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In about 2 months, I have a concert at my school for jazz. It's the last concert of the year. And at the last concert, the band I'm in plays songs like So What and Watermelon Man and Cantaloupe Island. We just play the melody and do individual solos. My music teacher says that I have good style and tone; however, he also said that my note selection is poor. And, so, my question is, how can I make better note selections? This is not too hard of a problem because I know all my major scales. My BIGGEST problem is the fact that I lose time when I solo; therefore, I can never hit chord changes and i never know what key I'm in. So, how can I fix this problem?

P.S.- I play alto sax
 

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You need to get ahold of as many recordings of those tunes as you can, especially the originals and listen to & play along with them a whole lot. This will help you greatly.

You may not be able to play the same notes they do, but you will at least be able to follow the sounds they are making with the melodic lines that they play.
 

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+1 on what Thad said.

you can also decide on what you want to play and play it over and over until its in your head - write it out and take it with you so if say you have 16 bars solo you can have it written down if you cant remember what youve decided ot play that way you should remain in temp.

Good luck and let us know how you get on
 

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Well I suppose the following could be "Rooty's Duffers' Guide to Improvisation". Ahem.

1. Watermelon Man is G blues so GBbCC#DFG all the way through (ignore annoying changes, play a few wrong notes if you want to go all "jazzy").

2. Cantaloupe is D minor blues so DFGAbACD all the way through (do a few random reed squeals -teeth on reed- and hold them for a few bars for extra "rockiness". That could go terribly wrong but "nothing ventured nothing gained").

3. So What is a bit trickier because you have to switch between B minor Dorian and C minor Dorian (ie notes of A maj and notes of Bb major). You just need to hear when the change happens and "nail it". An alternative is to not "nail it" and continue happily on your merry way with B minor/A major. This will create plenty of "dramatic tension" until the root chord returns. It will help if you look quizzical and intellectual if you take this approach. Make it appear that you are dealing with a thorny musical problem.

In all cases use your ear to resolve. Also, on 1 and 2, when in doubt, hold a highish note for ages (something appropriate to the key!) , then do a random chromatic run, then return to honking on the held note with obvious feeling. This generally works to some extent.

Practice soloing by clapping, stamping your feet and singing first before you pick up the instrument. Question: How many choruses will personally get to impro on any one tune?

Good luck!
 

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Sing it first, then learn how to play what you sing.
 

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Or....

You could learn Miles' solo in "So What" note-for-note (the transcription is easily obtained) and impress all the true Cats that may be listening...also, his style is not a bad one to incorporate into your improvisational toolbox.
 

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Well, for the upcoming performance, use fewer notes (pitches) and more rhythm. Don't forget to allow some space (rests) as well.

As far as long term, as others have mentioned, listen, transcribe, practice etc. This is a process and a journey that takes countless hours over a period of years.
 

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Get Band In a Box .... key in the changes ....

For the novice, the simple idea of playing phrases is not automatic, you need to think in terms of two-bar phrases. One, followed by another, .... etc. Practice this, with just one note if necessary, -da dada da da -daaaa da -da dada da da -da .... - (that's 4 bars), vary it up, syncopate it, etc. When you can do this is some sort of meaningful way through the piece, add more notes, always thinking in terms of 2 bar phrases.

Don't think of 'selecting' notes, think of playing 2 bar phrases.
 

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So you need to play good notes?

Best notes:
Chord tones - Root, 3rd, 5th 7th

You can makes a solo out of nothing but chord tones. It may sound a little vanilla, but you'll never hit a bad note. I've been playing for 20+ years and I still take chord tone solos as an exercise to help me internalize the changes.

Good notes - other notes of the corresponding scale. Basically, the 9th (2nd note of scale) and 13th (6th note of scale). Also the 4th/11th over a minor chord.

Bad Notes - ones that aren't chord tones or part of the related scale. Actually, any note can be played over any chord as long as it's in the right place and as long as it's resolved correctly, but you need to master the basics first so just avoid these notes.

Creating a melody is usually just moving from one consonant tone (notes that sound good against the chord) to the next. So my advice would be to learn how to take a solo using only chord tones. Use rhythmic variety to spice it up a little. When you've got that under your fingers, try adding notes between the chord tones, experiment trying to find different ways to move from one chord to the other.
 

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Lots of good advice of which singing and ear training are the short cuts to not sounding contrived/mechanical. Would only add that while taking in and appreciating what you like in others playing it's good to keep something of yourself in what you play. May not (for now) be as flash or impressive, but others know when they hear honesty as compared to someone who just copies and regurgitates a bunch of licks from others.

Best of luck
 

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All good advice. Remember that the 3rd is the most important note in a chord and you can make a solo out of mostly 3rds.
HAHAHA! This is the same thing I told my band mates(who have never had any musical training at all). It took 3 years for my band mates to understand this. Sometimes its rough being in a band where no one else but you knows how to read and write music. Although its taken 3 years for them to understand the importance of the 3rd, I still have not convinced them that they need to take private lessons. Dont get me wrong, we can write music, but Im the only who can read and write in the band, and the only one with a general knowledge of music theory, and sometimes its humbling, and others, its quite frustrating. Only recently did my lead guitar player start taking lessons, and his playing has improved very dramatically. :/
 

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I would say that two months is really too short a time to turn your playing around and
absorb all the good advice given above.

My advice would be to spend the two months working on the pentatonic scales that fit
those particular tunes. You don't have time to do everything.

Get some Jamey Aebersold play alongs with those tunes and jam away for hours.
Listen to what you are doing and after a while you will find yourself coming up with
ideas that will eventually gel into something that can sound quite reasonable.

If you accidently play something that sounds melodic, work it over from all angles.
Then when you are really confident with that lick you will be able to pull it off on
the bandstand. Build yourself a grab-bag of similar licks that you are confident on.
 

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Same way you get to Carnegie Hall - practice, practice & more practice.

You've been given plenty of practice advice. Now, hit the shed! Good luck!
 
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