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Starting to Improvise

caruso

New Member
Messages
22
Locality
Utah
For me I've always loved to Improvise. I was improvising before I even learned a musical instrument. I would just sing something and try to make it sound cool. My initial inspiration came from electric guitar solos that I heard my dad listening to. For some reason they just fascinated me. I thought they were the coolest thing in the world so I sang my own solos trying to imitate a guitar with my voice.

I eventually took some piano lessons. This was my first introduction to playing music. No improv here, but I did it anyway. I would get bored practicing so I just made up songs. Then junior high came and I started the flute. Loved it but again no improvisation. Yet noodling was a part of my practice. I just liked playing my own thing. I didn't really learn about improvisation and what it was until I started playing the Saxophone and discovered Jazz music.

I was lucky enough to play in the school jazz band and that's when things really opened up for me. All of a sudden it was Ok for me to make my own thing. I loved soloing and was always baffled when everyone else was scared to play. Especially when jazz is all about expressing one's self.

I guess I'm unusual in the fact that I took every opportunity I could to improvise. It didn't always sound good, but I had fun.
 

Larn

Member
Messages
67
Locality
shropshire
At first I was daunted and have found since I started playing with others at our Monday night band practice and then going to jam/open mic nights my playing and especially confidence in improvising has come on loads. I am still the stage where I am only playing around the scales with occasionally adding in small rifts of 4/5 notes as mentioned by others. but it is getting easier each time I still mess up but am more confident not to let it frustrare me anymore. My ear training isn't great yet and I find being able to hum/sing the tune in my head helps alot with trying to improvise.

Mark.
 

caruso

New Member
Messages
22
Locality
Utah
I find being able to hum/sing the tune in my head helps a lot with trying to improvise.

Mark.
You are totally right. It is a lot easier to have a meaningful improvisation when you can hear the tunes melody in your head while playing.
 

Philly123

Member
Messages
185
Locality
South Wales
Anyway, what are your experiences with starting improvisation? Did you embrace it eagerly or were you petrified? If the latter, then I'd be interested to know what it was about it that caused this.

Hi all,

I'd like to try and answer Nick's question from this beginner's perspective. I've only been learning for about 6 months. I have lessons in a group in which the emphasis is on improvisation. However, the teacher is teaching us the scales and how to read music, which I can do at just a little above a basic level. We also have a go at some tunes, playing it from the music along to a backing track. I really enjoy that, although I don't always get it right, but that's okay it's a very small and supportive group and there's really no embarrassment about making mistakes.

However, when it comes to the improvisation 'slot' I freeze. The teacher is very laid back and encouraging and often suggests that we just play a few notes from whatever scale we're using. This sounds very easy at one level, but the things I worry about are:- whether I'll remember and stick to those notes that are contained within that scale (I'm not very confident about my scales yet); what order to play the notes in; what length of notes to play; how to achieve a sort of rhythym that matches the backing track.

I usually have a go but I really don't like it. It's not about making mistakes or feeling that I should be good at it or worrying that I'll sound rubbish. For me, it's more an anxiety about not knowing what to do. This feels very different from playing from a music score that provides direction (that's comforting even when I know I'm killing the tune!)

Hope that helps.
 

caruso

New Member
Messages
22
Locality
Utah
However, when it comes to the improvisation 'slot' I freeze. The teacher is very laid back and encouraging and often suggests that we just play a few notes from whatever scale we're using. This sounds very easy at one level, but the things I worry about are:- whether I'll remember and stick to those notes that are contained within that scale (I'm not very confident about my scales yet); what order to play the notes in; what length of notes to play; how to achieve a sort of rhythym that matches the backing track.

I usually have a go but I really don't like it. It's not about making mistakes or feeling that I should be good at it or worrying that I'll sound rubbish. For me, it's more an anxiety about not knowing what to do. This feels very different from playing from a music score that provides direction (that's comforting even when I know I'm killing the tune!)

First things first. The best thing you can do is stop worrying. The more calm and relaxed you are the better your playing will be. With that being said I would like to share a tip or two with you that will help you feel more confident and give you some Ideas.

You say that your not too comfortable with your scales and that your afraid of forgetting notes. Something that will help is to break up the scale into smaller parts then as they get more comfortable add on to it.

A simple way to do this and work on improvisation at the same time is to take a few notes of the scale. I'll use C major as an example. So lets take the first three notes, C, D, and E.

Now experiment making a simple melody only using these notes. Example C, D, E with the rhythm being quarter, quarter, half note. Then follow it by C, C, D, E being played eighth, eighth, quarter, half note. You can come up with many different kinds of variations with just these three notes when you add diffrent kinds of rhythms. You don't always have to start on C either.

The thing to keep in mind with improvisation is that you are making your own melody and expressing yourself. Learning to make simple melody's out of the tools you have such as scales is a great starting point to learning to improvise well.

Then once you have the three note scale down add to it. So now try using the notes C, D,E, F, and G. With this you have Five notes of the major scale. After you are comfortable with the first five notes of the scale add the rest. The last two notes being A, B. You can do this with any scale.

Something else that might be helpful once you are fairly comfortable with a scale is to practice it in a flexible manner. I think someone else in this thread made mention of flexible scales. If not it was on another post here on Cafe Saxophone. I don't remember. But flexible scales can be a great way to start learning how to make scales useful for improvisation.

Basically flexible scale practice is going up and down a scale any way you want. Ex. you could play something like, C, D, E, F, E, D, C, B, C, D, E, F, G. Basically you play the scale but you switch directions whenever you feel like it.

As for developing a jazz feel to your playing that comes with experience and from listening to lots of great jazz players.

The Best of luck
 

Ben Cain

Member
Messages
87
Locality
Essex, UK
Hi all,
Many thanks for htis thread. I have been taught within a tradition of reading the dots. All of my piano and flute teachers were all very classically trained and as such imporvisation was and to a massive extent still is a very 'dark art' that I hear and long to be able to do. I had found a sax teacher who having had his own big band and steeped in the jazz tradition wants me to play in an improv manner. Terror then enters every fibre of my being. I teach science and also wine classes but the mention of moving away from the security of dots and I'm sure I can feel every cell in my body rebelling and make my fingers feel like the thickest sausages ever.
Havong read the responses in this thread I see that I am not alone in my fearful state. Caruso (wonderful tenor voice by the way) many thanks for a lead into using scales. Ah, the comfort of a set of dots that I know by heart. I am going to try this today (once all my husbandly chores are completed) and attempt to conquer what fo rme is terrifying.
Many thanks to all who have posted.
Ben
 

Chubbertate

New Member
Messages
11
Hi
Can someone please explain which scales go with which chords? I am a tad lost here.
Any advice on how to start improvising would be most appreciated also.
 

Chris

Well Known
Café Supporter
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3,744
Locality
Manchester,England
To start of with you might get more mileage out of knowing the chord tones Root 3rd 5th and 7th. The 3rd and 7th will probably be the most useful, as they define the type of chord. Then just begin by playing melodies using the chord tones. Then learn how to connect them from chord to chord using other notes. Most of all have fun
 

Chubbertate

New Member
Messages
11
To start of with you might get more mileage out of knowing the chord tones Root 3rd 5th and 7th. The 3rd and 7th will probably be the most useful, as they define the type of chord. Then just begin by playing melodies using the chord tones. Then learn how to connect them from chord to chord using other notes. Most of all have fun
Thanks for that.
Can you give me an example of connecting the chords?
 

kernewegor

Bon vivant, raconteur and twit
Messages
1,708
Locality
cocks hill perranporth KERNOW
The circle of fourths is the biz - use it for practicing scales, chords, riffs, licks, and simple tunes in all keys.

Know it well and you have the key to II - V - I progressions.

Looking at the circle the other way around gives you the circle of fifths.

Knowing fourth and fifth intervals without having to think about it is a very useful basic skill ... instant transposition of a twelve bar blues progression to whatever key you want for a start...

Don't bother too much - or at all - about understanding the theory behind it... just use the circle in your practicing and realisation will dawn bit by bit....

This is additional to all the other good advice which has been posted.
 
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MandyH

Sax-Mad fiend!
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The Malverns, Worcs
For many months now, I have been learning the 1-3-5-7 of chords, chords and more chords.
Round and round the circle of fifths. Major, mixolydian, Dorian, minor, Jazz melodic minor.
I'm not 100% convinced it's helped my improvisation much, I tend to play what I feel, but it's probably had some effect.
I have promised myself that I will have a look at April's IOTM...
 

old git

Tremendous Bore
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4,428
Locality
The Palm Tree strewn Wandle Surf Beach under the o
Here we go again. Improvisation is playing what YOU feel is appropriate. Try improvising, either it sounds right or could be better (it always can). Start with a twelve bar blues and experiment and you will get better. You do not need an instrument to improvise, just hum or think it.

Remember that improvisation is for those who can and practise improvisation, the theory of improvisation is for those that can't or are too frightened to chance their arm in case it is wrong. More is learnt from mistakes than being correct.


He he. That should get them going.>:)>:)>:)
 
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