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Discussion Starter #1
I am learning to improvise. I am not looking for a complex improvisation like what coltrane, or kenny garrett plays. My music is more to sweet jazz, ballad and pop as I am playing with church band.

Can anyone suggest a simple but cool way of improvising.

Heres what i do:

Sometime I am just scaling up and down, adding some blue notes like 3b or 6b. Sometime I do chromatic but having trouble finishing or starting (timing).
Sometime I just fill in the gap with 2-3 long note to sweeten the transisition between chord.

I wanna do something more complex than those but simple (doooh) and I am strugling to get them in my head. I am bad with writing too. (do i sound that terrible???:cry: )

I can say I am not pretty good with chord progression. Sometime I know the chord but I dont know what notes to play.

Can i ask you guys: if for example the chord is Dm7, what note I should start with? I know it consists of D F A C do we always have to start from the root? Cus thats what I thought.

Please help

Thanks
 

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Grafton alto | Martin Comm III tenor
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mjs10 said:
Can i ask you guys: if for example the chord is Dm7, what note I should start with? I know it consists of D F A C do we always have to start from the root? Cus thats what I thought.
No no no. That comes from learning scales that fit chords (a method I have some reservations about).

An initial method might be to assume that the chord notes should be on the strong beats, in fact if you are playing typical phrases consisting of quavers (8th note), it's useful to put the chord tones on the beat. (NB this is a very basic learning technique, not a rule). So (assuming you start on beat one of the bar - which is also not a rule) although you could have DEFGABCD, you could just as easily start on F, A or C. The problem with this is that you no long get the chord notes on the beat:

AB CD EF GA (the first 2 beats have chord notes, but the 2 nd 2 do not.

Anf if you start on the root and play downawards:

DC BA GF ED

Only the very first beat has a chord note.

It's a better method to try to fit chord tones onto the beats, and then add notes inbetween (passing notes), which can be diatonic (fitting the key or key centre) but can also be chromatic. This is obviously more complex, but a more realistic situation IMO.

You need to learn these scales, but as soon as you can (and this involves as much ear training as it does theory), try out the idea of using chord tones right on beats 1,2,3 and 4 and filling in with passing notes, using notes that are either diatonic to the key or chromatic.

A useful scale is the bebop scale. By adding one extra (chromatic) note, you actually CAN often play a scale starting on beat 1 using any note of the chord to start, and all the other chord notes fall nicely on the beat (at least with a dominant 7 chord). E.G using the chord G7:

GA BC DE FF#

DE FF# GA BC

G F# F E DC BA

Of course this is still quite a sterile approach to improvisation, but once you know you basic major and minor scales, I'd recommend learning the bebop scales, and how to add your own passing notes to other scales and arpeggios.

This is just a beginning, also listen a lot, transcribe solos and learn licks from other players as well as making up your own. Combining scales, arpeggios, licks and ornaments is the real trick. With all of this along with your theory and ear, you will be able to construct an interesting, melodic and well structured solo.
 

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Don't forget to look at Pete's excellent site (links at bottom of his post), as he has plenty superb information that covers a lot of ground.
 

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MJS10 - what do you mean by simple? A lot of music that sounds simple is actually quite complex underneath. If you mean 'easy' - a lot of people would question whether there is such a thing.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Pete thanks alot, i have a quick browse on your website, its great. I would look into those more detail later and probably i'll buy some of your pdfs.

I have copy pasted your reply and will soon try it.

Docformat, well I dont know how to put it. I want to learn something it may not be easy but simple. I am a beginner in improvising a very beginner and dont know where to start. I am learning chords, reading some articles and bought some books but still dont know where to start when I want to improvise. You are right that sometime something that sound simple like those licks i am talking about in other thread sounds simple but when I try to find out how to play those notes, i got confused.

I am a bus driver, in my bus we have a cd player, I listen do Kenny g, dave koz and spyrogyra every single day 9 hours a day. I can get those licks and phrases in my head and I always hum it all the time while driving the bus but when I got home try to apply it on the sax, I got confused again because it doesnt sound the same. The problem is I dont know which key my idols are playing and what kind of scales as they play it fast sometime.
 

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I forgot to mention, an old book but a good one is Improvising Jazz by Jerry Coker.

And I just posted a Kenny G lick on this thread you might like.
 

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Start with the melody. Then add small embellishments. A grace note here, a triplet there. Next listen for notes not in the melody that you can substitute for melody notes. Not all over the place, just here and there. Stay close to the melody. Respect it. The further along you get with your ear training, the farther away from the melody you can safely stray without losing yourself and the listener.

Listen to improvising players who play the style you want to play. Listen for licks, which are phrases that fit the harmonic context but that are not in the melody. Learn some of the licks you hear.

Take the sax out of your mouth and whistle or hum a line against a chord progression in the tune. Don't think about the chords or melody. Just try to form a line that you like. Now, put the horn in your mouth and try to play that line.

Practice playing the 12-bar blues.

Try not to let chord symbols dictate what you play. Play what you hear, and use chord symbols to tell you what the notes are that you hear.

Learn what a 9th sounds like. Play the tune from a CD and read its chart concentrating on the chord symbols. Play long tone 9ths on every chord. If the chord says b9 or #9, play the 9ths that way.

Do the same thing with the 3rd and the dominent 7th.

Get these harmonic sounds burned into your head. But keep in mind that these are only exercises to train your ear. Your objective is to be able to play what you hear. So, first, learn to hear lines by listening and humming, then learn to play it.

Space in a solo is as important as notes. Listen for places where you can leave holes.

Don't expect it to happen overnight. I've been at it for over 50 years, and I'm still learning.
 

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I think Als post says what I was getting at - that a lot of approaches are needed to produce even something that sounds simple.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
great stuff, many thanks to everyone esp pete and al for your insights and your willingness to share your knowledge.

i am trying to imporovise "amazing grace" now and i will try stick to the melody and what I am doing is I am using the same opening melody and then do something from there according to the chords in original melody. I might add C blues scale on my solo after the song.

Would you sax gurus share your thoughts on how would you improvise "amazing grace" please? I will compare to what I have. I used to play amazing grace in key of G on tenor horn, lets make it on C to simplyfy the discussion.

I hope this thread can be useful for other learners.
 

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I've played "Amazing Grace" on piano while Ira Sullivan played it on flute. He stayed close to the melody throughout. It's one of those gospel melodies that doesn't need a lot of enhancement. As I recall, he played the second chorus an octave higher than the first then played the third and final chorus in the usual range. And I believe we were in G. It's been a while.
 

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Ref Amazing Grace, listen to how a piper plays it (seriously). They almost never stray from the melody but there are embellishments - and importantly, they are in the right places.

Regarding improv. ditto most of the above. Do you know about www.jazzbooks.com? That's the Jamey Aebersold site. Download his Jazz Handbook (iunder "Free Jazz") and use it as a reference. Don't be overwhelmed by it, it's just a resource.

I would also recommend getting Aebersold's play-along and booklet vol. 1. There's a lot of info and opportunities to develop your ideas. The Coker book Pete mentioned is a little jewel. It's good to use it with the Aebersold play-along because it's well organised while the play-along's information can appear a bit random to the uninitiated. Also, unlike so many other books, it's clear and to the point and short. There are not a lot of exercises or musical excerpts so it orgnises your thinking which you can carry over to other exercise books and play-alongs.

There used to be a basic book on improvisation from Charles Colin Publ. by Bugs Bower which took a completely melodic-embellishment approach, much better for beginners IMO than being overwhelmed with scales in the beginning. I don't know if it's in print but maybe your favourite book store could track one down for you.
 

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Discussion Starter #12
Yeah I just got my horn out of my mouth hehhehehe, i do believe there is not much enhancement we can do in "amazing grace" =), I did however try to experiment doing solo using mixolydian on the first few bars like 5 6 7 1 2 3 4 4# 5 3 2 1 3...2 3 2 1# 1 6 5# 5...5 6 7 1 2 3 2 1 3 4 4# 5...5 5 5 6 1 2 3 4 3 2 1# 1 6 5# 5 ... and I got stuck again =) I was trying to include this lick but it didnt sound very nice... 1 2 2# 3 4 4# 5 3 2 1 5(low) 6 1

Any ideas please?

I've actually orederd 3 of jamey aebersold books (vol 1 - 3 about jazz improvisation) but that website you gave me is a new thing a s I never know jamey aebersold got a website so thank you very much on that.

I will have a look on those play a long books, they sound great.

Thanks heaps again.
 

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gary said:
Ref Amazing Grace, listen to how a piper plays it (seriously). They almost never stray from the melody but there are embellishments - and importantly, they are in the right places.

Regarding improv. ditto most of the above. Do you know about www.jazzbooks.com? That's the Jamey Aebersold site. Download his Jazz Handbook (iunder "Free Jazz") and use it as a reference. Don't be overwhelmed by it, it's just a resource.

I would also recommend getting Aebersold's play-along and booklet vol. 1. There's a lot of info and opportunities to develop your ideas. The Coker book Pete mentioned is a little jewel. It's good to use it with the Aebersold play-along because it's well organised while the play-along's information can appear a bit random to the uninitiated. Also, unlike so many other books, it's clear and to the point and short. There are not a lot of exercises or musical excerpts so it orgnises your thinking which you can carry over to other exercise books and play-alongs.

There used to be a basic book on improvisation from Charles Colin Publ. by Bugs Bower which took a completely melodic-embellishment approach, much better for beginners IMO than being overwhelmed with scales in the beginning. I don't know if it's in print but maybe your favourite book store could track one down for you.
I love this series (Abersold), especially since I never seem to have a pianist handy. Playing along to this CD helps a lot, and he gives good hints and tips. It's nice to have a pianist teach you jazz. It's easy to play by yourself, but throw in chords... look out!
 
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