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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
I'm doing NYSSMA this Saturday. I'm doing a jazz piece. That's not the problem. I got the music about 2 months ago and I'm totally comfortable playing it (I play alto sax by the way).

Well, only TWO DAYS AGO I found out that I have to do improv at NYSSMA as well. I didn't know that before, hence I haven't practiced it, nor am I comfortable with doing it. I've only done improv in one song (in jazz band) and even then my teacher said to just play what I wanted/what sounded okay - I didn't have to follow the keys or anything.

Well, now, for the NYSSMA improv thing, I have to do four measure cadences (a piano cd recording plays in the background).

So basically, I have the scales, and I have to improv them. The first set includes D-, G7, C(triangle), then the C(triangle) repeated.

The other one is E-, A7, D(triangle) and D(triangle) repeated.

The scales are all written out on my sheet, in a pattern of quarter note, half note, quarter note, half note, etc. I believe I have to do each set twice.

Now, my problem is that I don't know how to improv the scales... do I just play the notes that are written 'randomly', or do I play it in order adding notes inbetween? What notes can I add inbetween, and how?

I'm getting really stressed out about this.. I can't believe I didn't know about this until 2 days ago, or obviously I would have practiced/figured this out more. I was sick today, so I didn't go to school, but tomorrow I'm going to talk to my band teacher about it... he probably won't have a lot of time to explain though, so I'm hoping you guys can help me out. I don't want to go there and make a fool out of myself.

EDIT: I scanned the scale sheet so it's easier to see what I mean. The highlighted ones are the ones I have to do.

 

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Can you tell us what NYSSMA is?

The chord progressions you showed are basic II-V-I progressions, one of the most basic cadences. You will be making up melodies over these chords. Think in terms of leading the way home to the tonic chords, C tonic triad (the triangle), and D tonic triad, transposed for your instrument. If you play alto, to get C concert tonic triad (A on the horn), lead from B natural to C (G sharp to A transposed) or from F natural to E natural (D natural to C sharp transposed) across the bar line in your made up melody. Find the characteristic notes that most define the chords (third and seventh or tonic) and lead with these across the barlines in your made up melodies.
 

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Dan, NYSSMA is the New York version of the solo gradings festivals that they have for students in other states. I'm not sure what the Massachusetts equivelent is. It's used to select all state bands, etc. It's kind of a waste of time in my opinion, but it has its merits. When I was in high school I threw in an All-State audition once...the judge was a cool cat, but it wasn't really too revealing to play an easy Bird solo (very poorly now that I think about it) and improvise only two choruses on Tenor Madness.

Anyway, to the original poster. What knowledge of harmony do you already have? It doesn't seem like you have a whole lot, so doing this in a couple of days might be tricky. That said, the ii-V-I is something you need to learn sometime so why not now. Plus it isn't an incredibly difficult concept.

Try to think melodically, like Dan said. For a beginning improviser that's the key. You can play all the Bird and Trane and Dex licks you want, but you've still got to be able to think melodically as well as harmonically.

And if you don't know about transposition, make sure you're playing in the right key: If those chords are in concert key make sure you're playing in alto or tenor key. (Eb and Bb instruments repectively.)
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Sorry 'bout that, I edited the original post with a link to the NYSSMA site. Basically, we go there and play songs, and we're graded by a few judges. I also scanned the scale sheet so it's easier to see what I'm talking about. And yes, I play alto. I sort of see what you're saying.. what exactly do you mean by the tonic triad though?
 
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