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Hi,

I'm a newbie to improvising, and so far I've found that I make the right note choices when I focus completely on them. But when I do, I loose track of the beats and time COMPLETELY.

My teacher and put on a backing track, go lie down, come back and point to the bar we're on... So I was wondering what it takes to be able to do... Well, that.

Thanks for your time, any other suggestions or advice for a beginner improviser would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

Oh one last thing... Are there any exercises that helped you guys when you first began? E.g: Limiting yourself to 4 notes of the blues scale.
 

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The most important thing for me is your sound, time and rhythmic feel. And after this note choices comes in. I found it much more intressting when a player has great time and hip rhythmic ideas than a player with ok time and always plays the ''right'' notes. The metronome is your best friend to learn to get a good time feel.
 

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Grafton alto | Martin Comm III tenor
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There are two aspects to this. One is being able to hear the harmony. You need to not just learn about different types of chords and root progressions, but be able to hear and remember them. Start on a very simple level, e.g. a blues. You should be able to put a blues backing track on and wander away, then when you come back can you tell immediately whether you are hearing chord I, IV or V?

The other thing is to be able to feel 4, 8 16 and 32 bar phrases. Of course not all tunes have that kind of phrase structure, but many do and it's very useful to be able to sense 8 bars rather than having to count them.

Both of these abilities don't just arrive overnight, it can take a lot of practising over and over and over. Good luck.
 

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Just give it time. If you put enough effort in you will eventually
be able to do these things. You cannot expect to be playing like
a pro straight off, otherwise we would all be pro's, right ?

You will find the answers to these and many other questions that
newbies ask, by just doing it.

Nobody here can jump start you into playing at a level that they
have spent years developing. Be patient. Sometime in the
future you will see that what seems difficult now, is actually
quite easy after a period of training.

Do what Pete says and try to listen to the choruses as a whole.
If you are focusing on note choices that hard that you forget your
place, then you are not listening to what is happening around you.

Learn to play the changes on a guitar or piano. That helps a lot to
get the structure of a tune into your mind.
 

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One of the common tendencies for players learning to improvise is to not utilize different rhythms as much as they utilize different notes. I think it is a good exercise to try to improvise using just one pitch, but still make interesting phrases by changing the rhythms. Once you have tried this for a while, then you can tweak the process by allowing yourself to play a different note only on the very last note of each phrase. You might be surprised at how tolerable such phrases might sound.
 

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Very sound advice from harmonizerNJ.
Aeons ago, back in the mists of time, I started on Blues Harmonica...experiencing exactly the same problem, especially with a v-e-r -y s -l- o- w blues.
I was too concerned with the instrument to concentrate upon what the band was playing!
When I became so familiar with the harp that it almost did not exist, I had no problem with time keeping...it was so blatantly obvious.
Years later I took up the saxophone & the timing problem returned....I was too concerned with the mechanics of what I was doing.
You will reach a point where the playing becomes automatic...and your problem will be resolved.
People will tell you that they do not count....time keeping for them is some God given gift. This is not true...they are so experienced & so familiar with their instrument that they are not aware of counting...it is subconscious.
Follow harmonizerNJ's advice &, above all, become so familiar with your instrument that the keywork almost does not exist...you think the note or phrase & magically it will pop out of the bell.
It will happen.
 

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I absolutely agree with the posts above. Familiarity of your instrument is essential.

I am one of those blessed with good time from the get go, but there's always room for improvement. Being overly critical of something so important has led me to some effective teaching tools and some exercises that help me get my time stronger every day.

I find that my students who have trouble keeping time have other technical issues.

First, most players that are fresh in the jazz-world don't swing properly. I know this might open a can of worms, but hear me out. They swing with their fingers. What happens is that they are trying to swing so hard, and their finger movement is uneven - their brain can't process all of the information. Your fingers get wrapped up in each other and you fall out of time. Anything you play needs to be played straight and practiced in several different articulation patterns. The articulation gives it the swing. Slow scales (all keys), with a metronome and very straight. This will get you familiar with the horn, and boost your technique. Once you feel comfortable with all of this, then articulation with make you swing.

"Jazz articulation" It's counter-intuitive to what we are taught from many books (especially beginner band or learn-to-play). I have my students take their major scales and have them articulate, in eighth notes - tah, tee-aah, tee-ahh, etc. You tongue the first note and then every off-beat after that. This forces you to swing. One important way, at least to me, is practising this with the metronome beating on 2 and 4. It simulates a traditional hihat that you can lock into when you're on the stage. When you get the appropriate articulation happening, you'll stay in time and you can focus more on where you are in the form.

When I was in college, albeit briefly, one of my profs (Adrean Farrugia - killer pianist, check him out) told me to go buy a ride cymbal. I did. Just focusing on the quarter note (a la Jimmy Cobb) changed my perspective on time (and focus). I usually do this for 15-20 minutes a day. Something relaxed for about 10 minutes, and something that pushes my technique (physical and aural). I have found this to be a very worthwhile exercise.

One more thing that I get (force. lol) my students to do is sing. Any exercise, any leadsheet, any transcription - it doesn't matter. If the saxophone is an extension of our voice, we have to be good singers. I don't mean Ellas, or Sinatras, but being able to reproduce rhythm and pitch within the saxophones' spectrum. If you sing, you can internalize what you need to know without the piece of plumbing in front of your face. No distractions! Your time is naked! Take Lennie Niehaus' Basic Jazz Conception Bk. 1, sing the first exercise. I'll bet that your time gets better.

I hope that this helps.

If you have any questions, PM me.

Cheers!

Rich
 

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We all lose our place sometimes. The best players know how to find their way again in the shortest amount of time.

You should use all the tools necessary to get back on track. Listen to the chord player, recognizing which chord is sounding...listen to the bass player for roots...listen to the drummer for phrasing... Practice in the car with recordings you know very well -- blues progressions are easy. Rhythm changes should be easy too. Just count along and listen to where things are. Does the phrase start on 1, 2, 3, or 4? Which? When?

Then you have to practice listening at the same time that you play which is going to be the tougher chore, but you'll gain familiarity in increments. Do a little at a time.
 

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Try creating a rhythmic template, something simple like a half-note followed by 2 quarter-notes, and play through the changes using just this rhythm. Since you are already confident in your note choices, this should help you learn to feel the timing of the changes. As you gain confidence, either try a different rhythm or add rests. You can alternate choruses between improvising and playing strictly with the rhythmic template. With this type of practice, you should gain confidence in your ability to stay with the changes.

Randy
www.randyhunterjazz.com
Online Jazz Lessons and Books
New Lesson:
Making Sense of Jazz Improvisation
Lesson Series:
Introduction to the Blues
The Arpeggio Circle
Through the Keys
and more...
Lessons page: www.beginningsax.com/Jazz Improv Lessons.htm
Rhythm Changes Demo: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SrT0Xw_y9d0
Rhythm Changes Lesson:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tMOW7QAfpwo
 
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