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Hi all, on an average song how much of it is actually improvised 'on the spot' , or is the improvised part rehearsed to some extent ?
So if you play a song regular would you have some sort of skeleton of an idea about your improv and build on that or just turn up and do whatever happened on the night without any idea as to how it would go ?
Just interested. I'm just starting the learning process of the black art of improv on the handful of tunes I have. I have a couple of little lines that work well on some and am trying to expand on these and that's kinda where my question came from.
 

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The current practice seems to be that the soloist plays within the chord symbols marked above the bars.....rather like painting by numbers.
 

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Basically, the way I like to think of it is improvisation is essentially "assembly" of ideas. Most jazz musicians have a library of predetermined licks (musical phrases) over particular chord sequences. So when it comes to improvisation you are picking and choosing from your library. Sure there is room for experimentation within the improvisation itself, discovering new ideas etc. but then if you find something that works, chances are this will end up in your library for next time. But I'd agree with Captain Beeflat: you look at the chords, and you know what will fit over them, or at the very least have strategies to play through the chords (scales, patterns etc.)

When I first started practicing improvisation, I used to record absolutely everything I played. When I heard something I liked, I'd listen to the recording and work it out, possibly write it down and learn it. Eventually I build up a collection of these ideas, and of course my library is still building, and will continue to build as long as I stay playing the sax.

Hope this helps.
 

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Hope this helps.
It sure does, thanks for that, and thanks to the Capt. also!
So far I've just been playing around, some days I come up with something most days I don't !!
 

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Yeah, as above, in a nutshell you need some predetermined scales, phrases and patterns that you have practiced and learned. Then when you improvise you use that stuff as sort of a base for a solo and as you get more advanced and your ear gets better, hopefully things can happen that were not predetermined and there is a sort of flow to it. That's the beauty of it. Of course
this is a very simple, general explanation of the art. It's hard and it takes a long time to get really good at it for most people.
 

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It's hard and it takes a long time to get really good at it for most people.
Never a truer statement , it sure is hard, but it does gradually get better ( I think ).

I find when I am relaxed , and feel confident, sometimes , all the work pays off ,just a little, for a few magic bars !

Blowhard2
 

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The current practice seems to be that the soloist plays within the chord symbols marked above the bars.....rather like painting by numbers.
Oh my. What to do if it's atonal? :wink:
 

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It sure does, thanks for that, and thanks to the Capt. also!
So far I've just been playing around, some days I come up with something most days I don't !!

PaulieBoy,
How long have you been at it? The first few attempts for most of us are pretty pathetic. Sometimes the first few dozen or hundred aren't that great, but just like anything else it gets better with more practice. There is no easy out.
 

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I like to approach improvising much like having a conversation, since, in fact, your goal is to tell a musical story with the musicians you are playing with. In order to do that effectively, you have to know your vocabulary (scales, arpeggios, etc.) and your topic of discussion (the chord changes and melody to the tune you are playing). At that point, you will likely draw from ideas, phrases, patterns, etc., that you have practiced- just like you often use some of the same phrases and logic when you talk with your friends. The art of the improvisation comes in the creative assemblage of your vocabulary and the effectiveness of your musical story-telling skills.

Randy
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I'm with Randy on this one, and would state it slightly differently: The start point is vocabulary. Where you want to end up is singing your own story through your horn. Too many put their goal at sounding like (name your favourite player) and get in a rut of copying and stringing together licks/arpeggios etc. May all be theoretically correct but nothing really coming from the player with the conviction of THEM telling the story, just a collection of bits and pieces laid out with no more conviction than someone selling junk at a swap meet.

Even when starting out try to always hear what it is you want to play (even if it's something copied) and then put yourself into it. Be committed. I'd rather hear a mistake made with commitment than a timid but accurate line that has no feeling.

Great example is Miles Davis. How many wrong/blown notes per tune? Lots! But what everybody hears is Miles soul speaking perfectly clearly, not the bum notes.
 

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Discussion Starter #12
PaulieBoy,
How long have you been at it? The first few attempts for most of us are pretty pathetic. Sometimes the first few dozen or hundred aren't that great, but just like anything else it gets better with more practice. There is no easy out.
I'm a mere babe in the woods! I am only at the sax for six months now, have played classical piano and trad Irish mandolin and some other stuff, but Jazz and the whole improv thing is new to me - in addition to the sax.
I will get lessons when funds permit! Till now I was just trying to play whatever I could around each song I know, with varying degrees of success and failure :)
Many thanks for all the contributions, they are a great help.
 

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I like to approach improvising much like having a conversation, since, in fact, your goal is to tell a musical story with the musicians you are playing with. In order to do that effectively, you have to know your vocabulary (scales, arpeggios, etc.) and your topic of discussion (the chord changes and melody to the tune you are playing). At that point, you will likely draw from ideas, phrases, patterns, etc., that you have practiced- just like you often use some of the same phrases and logic when you talk with your friends. The art of the improvisation comes in the creative assemblage of your vocabulary and the effectiveness of your musical story-telling skills.
I like the comparison to spoken language because, after all, music is a language that has a grammar/syntax (sometimes the same thing, depending upon to whom you discuss it with), vocabulary, methods of acquisition, and many other common characteristics.
 

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and , as in any spoke language one is bound to use all the possible arsenal of quotations, idioms, proverbs, aphorisms, poetic or artistic licenses, alliteration, assonance, dissonance, rhyme.........all of it can be conjured up impromptu and in a unprepared way (which is IMO the only real improvisation) or being studied at length and memorised as an actor does.

Mind you the fact that the playing is impromptu doesn't mean that one would make use of all the vocabulary (as we do in a improvised speech ) but the fact is that in this way the improvisation becomes a blaancing act (which I believe to be the only way one should improvise).

One would naturally end up off balance several times by attempting something different or unusual and in so doing go out of any pattern that one might consciously or unconsciously have been following to that point and then there would be the need to pick-up one's playing in the new situation, using any " mistakes" as a the trampoline to bounce into, hopefully, some other of the many things that we have stored in our heads until we reach another point (voluntarily or not) when we need to bounce back.
 

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For hundreds of years I have played Blues Harmonica...a most expressive, vocal, but limited instrument.
Consequently I naturally tend to play "harp" on sax....but, being chromatic rather than diatonic, it gives me more freedom, the roots are there however.
 

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and , as in any spoke language one is bound to use all the possible arsenal of quotations, idioms, proverbs, aphorisms, poetic or artistic licenses, alliteration, assonance, dissonance, rhyme.........all of it can be conjured up impromptu and in a unprepared way (which is IMO the only real improvisation) or being studied at length and memorised as an actor does.

Mind you the fact that the playing is impromptu doesn't mean that one would make use of all the vocabulary (as we do in a improvised speech ) but the fact is that in this way the improvisation becomes a blaancing act (which I believe to be the only way one should improvise).

One would naturally end up off balance several times by attempting something different or unusual and in so doing go out of any pattern that one might consciously or unconsciously have been following to that point and then there would be the need to pick-up one's playing in the new situation, using any " mistakes" as a the trampoline to bounce into, hopefully, some other of the many things that we have stored in our heads until we reach another point (voluntarily or not) when we need to bounce back.
I don't know if I am agreeing or disagreeing with you here, but consider many of Sonny Rollins' extended solos. You can hear a lot of other players' vocabulary, quips, cliches,idioms, maxims, as well as his own incredible vocabulary and syntax.

And yes, good improv is a balancing act; one must make wise choices. "The weak use force; the powerful use restraint." I don't remember who said it-- Macchiavelli ("The Prince") or Sun Tzu ("The Art of War"). In any event, there is some wisdom there. Orators are well-rehearsed. So are good jazz musicians. They make informed choices.
 

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yes, informed choices alright but the current improvisation taught in conservatories is, I think, a little too " informed " to be spontaneous resulting, often times in a trite display of knowledge and skills
 

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yes, informed choices alright but the current improvisation taught in conservatories is, I think, a little too " informed " to be spontaneous resulting, often times in a trite display of knowledge and skills
Exactly....playing by numbers.
 

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