Evan Tate's SaxTips eZine

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Jazz Improvisation

If you've read the interview with Greg Osby, you'll noticed that Greg talked about the need to optimize whatever techniques that you pick up and/or transcribe to improve your playing in general and for improvisation in specific.

I'd like to introduce you to a technique that I have used over the years teaching students jazz improvisation with varying levels of ability. The most popular "school" method of learning improvisation has been the "Chord/Scale" approach. That is basically learning to use certain scales over certain chords in order to learn the different sounds of the scales and accompanying chords. Along with this method I like to use what I call as a "Minimalist Approach" to improvisation. It is based simply on the premise that in improvisation, we need to construct melodies, much in the same way a composer composes a melody. A composer starts with a single musical idea, a germ or "motif" if you will. This motif is then expanded, turned upside-down, transposed, interpolated, rhythmically varied, etc. in order to use the material to the maximum. We can approach improvisation the same way.

On the "SaxTips eZine" website, I have provided a link to a PDF document displaying various exercises for improvisation that you may use to your benefit and to illustrate the concept somewhat better. You may also download this file directly by going to http://www.evantate.de/media/Ex4Improv.pdf.

The first exercises display an exercise for beginners using a simple dominant 7th chord progression in coasting along the Cycle of Fourths. You can use the Play-along recording provided by Jamey Aebersold "II-V7-I, Cycles and Turnarounds" for this purpose. It starts with playing just the root tone of the chord on every change. Then the first 3 notes of the scale are played. Following that, the first 5 notes of the scale are played. Then it gets a little more "jazzy" by playing the first, second, third and fifth tones of the scales (this is the famous 1-2-3-5 pattern). Next, the pattern is varied using 1-2-5-3, then 5-3-2-1, then 3-5-2-1. This is just a beginning to illustrate what can be done with just 4 notes of a scale.

In the next segment, using 8th notes, we are mixing patterns "1-2-3-4-5-3-2-1. Then, 5-4-3-2-1-2-3-5. Following that, I've provided a simple bluesy V7 lick " 1-2-3-5-b7-5-6-6-5-1. Next, a linear approach to chord connecting is introduced " 3-2-1-b7-3-2-1-b7, etc.

Now the first II-V7-I pattern is introduced "b3-2-1-b-7-3-5-b7-9-5. Then using a couple of simple ii-V7 sequences.

Next, more advanced players can incorporate a basic Be-Bop lick over the Dominant 7th chord.

Finally, for the really advanced players I've provided what I call a "Jazz Etude" or "Practice Solo". It is based on a concept that I first learned from saxophonist Steve Grossman. If Classical etudes are used to learn and convey the language of classical literature, then it may be just as helpful to do the same in a jazz context. Here, I've provided a basic blues progression. I wrote a solo using entirely eighths notes, without rests. The purpose here is three-fold. One is to help develop a linear thinking in your playing. Two, to improve your technique. Three, it is done this way in order that you don't just memorize the exercises and then play it on stage! (You have to breathe some time!) Steve Grossman contends that part of the difficulty in playing tunes in harder keys is not so much as the lack of technical ability, but more so the lack of being able to hear in those keys. Blues in concert Bb sounds great. We all know it. But as soon as we have to play blues in A or Ab, or B we seem to not only stumble and run out of ideas, but we can't seem to "hear" blues in that key. Using an exercise such as this is used solely to give a key (as opening a door) to learn to hear in those "difficult" keys by using material that is familiar to our ears already. Subsequently, after you've gotten this exercise under your fingers and in your ears, transpose it to another key, a harder one, and learn to play it and hear it in that key. Eventually, add on a chorus or two to the exercise. This way you can concentrate on the way you want to learn to play and integrate it into your playing. Take licks out of a transcribed solo from one of your favorites and build it in!

If you'd like more exercises like this, download it here: http://www.evantate.de/media/PracticeSolo.pdf

Have fun!

Evan Tate is a freelance musician/instructor and the author of "Way to Mastery: Saxophone". He holds a BM of Music from the Manhattan School of Music under the tutelage of Dr. Joe Allard and has over 20 years of professional playing and teaching experience and has performed at various jazz festivals and radio broadcasts. Since 1993, he is an endorser for Julius Keilwerth saxophones.
http://www.evantate.de or mailto:evan@evantate.de


Post a Comment

<< Home