SYOS

Playing in and keeping track of time

half diminished

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So........ I am making slow progress with improvising over chord changes BUT how do I keep track of time whilst doing so?

I have no idea where I am after several bars and I know I am not playing with a pulse or in relation to the rest of the musicians. :(

It isn't helped by the fact that I am playing So What - 16 bars of E-, 8 bars of F- then 8 bars of E-. I can hear the changes and even 'anticipate' them when just listening to the rhythm section but as soon as I start playing I am dead!!!!!

Any suggestions? :confused:
 

Pauline

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Hi Ian,
I would like to know the answer to this as well!
After 2 years of teaching myself and playing tunes, I have had the good fortune to come across a local teacher who is is keen on improvising and has agreed to try to teach me. :)))

I have had 5 lessons so far and am just getting to grips with a few chords/ blues scales etc. (How I wish I had spent more of that 2 years learning scales!! Newbies take note!)

The nearest I have come to actual improvising is to tentatively move the notes around a bit when I'm practising, but then I can't do that and keep track of the backing track at the same time.....
This improvising lark seems quite difficult to me.......it's like learning to read and write all over again but without the benefit of a child's learning power! :(
 

Pee Dee

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Dorset
Hi Half dim and Pauline
Like you Pauline, been self teaching for 2 years and joined a learning band about 4 months ago. Must admit, at first I felt out of my depth, but as one of 3 2nd tenors was able to mime the hard bits. But, things are getting better slowly, although I find myself playing two or three bars behind sometimes:w00t:
But, as I said, getting better slowly, so I guess the answer is practice, practice, practice...........
Regarding improvising, don't have much chance in the band, but I do practice it at home. I do have a book, with a backing disc for the blues scales, but unfortunately I don't use it much, never was much good at scales.
What I tend to do while practicing at home is to listen to the number played by a pro, currently Houston Person with Bewitched, and try to copy it. If you have that track, I don't think his impro matches the tune, so I do my own, trying to make it sympathetic to the piece, and incorporating bits of the tune. Interestingly, listening to the masters, sometimes the whole track seems to be improvising around the tune, sometimes it's hard to identify the tune that is meant to be played. Lester Young's 'These Foolish Things' is a good example I think. This is good, it gives one confidence, and not worry too much about special scales for impro. I think, as far as this type of music is concerned, ie 'jazz', what you play should be an extension of you. A bit like painting a picture really.
Hope that helps. Those that think what I say is rubbish, please free to say so, I know you will anyway:D
 

Pauline

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Thanks PeeDee, that's encouraging.
My teacher says not to worry too much about "wrong" notes and just have a go. I've really tried this week and I think I have actually made some progress!
There's something very satisfying about making it up......
 

TomMapfumo

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Skabertawe, South Wales
The challenge does seem to be to establish a compromise between counting notes/bars and playing a tune. If I follow Aebersold and adapt these ideas:-

1. Count through the bars/notes without playing anything. Note chord changes and any other features of backing track.
2. Play chord notes repetitively during the tune (one semi-breve, 4 crotchets etc.) so that you get used to playing and counting at the same time. Increase to two different notes etc. and take your time.
3. Play for one bar, then rest, then repeat - or develop your own way of just playing very short phrases.
4. Eventually you get to the stage when you have begun to internalise the structure of the improvisation backing, such that you just know how long to play for, and when to change notes,and when to wind down.

So, for me, you are gradually absorbing/internalising the structure of the piece, and slowly developing an awareness of playing an improvisation bit by bit, over the backing. being able to play 2 bar phrases, 4 bar phrases etc. and knowing when something is a 4x4 bar piece ( or 3x4 or 2x4 ) becomes second nature, once you have mapped the territory beforehand.

Hence an 8 bar piece can become 4x2 bar phrases, with enough of a gap between phrases so that you can move seamlessly from one to another. This requires some structuring but seems to work a lot quicker than just winging it, and hoping for the best!:w00t:;}

Hope that reads clearly enough - best if you can develop your own personal approach, taking into account some of the above ideas.
 

muzza

Member
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109
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Wellington, New Zealand
I have been working on improvising and getting very lost keep in time, working out or anticipating changes, when solo part of tune finished and/or when a section repeat starts. A quick search found this thread, with members describing my problem and level of development almost exactly.

TomMapfumo posted some useful advice, of which some of his suggestions I am doing and others I will try.

As I'm teaching myself any other suggestions or advise would be welcome. It maybe the gem that helps bind all the bits I can do separately together.

Thanks
 

Marcello

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Anderson, South Carolina
I am really happy to find this thread...!!! :w00t:

So far I thought I was sailing alone on this boat....

Even on a song that I know very well the melody I can't keep the counting and play as per the chords...
What I tend to do is, when I realize that I am lost, I just play what I feel, without worrying too much with the chords and try to come back on track when I can recognize the tune's melody.
The only problem is that I feel my improvisations attempts so alike... :-(
Normally what happens with me also is, I have this chord in a bar, I start an idea and on the next bar the chord changes, if it is similar like a F7 to a F, I can manage but when it changes a lot, I can't finish the first idea in time and lose the time to change...
I am still fighting with this... Now I am pushing myself to have the basic Minor, Major and Dominant scales on the tip of my fingers, so I can concentrate on the rhythm session I am playing on....

From Tom's comments, I have done the first one and I can go through the whole tone without getting lost, the problem is when I need to play... it seems that read, blow, listen and keys is just too much for my brain.... :confused:
Will definitely try the number 2....

Lets wait on the other experts to give their tips...
 

Pete Thomas

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I don't mind admitting this is something I struggled with a lot, and sometimes still do.

much is to do with both an inbuilt or learned sense of pitch to hear the chord changes and a sense of time to feel the passage of e.g. 4, 8 or 16 bar chunks of time.

neither of these seemed to be by "inbuilt" or intuitive in my case and I had to do a lot of work. The whole problem is indeed excasurbated by trying to concentrate on coming up with some impro, so even if you can count or hear the changes when not playing, it can indeed all go out the window in the heat of the improvising moment.

the solution?

You just have to work at all three:

ear traing, ESP chord recognition
Try to think in four bar phrases, so at first instead of trying to count 16, you count four blocks of four
work on general impro skills, learn some stock phrases etc, so your brain is not struggling so much to work out what to play
 

saxplorer

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Surrey, UK
Disclaimer: I am very far from being even a remotely competent improviser ... but I do have fun :)

I feel I am making some sort of progress here after a long time of flailing about. I do think it is about understanding (and not just reading) the chord progression. When it works best for me is when I get a sense of where the key moments or passages in a tune are, the bits that really give it its character. Often this might be a shift (say) from an E to an Em where a single semitone change (G# to G) will define that shift cleanly and make it come alive. Anticipate and hit that transition, and suddenly the chords "make sense".

Also (and maybe this is "cheating") I will sometimes, in working with a tune, find "anchor points" for myself ... say I know there is a Dm coming up, (and if I am aware enough of the chord progession I am listening to, to hear when) I know that if I hit an F natural there and noodle a little to get down to D it's going to sound ok. Once you have a few of these anchor points, it seems to give a little firm footing. Studying the chords and making sense of them helps A LOT, for me.

This may all be completely the wrong way to go about it, but I am happier now with my improvising than I was a while ago. It may also be very much that in other areas of playing and reading music there is slow progress, so the brain has a little more space to process/plan the improv.
 
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BigMartin

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Manchester, UK
One thing that's helped me is to listen to a backing track for the song and (quietly) sing the melody along with it. After a while you start to recognise the chord changes so you know instinctively where you are in the song, even if you wouldn't be able to identify the chords by ear (which I'm still a long way from being able to do). Then when you get lost you can pick it back up more easily.
 

llamedos

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Lincolnshire England
I don't mind admitting this is something I struggled with a lot, and sometimes still do.

much is to do with both an inbuilt or learned sense of pitch to hear the chord changes and a sense of time to feel the passage of e.g. 4, 8 or 16 bar chunks of time.

neither of these seemed to be by "inbuilt" or intuitive in my case and I had to do a lot of work. The whole problem is indeed excasurbated by trying to concentrate on coming up with some impro, so even if you can count or hear the changes when not playing, it can indeed all go out the window in the heat of the improvising moment.

the solution?

You just have to work at all three:

ear traing, ESP chord recognition
Try to think in four bar phrases, so at first instead of trying to count 16, you count four blocks of four
work on general impro skills, learn some stock phrases etc, so your brain is not struggling so much to work out what to play
Thank you Pete, on my own behalf and I suspect on the part of others; you can have no idea how much better your opening words make me feel.

Dave
 

Chris

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One thing that might help is keeping the melody in your head while improvising. Easier said than done but it will help..

Chris..
 

muzza

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109
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Wellington, New Zealand
Thanks for your great replies. Good to know I am not alone and with perseverance I will get better.


I will certainly be trying the advise giving. Now off to the library to find an ear training book.
 

Colin the Bear

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Burnley bb9 9dn
Composing on the fly, now how could that be easy?

Some of my pieces have been works in progress for over 30 years and still I find a new way through or a different phrasing that throws the whole piece a different way. And of course any one can lose concentration and get it wrong and end up in a blind alley.

The struggle to pick it up when you drop it, the finding your way when you feel lost, trying to resolve a fudged note and make it part of the piece, while maintaining rhythm, harmony and feeling are all part of the challenge.

Sometimes it all works out and is wonderful. Sometimes you have to follow the safety lights and get to the exit. Sometimes the annoyance with yourself for some little mistake inspires you in a " must do better" sort of way and off you go renewed.

An audience of players will understand your struggle and applaud your tenacity in not giving up and resolving your efforts into a performance.

Non musicians may just marvel at the complexiy of it all in bewilderment.

I find the main thing with improvising is to pick a piece that you like, understand and respect. A piece that you can play in a way that has something to say. If the only thing you say is "I really like this piece" or "I enjoy playing this piece" and you get that across to your audience, they will know and you will touch them.

Listening trains your ear. Listen to great players from the present and the past. Take a pinch of one and add a dash of another to your playing.

But mostly just practice.
 
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