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Looking to get a good foundation in jazz improvising

playthoseblues

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Hello,

My first post here, so just wandering if you could help a fellow sax player out. I've been playing for a number of years (11!) and I was always taught in quite a traditional manner, going up through the grades up until 8. I never could get a good grasp at theory, and even at A-Level I struggled big time. I could play but theory wise I was useless!

Anyway, I'd like to get a good foundation in improvising, so was wondering if anyone has any good recommendations for improvising books. I can improvise up and down a scale ok, but it's when chord changes are put in every bar, I end up panicking and throwing in the towel! If I'm given a blues scale, I'm fine but anything more complicated and I can't get my head around it. A while ago I purchased Jamey Aerbersold's 'Maiden Voyage'. Really like the pieces in there but I can only improvise over the most basic of tracks - i.e. with a blues scale.

Has anybody got an recommendations for improvising books that don't throw you in at the deep end. I don't whether I'm meant to be improvising over chords or scales and I think I've just gone information over-load with it all. I can make a nice sound but it goes to pot when I start improvising. I've heard that Aerbersold's Volume 1 isn't that great as beginner material, so has anyone out there found any good books which take it slow and steady?

With thanks

Jon

P.S. I used to be taught but now after a few years of doing music at college and becoming massively disillusioned with music in general I stopped playing for a good few months. I now play for fun, have got motivation again but do not get taught any more.
 

Colin the Bear

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Improvising isn't in books, it's in you. The instructions help you get it out.

Start with simple tunes that you know and that make sense to you. Those with simple harmony. You can't pull a thing to pieces and put it back together till you know what all the bits do.

Pick one song and listen to as many versions as you can, then play it till you know it backwards.
Find and learn all the chords in it so that you can spit them out at sight. Then join them up in a musical way. Some songs don't work like this, so a little noodling and inventing of a new melody is needed. One eight bar note is a solo.

Put some music on or the radio or the telly and play along to everything that comes on. I find my best ideas come when whistling to the radio in the car.

Get down to your local jazz night and experience the live sound.

Most of all don't beat yourself up about it. Composing comes easy to some while others have to work at it.
 

playthoseblues

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Thanks for your replies - I do actually have the creative saxophone book, but again its just one scale for a whole piece. I think my problem at the moment is finding stuff to play, I haven't got access to a band and at the minute I'm waiting to go off to university so am just playing at home. Are there any good playalong books or something that anyone knows off which would help just get me playing again. I'm not bothered what style of jazz it is other than it's a good quality backing!
 

Colin the Bear

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On here there is Ballad of the month, Impro of the month and the recently instigated Blues of the month. All come with dots and backing track.

Look up a Karaoke version of any song you're interested in on you tube. The words are helpful for phrasing. There's quite a lot of play alongs on there as well.

Amazon has several Hal Leonard and Abersold play along books with CD. Check the song list to make sure it's got tracks you're interested in
 

kernewegor

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Colin's advice is concise and sound.

I would add that building up a repertoire of heads whic.h you have committed to memory and playing them regularly is a good plan. You need to to it anyway, so no time is wasted.

Improvising on a tune is easier the more firmly the head is lodged in your brain and finger memory. The more heads you know well enough to play sober, drunk or half asleep the bigger the reservoire of phrases you have at your fingertips. When improvising they will come out without the need for conscious thought and usually transformed in some way - different key, rephrased, reversed, extended or whatever.

Lots of playing of lots of tunes - from memory, not the dots... Also just take a tune and fool around with the melody. Keep doing it. This is what the old guys did when they played New Orleans and Dixieland jazz before people started studying theory, and they improvised.

Once you are relaxed and confident with improvising at that level what you have learned about theory may well start to kick in, and the bits of theory you found tricky may start to drop into place.

Have a dig around on this site - there is lots of stuff which has been posted on improvisation because people asked much the same question as you did above. Also look at the Taming the Saxophone site.
 

playthoseblues

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That's the thing, I see the Aebersold books think 'Great - some good tune here!', I then get to the improv bit and it all goes to pieces. I can string some improv together well if it's in a single key and scale throughout, but I guess like you said it takes years to get to grips with. Maybe it's just enjoying what you can play at the moment, not what you wish you could all the time!
 

Colin the Bear

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Let it come to you. Chase it a little but... just let it come. We play because we must. Don't be so focused on the destination that you forget to enjoy the journey. There is no terminus. It's a never ending journey. We are where we are.

Some times we forget how far we have come and explain how we got here instead of pointing out the next step.

When you come to the solo part on the playalong just play the roots of the chords. One long note for each bar. When you have that, split the bar in two and add the third. In time you'll be able to play four notes to the bar. If you forget the next note hold the one you're playing. There are no wrong notes, merely different kinds of harmony and dissonance. In time and with practice you'll find you in there, some where.
 

griff136

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Having a good understanding of chords and a good ear will help you on your way. listen to as much jaz music as you can - if you go online there are plenty of resources that list their top 50 jazz tunes. As far as playing goes, I would start by learning which notes go into which chords. If you have access to a keyboard even better. I would Play your sax along to a slow tune and play the root, 3rd, 5th and 7th of each particular chord. once youve got those under your fingers try inverting the chords eg start the next set on the 3rd note of the chord , then 5th 7th and root. Then invert again. It can get a little boring but at least you will be playing notes that fit and more importantly sound right in each chord. Then Practice Practice. I would also advise getting some lessons with a teacher that teaches jazz as opposed to straight/legit/classical music.
 

playthoseblues

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@Colin the Bear Those are wise words. With the Maiden Voyage book I recently bought I was trying to play the tunes and improvise perfectly first time around, so I've trimmed it back and just working on a basic 12 bar blues. I'm not relying on blues scales, and I'm just playing small melodies outlining the 1/3/5/7 of the chords.

@Nick Wyver I haven't used the book in a long time but dug it out earlier and you are right. I was taking no notice of the chord changes, and just using the scales on the left-hand side of the page. I read some of the blurb at the beginning about chords and as I've written above had applied to one track off of Aerbersold's Maiden Voyage - I much prefer the backings.

@griff136 Start simple, I agree. I'm not a massive listener of the jazz greats, but I love soul and funk. I'm especially into a lot of mixes of rare 45s. I guess that can't be a bad thing?
 

Sue

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Hi Jon

Speaking as someone who struggles a bit with improvising, I agree with Colin re joining in on the sound clip threads he mentioned. You get really great advice from experienced improvisers and listeners. It's a very friendly environment.
 

Colin the Bear

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We all struggle with improvising. I always think I can do better. More feeling, more expression, better changes, better tone. I'm sure we're all the same at whatever level we've got to.
 
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Nick Wyver

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We all struggle with improvising. I always think I can do better. More feeling, more expression, better changes, better tone. I'm sure we're all the same at whatever level we've got to.
Yup.
Although I've probably given up struggling now.
 

kevgermany

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I've always wondered how people can remember which notes are in a chord, let alone think fast enough to invert them on the fly and then play around with them. I also struggled to learn my tables at school, but could think fast enough to calculate them as fast as the others could recite them... Maybe I can adopt the technique to chords... We'll see.
 

Colin the Bear

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I've always wondered how people can remember which notes are in a chord, let alone think fast enough to invert them on the fly and then play around with them. I also struggled to learn my tables at school, but could think fast enough to calculate them as fast as the others could recite them... Maybe I can adopt the technique to chords... We'll see.

You can launch through the ones you know, hover on the root of the ones you don't adding a bend or changing the volume and feel your way by ear to a place where you know the chord and.....................it will sound like sensitive and expressive playing.

If I get a chance, I work them all out before playing from bottom to top of the saxophone up and down. The popular and obvious ones stick in your memory and the rest you can work out.
 

jbtsax

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I've always wondered how people can remember which notes are in a chord, let alone think fast enough to invert them on the fly and then play around with them. I also struggled to learn my tables at school, but could think fast enough to calculate them as fast as the others could recite them... Maybe I can adopt the technique to chords... We'll see.
There is really nothing mysterious about it. Most folks who have worked through the standard method books such as the Rubank series have learned all 12 major scales, and at least the natural minor scales, as well the major and minor arpeggios in all keys. Through practice and repetition they become memorized and are what is often called "under your fingers". A player at this level does not think of each individual note of a scale or chord when they play them they just reproduce a pattern that they have played hundreds of times.

It may sound like an enormous undertaking, but just taking one key a week and running the arpeggios and major scales around the instrument is very doable. In just 12 weeks you have all of the major keys under your fingers. Then you just work on speed and different articulation patterns. From that point it is easy to go to the minor scales once you understand the relationships to major scales and keys.
 

trimmy

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^^^^
That's no good...i play alto !!! ;)
 
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