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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
I've seen a lot of threads started lately about how to improvise over changes or how to not get lost in the tune. I've also noticed that there are many people answering these questions with vastly different ideas (some really good, and some not so good). I then started to further think what I practice when I practice improvisation and I realized that over the years I have used many processes to help me on my journey. I also realized that each process helps the other and as you improve you can adapt each to work better for what you are trying to achieve.

Before starting to study improvisation you have to realize that improvising is like learning a language and you must first learn the vocabulary/words. You can then use these words/vocab to put together statements or sentences. At this point it becomes tricky. You can speak the language, but how do you say something meaningful? Why can certain writers or speakers say such poignant and beautiful things and others simply cannot. Do we not all speak the same language? So…what exercises can we employ to help us on our journey of learning to speak music.

****Exercises are in no particular order. Note that these are incredibly concise versions of exercises that I often spent many lessons working on with certain players and teachers. So sorry if they aren't 100% clear. Also note that none of these exercises use books or music:) Get your head out of a book! USE THE METRONOME AND NOT PLAY ALONGS!!! This is the way that great improvisers practice. I didn't develop these, I just took them from great players that taught them to me and adapted them to work for myself…you should do the same.****

****I like to put the Metronome on beats 1 & 3. See post #32 for the reasoning****

1.) The Outlining Exercise - Take a tune you want to learn. Turn the metronome on and put the clicks on 1,2,3,4 or 1 & 3 whichever you are comfortable with. Play through the tune using whole notes and the root of each chord only (assuming it is 4/4 time). If there are 2 chords in 1 measure use half notes and so forth. Repeat this process over and over until you are 150% confident in what you are playing. You should at this point have the chords and form memorized so you can get rid of that sheet music. Next take the 3rd and the 7th of each chord and play through the tune with these chord tones in half notes. Connect the 7th to the 3rd whenever possible (such as in ii V I progressions). Once again continue repeating this process until you are 150% in what you are playing. Next play through the tune using the chord tones on quarter notes. There need not be any specific order in how you play the tones and you can omit the root or the 5th when dealing with extension chords. Once again try connecting the harmonies using the 7th to the 3rd when possible. When it's not possible try to connect the harmony with the closest interval possible. When you have accomplished this you can then begin to leave notes out and change the rhythm. Start to think about phrasing and melodic ideas within this context. Remember to always play things that are simple enough for you to keep your place. You can't just jump to playing these crazy lines. You have to take it step by step and day by day (to quote one of my favorite sitcom opening themes). This Exercise helps you with chord recognition (theoretically and ear training wise). It will also help you become intimate with the form of the tune. This will make it easier to keep your place in the form.

2.) The Melody Exercise - not sure where I read this (probably on here), but it is GREAT! put the metronome on and simply play the melody to the tune you are learning in it's purest form. Try to find the original recording and learn it as it was originally played (by ear if at all possible). Keep looping the melody over and over and over again. As you play it, start to experiment with the phrasing and changing the rhythm. As that falls into place, start to embellish the melody ever so slightly. Just ever so slightly at first. Each time around you can start to embellish more and more. Eventually you will end up with a pure improvisation based off of the melody (or that is the point at least). This exercise is meant to be taken incredibly slowly and sometimes I'll spend 1/2 hour to an hour just on this one exercise slowly embellishing. Don't take it to fast (the improv aspect). Let it happen naturally. This entire exercise is much easier said than done, but is well worth trying.

3.) Scale/Mode Exercise - Take a tune and start on the root note or the first chord. Playing quarter notes, you should play the corresponding scale or mode that accompanies each chord in the progression. Now here is the tricky part. you should keep ascending up your horn until you reach at least high F (altissimo can be incorporated later if you are a glutton for punishment). When you reach the top of your horn, you should simply go down to the lowest note on the horn depending on the scale/mode you are on when you reach it. I find this exercise makes me think linearly and often inspires ideas in certain areas of the horn. It also forces you to understand which scales/modes accompany the chords in the tune you are working on. And in many cases there are multiple modes that will work over the chords, so you can tailor what you play to what modes you are working on. This will then help train your ear to hear the different linear modes, which often sound different than when being played vertically/chordally.

4.) Triad Exercise - I like this one (and use it frequently) because it forces you to think about placement, timing and rhythm. Limit yourself to only using the notes of each basic triad in the tune and NO OTHER NOTES. Then focus on the placement of your notes. At first stay simple and simply try to be a bass player (quarter notes with ascending and descending triads). This helps me get the feel for it. It's all about putting the notes in the right place/in the pocket. Then start to change the order in which you are playing the notes. Leave some out and begin to focus on the rhythmic aspect of what you are playing. Syncopation! If you dig into this exercise deeply enough it will really begin to transform your playing I promise. It sounds super simple, but man is it HARD. It takes a LOT of time to get to the point where you can convincingly play a genuinely good solo with only the triads. RHYTHMIC PLACEMENT AND FEEL IS EVERYTHING! Ever heard a guy that doesn't play anything flashy, but it just sounds so GOOD and HIP. Well he is probably really good at this exercise:) see post # 28 in this thread for a more detailed explanation of this exercise.

5.) Melodic Concepts Exercise - Ok…this one is pretty fun and cool when you start to get it down. It's best if you can sit at a piano and do this, but not necessary. Pick tonic and play an open 5th. In the Key of C you would play C and G. Simply listen to it and then hear a melodic idea in your head. Make it SIMPLE. Then play what you heard. If you didn't get it…it's ok…figure it out and remember what it sounded like. Then play the open 5th again and hear another idea. It helps you sing your idea and then play it. With the open 5th it leaves the tonality open and you can go from major to minor easily. You can even change the interval on the piano if you want, but I find an open 5th is a great starting place. This exercise will seriously train your ear and help you start to play what you hear in your head.

6.) Licks and Licks - Some guys like them, Some don't. I'm in the middle. No matter what your feeling, it is essentially to have basic vocabulary over common ii V I's, Blues and Rhythm Changes. I like to take a lick I hear or dig and then take it through the root progression. In doing this I not only improve my technique, but I integrate that lick into my vocabulary. Ultimately I always end up with my version of the lick as it starts to change as I take it through the root progression. I use these subtle changes and will often explore the options which leads to a wealth of melodic ideas.

7.) Melodic/Rhythmic Permutations - This is a Warne Marsh type thing. Take a simple 4 note pattern and expand it through a chord. Lets take Abmaj7.

Ab,C,Db,C is my first 4 note pattern (1,3,4,3) next would be C,Eb,F,Eb (3,5,6,5) then Eb,G,Ab,G (5,7,1,7) then G,Bb,C,Bb (7,9,3,9).

I then play them as eighth notes starting on beat one. When you have digested the pattern over the range of your horn, you then displace it by 1 eighth note and start on the & of 1. Then again on beat 2 and then again on the & of 2. So 4 rhythmic permutations happen. This is a great way to come up with your own patterns and start to manipulate scales/modes in your own original ways. you can expand the 4 note pattern all the way up to 5,6,7,8 or more if you wish. Although the best results are in smaller groups. You can get into some cool polyrhythmic patterns this way and also some neat harmonic ideas as well if you chose your modes carefully.

8.) Phrasing Exercise - heres another fun one. Put a metronome on and pick a tune. play a 2 measure phrase and then rest 2 measures. follow this pattern through the form. When you get comfortable with this then flip the phrase / measures rested. So you will rest and then play a phrase. You can also do 4 & 4 if you want. When you get super familiar with a tune you can even practice asymmetrical phrasing with 3 & 2 or 4 & 3. You can then flip those and so forth. This exercise will force you to put space in your solo and think about what you want to play next. It can also help you come up with interesting places to resolve your phrases and or start them.

9.) It's How You Play It - This is an exercise that one of my college professors used make me do during lessons sometimes and it really helped me out. His was slightly different and so I adapted it to work better for me. Feel free to do the same. This one you can do with a play a long and it doesn't hurt, although it's still optimal to do it with a metronome and hear the changes in your head. He would make me play a solo over a tune and intentionally play wrong notes. Now I know that some of you will say "there are no wrong notes", but I'm talking about notes that sound blatantly wrong like the 4th over a major chord or anything else that is minor 9th away from a chord tone. The goal is to construct a solo that sounds as good as possible with these notes and never resolve. It's very very tough. For some it's tough to get away from the right notes you've trained yourself to play or hear over the years. For others it's hard not to resolve!!! If you're a beginner, it forces you to sit down and analyze which notes are right and wrong and why! When you are actually doing the exercise you should always consciously have a plan of what notes you are playing and why. Don't just go random on me. Try to then construct a solo that sounds to the best of your ability melodic and acceptable. Use of rhythmic motifs during this exercise is a must in my opinion. The goal is to be able to play any note and let people know you meant to play it! You'll also find that when you go back to soloing, you will feel much freer. Your ideas may twist and turn more. Your resolutions will be more emphatic. You may start to use chromatic approach notes more. You may start to use sequences in half steps or whole steps. A lot can happen. It's just all around helpful.

10.) Sequencing Exercise - This exercise is easier to show someone than to write out, but I will do my best. It is quite simple and there is a ton of variation you can add when you get into it. Take an idea that you hear in your head. Then implement that idea over every chord or chord series in the song/tune you are working work on. Obviously you want the idea to make sense within the context of the tune you are working on so keep that in mind. You will also have to adjust the idea rhythmically to work over chords of different durations. I will do this with a ii V I idea also on tunes like Cherokee or How High the moon. You can also approach it modally with each chord being a different sequence (essentially breaking down the ii V I and making each chord the tonic). To do this your idea must be very simple. ****hope this makes sense, let me know if I can clarify anything****

11.) Metronome Exercise # 2 - I do have a #1, but it is just with the metronome and doesn't involve playing. It's also very very in-depth. I will write it up one day, but seeing as this is about improvisation, I think # 2 applies a little better. I recommend doing this at first with a Lick or Idea that you have come up with. You can also use a transcribed idea if you wish. First take the Metronome and put it on quarter notes. Play the lick or idea. When you are locked in and it is solid, then take the metronome down to beats 1 & 3 only. Practice it this way until you are 100% locked in with it. Then you will switch the Metronome to beats 2 & 4. You should notice that when playing the lick this way it feels and lays differently although you are playing the same thing. It can sometimes feel backwards for players. The key is to still feel beat 1 internally. With a little practice you will be able to play the lick this way with no problem. When solid at this you take the metronome to beat 1 only. Play the lick or idea. This is when you really have to subdivide. You should be able to portray time as if the metronome was on every beat. When you get solid at doing it on beat 1 only, then you make the metronome beat 2 only. Then beat 3 and then beat 4. You should be able to play the lick in time and comfortably with the metronome portraying any of the beats.

Once this is easy and solid you then go back and put the metronome on 1 & 3…only this time make it the & of 1 and the & of 3. Do the same process. Next is the & of 2 and the & of 4. Then on to 1 beat per measure. & of 1 only…& of 2 only….& of 3 only….& of 4 only. This gets really tricky, but it will help your sense of time IMMENSELY!!! Not only that but your playing will begin to sound much more rhythmically solid.

Ok…once you have completed this you can then do this process over a tune you are working on and improvise with the metronome on different beats. I find the most helpful for me is practicing with the metronome on beat 1 only. Then I will move it to beat 2, 3 and 4 respectively.

Will add a couple more soon guys!

The point of this post is not only to give you these exercises, but to also show that there is no ONE single exercise you can practice to become a better improvisor. It's best to practice all the aspects of the language. I hope you can take these exercises and adapt them to what works for you!
 

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Lots of nice exercises in there with the ones where you have some conscious connection with sound that's about to be played having the most value (IMHO). Making the connection between you and the horn so that it becomes your voice is the ultimate goal. Unfortunately too many courses of study are strictly academic and mechanical. The "vocabulary" issue can be contentious as there is an Elephant that sits on top of most student sax players demanding that mainstream playing is somehow the only vocabulary. The sax is an instrument and can be played and improvised with in any manner one desires, with mainstream (playing standards), being just one way. If your goal is to play standards (for which there is generally not much of an audience) then mainstream vocabulary is for you. Otherwise listen to and try to emulate the style(s) you wish to play.
 

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I'm not a teacher, but I think the excerpt below is quite good from well known guitarist Steve Khan.

Also, as well as something like "So What" there are things like just using one dorian scale over "Autumn Leaves" or "My Funny Valentine" http://forum.saxontheweb.net/showth...ophonist-EVER!!-Listen/page5&highlight=autumn

One pentatonic and/or dorian scale over a Funk D minor or whatever.

One pentatonic and/or major scale over a Reggae D or whatever.

Pentatonics on major and minor 3 chord Blues.

Very simple but can turn complex depending on the player, and beginners can start to get the feel of picking out their own melodies and ideas and joining ideas together without constantly referring to what someone else did in some transcription.

Just about anyone with some form of talent can feel a Funk rhythm in a song (people do dance to them) and they have heard lots of Funk solos so just play around with one scale and chord and try to get a hold of the feel and various simple things from some solos that someone might have heard or whatever, as long as it seems to fit in, whatever it is.

Using one thing like a single dorian scale means that learning notes and being confused by this or that can mostly be put to one side and the main thing can be focused on, which is getting a feel for coming up with things that might fit in a pleasing way.

It can be added to and can get more complex down the track, but keep it simple at the start.

http://www.stevekhan.com/sowhata.htm

"When one is trying to learn to improvise, whether it is to play "Jazz" or to operate within another genre, there always seems to be a rush to be playing as fast as one can, as soon as is possible. This is often favored over learning to capture the 'feeling' of the music, of the particular song, and to, above all, be 'in the flow' of time feel.

This is why I believe that if, as in the case of "So What", you can learn these two simple Dorian modes and some very fundamental minor pentatonic ideas, you can, at the very least, be playing notes which always sound good so that you can then concentrate on just feeling as though you are in the flow of the time, the groove, of the music and can make your ideas sit within the music as a whole.

The secret is that you don't have to play anything particular fancy or what someone else might judge as being particularly creative, different, or strikingly individualistic. You just have to be musical and learn to attach your own personal feelings to each note you play. When you listen to Miles Davis, you can tell that he has such a feeling for each note, for each phrase.

It is more important, in my view, to capture this first, than to be possibly frustrating yourself by attempting to become a Bebop master at the start. This can come at a later stage, and by doing what I am suggesting first, you will be far better prepared for that future stage."
 

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I've seen a lot of threads started lately about how to improvise over changes or how to not get lost in the tune. I've also noticed that there are many people answering these questions with vastly different ideas (some really good, and some not so good). I then started to further think what I practice when I practice improvisation and I realized that over the years I have used many processes to help me on my journey. I also realized that each process helps the other and as you improve you can adapt each to work better for what you are trying to achieve.

Before starting to study improvisation you have to realize that improvising is like learning a language and you must first learn the vocabulary/words. You can then use these words/vocab to put together statements or sentences. At this point it becomes tricky. You can speak the language, but how do you say something meaningful? Why can certain writers or speakers say such poignant and beautiful things and others simply cannot. Do we not all speak the same language? So…what exercises can we employ to help us on our journey of learning to speak music.

1.) The Outlining Exercise - Take a tune you want to learn. Turn the metronome on and put the clicks on 1,2,3,4 or 1 & 3 whichever you are comfortable with. Play through the tune using whole notes and the root of each chord only (assuming it is 4/4 time). If there are 2 chords in 1 measure use half notes and so forth. Repeat this process over and over until you are 150% confident in what you are playing. You should at this point have the chords and form memorized so you can get rid of that sheet music. Next take the 3rd and the 7th of each chord and play through the tune with these chord tones in half notes. Connect the 7th to the 3rd whenever possible (such as in ii V I progressions). Once again continue repeating this process until you are 150% in what you are playing. Next play through the tune using the chord tones on quarter notes. There need not be any specific order in how you play the tones and you can omit the root or the 5th when dealing with extension chords. Once again try connecting the harmonies using the 7th to the 3rd when possible. When it's not possible try to connect the harmony with the closest interval possible. When you have accomplished this you can then begin to leave notes out and change the rhythm. Start to think about phrasing and melodic ideas within this context. Remember to always play things that are simple enough for you to keep your place. You can't just jump to playing these crazy lines. You have to take it step by step and day by day (to quote one of my favorite sitcom opening themes). This Exercise helps you with chord recognition (theoretically and ear training wise). It will also help you become intimate with the form of the tune. This will make it easier to keep your place in the form.

2.) The Melody Exercise - not sure where I read this (probably on here), but it is GREAT! put the metronome on and simply play the melody to the tune you are learning in it's purest form. Try to find the original recording and learn it as it was originally played (by ear if at all possible). Keep looping the melody over and over and over again. As you play it, start to experiment with the phrasing and changing the rhythm. As that falls into place, start to embellish the melody ever so slightly. Just ever so slightly at first. Each time around you can start to embellish more and more. Eventually you will end up with a pure improvisation based off of the melody (or that is the point at least). This exercise is meant to be taken incredibly slowly and sometimes I'll spend 1/2 hour to an hour just on this one exercise slowly embellishing. Don't take it to fast (the improv aspect). Let it happen naturally. This entire exercise is much easier said than done, but is well worth trying.

3.) Scale/Mode Exercise - Take a tune and start on the root note or the first chord. Playing quarter notes, you should play the corresponding scale or mode that accompanies each chord in the progression. Now here is the tricky part. you should keep ascending up your horn until you reach at least high F (altissimo can be incorporated later if you are a glutton for punishment). When you reach the top of your horn, you should simply go down to the lowest note on the horn depending on the scale/mode you are on when you reach it. I find this exercise makes me think linearly and often inspires ideas in certain areas of the horn. It also forces you to understand which scales/modes accompany the chords in the tune you are working on. And in many cases there are multiple modes that will work over the chords, so you can tailor what you play to what modes you are working on. This will then help train your ear to hear the different linear modes, which often sound different than when being played vertically/chordally.

4.) Triad Exercise - I like this one (and use it frequently) because it forces you to think about placement, timing and rhythm. Limit yourself to only using the notes of each basic triad in the tune and NO OTHER NOTES. Then focus on the placement of your notes. At first stay simple and simply try to be a bass player. This helps me get the feel for it. Then start to change the order in which you are playing the notes. Leave some out and begin to focus on the rhythmic aspect of what you are playing. If you dig into this exercise deeply enough it will really begin to transform your playing I promise. It sounds super simple, but man is it HARD. It takes a LOT of time to get to the point where you can convincingly play a genuinely good solo with only the triads. RHYTHMIC PLACEMENT IS EVERYTHING!

5.) Melodic Concepts Exercise - Ok…this one is pretty fun and cool when you start to get it down. It's best if you can sit at a piano and do this, but not necessary. Pick tonic and play an open 5th. In the Key of C you would play C and G. Simply listen to it and then hear a melodic idea in your head. Make it SIMPLE. Then play what you heard. If you didn't get it…it's ok…figure it out and remember what it sounded like. Then play the open 5th again and hear another idea. It helps you sing your idea and then play it. With the open 5th it leaves the tonality open and you can go from major to minor easily. You can even change the interval on the piano if you want, but I find an open 5th is a great starting place. This exercise will seriously train your ear and help you start to play what you hear in your head.

6.) Licks and Licks - Some guys like them, Some don't. I'm in the middle. No matter what your feeling, it is essentially to have basic vocabulary over common ii V I's, Blues and Rhythm Changes. I like to take a lick I hear or dig and then take it through the root progression. In doing this I not only improve my technique, but I integrate that lick into my vocabulary. Ultimately I always end up with my version of the lick as it starts to change as I take it through the root progression. I use these subtle changes and will often explore the options which leads to a wealth of melodic ideas.

7.) Melodic/Rhythmic Permutations - This is a Warne Marsh type thing. Take a simple 4 note pattern and expand it through a chord. Lets take Abmaj7.

Ab,C,Db,C is my first 4 note pattern (1,3,4,3) next would be C,Eb,F,Eb (3,5,6,5) then Eb,G,Ab,G (5,7,1,7) then G,Bb,C,Bb (7,9,3,9).

I then play them as eighth notes starting on beat one. When you have digested the pattern over the range of your horn, you then displace it by 1 eighth note and start on the & of 1. Then again on beat 2 and then again on the & of 2. So 4 rhythmic permutations happen. This is a great way to come up with your own patterns and start to manipulate scales/modes in your own original ways. you can expand the 4 note pattern all the way up to 5,6,7,8 or more if you wish. Although the best results are in smaller groups. You can get into some cool polyrhythmic patterns this way and also some neat harmonic ideas as well if you chose your modes carefully.

8.) Phrasing Exercise - heres another fun one. Put a metronome on and pick a tune. play a 2 measure phrase and then rest 2 measures. follow this pattern through the form. When you get comfortable with this then flip the phrase / measures rested. So you will rest and then play a phrase. You can also do 4 & 4 if you want. When you get super familiar with a tune you can even practice asymmetrical phrasing with 3 & 2 or 4 & 3. You can then flip those and so forth. This exercise will force you to put space in your solo and think about what you want to play next. It can also help you come up with interesting places to resolve your phrases and or start them.

Ok…I'm going to stop now because I've spent the last hour on this, but I seriously have 3 or 4 more exercises I can think of off the top of my head that I use to help practice improvisation. The point of this post is not only to give you these exercises, but to also show that there is no ONE single exercise you can practice to become a better improvisor. It's best to practice all the aspects of the language. I hope you can take these exercises and adapt them to what works for you!
Great post. What are the other exercises?

As I read it I was looking for #8, the phrasing exercise, which I think is rarely seen. For me this was crucial to get going. Most teachers, I think, assume that playing in phrases comes naturally, but for me it didn't. I'd make it exercise #1.

Also, things are MUCH easier if you practice with Band in a Box. You might say, well it's better to hear the changes in your head, but that too does not come naturally for some.
 

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I think everyone phrases things when they speak.

Try fitting a certain sentence into an allotted time or beats and then it might become musical.

John Lennon and Paul McCartney uses to write quite often using da-da's for phrasing the melody.

Yesterday was "Scrambled Eggs" for a while because it fit the melody phrasing.
 

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Simon - Thanks for this post, which I found informative and a good reminder.
 

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Simon, I too started late on both sax and jazz. I'm a terrible player, but have learned a few things. One of the things that rockers do right, IMO, is to jam a lot while not being intellectual about the process. This, I believe, is a necessary step. Start with freedom. I kept a diary of what I did and you can see it on youtube. I'll PM you with the address.
 

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I seriously have 3 or 4 more exercises I can think of off the top of my head that I use to help practice improvisation.
Great post, Simon, extremely educational!

Looking forward to reading about those additional exercises!
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
I'm glad that you guys are getting some use out of this post. That is what I intended:) I really care about the educational aspect of playing just as much as playing itself. I love to isolate all the things that go into playing and try to devise ways to practice them in the most efficient way possible. Ok…now I've had a chance to reread my post and some comments I have some more notes. I will incorporate these notes into the original post too. Also I will be adding more exercises. Here are the notes.

1) The order of exercises has nothing to do with what you should do first or last. I simply numbered them as I thought about them. Different guys are at different stages of playing and might get more out of exercise 4 than they would out of exercise 1. So feel free to pick and choose.

2) Wade - I understand your view point about playing standards, playing "vocab", and practicing outlining/academic patterns. BUT you have to understand that many guys like me make our sole living playing the saxophone and are expected to know this stuff. So you can't skip it. NOT only that, but it's a great technique builder. It's also a means to coming up with your own original ideas based off of past ideas. This is VITAL as a modern player and many guys skip this step. You have to have an original voice and you have to say something meaningful, but it has to stem from the past. YOU HAVE TO HONOR THE HERITAGE and HISTORY! If you just want to play for fun and do what you want to do then thats cool too, but if you want to be the best possible improvisor you can be then you must dive into the history and incorporate it into your playing.

3) DrWill - While it can be easier to practice these exercises with play alongs and BIAB, I recommend not doing that. Play a longs can easily become a crutch and are very good at masking your weaknesses. TRUST ME! It is harder to do with a metronome, but it will make you improve so much faster! It's much harder to keep your place with a metronome and this is very beneficial. What do you do if your rhythm section goes off on a polyrhythmic atonal rant while your soloing. It can happen. You won't know where you're at. GET THE METRONOME GOING! Use play a longs for fun and not for practice.

4) Lutemann - Got your PM and I will check it out and get back to you soon. Thanks.

5) Adding more exercises to original post so look for them. Starting at #9. Also adding a note to the TRIAD EXERCISE. little note, but check it out.
 

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I'll reprint the first post once it's updated. I'm really excited about using these ideas. Your quote below is so true....

"It's also a means to coming up with your own original ideas based off of past ideas. This is VITAL as a modern player and many guys skip this step. You have to have an original voice and you have to say something meaningful, but it has to stem from the past. YOU HAVE TO HONOR THE HERITAGE and HISTORY"

Thank you again, this is going to be really meaningful to my playing I think
Tony
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
just updated the original post with a couple notes and 2 new exercises. A couple more later on.

THANKS!

P.S. I want to thank all of my past teachers and guys I've had a chance to play with. These exercises are no secret and have been implemented in some form or other for years and years! I would never have learned them if others didn't graciously share them with me. Take them and make them work for you. Adapt and have fun!
 

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2) Wade - I understand your view point about playing standards, playing "vocab", and practicing outlining/academic patterns. BUT you have to understand that many guys like me make our sole living playing the saxophone and are expected to know this stuff. So you can't skip it. NOT only that, but it's a great technique builder. It's also a means to coming up with your own original ideas based off of past ideas. This is VITAL as a modern player and many guys skip this step. You have to have an original voice and you have to say something meaningful, but it has to stem from the past. YOU HAVE TO HONOR THE HERITAGE and HISTORY! If you just want to play for fun and do what you want to do then thats cool too, but if you want to be the best possible improvisor you can be then you must dive into the history and incorporate it into your playing.

History is good to know about and honour. There is a very good saying about this: "know your history so you don't have to repeat it". Consider this: if the players of the 1950s were fed a strict diet of music from 1900 and told to play only those tunes and in that style would there have been the jazz revolution of the 1950s-60s? The idea that a sax player must know/learn "standards" is nonsense. Go out on the street and stop as many people as you can and offer them $100 for anyone who can hum Billy's Bounce. Unless you run into a sax player you'll still have the $100 in your pocket at the end of the day. The audience for "standards" (for the most part) are in their 70s. Is this the demographic students today should be aiming for? It's pretty much a sax teaching thing that is going nowhere. How many more university mainstream jazz performance graduates do we need who can't do anything to make a living other than teach what they have just learned (that didn't work for them)? Look around this site as a good example. How many of these mainstream trained players do you hear playing anything but mainstream? I doesn't seem to work for the vast majority, they just keep playing what they learned, standards.

As adults we can play whatever music we want to and like. If that precludes us becoming pros, that's our own business. I think that anyone teaching has a responsibility towards their students and should be giving them the best shot possible.

The instruments that today seem to consistently support the most musicians as professionals are guitar, bass, and drums. None of these have a strict regimen of everyone having to learn technique of 50 years ago and playing in the style of someone from that time or playing standards. There are (for sure) specialists who are mainstream players, but they are by far a very small segment. The point is that sax players are doing themselves no favours by subscribing to a strict mainstream style of teaching and instead isolating themselves from all those other styles that keep the vast majority of other musicians financially viable as pros. Sax players are instead limiting their scope and appeal, (as a generalization) they get calls for when someone wants a 1950s jazz sound rather than being thought of as part of today's music scene. It's similar to what has happened to clarinet players in non-classical music: the picture is Dixieland. Or worse yet Theremin players who can only get gigs for sci-fi and horror movies.

Sax students deserve better and shouldn't support a teaching industry that has proved itself a failure and is so obviously out of sync from what most other successful musicians are learning.
 
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