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Discussion Starter #1
Hi everyone.

So, i've been playing for a few years, not super seriously, but i end up playing quite a bit for the theater company i work for. It's been enough years that i have a pretty good tone, i think, and i can read music due to piano lessons as a kid, and i can memorize tunes pretty well. I'm beginning to understand harmonizing (well, kind of...but i guess that's a different topic). But: i can't solo worth a damn. Even on songs that i can play in my sleep, it feels a lot more like rote memorization than a true understanding of the music. I'm also not too swell on licks and fills, that sort of thing.

So my question is: what can i do to practice to improve this? Sometimes i feel like i just need better musical theory understanding: if i were to drill keys into my head so that i always knew what key i was playing in at any given point in a song, would that help? Would learning bass lines help?

I've had it explained to me that in any given key there are certain notes to land on that will always sound good, but i don't reeeally understand which notes they are or why. When i can produce a non terrible sounding solo, it's usually just a very slight variation on the melody, with pretty uninteresting stuff tempo-wise. The only success i've ever really had is soloing on balkan type stuff. Not sure why, but it seems harder to play a sour note.

So: Any and all advice is appreciated. I know, practice, practice, practice: but i try to practice, try to play the melody of a tune i know and then improvise, and, generally it sounds... pretty bad. This has been kind of a huge mental block with me for, well, years now, as the various bands i've played in pretty much expect soloing once you achieve a certain level of ability.

I've become increasingly frustrated with my inability to do this, and it's almost a sore point- i get embarrassed to even try because it's so often pretty bad. oy! help!

thanks for reading.

edit: most of the music i play is big band or dixieland or traditional jazz, with some eastern european thrown in.

1,041 Posts
Well there are many, many folks here who are VASTLY more equipped to answer this than me but I will give ya what I have and it's free :).
First off if you don't know the chords in the song it is simply a must, I will assume you do, try this go through and play whole notes
on the chords with a BIAB or something like it playing the chords behind you, boring I know. Then go through and play half
notes with the first and the third only, til you can do it in your sleep, then quarter notes 1,3,5,1, then 1,3,5,7 you will begin
to internalize through this boring rote procedure what and how the chord tones associate with the backing track.

When you can do this like falling out of bed, you can then begin to build lines using just those 4 notes, remember the
key note to any chord is the 3rd, it is essentially the hinge note at least between M and m, and even in A and d, my
jazz teacher at college told me that Parker would go all over the place but often times he would touch the 3rd on the
1st and often the 3rd beat, the strong beats.

Now my biggest problem is keeping track of the form, I can build lines and have something to say but in focusing
on the lines and what I want to say I loose track of where I am in the form, my flaw, but may affect you as well,
this is problematic as your band is going to need you to know when to go out or come in or give a nod that your
taking another turn or what have you. I dropped a bar in Blue in Green for my juries and I was so pissed with
myself, came in the head a bar early and my Theory I teacher who was playing the piano gave me that look
like, yo man you dropped a bar :).

I am only answering because I see 64 views and no replies, someone like Tim Price has so much to add in areas like this
and in almost every area of playing, maybe you could get a skype lesson with him, his knowledge and abilities as
well as many others here would make me seem like I'm in diapers sucking on a Nuk, but that is where I am and
hopefully it can only go up from here :). HTH, Jay.

Distinguished SOTW Member, Forum Contributor 2016
4,881 Posts
Yeah, practice! But what? How?

I love it when a student tells me what they're good at! That gives me a jumping off point. You say you're good at memorizing melody. I'd suggest you try playing the melody with a different rhythm. Different shape -- where the melody goes up, you go down. Different pace -- where the original melody speeds up, you slow down and vice versa. In other words, test and verify your assertion that you really know the melody.

Second, you can harmonize? Great! Play through the tune by just playing the bass note -- the foundation of the harmony. Can you do it? Now try the fifth. Then the third. Test out your assertion that you know the harmony.

In this manner of exploration you will teach yourself many things that will help your improvisation. Too often I find a jazz students practice regimen is not specific nor measurable enough. As you explore and experiment (practice) keep SPECIFICITY and MEASURABILITY in mind.
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