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Discussion Starter #1
I hope I get this across clearly. So, when I'm improvising, whether playing along to a CD or with other musicians, what I've done for years, first on violin and now on sax, is forget scales/modes whatever, and play from within.

I communicate with the other players through the common sound we're all listening to, or should be listening to, and a lot of the "success" or "failure" of what I do, is dependant on how articulate and dextrous I am on the instrument. I need to be dextrous/articulate, to be able to interpret the sound. This approach has worked pretty well for me. We get gigs, we get compliments yada yada.

But - I am beginning to think in terms of modes and scales and how they relate theoretically to the sound I'm hearing, and so, I think I'm heading in a new direction. But the thought of developing a whole new approach is bugging me. But I can't put it out of my mind.

So now, instead of practicing my scales for maybe an hour a day and then jamming with the magpies outside or speaking to the world in tongues - so to speak, I'm starting to do it the other way around. More time in scales modes etc and less time articulating my feelings. I feel as if I'm being stretched and while I suspect it's a good thing, another part of me doesn't want to play along.

Can anyone relate to this?
 

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Re: Improvisation; the path to take.

Well I think your first approach was better. The chord/scale stuff is only partially true. It's about the placement of notes, even then there are no strict rules to follow. I transcribed a sonny stitt solo and he start a II-V lick(D-, G7) on a C#. Something that shouldn't sound good accroding to the theory but it did sound good. The best way to learn how to play is to transcribe and imitate a lot of players you like to listen to.
 

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Re: Improvisation; the path to take.

Well I think your first approach was better. The chord/scale stuff is only partially true. It's about the placement of notes, even then there are no strict rules to follow. I transcribed a sonny stitt solo and he start a II-V lick(D-, G7) on a C#. Something that shouldn't sound good accroding to the theory but it did sound good. The best way to learn how to play is to transcribe and imitate a lot of players you like to listen to.
This is used a lot in bebop language. simply the #11 of the V chord. or the lydian dominant sound or whatever you want to call it. Not in conflict with theory. Stitt just ignores the II chord. Or chooses to replace the standard II chord for a IIm major 7. If you limit yourself to BASIC theory I guess it IS in conflict with that. But like you said , it's all about the placement of notes.
 

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Re: Improvisation; the path to take.

This is used a lot in bebop language. simply the #11 of the V chord. or the lydian dominant sound or whatever you want to call it. Not in conflict with theory.
It was on the D minor chord
 

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So you're basically saying that he is changing the chord and playing an alterarion of the chord he is replacing. That sounds pretty far fetched too me, that's just adjusting your theory so it fits
 

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He was just playing the approach from below the chord tone. !/2 step below , the boppers have done this for decades. I would assume (of course I don't know the line you transcribed) that he didn't lay on the C# . Probably a passing tone / approach note.

Transcribing really does reveal some interesting things. Been working on Steve Grossman and he is FULL of surprises. Tunes that have 2-5s and he is way out there but it sounds great .
 

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He was just playing the approach from below the chord tone. !/2 step below , the boppers have done this for decades. I would assume (of course I don't know the line you transcribed) that he didn't lay on the C# . Probably a passing tone / approach note.

Transcribing really does reveal some interesting things. Been working on Steve Grossman and he is FULL of surprises. Tunes that have 2-5s and he is way out there but it sounds great .
Yes but he played it on beat one. not on a up beat.


Nice link of an article about this subject
http://jazzadvice.com/two-five-progressions-made-easy/

The lick is

D minor:C#, D, f, A, triplet:C, B, Bb. A, G. G7: D, A, triplet: B, C, D. dotted quarter note: E. @ sixteenth notes: G, E. Then resolves to c7 but i'm not going to type that out.

He just starts on the one of the 9th measure in a basic jazz blues.
 

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So you're basically saying that he is changing the chord and playing an alterarion of the chord he is replacing. That sounds pretty far fetched too me, that's just adjusting your theory so it fits
This is going off topic I'm afraid. You said Stitt started his line on C# which theoretically should not sound good but did. There are a variety of ways that make this note sound good for example, as Mike said (IF the next note is a DorC
)as an approach note.
Context does a lot to a theoratically "wrong" note. It's Jazz, a soloist can choose to ignore a IIm7 chord and just play over the V7 and alterate that chord to his liking or choose to play a major 7th instead of a minor 7th. Charlie Parker did that a lot. Jazz is freedom, and yes it may sometimes be far fetched theory wise.
But nevertheless you CAN explain it through theory (most of the time). If a soloist should replace the whole II-V by another II-V ( tritone substitution for example)
he would come up with a lot of notes that are "wrong" ( including the c#) as you see them against the original II-V. IMHO that's not adjusting theory so it fits, that's just a little expansion of the basic theory, but still theory.
Steve Grossman knocks me out, he can play really strange things that I can NOT explain through theory but somehow he not only gets away with it, he makes it sound real good.
 

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Context and motive can explain most of the really creative improvisation that anyone does. It sounds good because it relates to some other elements of the storytelling. The line doesn't have to always relate harmonically if it relates in other ways (melodically, intervallically, etc.).

Now, to touch on your modal improvisation approach -- Yes, learning scales/modes is absolutely critical. You'll need to be able to play in the character of the tune -- relating a scale/mode to the tune is step one. If you want to play what you feel, and you're feeling the tune, then you will need to be in-scale/mode.

The other thing I found useful in cultivating my ear is studying the modes (not neccesarily practicing the scales). I study the modes in relation to the parent scale i.e. :

C Ionian, D Dorian, E Phrygian, F lydian, etc.

...but also in relation to other modes of a common root, i.e.:

C Ionian, C Dorian, C Phrygian, C Lydian, ... etc.

You will quickly learn which notes matter to get in character. Then you can start picking out only the notes that are essential for character and leave the others out. Miles, et al has said (and I paraphrase) -- 'It's not about the notes you play, but the notes you leave out.'
 

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Stitt was just playing with the harmonic Dm IMO, nothing wrong on a minor chord?! (yes, emphasizing he feel of a minor-Major chord). Very clear he wasn't using the usual Dorian b/c he plays a Bb.

I think it is great if you are able to improvise "from within"/by ear and that it sounds fine!!

Much better than applying formulas from scales that sound OK but don't necessarily "move" the audience beyond the recognition of virtuosity IMO.... (who like me "generally" prefers Desmond over Parker -- notwithstanding the acknowledgement of the latter's huge contribution to the advancement of jazz --, or Baker over Dizzy? :))

I agree with Hgiles 100% BTW. To clarify on the above... on a minor chord there are a number or modes which you can use, even if your jazz teacher tells you that you should preferably use the Dorian mode. Depending on what you want to do on your improv (draw more attention, whatever), yes, use unusual notes if you feel they sound good!!
 

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Steven, didn't we once discuss this? It's really very simple.
If you're very serious about your instrument then you will have to do things
that require hard work. Scales, etc. are vital in allowing you to convey your thoughts
more cohesively, even in a free realm. If you're not serious but enjoy playing the sax as a hobby then play
whatever you want to and who cares what others think. This is about you, right? Or is it really about how you're looked upon by your peers? Or maybe both?
If you spend serious time doing the things you may feel are laborious and trite, in time you will be able to articulate your feelings more than you think you are if you didn't put in the time. Without serious practice what is essentially being done is groping through the chromatic scale. Any musician needs foundation in order to evolve or they will stagnate incessantly! It's hard to find inspiration in that stagnation.

You're going to have to deal with the other part of you that really doesn't
want to do the work. If not, then keep taking stabs at the chromatic scale in hopes
of landing a few good note sequences. The odds are stacked against you actually.

I agree with most who have stated that those who lean towards free jazz, or avant garde
jazz may possibly don't know all that much. It's an easy out. It doesn't require much practice and personally it's fine if that's what anyone wants to do if it does bring about some sort of elation to the player. It's just one dimensional and progression won't fair very well. It's a highly stagnated and unrewarding way to approach improvisation.
 

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Re: Improvisation; the path to take.

It was on the D minor chord
That C# on a Dminor chord (in a ii-V context) is just about one of the best notes you can play! Of course you have to handle it with some care, but try playing some ii-V (or ii-V-I) lines using that maj 7th tone on the ii chord. I think you'll discover some very interesting sounds. It's very common in the jazz idiom and I even use it a lot in jump/swing blues.
 

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Also try this starting on D:

D down to A
up to C#
down to A
up to C
down to A
up to B

Landing on B at the chord change to G7, then you can arpeggiate up the G7 chord, etc....

Sorry I don't have that cool program that Mike1955 used.
 

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If you're very serious about your instrument then you will have to do things that require hard work. Scales, etc. are vital in allowing you to convey your thoughts more cohesively, even in a free realm. If you're not serious but enjoy playing the sax as a hobby then play whatever you want to and who cares what others think. This is about you, right? Or is it really about how you're looked upon by your peers? Or maybe both?
If you spend serious time doing the things you may feel are laborious and trite, in time you will be able to articulate your feelings more than you think you are if you didn't put in the time. Without serious practice what is essentially being done is groping through the chromatic scale. Any musician needs foundation in order to evolve or they will stagnate incessantly! It's hard to find inspiration in that stagnation.
word! every cool thing i hear relates back to a scale. it's much easier to express from a palette of knowledge and skills. at first i was reluctant to practice scales and chords, until one night i broke down over a charlie parker piece. my teacher told me to just focus on practicing those scales and chords. i was so discouraged, but that's all i did for months with my tail tucked. then i practiced re-arranging those scales into patterns, etc. now, i can improv far better and consistently, and not terrible for a beginner. i still study those scales/chords/tetrachords in 2-5-1's in all keys. boring and painful but dramatically improved my playing, hearing and feeling the music.
 

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I really like the forward by George Bouchard in his Intermediate Improvisation studies. He really talks about the "ear players" and taking things to a new level. I would suggest this is a good method for anyone sort of stuck in the "I play a blues scale over everything and sort of make up the rest..." rut. Opening up a new approach to the melody and harmony is empowering but it is also a lot of work. The day you decide to commit to becoming a better player you will break out of the average mold. The average person will not be willing to put in the extra time it takes to be great. This is certainly not suggesting some of the "Chet Baker" ear genius people are not worthy of our admiration. This suggests that those with more choices will become not only more interesting improvisors to listen to, but also will enjoy performing more themselves.
 

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Discussion Starter #19
I should start reading some books on improvisation. I've taken the view that it's better to learn by doing. I may have to soften this approach and take a more balanced view.
 

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Discussion Starter #20
Context and motive can explain most of the really creative improvisation that anyone does. It sounds good because it relates to some other elements of the storytelling. The line doesn't have to always relate harmonically if it relates in other ways (melodically, intervallically, etc.).

Now, to touch on your modal improvisation approach -- Yes, learning scales/modes is absolutely critical. You'll need to be able to play in the character of the tune -- relating a scale/mode to the tune is step one. If you want to play what you feel, and you're feeling the tune, then you will need to be in-scale/mode.

The other thing I found useful in cultivating my ear is studying the modes (not neccesarily practicing the scales). I study the modes in relation to the parent scale i.e. :

C Ionian, D Dorian, E Phrygian, F lydian, etc.

...but also in relation to other modes of a common root, i.e.:

C Ionian, C Dorian, C Phrygian, C Lydian, ... etc.

You will quickly learn which notes matter to get in character. Then you can start picking out only the notes that are essential for character and leave the others out. Miles, et al has said (and I paraphrase) -- 'It's not about the notes you play, but the notes you leave out.'
Fantastic! Thanks a lot. And as I've gone along my current path, I'm taking note mentally, how certain modes sound great with certain other scales - I play them and then promptly forget. I should write them down as I play I guess, in the end it's just basic theory, but I'm so focused on the doing part that I completely ignore the study of theory.
 
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