have a Naxos cd that ranges from 1939-45. With a bit of concentration you can hear how he changes from the old swing style to early bebop. The 1944 recording of Body and Soul is said to be catalystic in this area.

from there i went to Parker but i think more importantly Thelonious Monk. Yes he plays piano but the different style and alternative chord notes are just stunning. I thoroughly recommend ' Brilliant Corners'.

After that Coltranes 'My favourite things' is a bit more 'normal' than say 'A love Supreme'. Keep that for when you take up narcotics.

Also have a look at Sonny Rollins, CannonBall Adderley, Eric Dolphy the list goes on.

I found that starting at one end ie 1944 and trying new stuff in a linear fashion led me to players I had not bothered with before.

People like Dizzy Gillespie, Milt Jackson, are people I heard of but not listened to. But they are all linked by the small groups they played in.

Have fun Phil and if you end up playing their way with the speed, energy and sheer inventiness i will come and listen to you.
 

saxnik

Member
Messages
381
Location
Poole, Dorset, United Kingdom
A couple of thoughts...

Language-learning:
the quickest way surely involves learning the rules (theory), and then learning how to apply them in context (speaking the language to strangers in situ)?
Same for jazz I fear.

You have to learn at least some of the 'why', but the real test is trying to carry out the 'what' on the bandstand - once again to use a cliche, it's 'learn the rules, then learn how to break them successfully'.


Chord-tones and spelling:
Learning how the arpeggios, scales, modes etc. sound is the key - then you can change the sound you are producing to fit the underlying chord in the accompaniment as you go along.

Unfortunately this means doing a lot of practice at home of playing the different chord tones over different progressions so you can see and hear where the melodic lines come from.


Improvising from the tune:
this works very well because necessarily the tune uses chord tones on strong beats.
The chord is spelt out in the accompaniment on strong beats (usually in 4/4 a chord changes on beat 1, then less often on beat 3, then still less on 2 or 4, and only for effect between beats). The tunes usually use chord tones (concord) on the strongest beats, so you are listening to thirds, sevenths, fifths, and tonics on these beats (especially 1 & 3). This knowledge is only any use if you're paying attention to the chord symbols!!:confused:

Good luck everyone...

Nick
 

Phil Edwards

Senior Member
Messages
1,335
Location
East Sussex
After that Coltranes 'My favourite things' is a bit more 'normal' than say 'A love Supreme'. Keep that for when you take up narcotics.
:))) yes, I've got Love Supreme, I'm not going there anytime yet...

Some good tips, thanks. I tried Parker a long time ago and didn't like it, but seem to have come back to him via other players.

Not sure how I got there now, but it was Art Pepper that came along first for me. Following him led me to Sonny Criss, Sonny Stitt, Jackie Mclean, and recently Cannonball Adderley. All alto's you'll note (except a few Stitt and Pepper recordings on tenor). I have got some Coltrane. Must explore outside of my own instrument...

Phil
 

Mamos

Member
Messages
691
Location
Falmouth Cornwall
:))) yes, I've got Love Supreme, I'm not going there anytime yet...

Some good tips, thanks. I tried Parker a long time ago and didn't like it, but seem to have come back to him via other players.

Not sure how I got there now, but it was Art Pepper that came along first for me. Following him led me to Sonny Criss, Sonny Stitt, Jackie Mclean, and recently Cannonball Adderley. All alto's you'll note (except a few Stitt and Pepper recordings on tenor). I have got some Coltrane. Must explore outside of my own instrument...

Phil
I have been listening to some Sony Stitt today. Through listening to the Jug (Gene Ammons). Really like those two together. They do a great Autumn Leaves.

mamos
 

half diminished

Senior Member
Messages
1,361
Location
Buckinghamshire
Due to my non-expert status I've held off commenting but then ...... what the hell! :w00t: It's never stopped me before!

I've a great teacher who is a top pro jazz musician and she's helping me with this improvisation malarky at the moment.

In essence, the advice I am being given is:

  • learn your scales starting on root, 3rd, 5th and 7th notes
  • learn your arpeggios & chord tones as above - these two are the building blocks for improvisation
  • play scales etc starting from the top and work down as well as from the bottom going up
  • learn the correct fingering for and feel of playing chromatically starting on any note
  • try to use the whole range of the sax when practicing scales
  • to improvise - start simple by playing guide tones on beats one and three of the bar
  • use the 3rd and 7th chord tones on beats 1 and 3 to spell out the chord changes
  • play around beats one and three rhythmically with embellishments
  • think about how to move from one chord to another and what sounds good and not so good
  • what sounds good generally is good
  • transcribe the masters by ear - you'll learn loads more than you could imagine
  • keep things simple to start with (and in my case for a long time!)
  • improve your technical ability, speed and acuracy through slow scalar practice
  • play by ear as much as possible
  • play tunes you know really well by ear (hymns, Xmas carols, happy birthday etc etc), embellish the melodies and play them in all keys
  • if you find a phrase/lick you like in a tune - use it as a starting point in your improvisation and practice it in all keys

Now this seems a hell of a lot when you see it all in one big long list like that but of course you aren't thinking about or working on all of it at the same time. And practice ain't the same as performance. You work on all this and then just play when you perform. Well at least that's the theory. :)

I've been working at transcribing solos by Sonny Rollins (Alfie, Paul's Pal and Moritat) and Dexter Gordon (Three O Clock In the Morning). It's really opened my eyes (and ears). I'm also beginning to free/open my my mind a little.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm just about on rung 2 of a 100,000.000 step ladder but I'm having fun and feeling more relaxed with improvising. I'm still rubbish of course but I am making progress at last/least.
 

DaveW

Member
Messages
163
Location
Stockport, Cheshire
The other day I turned up this exercise method I had bookmarked a while ago and would appreciate Nick's and anyone else's opinion on it.

http://forum.saxontheweb.net/showthread.php?5396-spoon-fed-music-lesson&highlight=scales

I regret my ear is hopeless at finding the notes played on a recording, I can hum or whistle the tune but am unable to find the note or interval and that is most frustrating. I guess it's the age old answer practice, practice and more practice.
 

half diminished

Senior Member
Messages
1,361
Location
Buckinghamshire
The other day I turned up this exercise method I had bookmarked a while ago and would appreciate Nick's and anyone else's opinion on it.

http://forum.saxontheweb.net/showthread.php?5396-spoon-fed-music-lesson&highlight=scales

I regret my ear is hopeless at finding the notes played on a recording, I can hum or whistle the tune but am unable to find the note or interval and that is most frustrating. I guess it's the age old answer practice, practice and more practice.
Dave

i can't stress enough how important transcribing has been to me and you have to do a fair bit but then (in my case at least) it sort of starts to gel. Now I can listen to a tenor playing and think, well that's E or D. I am still struggling a bit with recognising intervals but even that is getting better.

My teacher pretty much every lesson plays a small riff that I have to repeat or sometimes we do call and answer. It all helps and I am definitely getting better the more we/I do.

The other good one is to try to play tunes you really know well by ear. Again the more times you do it the easier it gets. I can play happy birthday from ear in most keys now.
 
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