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Is this something that one teaches or is it supposed to be intuitive/picked up during the course of practicing? Are there books and exercises that help teach how to improvise? I really want to get better at this because I want to play more jazz. Thats why I started playing sax to begin with.
 

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There are many resources for improvisation.....

There are many resources available in the subject of jazz improvisation. Countless books have been written to deal with improv. Really, one of your best resources is the Jamey Aebersold series. If you know absolutely nothing about improvising, I suggest picking up Volume 1 and 3 to start with. This will help you develop some basic skills at understanding chord progressions, and it will also give you some basic appropriate language.

Transcriptions are still, and will always be, regarded as one of the most effective ways to learn how to improvise. For beginners, trying to transcribe jazz solos directly from the recording may be a daunting task, so I often recommend beginning with a transcription book that you may purchase at a local store, such as the Charlie Parker onmibook. Then, buy the recordings that accompany these solos. Learn to play along with the recording, and try to memorize the solos. As this becomes more comfortable, take a few of the patterns from the Parker solos (one or two measure ideas at a time), and play them over the appropriate keys in the Aebersold volume 3.

These steps will get you well on your way to learning how to improvise. Depending on where you live, you may have several saxophone instructors in your area who can also help you tremendously! Good luck to you, and let me know what else I can do to help!
 

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LJ said:
There are many resources available in the subject of jazz improvisation. Countless books have been written to deal with improv. Really, one of your best resources is the Jamey Aebersold series. If you know absolutely nothing about improvising, I suggest picking up Volume 1 and 3 to start with. This will help you develop some basic skills at understanding chord progressions, and it will also give you some basic appropriate language.

Transcriptions are still, and will always be, regarded as one of the most effective ways to learn how to improvise. For beginners, trying to transcribe jazz solos directly from the recording may be a daunting task, so I often recommend beginning with a transcription book that you may purchase at a local store, such as the Charlie Parker onmibook. Then, buy the recordings that accompany these solos. Learn to play along with the recording, and try to memorize the solos. As this becomes more comfortable, take a few of the patterns from the Parker solos (one or two measure ideas at a time), and play them over the appropriate keys in the Aebersold volume 3.

These steps will get you well on your way to learning how to improvise. Depending on where you live, you may have several saxophone instructors in your area who can also help you tremendously! Good luck to you, and let me know what else I can do to help!
Great post LJ............thanks.
 

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In addition to the excellent resources already posted, I would suggest starting out by just trying to play by ear some of the songs you already have in your head. Get them down in one key and then practice playing the same song starting on different notes. All of the chords, scales and theory are very important to learn, but the essence of improvisation is playing (without printed music) what you hear in your head.

If you already have a command of the geography of your instrument which is the major and minor scales and arpeggios in all 12 keys, then you have the skills that will make learning to improvise fun and easy. If you are not at this level yet, it would be a great goal to set for yourself.
 

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What worked in helping me develop jazz improv was to play the blues scale along with a bassline accompaniment, and try to work something out that sounded good.

From there, try adding in more notes to your playing that arent part of the blues scale, such as playing C-D-E flat instead of just the regular notes, C-E flat.

Going from there, you'll eventually work something out that sounds good. Improv's basically just knowing the right notes, and making a tune out of it.

P.S, the blues scale is - C, E-flat, F, F-sharp, G, B-flat, C
 

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Othello3 said:
Is this something that one teaches or is it supposed to be intuitive/picked up during the course of practicing?
Both.

Something that one teaches = books, lessons, etc.

Intuitive/picked up during the course of practicing = listening, ingesting, copying.
 

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Check out Hal Crook's book, "How to Improvise." I wish I'd had this when I started out, and just looking through its more streamlined version, "Ready, Aim, Improvise," (which I think works better for teachers or students who already have some idea what's going on) helped me to conceptualize an efficient approach to practicing better.

Actually, I wrote a response to a young kid from Chicago on a myspace forum a couple years ago, and I saved it because I thought I might use it somewhere else. Here you go:

Posted: Nov 15, 2005 12:57 AM


**********Wrote:
You almost have to transcribe yourself.



Yeah, but without the "almost!" When I was having trouble negotiating Giant Steps without sounding like a retarded robot, one of my teachers said, "Look, dumbass, you're going about it all wrong. Every day this week, you're gonna sing a few choruses and record it. Then you're gonna take the one you did the day before your lesson, transcribe the solo and come in here ready to blow it." That helped me a lot, because it freed me from the "constriction" my mind placed on me with regard to the changes.

When I started learning to improvise, I'd say I learned the same way most people did, and now I think I wasted a lot of time doing it that way. I started out in jazz band in high school, unable to read changes, and not knowing anything about theory, harmony or melody. My one saving grace was that I really listened to music (as opposed to having it playing in the background) and I had a good ear. Pretty much right away I could take a blues solo that wouldn't embarrass me as a 14-year-old. You know, I learned some blues scales and I knew my major and minor scales and went from there. Later I learned about arpeggios and whatnot, but it didn't help me much with coming up with a good solo. When I told my teacher I wanted to learn jazz and go to music school, he told me to grab an Omnibook and start shedding that stuff to get the sound of bebop in my head. Later I started transcribing stuff, and the harmony classes in college explained a lot about the thought process to me.

Anyway, the thing is, there's only so much you can be taught off the printed page about improvising, and other people have said more than I can, and said it better. So, for starters, I'd recommend that you buy "Ready, Aim, Improvise, " by Hal Crook. If I were starting out today, I'd work from that book from day one.

Also, get a knowledgable teacher. Make sure they're experienced players: look at their bio, because they can probably "wow" you pretty easily just by pushing a lot of buttons, but the bio will tell you what experienced pros they've been able to "wow."

Now, to get better, you've gotta do it, love it, see it and basically overall jones on it.

Step one, join the jazz band at school, get some guys together to jam, find the local blues, jazz, bluegrass, afro-death-neo-classical-J-pop jam session and go sit in if they let you. You have to do it and hear people who are more experienced do it. Pick their brains, listen to what they say and what they do and learn everything you can.

You gotta have the love for this music, man, or you're not gonna work on it like it needs.

Whenever you can afford to go see some of the badass world class cats that come through Chicago, go do it. There's no substitute for the live experience, and if you're lucky, most of these guys are pretty chill, and you can go pick their brains, too. You can learn as much as if not more from going to a great show than from hitting the shed.

When I turn off the music going into my head, I got my own jukebox that keeps playing inside there. Sometimes I just hear a tune (usually whatever I last heard gets stuck), but usually I've just got an improvised thing going unconsciously. I think most musicians are like this, with whatever they do on the brain all the time. That's the jones that won't leave you alone.

I'm serious, if you do this stuff, you will find out everything I could tell you and more. Personally, I think that music is communication, and many of the ideas can only be poorly translated into English, so you have to learn to hear them, then to identify them, understand them, and finally express them in their own language.

Also, learn your scales and chords and stuff. The Joe Viola books "Technique for the Saxophone: Volumes 1-2" are good to help you with that, but mainly you just gotta practice. Knowing your way around the horn is a huge asset. On another thread, I think Douglass said that all the great players are nasty classical cats, too, and that's because the technique that comes from classical study lets you express the music that's in you freely. Think about it less as building technique and more as knocking down the barrier between you and your instrument. Kenny Werner wrote a great book called "Effortless Mastery" that might help you with some conceptual stuff. It's not about the actual mechanics of improvisation like the Hal Crook book is, but it's like "meta-improvisational" or "meta-musical" information that will help you play better.

The Hal Crook is the best investment you can make for this, man. Drop the $40 and buy it. He's got 2, but they're essentially the same: "Ready, Aim, Improvise" spells things out a little more and has more examples than "How to Improvise." Anyway, I'm tired of writing and I have an early morning, so it's bed time. Thanks for the kind words.

Dan
 

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Othello3 said:
Is this something that one teaches or is it supposed to be intuitive/picked up during the course of practicing?
Only by practicing the appropriate things. You need to develop the skill sets (musical and instrumental) that go into successful improvisation. This takes considerable time and effort. See Tim Price's list of things you ought to know at the pro level. Try not to be too intimidated by the length of the list. The real question is how/what to practice. Remember that we can only practice one thing at a time. Patience and focus are the keys. The guidance of a good teacher is invaluable.
 

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David Liebman spoke at last year's Aebersold workshop. I paraphase some of his remarks: Some years ago Jamie Aebersold called me and asked if I would like to teach at a jazz clinic. I immediately said, "sure." When I got off the phone, I thought to myself, "What's a jazz clinic? I know what jazz is. A clinic is something in a hospital". I had no idea you could teach this stuff.
 

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Othello3, all of the above are the best resources available but remember listening is the most important component of becoming an improviser. You must learn to play by ear as well as learning theory. Remeber: idolization, emulation then innovation. Learn your axe learn the music then forget about all that and just play. Also, start transcribing sooner rather than later. Even if it takes you a week to write out (figure out) one chorus it's worth the struggle. First off it will become easier as you practice it, second, if you're
checking out the saxophone greats you will be "walking in their footsteps" so to speak. This will be great for your ears, your mind and your saxophone playing. The goal is not to become a clone but to strengthen your own ideas.
Oh yeah getting a great teacher would help.
 
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