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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Improvisation tips


Please note this is an archived topic, so it is locked and unable to be replied to. You may, however, start a new topic and refer to this topic with a link: http://www.banjohangout.org/archive/372366

hobogal - Posted - 02/02/2021:  00:40:02


When playing a jazz number, it's common to play it through once straight and then play a different version second time round. The top jazz players seem to improvise 'on-the-fly'. I'm working on a tune in Key of F and using a backing track to try different alterations on the melody - looping a few bars and then noting down what worked; I know another way is to take the chords and use triads or two notes and arpeggios. Any other ideas of how to practice this? When jazz guitarists improvise I don't know what they are doing - sometimes they seem to go totally away from the melody and then come back to it; is that all mysterious scale work? Thanks.

Foote - Posted - 02/02/2021:  01:03:11


I once saw Buck White at a mandolin workshop many years ago. He was asked the secret to improvisation. He said you play a note, then play a note lower, or a note higher, or the same note again, and just keep doing that.
For more helpful advice, I recommend Pat Cloud's books on jazz, scales and improvisation.

Rob MacKillop - Posted - 02/02/2021:  02:20:22


There are different methods:

1. Vary the melody
2. Scales with passing notes
3. Arpeggios with decorations
4. All of the above

1. The best approach here is to sing the song, and then scat-sing a variation of the melody. Most people find it fairly easy to do (of course, some are better at it than others) and then learn how to do that on your instrument, playing what you are singing. Much trial and error will ensue, but some good things will come of it.

2. In Swing music, the major Blues Scale is used more often than the minor version. So, in Bb that would be Bb C C# D F G - note that it includes the Bb triad of Bb D F. The C# or Db is the "blue" note, and can be fun to emphasise, though not too often. Once you are familiar with it you can add passing notes, for example between D and F: D D# E F, but elsewhere also. You can experiment with how many passing notes you can add before feeling lost. Some songs allow improv on one scale all the way through, such as Autumn Leaves, but not all.

3. Arpeggios naturally fit the chords, as they are obviously the same notes. Stage 1 would be playing arpeggios through the entire song, then do the same in different neck positions. Stage 2 is where the fun begins. Every note of an arpeggio can be approached from a fret (semitone) below, and either a fret or two above - these notes are called lower and upper auxiliaries in classical theory, or approach notes in jazz. You can also experiment with passing notes between arpeggio notes. So now those basic arpeggios are becoming more interesting. One arpeggio you will hear a lot on V7 chords, say F7 in the key of Bb, is F#dim7. Let's look at the notes involved: F7 = F A C Eb while F#dim7 = F# A C Eb - only one note is different. The chord should really be called F7b9, but it looks, smells and tastes like a diminished 7th one fret above the root of the chord. Dim7 chords repeat their fingering every three frets, so it is easy to move around the fretboard with them. More swing players use arpeggios than scales.

4. Doing a mixture of all the above is what many jazz guitar players do, but try to get a good grounding in each before mixing them up.

hobogal - Posted - 02/02/2021:  04:09:38


Thanks Lloyd.

Thanks for the tips Rob.

That's very helpful. I like your advice about singing/humming variations and then trying it out on the banjo. I have watched Harold Alden and Buddy Wachter improvise and have noticed that they do hum notes while they are playing - I wonder if they are hearing what they want to play. I did a quick search on the FB jazz banjo groups and Tyler Jackson had posted this link which chimes in with what you are saying: 



jazzadvice.com/why-you-should-...ECC8js6I8



I think I need to investigate the arpeggio variations - I've never played guitar so have not heard of 'approach notes' before.  All this jazzing is new to me!  I must admit those jazz lead sheets with all the crazy chords were initially quite daunting when you are used to 3 chord bluegrass!  Playing tenor banjo has been a good way for me to gently absorb some music theory into my playing :)

mmuussiiccaall - Posted - 02/02/2021:  04:53:51


This is one of the bibles of Jazz.


aintbrokejustbadlybent - Posted - 02/02/2021:  04:59:24


hobogal

Carrie,
Great question. Start with something very simple and you know by heart like twinkle twinkle little star. Use the above suggestions. Take your time.

You might also transcribe a solo you like by ear. There are slow down programs.

Spend a lot of time listening to the music you want to play.

Don’t underestimate the power of a simple melody, a few well placed notes. Like Miles said don’t worry about playing a lot of notes, just find a pretty one.

I’d sure like to hear CGDA Marco’s thoughts as he doesn’t read music.

hobogal - Posted - 02/02/2021:  06:01:08


mmuussiiccaall Thanks for uploading the Jamey Aebersold book - I have started reading it. He suggests spending some part of your practice time playing by ear as aintbrokejustbadlybent suggests e.g. pick a simple melody to play by ear and start on different notes of the scale. Also, to practice to backing tracks ('play-along' records). Sometimes you can find these on youtube but any other suggestions?
Hey Mike - am also interested in what Marco has to say as he is a great improviser.

guitarbanjoman - Posted - 02/02/2021:  06:52:38


My “other” instrument is jazz guitar... I play in a more traditional style based upon my love for my acoustic guitar gods: Django Reinhardt, Eddie Lang and Oscar Aleman.

For this older style of jazz, I have found “scales” to be of very little use while “arpeggios” are extremely important.... for the fairly simple reason few jazz standards stay in the same key for very long.

For example imagine a song that goes from an F chord to a D7 chord, a fairly commonplace change in jazz tunes...

...suddenly that F scale becomes useless because that new D7 chord has an F# note!

So my advice to tenor banjo players would be, learn to spell out your chords as a series of single notes... so when you think of a D7 chord, think D, F#, A, and C.

But after you can easily “hear” and find those notes, you can “hear” and “find” more “color” notes...

...an Eb note over a D7 chord will give a D7b9 sound...

...an E note over a D7 chord will give a D9 sound...

...an F note over a D7 chord will give a D7#9 sound (not a very traditional sound!)

... an F# note is already in the D7 chord, so it will always work...

... a G note over a D7 chord will give a Dsus7 sound...

...an Ab note over a D7 chord will give a D7b5 sound... (not very traditional)

... an A note is already IN the D7 chord sound so it will always work...

... a Bb note will give a D7+ (D7 augmented) sound (aka D7b13)

... a B note will give a D13 sound

... a C note is already IN the D7 chord sound so it will always work

... a C# note won’t fit in with a D7 chord and will sound weird...

****

If this all sounds too theoretical and too complicated to actually use when playing...

... then don’t worry about it, just stick to the D7 chord tones!

And after you have internalized them, you start adding other notes... “color” notes... as you see, almost any note will be okay, except for C#...

...and if you should accidentally play a C# note, then quickly correct it by playing a neighbouring tone, like C or D...

Will

CGDA - Posted - 02/02/2021:  07:14:26


quote:

Originally posted by aintbrokejustbadlybent

hobogal



Carrie,

Great question. Start with something very simple and you know by heart like twinkle twinkle little star. Use the above suggestions. Take your time.



You might also transcribe a solo you like by ear. There are slow down programs.



Spend a lot of time listening to the music you want to play.



Don’t underestimate the power of a simple melody, a few well placed notes. Like Miles said don’t worry about playing a lot of notes, just find a pretty one.



I’d sure like to hear CGDA Marco’s thoughts as he doesn’t read music.






Hi gents, I agree with all your comments, which I find useful and interesting, in particular those of Rob McKillop, a deep connoisseur and player of many musical kinds, from the music of centuries ago to Jazz, to Blues (Some years ago he composed, played and sung a short blues ... I got astonished at that music: Louisiana and Delta moved to the Highlands!). It's useful to sing a number before and also while playing, because the meter of the words helps to remember the meter of music. I usually search on the fingerboard the melodies/harmonies that come to mind, then try to play them in the better way possible to me. Every musician, even an amateur, creates his own patterns especially by listening to those of others players (it is important to hear every kind of music, not just jazz and not just banjo, of course). When you play, the more your patterns are beautiful, numerous and well recombined, the more music sounds agreeable. JS Bach's music (the best ever) is also made up of very varied and complex structures (aka patterns), often recombined in different ways, but substantially similar. The point is that his music is absolutely irresistible: for example the first prelude to the first book of "Well-tempered Harpsichord" is a simple exercise in arpeggios for absolute beginners, but it is also one of the most beautiful pieces I have ever heard. Please, listen to Bach and you will find all the secrets of music,  whatever your instrument is, even a pumpkin with a handle (McKillop docet).


Edited by - CGDA on 02/02/2021 07:18:23

banjopaolo - Posted - 02/02/2021:  07:40:25


Many things have been said and are all eccelent advices, but some of them can take some years to came accross I guess!
I suggest you a simple way to start: many trad jazz songs can be played with a single blues scale, if you take a F tournaround (F-D7-G7-C7) try to play on the F blues scale F G Ab A D F. It is easy and gives you that bluesy feel that is so important in this kind of music

Rob MacKillop - Posted - 02/02/2021:  08:44:47


Paulo, do you mean F G Ab A C D F?

banjopaolo - Posted - 02/02/2021:  09:00:37


Yes Rob of course I forgot the C!

mmuussiiccaall - Posted - 02/02/2021:  09:11:19


quote:

Originally posted by hobogal

mmuussiiccaall Thanks for uploading the Jamey Aebersold book ............ any other suggestions?

 






Here's an old post of mine in regards to ear-training, lot's of players hear the music in their head but can't transfer it to the instrument in their hands. Some will never sing well but everyone can develop relative pitch.  So If you can sharpen your musical ear you can bypass all the theory like many jazz artists do. BTW you have to listen to a lot of the style of music you want to play in order to get it "in your system".



banjohangout.org/archive/310544

hobogal - Posted - 02/02/2021:  09:23:55


guitarbanjoman Thank you Will - yes, I see what you mean about scales versus knowing arpeggios (and chord spellings) - thanks for illustrating with that example of colour notes.

CGDA Hey Marco - do you refer to jazz leadsheets or do you do it all by ear. That's amazing. I must listen to some Bach!

Thanks banjopaolo - yes, I'm looking for a way into this, it is first steps for me.

banjopaolo - Posted - 02/02/2021:  09:26:49


imho it is the best point from where to start

hobogal - Posted - 02/02/2021:  10:43:20


mmuussiiccaall Great, thanks for reposting the link Rick.

CGDA - Posted - 02/02/2021:  12:54:45


Hello Carry! I usually find what I need by ear, but sometimes I consult the chord sheets, when I can't reproduce the sounds I've heard before ... then I have to look up the geometry in a chord book: I don't want to waste my time finding notes on the  keyboard. I tell everyone, and I will always repeat: DON'T DO THIS, otherwise you will never get where you want. If I am born again, I will certainly study music theory and my instrument, very seriously. I'm too late now.



 


Edited by - CGDA on 02/02/2021 12:55:35

hobogal - Posted - 02/03/2021:  00:06:04


CGDA Well, you are a great player regardless!

SunnylandBob - Posted - 02/03/2021:  07:23:56


Occupied with non-BHO (work) items, but it seems irresistible threads show up when I turn my back....

Saved from interwebs of long ago via the departed website of SF Bay-area jazzer & saxophonist Mel Martin: Perspective on improvisation by the legendary Lee Konitz (who passed due to Covid in 2020). The conversion to PDF format was a little funky, but it should still be readable/useful.

(Konitz performed at the historic Music Hall I run back in 2004 with Teddy Charles, Sonny Dallas, Percy Brice & Gil Goldstein.)


hobogal - Posted - 02/03/2021:  09:48:36


SunnylandBob Hey Bob - thanks for posting that - interesting article.
quote:Originally posted by SunnylandBobOccupied with non-BHO (work) items, but it seems irresistible threads show up when I turn my back....

Saved from interwebs of long ago via the departed website of SF Bay-area jazzer & saxophonist Mel Martin: Perspective on improvisation by the legendary Lee Konitz (who passed due to Covid in 2020). The conversion to PDF format was a little funky, but it should still be readable/useful.

(Konitz performed at the historic Music Hall I run back in 2004 with Teddy Charles, Sonny Dallas, Percy Brice & Gil Goldstein.)

hobogal - Posted - 02/03/2021:  23:47:07


Bill Dendle (the great plectrum banjoist) has made a series of videos on beginner improvisation available on youtube.   Thank you Bill! youtube.com/playlist?list=PLvb...fbIbU6ReF



Also, for those not on FB, John Mumford has kindly posted recent live-stream performances of banjo musicians on youtube channel 'Jazz Banjo Radio' - last night I watched Harold Alden who really knows how to improvise.  He also played some Choro!  youtube.com/watch?v=UdKQfbOYZ3U&t=13s



 

mmuussiiccaall - Posted - 02/04/2021:  06:45:37


Here's an old post of mine that probably went over a lot of people's heads.

banjohangout.org/archive/341102


Edited by - mmuussiiccaall on 02/04/2021 06:46:07

leehar - Posted - 02/13/2021:  08:22:28


Check out Jason Skinner’s YouTube lesson on the “Reno Roadmap.” A lot of it is very useful in improvising a solo even if you’re not interested in playing Reno style. He shows you a load of walk-ups and walk-downs which come in very handy for putting together a break on the fly.

Ol Groundhog - Posted - 02/15/2021:  06:59:26


mmuussiiccaall - Rick, I just checked out your old post and think it answers a question I have long had. The link seems broken and I would love to have access to the charts and any other example material no longer associated with the original post if you can make them available.

Stew Kazzoo

mmuussiiccaall - Posted - 02/15/2021:  08:24:34


quote:

Originally posted by Ol Groundhog

mmuussiiccaall - Rick, I just checked out your old post and think it answers a question I have long had. The link seems broken and I would love to have access to the charts and any other example material no longer associated with the original post if you can make them available.



Stew Kazzoo






The links all opened up for me, maybe something on your end? If you can't get it to work PM me.

Dgbectrum - Posted - 02/15/2021:  16:31:13


Hi Carrie,
no one can teach you to improvise. Improvise is to compose, to create. Of course you need technique, and practice of all the methods our friends have listed above. But to create you need ideas, imagination, fantasy, and the strength to pull it out. Have you always played written songs?Have you never composed music? If not, take your banjo and just play. Play without sheets, written chords, trying only to make music. Try to excite yourself with few notes, invented on the spot, try to create a simple melody, or a chain of few chords. You are improvising! Once you are able to create something, try to do it over a simple tune. You must feel the need to tell something with your music. What do you have to say to the audience, or, at least, to yourself? The right arpeggios mixed up with fragment of fashionable scales? It may not be enough. Learn to create, first. Then you will find that improvisation is to play the right arpeggios, mixed up with fragments of fashionable scales. Okay, but with consciousness!
That's all :)

hobogal - Posted - 02/27/2021:  09:28:18


Baby steps learning to improvise.... youtube.com/watch?v=u3vZv0sMRPs&t=13s

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