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I have been taking Music lessons for the last 3-4 months. My teacher has me currently going through some Jamey Aebersold Books, and trying to learn Jazz. The biggest thing he stresses is learning Jazz Vocabulary and that the improvs I hear are not necessarily composed right there, but that they are things (Jazz Vocab) that are practiced beforehand and just played at the right time. So my thing now is I am trying to get pointed in the right direction to really get a handle and understanding of Jazz Vocab and how Harmonics/Chord changes all fit in the big picture, then apply it to my playing. Hopefully then I will stop sounding like a beginner saxophonist, and sound like I actually know what I am doing. I normally just play the notes that sound like they fit aka the notes of the Key Sig (when I can actually figure it out, since I play mostly by ear).


P.S. How can I actually hear the chord changes and know what it is: ie C dim, or maybe C augmented.
 

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I think you mean harmony as opposed to harmonics.

The important thing here is to get a basic keyboard and learn some chords and chord sequences.

Start off with really simple sequences with only two or three chords, otherwise it can all get a bit overwhelming
 

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My teacher has me currently going through some Jamey Aebersold Books, and trying to learn Jazz. The biggest thing he stresses is learning Jazz Vocabulary and that the improvs I hear are not necessarily composed right there, but that they are things (Jazz Vocab) that are practiced beforehand and just played at the right time....I normally just play the notes that sound like they fit aka the notes of the Key Sig (when I can actually figure it out, since I play mostly by ear).
So learn this stuff, definitely, but don't discount your ear. An intellectual understanding of jazz harmony will make you a better musician, but your ear is what will make you a better-than-par improvisor. Good improvisation always has movement and flow, and always takes place in the moment and therefore can't be only derived from a mental understanding of the mechanics of harmony and practiced patterns. You've got to feel it. Movement and flow; where you are and where you go, and feeling your way through all that needs to be primary. Understanding jazz harmony intellectually doesn't make one a talented improvisor any more than understanding kinesthetics makes you a great dancer. In a recent interview in Jazz Times, Pharaoh Saunders said that he doesn't think about keys, scales etc. when he's playing, he just plays. He knows and understands jazz harmony better than most of us, but what comes out of his horn isn't the product of rapid-fire mental calculations of applied harmony theory.

What your teacher said; this has become the way jazz improv is taught, and as he intimated, this is not actual improvisation. It's a skilled craft somewhat akin to magic tricks, in that it appears to be something more amazing than what it is. It is not spontaneous composition, but a mechanical, left-brain skill of applying established, 'correct' melodic patterns over chords, actually requires no "ear" at all, and done proficiently, sounds quite legit.

Playing by ear means you actually hear, in your head, what you're playing as you play it in the moment. You're immersed in the music and part of it. The sound from the instrument is simply the confirmation of what you've already created. There's a HUGE difference between playing what you hear as you hear it, and playing something that you've learned will work and hoping that it does.

Debussy was famously asked what harmony theories he followed in his compositions. His response was "My pleasure!". In other words, he composed following his ear, rather than assembling components from what had been established as 'correct'. That's how he made something really new come into the world.
 

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I’m a firm believer you won’t play anything you haven’t already played. 3 or 4 months of playing is nothing. It’s like you’ve jogged around the block twice preparing for a marathon.
Transcribe solos yourself. You’ll improve drastically very quickly. It will open your ears.
Pick one or two players you enjoy and focus on them. Jazz is a language and there’s only one way to learn any language well. I realized I had learned Spanish well when I knew the colloquialisms. Immersion is the only way to do it.
 

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I think learning the language is closely tied to being able to play what is in your head. Usually what is in your head is highly influenced by all the music and players you love and they are all a part of a long history of Jazz vocabulary. To be able to identify many common moves or licks and have them internalized and understand know how they are functioning in the progression in terms of tension, release, resolution, momentum, etc. goes a long way to gaining harmonic freedom. If you can put together a functioning solo running the changes on auto pilot, it really frees your mind up to really get inside and be spontaneously creative and take risks and be moved by that energy. I am definitely a ways away from that level but I experience small steps of enlightenment in that direction.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Thanks for all the advice!
 

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Don't forget to take advantage of modern technology. A jazz playlist should be playing constantly on your music device. You'll begin to unconsciously absorb the sound so that you will "feel" what is the right thing to play - at least the right rhythms and timing.
 

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Ear players, traditionally, have had the advantage of playing 'standards' - many originally Broadway or pop tunes of the era - which were harmonically rich. By learning the melody, lyrics and form, you have a foundation for noodling around and finding those 'right' notes.

But, as someone mentioned, it's a marathon. Listen to as much as you can, get a teacher and keep learning.
 

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As Pete said, start simple. To memorize how the different kinds of chords sound, you need to compare one to another. For example, on a keyboard, play a C maj triad, then a C min triad over and over until you can immediately identify a major sound versus a minor sound. Now from that C min, flat the 5th to hear a diminished sound. Then from C maj, sharp the 5th to hear an augmented sound. Once you've mastered those, add a fourth note (7th) to hear the various dominant, diminished, half diminished, major seventh sounds. Eventually you'll start to recognize this in songs. Ultimately, you'll want to be able to identify even more complex jazz harmonies that include 9ths, 11ths and 13ths as well as all their variations (b9, #9, 13, b13, #11, etc.). It can be overwhelming, which is why you need to approach in many steps over a long period of time.

When I improvise, I don't have time to analyze a F#mi7b9b13 when it goes by in 2 beats in a 240 bpm tune. But I can comprehend that it has a Minor sound, one of the very first chord sounds I learned. And I know that emphasizing 3rds and 7ths which make one chord type different from another will outline the harmony very nicely. So I can play something appropriate.

As for patterns, those are very important to memorize in every key. You'll notice that many patterns have several notes that aren't even in the chord, scale or harmony because they have many enclosures, chromatics, substitutions or approach notes that setup the next chord. So you can't look at the chord symbol C7 and just play a CEGBb arpeggio. That would be very boring. But throw in an enclosure with an 11th or b9 or even a C diminished pattern, and you'll have a really cool sounding line.
 

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I had similar issues. Picked up bits and pieces about chords, progressions and harmony from my teacher, internet, youtube etc. I figured that if I was to take playing seriously need a good knowledge of theory. So I enrolled with Berklee on line to learn harmony. It's been five weeks into the course and enjoying every lesson. Spend about 12 hours a week per lesson with exercises and assignments. I have learned a lot about chords in this short period and hope to have a good understanding of jazz harmony by the end of 12 weeks.
I would recommend this course of action to learn jazz theory.
 

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In addition to the theory, practice is needed - hearing training is very important.
Ear training (chord and scale recognition) allows more free movement around the sounds (when playing theme, and next playing improvisation).
A good exercise that I was taught at musical school was to assign a chord to every sound of melody, another one game was naming the chord of hearing song. Right way to do it was to know (or create) what chords can appear on particular degree of a given musical scale.
I agree, as Pete Thomas mentioned about, "...the important thing here is to get a basic keyboard and learn some chords and chord sequences ...". Looking at keyboard (keys of the poliphonic instrument) visualizes the picture of chords, it facilitates the idea of harmony. An alternative way to systematize harmony in the brain is to use a guitar fretboard.
Currently, there are programs and web applications, Mac-PC or smartphone, which can help in ear training with the help of keyboard or guitar fretboard.
It's helpful to listen a lot and analyse chord progression in those songs (chords are usually or often shown in song books, exercises, cases, transcriptions, etc.). With time, even the desire to own interpretation of chord arrangement to well-known songs will come, and practice will enable this.
Time and practice - it should also work in order to move more freely around harmony, but it requires a bit of patience.
 

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You got great advice from Rhythmisking and Pete Thomas. If you wish to learn harmony seeing it on a keyboard means that you understand the pattern and shape of chords. Learning of any sort can be good and some things are "basics". You need to ask yourself where you want to go. Learning a strict "jazz vocabulary" and continuing on that path generally leads nowhere. It's easy to go to any number of venues that cater to sax (and other) players who take turns standing up and showing off their chops to an audience of those waiting their turn. There is little/no demand from general audiences to hear "standards" or a bunch of wannabees trying to show off their chops. That's rough...but it's unfortunately REAL.

The common excuse is that the jazz vocabulary is THE basis for everything. That's simply not true, it's just digging a deeper hole that over time, few seem to be able to climb out of. There are a myriad of styles of music that DO NOT use or have any desire for a "jazz vocabulary". This is the most common problem with teaching saxophone. If you were learning guitar it's unlikely that your teacher would insist that you learn to play like a great player from the 1950s (like Joe Pass) and play standards. There are thousands of styles of guitar playing and the instrument continues to develop styles and flourish. The "jazz vocabulary" nonsense is a millstone around the neck of sax players. The sax is an incredible instrument that's capable of an enormous range of sounds and inflections that are probably the closest to a human voice.

Improvisation is so much more than the jazz vocabulary. If you can play by ear expose yourself to all types of music. Why would you want to be stuck in the least appreciated and most overcrowded musical style out there? Pete Thomas has a great story about his early days as a professional and how NOT being strictly a jazz player was the key to his getting work.

Of course if you want to sound like everybody else and be playing in a style from the middle of the last century, never have a paying gig, and join the jazz night circle ...then go for it.

If your teacher can not play or teach anything else or help you develop your creativity as a REAL improviser, then IMHO it's time to find another teacher.

ROUGH, but REAL.
 

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Pete Thomas has a great story about his early days as a professional and how NOT being strictly a jazz player was the key to his getting work.
Yes, for me it was a lightbulb moment. After college (where I was taught jazz) it was a big surprise to find that all that learning was not much use if I wanted to be a professional musician. Learning to read music was useful for some work, but I had to re-learn how to actually play and improvise (outside of mainstream jazz) if I was to do the kind of session and live work that was (a) interesting and (b) actually paid a living wage.

However I do appreciate that there is this huge interest in jazz from the past and it can be highly rewarding, but it is still a small but valid part of musical history when you look at the big (or bigger) picture.
 

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However I do appreciate that there is this huge interest in jazz from the past and it can be highly rewarding, but it is still a small but valid part of musical history when you look at the big (or bigger) picture.
Speaking of the big picture.

Beyond the stylistic elements and vocabulary (whether it's jazz, blues, rock, pop, etc) there are certain musical concepts that I think apply right across the board. What makes a melody sound good? Using rhythm, melody, harmony, tension & release to build a solo and help 'tell a story.' These are universal concepts that transcend any style or genre and apply to any type of music. So studying any particular style & vocabulary can help you learn and retain many of those concepts. I think these concepts are contained in the "jazz vocabulary" as well as in the vocabulary of other genres. So studying jazz, for example, will not be in vain even if you decide to play a different style of music. Obviously you'll have to learn the vocabulary of that different style, and not try to shoehorn the jazz vocabulary in there. But the basic concepts you absorbed learning some jazz vocabulary will carry over. And I would speculate that a LOT of important musical concepts can be found in the music of the jazz greats.

Or something like that...
 

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I should probably just shut up about now as JL (as usual) has a good point. Yet I think the essence of the problem is still being skirted. Teaching of sax is way skewed compared to most other instruments that are primarily used for non-classical music. What other instrument has such an academic style of teaching that dictates a single style from the middle of the last century?

The issue isn't whether there are salvageable elements It's whether in 2019 there is a better way to teach sax. Is there a problem? Seems to me that there is when you have so many who have been taught under this system, and so few who can emerge as anything but teachers perpetuating the same problem. Once again, go to any city's jam nights and watch the sax players line up to play standards in a relatively similar fashion with the differences being mainly who has the fastest chops. Where is the creativity that moved those initiators in the middle of the last century to become different to their predecessors?

Is there anybody who REALLY believes that the current method of teaching is the best for an aspiring creative musician? Once again look around at all those other (non classical) instruments and how they are taught. Lots of forward momentum there with a myriad of styles being taught. It's an anomaly to find anyone teaching the same way sax is taught. Which group is more successful? Wake up time.
 

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Scales, modes, progressions. Keep practicing those. You'll eventually hear how everything is applied. These are all letters. They're useful when learning vocabulary, sentence structure, grammar, and eventually creative writing. It's an ongoing learning process for all of us.
 

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Is there anybody who REALLY believes that the current method of teaching is the best for an aspiring creative musician? Once again look around at all those other (non classical) instruments and how they are taught. Lots of forward momentum there with a myriad of styles being taught. It's an anomaly to find anyone teaching the same way sax is taught. Which group is more successful? Wake up time.
I'm not disputing what you're saying regarding teaching methods since I know very little about that end of it. No doubt some improvements could be made in that regard. Way back in the dark ages when I was in school, there was little or no instruction on improvisation or even music theory (although I did pick up a little theory in college); it was all reading music off the page and playing in 'band' or 'orchestra'. They did stress the need to learn scales and gain some technique on the instrument, but that was sort of implied. So I think maybe there's been some progress since that time!

I'm just focusing on the learning process, mostly for those of us who have some grasp of music theory and technique on the sax. I think it was Hal Galper that said something along the lines that everything you practice (well) will be of benefit. As SuperAction says, it's an ongoing learning process. I'm not sure you can teach the creative part. I could be wrong, but probably a teacher needs to focus on the "tools" that will be necessary to the creative process. The creative part is up to the player.

The OP was asking about jazz vocabulary and "harmonics" (I think he meant harmony), so that's where the focus is here, I think. Still, whamptoncourt, you bring up some important issues and I agree with the general trend of what you're saying; all good ideas to discuss and think about.
 

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Is there anybody who REALLY believes that the current method of teaching is the best for an aspiring creative musician? Once again look around at all those other (non classical) instruments and how they are taught. Lots of forward momentum there with a myriad of styles being taught. It's an anomaly to find anyone teaching the same way sax is taught. Which group is more successful? Wake up time.
I don't think the problem is teaching, it's what aspiring players want.

There was a phenomenon in the '60's - '70's with guitar players sounding like Hendrix. He made such a huge splash with his sound and style that it spawned a huge number of imitators. Some of them even became famous in their own right (Robin Trower, Ernie Isley, etc). The difference is that rock and roll guitar, despite some schools teaching R & R guitar technique, didn't or hasn't become academized the way jazz has. Anytime something develops it's own academic canon, that area of study then becomes static because that is the nature of acedemia. Things may be added, innovations and new developments incorporated somewhat, but the canon stays canon.

Because the mid-century jazz greats made such an impression and established what became a complex and rich theoretical academic system of harmony, that is still what young players aspire to. As a result we have a lot of modern players who have graduate degrees in music. That didn't used to be the case. In the past, if you wanted to be a great player you listened to recordings, tried to copy what you heard, and went out and tried to play with the best players you could in the area where you lived, and every area had different players and different styles which grew organically out of that place. Now if you want to be a great player, you go to Berklee, or any number of colleges with jazz studies departments. You come out with a boiler-plate 'jazz' education instead of a unique set of skills from experiential learning that was different for every aspiring player in every different locale.

The problem isn't the teaching. It's the choices young players are making.
 

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There doesn't seem to be issue with the idea that there's a problem with the way sax is taught and that it's not working for the benefit of students who want to be creative musicians. My memory and experiences with local teaching organizations (university and private teachers) is that they don't offer an option, simply because they don't know themselves how to play in other styles. Even if a learner knew that they wanted something different can they easily find a "different" teacher?

I'm even less sure that a teenage sax student would be familiar with Bird and others from that era. In what circumstance would they have heard that music? I'd be pretty sure that the influence is the other way around. Teachers encourage students to listen to and imitate "the greats". How often on this site do we hear the same thing? Copy. transpose, listen to, etc. the greats from half a century ago. What do we hear and see posted as samples of sax playing by members? Seems like mostly standards and played in the style of...

The journey towards a different destination for the sax must start somewhere. It won't happen by itself and I really can't blame the students for a teaching system they didn't devise.
 

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Get some play-alongs, or just dial some up on You-Tube. Then play along. Have fun - Explore. Rinse. Repeat. Soon enough you'll be jamming right along and feeling good about it.

Listen to the greats - You'll find there's a number of themes / licks / motif's that run through many of the classics. Pick up as many of those as you can and figure out how they fit in your play-alongs.

When you hear something you really dig, learn to sing it / hum it / whatever. Then when you get into your practice, figure it out. Then figure out how to put in context.

You've got 12 notes to work with. In any key there's only certain combinations of those notes that are pleasing to the ear. Figure that bit out and you'll always sound good if you're quick enough on your feet.

You're also only ever one note away from a "right note".

If you play a honker - play it again with authority. Keep circling back to it. The average listener will decide you're so good that they just don't get it... :)
 
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