Evan Tate's SaxTips eZine

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Improv Etudes and their benefits

All those who have read my articles and know my books, you’ve read that how I evangelize the benefits of “Improv Etudes”. In this article I’m going to attempt to explain some of those benefits.

First of all, “What are Improv Etudes?“

Improv Etudes are comparable to Jazz Etudes or Studies with the special hook. As Jazz Etudes are more like tunes written in order to help learn jazz phrasing, articulation and such, Improv Etudes are written in order to simulate improvisation, or an improvised solo in a jazz style.

My first acquaintance with Improv Etudes (as I call them) was during my lessons with saxophonist Steve Grossman. Part of my homework for my lessons were that he would write out a chorus on a blues or any other standard we were working on, all eighth-notes, without rests (more on that later), he asked me to practice it, and then demanded that I would write at least one more chorus myself, continuing the solo. At my next lesson, I play everything and we would review what I wrote in order to check out if I used correct voice leading, etc. Basically, to find out if what I wrote sounded any good. (Luckily, I did not make many mistakes. )

One of the coolest benefits of this practice was that I could be anywhere to write my choruses. I write them on the train on the way to school, I write them in the cafeteria during lunch, before going to bed at night, waiting at the dentists’ office, anywhere. That is, once I was able to get to the point of not needing my saxophone to write them.

It’s a good idea that one should use your horn at first to write your improv etudes in order make sure that they sound the way you imagine them.

After using the horn to write for a while, you should be able to evolve to the level that you know how your instrument sounds without having it with you. You should be able to literally hear what you write as you write it.

What about the “all eighth-notes, no rests” thing?

Basically, this is about learning how to develop your linear thinking in improvisation by keeping a continual flow of melodies. Secondly, this also prevents you from just memorizing your solos ant then just playing them on stage.

On top of that, you’ll improve your timing immensely. Take a breath when you need it but keep the time and don’t go back to play what you missed. That won’t happen on the bandstand, so don’t do it in your practice session.

Take a breath when you need it but keep the time and don’t go back to play what you missed. That won’t happen on the bandstand, so don’t do it in your practice session.

Eventually, after practicing the improv etudes, creating your own and practicing them as well, most of this will become a part of your playing style. It will also happen sometimes that your ideas my wind up being longer than what you have air for, but that’s ok. That will change as well.

And this is by far the coolest benefit of them all – you are engaging in an intense, focused, practice of working only on how you want to play. If you want to play like Charlie Parker, you can incorporate his licks in your improv etudes. Want to add Coltrane?Brecker? Cannonball Adderley? Kenny Garrett? Work intensively on your own licks? You can do all this with Improv Etudes and do it faster than any other method to do so.

Do you want to play like Charlie Parker, Coltrane, Brecker, Cannonball Adderley or Kenny Garrett? Or work intensively on your own licks? You can incorporate all playing styles in your improv etudes.

In closing, I can only highly recommend that you start on the practicing of using Improv Etudes to improve your playing. You’ll find plenty of them in my books “Blues & Rhythm Changes in All Keys”, “250 Jazz Patterns” and “Coltrane Changes”.

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