All profit supporting special needs music education and Help Musicians
Tutorials

Learning to Improvise.

Rock Lobster

Member
Messages
124
OK, so far so good. My reading is comming along nicely, I no longer sound like a tuned fart, in fact I quite like the way my sound is heading. I have been feeling for some time I need to go to an open mike night and just play with other people, so, I am messing about improvising.

Two things have emerged:
1. I sound stilted and off the pace, no flow and the notes i play mostly seem the wrong ones or at best very basic.
2. Because I sound rubbish my confidence to go to an open mike night is dissapearing.

How did you all learn to improvise and then be confiodent enough to go public?
 

rudjarl

Senile Member. Scandinavian Ambassadour of CaSLM
Messages
657
This is perhaps the worlds most boring answer...
- Practise scales
- Practise licks/ patterns
- Know the melody

Most of us (I suspect) went public playing mostly the melody. The improvising came bit by bit.
 

Jules

Formerly known as "nachoman"
Messages
4,632
In the same way as someone putting on the right accent when speaking a foreign language there's a lot of making it 'sound right' over and above actually playing the right notes. Certainly in the early days there was a lot 'getting into character' before playing in public- that helped me a lot.....
 

Nick Wyver

noisy
Subscriber
Messages
5,953
My first public playing was totally improvised on soprano on the deck of a cross-channel ferry in 1972. Can't imagine what it must have sounded like.

If you're going to an open mic night try and find someone who'll do a blues in a nice easy key for you, G perhaps. All you have to do is learn the relevant minor pentatonic (ACDEG for tenor or EGABD for alto). If you can stick to those notes you won't play anything wrong. Try and think RHYTHM.
 

Fraser Jarvis

Well-Known Member
Messages
1,910
Did my first improvised solo the other night with the band at Quad, i wasn't ready but noticed after the guitarist finished his solo everybody kind of shut down....then the singer shouted "saxophone solo" bang and I'm in! thank God i have developed a sound understanding of scales! so yeah learn your major, minor, dominant, pentatonic, but above all else learn all your blue's scales inside out, upside down and back to front, what will help is try to find something on youtube, i worked on some BB King, and Muddy Waters blues stuff, really gets your ear working and once you identify what key you are in and and can work out the changes you cant go wrong.
 

jbtsax

Well-Known Member
Subscriber
Messages
8,013
Remember, in improvisation there are no "wrong notes". They're just "passing tones".
 

ArtyLady

Well-Known Member
Messages
1,030
Start with Blues - get some playalongs in all keys (major or minor) start with say D and play along in the D Blues scale which is D F G G# A C D. Start by just playing the scale slowly and internalising how it sounds, then start to play around with one or two notes using the rhythm of the backing tracking, gradually add other notes from the scale (dont' over do the G# which is the blue note) and don't forget to leave gaps while you think of your next phrase. This is brilliant way to start some easy improvising and if you stick to the blues scale you can't really play a wrong note. :thumb:
 

jeremyjuicewah

Well-Known Member
Messages
1,890
Sympathise. I think I am a little ahead of you but behind all others in this post and am doing exactly what you are doing. Sadly, the jam session I was going to last Sunday, well, the bar shut down. What did they hear? I picked Bminor and worked inside out to Moondance and Route 66. I have spread to a sort of general mix up of Bm, Amaj, Dmaj, Em and find I can go up and down and turn round ok and I make sure to play some bits short and fast and other bits holding the note but the big thing that has come out of it to play every note as though you mean to play it, dont drop away weakly at the end of a note, and try to make everything you do sound musical. Easier said than done I know. I practice playing over backing tracks every night now and can ususally get along with anything bluesy, Old Devil Called Love, Mack the Knife, Bob Marley, though I do make mistakes I spot them very quickly now and move off the note, but I cannot make a straight major piece sound interesting yet. The more I play along, the better it gets. I have miles to go but I really once thought I would never get this far. And the jam sesh is next. There are three or four others around and I suspect that it will be a big breakthrough move. Good luck, stick at it, all I did was follow the advice I got, mostly from the people who have answered you in your thread.
Mike
Mike
 

trimmy

One day i will...
Messages
10,273
the D Blues scale which is D F G G# A C D. (dont' over do the G# which is the blue note) This is brilliant way to start some easy improvising and if you stick to the blues scale you can't really play a wrong note. :thumb:
Have we got the same teacher ?? I started improvising on the D blues scale, pretty much as you describe but playing with my teacher on piano and picking up on the rhythm as he's playing, also as you say with the G# he tells me to just flick on/off the note and very occasionally adding an E. I'm a long long way from being a good improviser but it's enjoyable when you get it right :D

I would also add listen to plenty of music with improvising as you will subconsciously pick riffs/licks up, this has happened a few times with me. I'm constantly listening to jazz/blues when out at work and it must be sticking into my thick head
 

ArtyLady

Well-Known Member
Messages
1,030
Have we got the same teacher ?? I started improvising on the D blues scale, pretty much as you describe but playing with my teacher on piano and picking up on the rhythm as he's playing, also as you say with the G# he tells me to just flick on/off the note and very occasionally adding an E. I'm a long long way from being a good improviser but it's enjoyable when you get it right :D

I would also add listen to plenty of music with improvising as you will subconsciously pick riffs/licks up, this has happened a few times with me. I'm constantly listening to jazz/blues when out at work and it must be sticking into my thick head
Hi Trimmy lol no I don't have a regular teacher on Sax - just the occasional pre-exam lesson. I'm originally a flautist and I do a bit of teaching (did a course with ABRSM) - I always start beginners off by building up the notes so they can play D Dorian and D blues asap, just the easiest scales to tackle early on and it means they can start improvising straight away just something that made sense to me to do it that way. I even get them to improvise over a track no chord changes on GAB in the first lesson! Start how you mean to carry on that's what I say :thumb:
 

TomMapfumo

Well-Known Member
Messages
5,219
This is perhaps the worlds most boring answer...
- Practise scales
- Practise licks/ patterns
- Know the melody

Most of us (I suspect) went public playing mostly the melody. The improvising came bit by bit.
...........:doh:

If a few tips is what you are after -

1. Start with just 2 notes and play them slowly, alternating between the two, making up different patterns. So with notes D and F play DFDFDDF, DFFDFFDFDFDDF, DDDDDDFDDDFFF etc.
2. Vary the speed and rhythm of the notes. Do as much as you can just using 2 notes.
3. Add a 3rd note - such as a G or A, to the D & F and repeat the above, varying speed, rhythm, leaving short gaps and long gaps. Playing flowing notes, staccato notes etc. etc.
4. Add a 4th note - say D F G A
5. Avoid playing all the notes on a scale or going up and down scales repeatedly.
6. Learn a minor Pentatonic scale - such as D minor Pentatonic D F G A C D (1st 3th 4th 5th 7th notes of the D minor scale - DEFGABbCD). Jimi Hendrix mostly played Penatonic scales while improvising.

That should get you going. With any piece you learn you should be able to work out the relevant Pentatonic Scale:

Major scale: play notes 123 56 8 of scale - hence scale of C Major (CDEFGABC) is CDE GA C.
Minor Scale: play notes 1 345 78 of scale - hence scale of C Minor (CDEbFGAbBbC) is C EbFG BbC.

But best to start with no more than 4 notes and vary your speed, rhythm and so on to make interesting patterns. Most improvisations will be a collection of pre learned patterns that can be drawn on from memory quite easily.
 

Andrew Sanders

Northern Commissioner for Caslm
Messages
2,773
Stick your mp3 player on shuffle and see if you can play along with what ever gets thrown up. Takes you right out of your comfort zone especially if you have an eclectic collection of tunes. Plus everything above of course.
 

Rock Lobster

Member
Messages
124
Really appretiate this great advice, I feel i have something tangible to go on now. It was surprising the difference the advice yesterday made last night, can't wait to try this tonight.

Thanks very much.
 

Wade Cornell

Well-Known Member
Subscriber
Messages
2,149
Agree with most of the above especially Tom's advice but would add that you should try to make these notes come from YOU not the horn. That probably sounds a bit strange, but you need to own every sound you make and play it with feeling. The one or two note exercise is very good for this. Try to feel how slight changes in the attack, sustain, tone, etc. change the feeling. Try to think of emotions or moods and make the sounds reflect this. Again, you may think this sound strange, but then use your voice to sing notes that give these emotion/moods, and you will soon find that, warmth, curiosity, anger, fear, etc. are all fairly easy to convey without using words.

This is one of the most important parts of vocabulary, but unfortunately missed by too many players who concentrate on playing "the right notes" and don't connect their instrument as a part of them and an extension of their voice. Learn this now, and you will not only have more fun, but not have to re-learn sax all over again in order to incorporate this into your playing.

The sax is a mechanical device, but it's also the closest instrument to the human voice and gives tremendous opportunities to communicate so much more than say a keyboard instrument.

Unfortunately there are heaps of players out there who have learned very well, can read, and play at a high level, but are strictly technicians or mechanics when playing music. Everyone can tell who are the communicators when it comes to playing and who are the technicians. A technician can hold your attention for a few minutes showing off their abilities, but a player with a much more limited technical ability can hold an audience all night as they have something to say and give.
 

Jules

Formerly known as "nachoman"
Messages
4,632
Agree with most of the above especially Tom's advice but would add that you should try to make these notes come from YOU not the horn. That probably sounds a bit strange, but you need to own every sound you make and play it with feeling. The one or two note exercise is very good for this. Try to feel how slight changes in the attack, sustain, tone, etc. change the feeling. Try to think of emotions or moods and make the sounds reflect this. Again, you may think this sound strange, but then use your voice to sing notes that give these emotion/moods, and you will soon find that, warmth, curiosity, anger, fear, etc. are all fairly easy to convey without using words.

This is one of the most important parts of vocabulary, but unfortunately missed by too many players who concentrate on playing "the right notes" and don't connect their instrument as a part of them and an extension of their voice. Learn this now, and you will not only have more fun, but not have to re-learn sax all over again in order to incorporate this into your playing.

The sax is a mechanical device, but it's also the closest instrument to the human voice and gives tremendous opportunities to communicate so much more than say a keyboard instrument.

Unfortunately there are heaps of players out there who have learned very well, can read, and play at a high level, but are strictly technicians or mechanics when playing music. Everyone can tell who are the communicators when it comes to playing and who are the technicians. A technician can hold your attention for a few minutes showing off their abilities, but a player with a much more limited technical ability can hold an audience all night as they have something to say and give.
Very nicely summed up sir!
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
Subscriber
Messages
21,947
Good advice from Wade. I remember when I'd just started and was playing a scale for my teacher - it sounded terrible. and I was told to play each note as if it meant something, even in a scale. Then he demonstrated...... Was like listening to a concerto.
 

Two Voices

Senior Member
Messages
1,113
Remember, in improvisation there are no "wrong notes". They're just "passing tones".
It reminds me of Eric Morecambe when he famously said “I'm playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order."
 

MandyH

Sax-Mad fiend!
Subscriber
Messages
3,557
On Monday last week, at Dave's StaxofSax workshop, Nick Haslem said - any wrong note is only a semi-tone away from being a right note. This may have been true only in the context of what we were improvising to, but it got me thinking.
 

TomMapfumo

Well-Known Member
Messages
5,219
...you don't half notice a semitone gap in an improvisation.......! Be a good idea to practice a chromatic quick exit (CQE) if you are going to sound half decent in an improvisation IMHO.........
 
Saxholder Pro
Help!Mailing List
Top Bottom