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Re. Improvising

Jamesmac

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If I can ask for your take on how you deal with a given modal scale choice for a given chord symbol. eg. You have an Emin 7 & within the melody you only have only the 2nd F# as a ref point in chosing which mode/scale that would fit. We don't have a 6th to reference from, but because of the F# we know that the Phyrigian mode is out, but how do we decide on the Dorian or Aeolian when we don't have a 6th to ref. from. My gut instinct is to follow your ear, but I am interested in any theoretical reasons, as to a particular choice.Thanks in Advance
Jamesmac
 
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Sue

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I'm not sure of the theoretical reasoning but I agree you should use your ear to decide. Taking the cues from the chords and the melody gives us the notes and options to choose.

We can play over Em7 using C natural or C# or both. Over Gm7 using E natural or Eb or both. Over Bb using E natural or Eb or both etc.

When creating a melody, it's the ear that has to decide. One choice only sounds "better" than another in the context of the melody, and even then the choices may be only different, not necessarily better or worse.

I think that's what Mr Burton was saying in one of the videos that there may one or more modes which might be the 'correct' choice.

Sue
 

Jamesmac

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I'm not sure of the theoretical reasoning but I agree you should use your ear to decide. Taking the cues from the chords and the melody gives us the notes and options to choose.

We can play over Em7 using C natural or C# or both. Over Gm7 using E natural or Eb or both. Over Bb using E natural or Eb or both etc.

When creating a melody, it's the ear that has to decide. One choice only sounds "better" than another in the context of the melody, and even then the choices may be only different, not necessarily better or worse.

I think that's what Mr Burton was saying in one of the videos that there may one or more modes which might be the 'correct' choice.

Sue

I agree and playing through the changes and to my ear i like both, The Aeolian has a bit more tension for me.
{ill use that one when im feeling complicated. LOL.}
Thanks Sue.
Jim
 

jbtsax

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I think it would also be important to look at the "harmonic context" in which the Em7 chord is found. If the Em7 is the ii of a ii-V-I in the key of D, it would be different than if it were the vi of a I-vi-IV-V-I in the key of G. If it is found in one of those modal pieces that each chord goes for 8 bars, then it is wide open what to play.
 

Colin the Bear

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You can't think about all that while improvising, so just play. If you get stuck and can't find a sweet spot or are looking for a theme, then referring back to theory can help.

There are no rights and wrongs. Any discordance can be resolved or repeated for effect. All notes will bend in or out. Sometimes a couple of surprise mi****s can make a solo.

The rhythm is more important than being clever with the notes. Repeating a phrase with subtle differences in emphasis and timing can give it added feeling

Be open to experimenting. Let your fingers wander and listen to what they're playing only intervening where you think it's needed.

Less is more but more is fun.

Don't forget who you're playing to. The general public may not be able to hear what you're doing whereas a room full of players will be with you all the way.

That's my theory anyway.
 

Wade Cornell

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You can't think about all that while improvising, so just play. If you get stuck and can't find a sweet spot or are looking for a theme, then referring back to theory can help.

There are no rights and wrongs. Any discordance can be resolved or repeated for effect. All notes will bend in or out. Sometimes a couple of surprise mi****s can make a solo.

The rhythm is more important than being clever with the notes. Repeating a phrase with subtle differences in emphasis and timing can give it added feeling

Be open to experimenting. Let your fingers wander and listen to what they're playing only intervening where you think it's needed.

Less is more but more is fun.

Don't forget who you're playing to. The general public may not be able to hear what you're doing whereas a room full of players will be with you all the way.

That's my theory anyway.

Very well said! I'd only add that IMHO it's best to hear what you want to play rather than be trying to play by theory and have no idea what notes are about to come out of your sax. Any instrument you play should be your voice. How could anyone sing without knowing what notes they are about to sing?
 
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Jamesmac

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Very well said! I'd only add that IMHO it's best to hear what you want to play rather than be trying to play by theory and have no idea what notes are about to copme out of your sax. Any instrument you play should be your voice. How could anyone sing without knowing what note they are about to sing?


Hi wade
Just got home after a hard night playing at a birthday party.
As re. The thread. It is not asking HOW TO IMPROVISE. I can to some degree, but I would like to be better, and more in control. The thread relates to the Gary Burton free impro course, and the scales/modes used for a given chord. He picks the chord and the player/student demonstrates that he can be inventive and musical using a certain criteria, ie. modes/scales. This is an exercise in musical invention, and control. Which is something that i would like to develop more. BTW. Mozarts teacher ( his father) gave the young genius Mozart composition exercises. ( so where does that leave the rest of us) Composing is just improvisation in slow motion.
 

Wade Cornell

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Hi wade
Just got home after a hard night playing at a birthday party.
As re. The thread. It is not asking HOW TO IMPROVISE. I can to some degree, but I would like to be better, and more in control. The thread relates to the Gary Burton free impro course, and the scales/modes used for a given chord. He picks the chord and the player/student demonstrates that he can be inventive and musical using a certain criteria, ie. modes/scales. This is an exercise in musical invention, and control. Which is something that i would like to develop more. BTW. Mozarts teacher ( his father) gave the young genius Mozart composition exercises. ( so where does that leave the rest of us) Composing is just improvisation in slow motion.

Agreed that composition can be improvisation, but if you are trying to play by formulae and have no idea what you are about to play then you are hardly a musician or musical. You can limit your vocabulary and play within any mode(s), but if all you are doing is running arpeggios or randomly picking out the notes within a mode without knowing/hearing what you are about to play then how can this possibly convey much if anything at all? Melodies are not random. What makes them work is being able to phrase, develop, build, and give appropriate emphasis to the notes that make that melody communicate something. When you speak consider how even the simplest sentence also has phrases, meter, pauses, and accents. Hearing music that isn't "owned" by the musician is like hearing a non English speaker trying to read a sentence they don't know the meaning of and can't pronounce the words. It doesn't work. Once again, IMHO if you can't hear what you are about to play you are not part of the music.

It can be an excellent exercise to limit your range of notes, but you need to know what each of them sounds like (rather than them being a bunch of finger positions without a musical connection in your brain). Any exercise that is using theory to supplant making those connections is (IMHO) potentially not advancing that player and giving intermediary (stop-gap) measures that take the place of meaningful melodic playing. If your purpose is to learn how to fake being a player and not own what you play, then cut and paste riffs and arpeggios is your ticket.

Much of what’s taught is about how to sound like you are playing something and feel good about it. There is a balance to encouragement for a beginner and challenge to make them a musician. If the beginner is continually taught in a “paint by the numbers” fashion then when and how do they suddenly become one with their instrument and develop the ability to sing through that instrument?
 

old git

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Mozarts teacher (his father) gave the young genius Mozart composition exercises. (so where does that leave the rest of us) Composing is just improvisation in slow motion.

Improvising or extemporising a solo is for that sole musician to play. Amadeus not only composed but also arranged, a somewhat more difficult task.
 

Jamesmac

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Agreed that composition can be improvisation, but if you are trying to play by formulae and have no idea what you are about to play then you are hardly a musician or musical. You can limit your vocabulary and play within any mode(s), but if all you are doing is running arpeggios or randomly picking out the notes within a mode without knowing/hearing what you are about to play then how can this possibly convey much if anything at all? Melodies are not random. What makes them work is being able to phrase, develop, build, and give appropriate emphasis to the notes that make that melody communicate something. When you speak consider how even the simplest sentence also has phrases, meter, pauses, and accents. Hearing music that isn't "owned" by the musician is like hearing a non English speaker trying to read a sentence they don't know the meaning of and can't pronounce the words. It doesn't work. Once again, IMHO if you can't hear what you are about to play you are not part of the music.

It can be an excellent exercise to limit your range of notes, but you need to know what each of them sounds like (rather than them being a bunch of finger positions without a musical connection in your brain). Any exercise that is using theory to supplant making those connections is (IMHO) potentially not advancing that player and giving intermediary (stop-gap) measures that take the place of meaningful melodic playing. If your purpose is to learn how to fake being a player and not own what you play, then cut and paste riffs and arpeggios is your ticket.

Much of what’s taught is about how to sound like you are playing something and feel good about it. There is a balance to encouragement for a beginner and challenge to make them a musician. If the beginner is continually taught in a “paint by the numbers” fashion then when and how do they suddenly become one with their instrument and develop the ability to sing through that instrument?


We are essentially agreeing, apart from. The means to the end bit. Just because you are given a bunch of notes to play over a given harmony, does in no way mean you are playing to a formula, you are only limited to your own imagination and musicality as to how you use the material, It matters not the process, but the end result. The idea to actually practice improvisation and not to sit around waiting for the muse to kick in, will in most cases inform you of what works and what doesn't. And when you are playing along quite happily with your Dmin 7th and G7th and then arrive at a chord like Ab7 (b5) your are less likely to take time to adjust your mouthpiece or neck strap, or scratch your ass.
It is interesting to discuss the philosophy of making up what is in effect a counter melody, but we deviate from the thread, which is the theory of fitting a mode or scale to a given chord symbol, and what works in a general application. It's a small detail concerning the theory of improvisation.
 

Colin the Bear

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There are so many theories on improvisation. Exercises are good to expand a tired repertoire or to shift yourself out of a rut you find yourself in. The ultimate restriction being the one note solo. I only use theory or dots for that matter when I can't hear my way through.

Essentially improvisation as an instrumentalist is being you, who ever you are today. There are no rules for being yourself. The music should suggest something to you which you can expand on when you start playing and hear how it feels.

Some musical genius can hear what's written on the paper and write what they're thinking for any instrument. I've come across very few and one who didn't even play an instrument. I suppose this comes more under the heading of composition and any solo spots are more of a variation on a theme, to be played the same each time the piece is aired.
 

saxplorer

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If I can ask for your take on how you deal with a given modal scale choice for a given chord symbol. eg. You have an Emin 7 & within the melody you only have only the 2nd F# as a ref point in chosing which mode/scale that would fit. We don't have a 6th to reference from, but because of the F# we know that the Phyrigian mode is out, but how do we decide on the Dorian or Aeolian when we don't have a 6th to ref. from. My gut instinct is to follow your ear, but I am interested in any theoretical reasons, as to a particular choice.Thanks in Advance
Jamesmac

To return to the OP (and maybe this should be within the Gary Burton thread), then, among the guidelines he gives are to look to the previous harmony and hear what is "ringing". Now, I know this is the first harmony of the piece, but it is a repeated section, so ....

So if we look to the last harmony of the chorus, that is a B7alt, for which, if I have learned correctly, the appropriate scale will have in it a C natural (not C sharp). Going back to the harmony we started with, Em7, the E Aeolian will have the C nat, whereas the Dorian would have C#. Phew, is that right?

So that ties in with your preference for doing it by ear (and your way is much faster!)
 
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Morgan Fry

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If I can ask for your take on how you deal with a given modal scale choice for a given chord symbol. eg. You have an Emin 7 & within the melody you only have only the 2nd F# as a ref point in chosing which mode/scale that would fit. We don't have a 6th to reference from, but because of the F# we know that the Phyrigian mode is out, but how do we decide on the Dorian or Aeolian when we don't have a 6th to ref. from. My gut instinct is to follow your ear, but I am interested in any theoretical reasons, as to a particular choice.Thanks in Advance
Jamesmac

Sure, follow your ear, but train it as well.

What does the chord do, and what are you doing on it? If it's a tonic (i.e., if you're in E minor), the dorian 6th is a color tone, aeolian 6th implies the vi or VI7 chord and will typically resolve to the 5th. So a case could be made for either depending on your line.
If it's a sudbominant (i.e. you're in D, and the next chord is A7 or Eb7 then D) then the b6th is the b7 of the root and #9 of the dominant chord. Any 6th here is rarely used as anything but a passing tone. You probably won't be looking at a 9th on the page in this situation anyway.

In any case, this is sort of one of those questions that if you need to ask, the answer won't do you much good. You need to get good at defining where you're at before you start choosing what else to play besides that.
 

Jamesmac

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Of course you can. Sightreading changes is a skill just like sightreading notes, and figuring out this kind of stuff in an instant is part of it.

Exactly the same words from the master MR Gary Burton.
BTW. The reason for the thread, is to see what kind of take an experienced improviser would suggest. I will always follow my ear.
 

Di in France

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Great thread James, lots of great advice too!
I like to noodle around the melody line in the name of improv - it sometimes works, but it's hit and miss at best. I like doing it that way though, like to hear and feel what I'm playing.
As I'm new to improv my ideas can be limiting and predictable so I'm finding the improv course a good way to give me some theoretical help which will hopefully give me more ideas to noodle on!
As someone with very little musical theory I'm finding it hard going though!!
 

MLoosemore

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Reading this thread and the Gary Burton thread has successfully convinced me that I don't have a clue about the subject...

Back to reading sheets and concentrating on playing notes that somebody else has already decided works...

I reckon if I try really hard I should be ready to come back to the question of improv in about 40years??? :)
 

Jamesmac

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Great thread James, lots of great advice too!
I like to noodle around the melody line in the name of improv - it sometimes works, but it's hit and miss at best. I like doing it that way though, like to hear and feel what I'm playing.
As I'm new to improv my ideas can be limiting and predictable so I'm finding the improv course a good way to give me some theoretical help which will hopefully give me more ideas to noodle on!
As someone with very little musical theory I'm finding it hard going though!!

Hi Di
What is interesting about some of the responses, in particular what Wade said about matching the modes/scales to the chord symbol, and it being formulaic, and not actually being true to the tune. Ie. running up and down scales instead of creating an alternate melody( however complex) as a variation on the tune.
It occurred to me that there is similarity with the misconception of a player sight reading a piece of music, and the view that someone playing from memory will always sound more natural. If you spend all day like I did in Military Bands and Orchestras, you become a very good sight reader, in fact so good, there is no discern able difference between the two. Either reading or playing from memory the same piece of music. As far as using modes/scales, I didn't get Wades point, because I'm thinking, when I see a mode that will work with a given chord symbol, I don't think about which note I'm playing as a mode or the basic chord. I see the symbol and it triggers all the notes without thinking. So I am thinking about music and not about notes. But I can see his point if a player is not familiar enough playing his scales, or indeed if you are poor sight reader, it's always going to sound stilted compared with playing from memory.
i must add that I am not as familiar with all the modes and how the fit with the chord symbols. Hence doing the course.
 

Profusia

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To return to the OP (and maybe this should be within the Gary Burton thread), then, among the guidelines he gives are to look to the previous harmony and hear what is "ringing". Now, I know this is the first harmony of the piece, but it is a repeated section, so ....

So if we look to the last harmony of the chorus, that is a B7alt, for which, if I have learned correctly, the appropriate scale will have in it a C natural (not C sharp). Going back to the harmony we started with, Em7, the E Aeolian will have the C nat, whereas the Dorian would have C#. Phew, is that right?

So that ties in with your preference for doing it by ear (and your way is much faster!)

I'm confused about this issue of what's ringing from the previous bar. When picking minor scales I've looked at what notes were in the chord from the previous bar, what notes were played in the previous bar, what note was played last in the previous bar, and what notes were in the chord scale that I picked for the previous bar. I think I've come to the conclusion that the previous bar's chord tones would be ringing through, and maybe the last note played in the melody too, but I'm less sure about any of the other "passing" notes from the chord scale. So on that basis I think I'd assume that as the C natural in the B7 Altered scale of the final bar wasn't a chord tone and wasn't played in the melody then it wouldn't be ringing through and neededn't be considered for the chord scale for bar 1. Is that reasonable?
 

saxplorer

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I'm confused about this issue of what's ringing from the previous bar. When picking minor scales I've looked at what notes were in the chord from the previous bar, what notes were played in the previous bar, what note was played last in the previous bar, and what notes were in the chord scale that I picked for the previous bar. I think I've come to the conclusion that the previous bar's chord tones would be ringing through, and maybe the last note played in the melody too, but I'm less sure about any of the other "passing" notes from the chord scale. So on that basis I think I'd assume that as the C natural in the B7 Altered scale of the final bar wasn't a chord tone and wasn't played in the melody then it wouldn't be ringing through and neededn't be considered for the chord scale for bar 1. Is that reasonable?

Thomas you may well be right! What you say makes perfect sense, in which case I can't find any guide to which of those modes to prefer. I was looking for some sort of rationale, but it's reached the "how many angels can dance on the head of a pin" stage. I'd probably do better practicing my scales than rationalising them!
 

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