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I have been playing for about 8-9 yrs the alto saxophone. So far I am still trying to get better with improvisation. I am kind of disappointed with myself that with the fact that I know I can be a lot better. I am kind of stumped to how I can apply different things to my technique. I practice out of a runbanks advanced book once in a while, but don't know how to use that to better my technique. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
 

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I don't know where you are in your playing but bringing up Rubank makes me think of something I heard before.

Rubanks general have some excersises that follow patterns. something simple like 123234345456. just simple harmonic progressions. Well using those rubank patterns can create interesting lines in an improvisation. don't obviously just use those simple patterns but using one or two and then going off of them works very well. Especially in fast tunes.

Another thing to use is the pentatonic scales. Coltrane used those a ton, as well as side-slipping, but I don't know where you are in your playing so just experiment with what you can.


Like I said though, those rubank patterns and stuff are good. Good luck.
 
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While exercises and riffs are great for developing a skill set to draw upon. After 30 + years of playing, one of the best pieces of advice I can offer is to not play with fear. I'm not talking about stage fright or performance anxiety, but the fear of failing. As you have already said, you are disappointed and you know you can be a lot better. That tells me that your skills are not holding you back. Improvisation and expression are unique properties from one person to another. Being able to play anything that comes to mind can lead you to that sound or expression you know that presides in your own head. But that is easier said than done, often we are too afraid of venturing off the beaten path to explore the less traveled side. Sometimes practiced riffs and scales can trap you into a predictable form. Not being afraid to SUCK can help you achieve the freedom to express yourself openly . Too often I hear a well schooled player perform, devoid of any real personal insight and expression, but well rehearsed and polished. If that is all you desire, than time and study will provide you with those limited abilities. Let me tell you another thing I've learned . After all these years, I STILL struggle with the exact same problem you are talking about. Sometimes my play just flows, and other times it trickles. We all have our good days and bad days, so do all of the greats who inspire and amaze us. But I don't let it concern me, or frustrate me. The harder I push and worry, the less able I am to let it flow.

You must learn to trust yourself.
 

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It's all about timing and rhythm...

I was told by my teachers that the most fundamental thing about playing jazz is the underlying rhythm. If it don't got that swing, it don't mean a thing. Sometimes, the note choices aren't that important, you can get away with playing almost anything, if it's in time. When I was disappointed in my jazz playing I ended up spending a lot of time with a metronome, and this seemed to make a difference in my playing.

I was also told to put more air through the instrument (was playing tenor at the time) and that helped to get the notes moving too. You've got to abandon your fear, or get used to it and learn to enjoy it, because you can't make split-second decisions during an improv session unless you are totally concentrated on the music.

I find it easier to play by ear, to let my fingers reach for the notes before I tell them to, just by thinking of the music when the sax is in my hands. That way there is nothing between me and the music, during improv. But when there are technical passages I want my fingers to get the hang of, I will practice it until I don't have to think about it.

That way hopefully I will feel prepared when I am trying to 'seriously' improv and attempt to sound good. But I spend/spent plenty of time doodling and playing garbage too, just to learn the feel of the instrument and playing by ear without written music. After a while, getting the notes out that I want, more or less, became more natural and something I didn't struggle with as much. Now, the challenge for me is to be able to do it in every key on the sax, as I have trained myself better in certain keys.

btw - I have been playing for about 10 years on tenor and just switched to alto recently.
 

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coolsax2k7 said:
Sometimes, the note choices aren't that important, you can get away with playing almost anything, if it's in time.
Amen.

coolsax2k7 said:
When I was disappointed in my jazz playing I ended up spending a lot of time with a metronome, and this seemed to make a difference in my playing.
Another amen.

coolsax2k7 said:
You've got to abandon your fear, or get used to it and learn to enjoy it, because you can't make split-second decisions during an improv session unless you are totally concentrated on the music.
Wow, you're a sage. :)
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Thanks for the advice!
 

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iceman:

I don't post often. But I do have a small bit of advice.

First, you got good advice above about confidence. It's most important! Remember that you are playing a saxophone. Everything will sound pretty good --even bad notes! Bad notes need more swing to work. Really, check out Cannonball Adderley. He has a very free choice of notes, but swings very hard.

More seriously, to build you chops and find patterns and scales that are more useful for jazz you need to practice stuff not found in Rubanks. If you can, find out about Barry Harris's approach to the scales. (David Baker has the same idea.) They call it the 7th scale, but it really comes out of common musical practice.

For example, the scale that goes with the G7 chord is:

G-F#-F-E-D-C-B-A-G

Adding the chromatic passing tone of F# (or Gb for you who need to be correct) puts the beat where it should be. That's really important!

Listen to any Charlie Parker recording. It's everywhere.

---

To develop some facility with the horn, play chromatic patterns

B-C-Bb-B-A-Bb-Ab-A-G-G#-F#-G-F-F#...etc..
whole tone scales
diminished triad
minor 7th chord
work in all keys

Do a little at a time. Speed will come if you're patient. Don't sweat the usual Rubanks major scales. They are not that useful for jazz. Remember: To play a chromatic music (jazz) need chromatic skills.

Hope this helps!
 

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Lots of great advice from the others here. One more thought:

When I had been playing sax for 18 years, I started working with a new teacher. I shared how I was dissatisfied with my improvising. He listened to me improvise, and then asked me why I was playing so many notes. He also asked me if I was really focusing on building a melody. After about a month of hearing these questions repeatedly from my teacher, it finally started to sink in.

For me, these two ideas go hand-in-hand: if I truly focus on building a melody line (including the rhythm), then I don't need to play so many notes. The resulting solo sounds better, and is more satisfying to play.

In a way, this is a similar concept to writing a good essay: What is your point? What are you trying to say? Are you just throwing out lots of fancy-sounding words and cliches, or are you actually getting your point across?
 
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harmonizerNJ said:
Lots of great advice from the others here. One more thought:

When I had been playing sax for 18 years, I started working with a new teacher. I shared how I was dissatisfied with my improvising. He listened to me improvise, and then asked me why I was playing so many notes. He also asked me if I was really focusing on building a melody. After about a month of hearing these questions repeatedly from my teacher, it finally started to sink in.

For me, these two ideas go hand-in-hand: if I truly focus on building a melody line (including the rhythm), then I don't need to play so many notes. The resulting solo sounds better, and is more satisfying to play.

In a way, this is a similar concept to writing a good essay: What is your point? What are you trying to say? Are you just throwing out lots of fancy-sounding words and cliches, or are you actually getting your point across?
Spot on ! Sometimes less is more !
 

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Toobz said:
Spot on ! Sometimes less is more !
I also agree, I agree with the fear of failure thing too, sometimes when I get nervous (usually if a monster is there ;) ) I will play too much, then I think "What am I doing? Breathe and say something" It always helps me.
 

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Another piece of advice - get out and play.

Even if you are not very confident you can usually find a jam or group that will suit you. What works in the shed may not work on the bandstand and vice versa. And playing is fun.
 

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Listen to a lot of music and especially jazz if it's what you wanna play.
As it has been said, your entire body must enter the rythm, you must be into it, like a fish in water, you must feel the groove. If you feel it, you can make a nice improvisation on 4 or 5 notes.
Focus on the atmosphere of the tune and do as if you were singing through your horn, think melodically, lyrically.
Actually, it's good to have vocabulary in the fingers because music goes and you have to have reflexe to play what you want/feel at the right time!
 

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Oooo! Lots of brilliant advice! Mine is this: isolate what you need to work on. A great one to start on is rhythm/swing. It's totally vital, it's relatively easy to practise and having a really good sense of swing is one of things that really makes a big difference to a simple solo. Listen to Lester Young or Johnny Hodges. Hear how much swing they can get out of a single note or a couple of notes or a simple riff. Tap your foot, clap along, sing along, enjoy! Then do some playing and try to make a nice rhythmic solo out of two or three notes. And in another practise session isolate something else - say, dynamics. Over time you'll find it all starts to come together.
 

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Haven't read the whole thread, but also: if you learn a lick, transpose it over the cycle of fifths.
 
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