Tutorials

Soloing Over "Jazz Blues Changes"

cannonballer

Member
Messages
38
Hey!
I'm working on soloing over some of the old Charlie Parker heads like "Now's the Time" and I am getting really bored with my own solos. The tune is in D for alto sax and i have been playing the D major scale with a b7 along with outlining the chords but i find that I am playing very similar things every time I play. I feel like I might be too focused on showing that I know the chords rather than creating a melodic solo. I am trying to play more melodically but I don't know how. For some reason, I have never really been able to solo well on jazz blues changes. Does anyone have any advice for me??? It would be much appriciated. I've sort of been in a musical slump lately :(
THANKS,
Jake
 

BigMartin

Well-Known Member
Messages
3,904
I'm afraid I can't help, but if it makes you feel any better I find it really hard to play anything satisfying over any kind of blues changes. It's coming along slowly but I always end up feeling so un-cool (which, of course, I am but I don't want everyone to know that). I should probably be doing more transcription to get some ideas into my thick (and square) head.
 

ArtyLady

Well-Known Member
Messages
1,030
Dont' stop playing your arpeggios altogether but to break it up abit you could try adding in the occasional bebop scale over the dominant seventh 7, bung it the odd blues scale licks, you could try a tri-tone substitute over the change to the iv (right at the end of bar 4) and there are some nice turnaround licks based on guide tones (not sure where you could look them up though). The other thing I do is play the whole thing as a walking bass line - that can give you some ideas. hope that helps a bit :thumb:
 

Pete Thomas

Chief of Stuff
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14,179
Hey!
i have been playing the D major scale with a b7 along with outlining the chords

That could be your problem right there. Stop thinking in scales for a while. Concentrate on really knowing the chord tones, especially voice leading (e.g. nice semitone step from Eb of F7 down to the D of Bb)

Also learn a few simple melodic licks: transcribe or (not quite so useful) look at transcriptions and learn some nice licks in several keys.

If melodic lines are scales, it's better to think of the chord tones on the beat, and connect them within passing notes in-between.

So for example your arpeggio is D F# A C you connect those with passing notes: D E F# G A B C

OK, it's the same thing as a D major scale with b7, yes but you are thinking chord and passing nets rather than scale, and this will help with creating melodic impro because instead of it all being a scale, you could jump between some chord tones so it's a combination of arpeggio and scale, i.e. more melodic already than just scale or just arpeggio.

There's nothing wrong however with bunging in the odd (minor) blues scale or blues scale derived lick, just don't overdo it.
 

cannonballer

Member
Messages
38
That could be your problem right there. Stop thinking in scales for a while. Concentrate on really knowing the chord tones, especially voice leading (e.g. nice semitone step from Eb of F7 down to the D of Bb)

Also learn a few simple melodic licks: transcribe or (not quite so useful) look at transcriptions and learn some nice licks in several keys.

If melodic lines are scales, it's better to think of the chord tones on the beat, and connect them within passing notes in-between.

So for example your arpeggio is D F# A C you connect those with passing notes: D E F# G A B C

OK, it's the same thing as a D major scale with b7, yes but you are thinking chord and passing nets rather than scale, and this will help with creating melodic impro because instead of it all being a scale, you could jump between some chord tones so it's a combination of arpeggio and scale, i.e. more melodic already than just scale or just arpeggio.

There's nothing wrong however with bunging in the odd (minor) blues scale or blues scale derived lick, just don't overdo it.

Thanks so much this is exactly what I needed to hear! I just have a few questions regarding your response.
What can I do to hear the voice leading? slow down the play along track that i'm practicing with?
And when you said that "instead of it all being a scale, you could jump between some chord tones so its a combination of arpeggio and scale" do you mean jump between different chords tones within the same chord? For instance, if you are on a D7, base everything off of the 3rd (F#), and then try an idea coming of the 5th (A)? Sorry if thats a dumb question i just want to clarify!
 

Wade Cornell

Well-Known Member
Subscriber
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2,177
Great that you have recognised that playing the changes isn't melodic and has its limitations. Will disagree with the advice others have given as more variations on playing changes is not the same a playing melodically, just gives you a few more variations on the same boring theme. This is especially important for blues playing where the content/feeling is most important.

If one's only intent in playing a sax is to impress with technical virtuosity then just play your ass off doing "the changes". If it's to communicate musically and touch your listeners, then you've got to have something to give besides technique. Melodic ideas come from within, not by prescription. Can you sing? Even if you can't sing in tune it doesn't matter, the point is to hear a melodic line and be able to play that on your horn. This is probably the most important part of playing any instrument. It's got to be a part of you, not just a mechanical device that you manipulate without hearing and knowing the sounds you are making. Too much teaching is based on a "paint by the numbers" attitude. This does not make for a good musician or make good music. It is a crippling attitude that keeps you separated from thinking and hearing the music you play. If you have got something to say in music, even if it's a copy of what you have heard others do, then you need to hear this and play it and not rely on techno-mechanical learning devices.

To be a good musician you need to know theory, structure, and have vocabulary, but those are simply tools, the music comes from you. If it doesn't, then playing a few technical bits may be as good as it gets. It's never too early to make the instrument your own and an extension of yourself, and it would be a big mistake to think that somehow this will happen if you just continue to paint/play by the numbers.
 

Pete Thomas

Chief of Stuff
Commercial Supporter
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14,179
Thanks so much this is exactly what I needed to hear! I just have a few questions regarding your response.
What can I do to hear the voice leading? slow down the play along track that i'm practicing with?
And when you said that "instead of it all being a scale, you could jump between some chord tones so its a combination of arpeggio and scale" do you mean jump between different chords tones within the same chord? For instance, if you are on a D7, base everything off of the 3rd (F#), and then try an idea coming of the 5th (A)? Sorry if thats a dumb question i just want to clarify!

I would suggest you learn a bit of theory concerning voice leading, it's easier to hear it and do it when you know the what's and whys.

When I say jump between chord tones I mean either within the same chord or from one chord to another. The same applies to connecting chord tones with scales.
 

Morgan Fry

Senior Member
Messages
447
For some reason, I have never really been able to solo well on jazz blues changes. Does anyone have any advice for me??? It would be much appriciated. I've sort of been in a musical slump lately :(
THANKS,
Jake

Play blues over it for a start. Even Bird played a hell of a lot of blues on everything. When you've got that down, learn your voice leading theory, as Pete suggested. it is indispensable. If you can do those two things you will always be able to improvise melodies that work, over any song in a jazz or pop context. If you can't do both you never will.
 

Wade Cornell

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2,177
Probably not wise to be disagreeing with Morgan or Pete, but I think they are not giving advice that will best serve all striving musicians. The question is about playing melodically. This does not come from theory. Leading voice theory is an avoidance to hearing melodic lines by giving further ways to pretend that another prescription somehow = playing a melody. It does not. Developing melodic ideas can be helped by imitation of what you think are good ideas. Most important is to NOT try to tie this to any theory, but HEAR the melody and be able to repeat it. Having a wide vocabulary and a head full of what you think are good ideas to copy can be a start. Those who are lucky can hear melodies without copying by knowing the genre and by using their inner voice appropriately.

The practice for this is simple: sing what you want to play and then play it. Trying to play a believable melody by the numbers is avoiding being in the music. If you can't hear it within you, how do you expect to play something that's real/felt? The prescriptions offered by Mogan and Pete are stopgap measures that can give you a way to play something that will sound OK, but that's about it. I don't think it's ever too early to try to exercise one's ability to hear melodic lines and play them. To avoid this is potentially retarding what should be encouraged.

Warning!!! not everybody can or will hear great melodic lines. We are not all the same and not everybody is as talented as Pete, but this doesn't mean you shouldn't try. Guide tones and leading voice theory may be as good as it gets for some, but it is an inappropriate prescription for those who may be capable of hearing melodies.

I'm not 100% disagreeing with Pete and Morgan, but it's a matter of prescription based on teaching for the lowest common denominator rather than encouraging those who have talent. In this process those who have talent may find it subsumed by a "theory" that dictates what is the "acceptable teaching method".


Subsuming a student’s potential by feeding them a strict diet of theory can lead to an unfortunately predictable outcome that pushes aside talent by over-exercising demagoguery. This is obvious in all of the arts. There are certainly lots of very talented people who are encouraged to continue their studies at ever higher levels. I can’t imagine that none of them started out without a fair bit of talent, but how many PhDs do you know of in the arts or music that are considered GREAT artists? There needs to be a balance of developing talent and being educated to use the tools necessary for your art. Hearing and playing melodic ideas is a basic need for any aspiring jazz musician and should not be pushed aside for a “paint by the numbers” prescription that supplants development of musical ideas (melodies). One size does not fit all, and prescriptions for a talented person based on advice for those without talent is not necessarily the best approach.
 
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Mike

Senior Member
Messages
559
I love it when Wade gets down with his bad self.................
My friend, if you ever write a book concerning cookie cutter theories, you should name it,
'Breaking the Mold'...by Wade Cornell....

Hell, I'd buy a copy! I love your dissertation!

You could also call it......'Cookie Cutter Theories'........................lol
 

jeremyjuicewah

Well-Known Member
Messages
1,890
Been struggling here myself. Leaving the notes aside since you have plenty of good advice there, I learned a lot from teachers criticism. I am being beaten up over phrasing. Long notes, short runs, stacatto, mix them all up and make it musical. You can hold the right note forever with this kind of music. You can hold it and sort of swirl it about a bit and big big big one I have learned is play every note as though you mean it. Best advice there from Pete, don't overdo it, with anything really. Good luck
Mike
 

ArtyLady

Well-Known Member
Messages
1,030
Play blues over it for a start. Even Bird played a hell of a lot of blues on everything. When you've got that down, learn your voice leading theory, as Pete suggested. it is indispensable. If you can do those two things you will always be able to improvise melodies that work, over any song in a jazz or pop context. If you can't do both you never will.

I agree with this, (although I am biased towards blues anyway!) it's such a good foundation and gets you playing something very basic very early on in your playing that can't ever really sound wrong over a standard blues! then you can explore other areas as you learn more about chords, modes, guide tones, licks etc. Stanley Turrentine is another very blues influenced player :mrcool
 
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ArtyLady

Well-Known Member
Messages
1,030
Probably not wise to be disagreeing with Morgan or Pete, but I think they are not giving advice that will best serve all striving musicians. The question is about playing melodically. This does not come from theory. Leading voice theory is an avoidance to hearing melodic lines by giving further ways to pretend that another prescription somehow = playing a melody. It does not. Developing melodic ideas can be helped by imitation of what you think are good ideas. Most important is to NOT try to tie this to any theory, but HEAR the melody and be able to repeat it. Having a wide vocabulary and a head full of what you think are good ideas to copy can be a start. Those who are lucky can hear melodies without copying by knowing the genre and by using their inner voice appropriately.

The practice for this is simple: sing what you want to play and then play it. Trying to play a believable melody by the numbers is avoiding being in the music. If you can't hear it within you, how do you expect to play something that's real/felt? The prescriptions offered by Mogan and Pete are stopgap measures that can give you a way to play something that will sound OK, but that's about it. I don't think it's ever too early to try to exercise one's ability to hear melodic lines and play them. To avoid this is potentially retarding what should be encouraged.

Warning!!! not everybody can or will hear great melodic lines. We are not all the same and not everybody is as talented as Pete, but this doesn't mean you shouldn't try. Guide tones and leading voice theory may be as good as it gets for some, but it is an inappropriate prescription for those who may be capable of hearing melodies.

I'm not 100% disagreeing with Pete and Morgan, but it's a matter of prescription based on teaching for the lowest common denominator rather than encouraging those who have talent. In this process those who have talent may find it subsumed by a "theory" that dictates what is the "acceptable teaching method".


Subsuming a student’s potential by feeding them a strict diet of theory can lead to an unfortunately predictable outcome that pushes aside talent by over-exercising demagoguery. This is obvious in all of the arts. There are certainly lots of very talented people who are encouraged to continue their studies at ever higher levels. I can’t imagine that none of them started out without a fair bit of talent, but how many PhDs do you know of in the arts or music that are considered GREAT artists? There needs to be a balance of developing talent and being educated to use the tools necessary for your art. Hearing and playing melodic ideas is a basic need for any aspiring jazz musician and should not be pushed aside for a “paint by the numbers” prescription that supplants development of musical ideas (melodies). One size does not fit all, and prescriptions for a talented person based on advice for those without talent is not necessarily the best approach.

I can see your point to a certain extent - I was very lucky to be born into musical family and inhertided the genes. Before I ever learned any theory (other than early piano and flute grades) I was able to improvise harmonies and melodies very naturaly (which is what I think you are talking about) but there are people who don't have that natural ability who have to learn things through structured methods. A good teacher will spot those who do have a natural ability and work with accordingly.
 

Morgan Fry

Senior Member
Messages
447
Wade, I don't entirely disagree with your broader point. But blues playing and learning voiceleading are hardly stopgap measures or only useful for the untalented. Blues is the basis of pretty much all 20th century pop styles, especially jazz. Voiceleading is a fundamental tool of composing in western music which is what we're doing. I'm all for learning by ear first, but you simply cannot play bebop without fully understanding your music theory. Every one of the players who defined that style -- Bird, Bud, Dizzy, Miles, Clifford, Sonny, etc., etc., etc., -- all were phenomenally talented, and all knew exactly what they were doing theoretically. That was half the point of the style in the first place. When a guy asks how to play changes, understanding voiceleading is the answer. It's not the whole answer, but it's the only place to start that doesn't lead to the cookie cutter pedagogy tht you're so concerned with.
 

BigMartin

Well-Known Member
Messages
3,904
I can see your point to a certain extent - I was very lucky to be born into musical family and inhertided the genes. Before I ever learned any theory (other than early piano and flute grades) I was able to improvise harmonies and melodies very naturaly (which is what I think you are talking about) but there are people who don't have that natural ability who have to learn things through structured methods. A good teacher will spot those who do have a natural ability and work with accordingly.
I think you've hit the nail on the head there. A good teacher responds to the progress and abilities of the student. I'm one of those to whom improvisation (or just about anything else in music) does not come remotely naturally. But I love it, so I persist in trying to learn. And gradually, things are coming together. To someone like me (or the me of a year ago, say), the advice to "sing what you want to play" was really frustrating. I had simply no idea what I wanted to play until I'd had the chance to play around with the sounds that are available within the chord progression. But I did start out by knowing some theory form my schooldays about 100 years ago. For me, the theoretical approach has been a very valuable way in, because it restricts my random (at first) note choices to something that's more likely to make sense. And gradually, my ear and feeling for harmony has developed to the point where I *am* begiinning to hear what I want before I play it. But for others, this approach seems cumbersome and awkward, because they can already hear what they want, so why bother explaining it with a load of weird chord names? In the end, if you want to play good music over complex harmonies (as in bebop) I suspect you need both approaches. But the best place to start depends very much on the individual.
 

aldevis

Surrealist Contributor.
Cafe Moderator
Messages
12,134
That could be your problem right there. Stop thinking in scales for a while. Concentrate on really knowing the chord tones, especially voice leading (e.g. nice semitone step from Eb of F7 down to the D of Bb)

Playing (extended) arpeggios, blue scale all the way, mixolidyan scales every chord, bebop scales, no scales are all quite effective ways of playing the blues, and eventually we should all be able to use these different techniques.

About Parker: please note that, like Lester Young used to do, the first chord is actually a F6 (D6 for alto sax) for about 3 bars. It becomes F7 on the 4th bar to go to Bb7. This allows you (with a decent rhythm section) to play either the M7 or the m7 for the first bars.

Back to voice leading: start with a high note on the first chord and change it every bar moving downwards staying n chord notes.
Example on a standard D blues (IV on 2nd bar): C/B/A/F#/F/D/C/A/G/E/D/C#//
Then back up using the same principle. Then back down starting from a different note. The start messing around.

This is a quite useful exercise on tunes with harmonic movements to start feeling the important notes
 

Wade Cornell

Well-Known Member
Subscriber
Messages
2,177
Wade, I don't entirely disagree with your broader point. But blues playing and learning voiceleading are hardly stopgap measures or only useful for the untalented. Blues is the basis of pretty much all 20th century pop styles, especially jazz. Voiceleading is a fundamental tool of composing in western music which is what we're doing. I'm all for learning by ear first, but you simply cannot play bebop without fully understanding your music theory. Every one of the players who defined that style -- Bird, Bud, Dizzy, Miles, Clifford, Sonny, etc., etc., etc., -- all were phenomenally talented, and all knew exactly what they were doing theoretically. That was half the point of the style in the first place. When a guy asks how to play changes, understanding voiceleading is the answer. It's not the whole answer, but it's the only place to start that doesn't lead to the cookie cutter pedagogy tht you're so concerned with.

I'm not entirely disagreeing with you either. If the question the OP asked was "how do I play changes" as you have said above, then yours was the right answer. The OP specifically asked about "creating a melodic solo. I am trying to play more melodically". Telling him how to play changes was never the question. It's about how to play melodies.

As an experienced muso you'd know that when playing without real books, or other notation aids, if someone requests a tune, and you know it, the last thing you do is try to conger up the written music in your mind. You play it as you hear it in your mind, not theory, or anything else. You hear it, you play it. That's what being a musician is about, being one with your instrument. Melodic playing comes from within. Technical playing, "playing the changes" comes from knowing and understanding theory as you have said.

Right answer, but not for this question.
 
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Mike

Senior Member
Messages
559
I'm all for learning by ear first, but you simply cannot play bebop without fully understanding your music theory.

I disagree! You really do not have to know much about the theoretical part of music
if your ear can hear the notes that are being played and where they are played, as in reference to the harmonic relevance to the chords. Trial and error is a fundamentally proven technique.

Later on, if you wish, you can analyze the notes that you like playing over the changes and compare them harmonically. Trust your ear and not necessarily trust your eyes. Your eyes may actually lead you in another direction you may not intentionally want to go, and if that happens you're caught up in this process. Any progressive flame that may initially exist can become easily extinguished before it can flourish. When you're caught, natural innate progression can become an issue. I personally call this the 'umbilical chord dilemma' It can be extremely difficult to break this form of theoretical indigestion.

I personally prefer this way of approaching jazz music, or any type of music. Theory can actually hasten the progressive abilities that we possess because we are using our optic sense. The optic sense creates a cloud that inhibits the ear to focus and become more attuned to sequence.

There is nothing magical about bebop, in my opinion. It's merely another form of music that can easily be accessed with practice. That applies to any type of music. Actually bebop is laden with barrier. It's an incredibly regimented form of music. I enjoy bebop very much but I don't feel it's the epitome of musical art!
The language of bebop isn't a very diverse science. Let's just say there are more signature flavors in Baskin-Robbins ice cream than there are in bebop!
 

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