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I've been hitting the shed really hard lately, and in the last couple months I've vastly expanded my jazz vocabulary for improvising. I know tons of patterns and i have a lot of ideas, but when I play back recordings of myself, something is just "not happening" so to speak.

I have all the building blocks for a great solo under my fingers (or so I think). I know I can swing, and people tell me I sound really good, but I have trouble putting it all together into a solo that is energetic and really goes somewhere from start to finish.

Obviously I'll continue transcribing and expanding by vocabulary for years to come, but in the meantime, what can I work on to make my solos really say something meaningful? I would appreciate any of your thoughts. Thanks!
 

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I tried for some years with patterns and this no seems to do the work for me. But, I discovered Jerry Bergonzi´s books "Inside Improvisation" and these are the ones, for sure!!!! And lately "Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization" by George Russell (RIP) are the mainly source of my improvisation vocabulary. Just my humble opinion.
 

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Obviously I'll continue transcribing and expanding by vocabulary for years to come, but in the meantime, what can I work on to make my solos really say something meaningful?
I think that's your problem right there. For your solos to say something meaningful, you have to have something meaningful to say. Jazz musicians are especially prone to overthinking things, working solely on technique and theory and forgetting to work on the, for want of a better word, artistic side of things.

Technique and theory are important but it's also important to spend time figuring out how to play something worth listening to. Solo over one chord and focus on the melodic line, play something pretty. My background is in the blues which is a good way of dealing with this issue - it's much more about feeling and passion than it is raw technique and searing licks. Go out and live life - you're not going to have anything worth saying if you have no personal experience to draw upon. It's not going to come by copying what other people have said :)
 

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id have to agree with tmuraoka in that conviction might probably be the next step. here are also a few videos that ive watched that kinda got me really thinking over. both views have very valid points, but bottom line is that you have the knowledge, youre just looking for "your sound."

http://www.youtube.com/user/JazzVideoGuy#p/search/0/UYLLlpBpnlI


I like Bill Evans concept that a musician spends years learning their technique only to forget it so that it becomes second nature.
 

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I like Bill Evans concept that a musician spends years learning their technique only to forget it so that it becomes second nature.
Yep. I've felt for a long time that learning to play music is like learning to speak a language. Once you get fluent, you're not thinking about vocabulary or grammar, you just talk, and I think the aim should be the same for music, you just play.
 

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It sounds to me like you should stop transcribing, playing patterns and the rest of that. I would imagine you have all the finger movements down for a lifetime of study.

Stop thinking about what you are playing and listen only to what others are playing and fit in with that. Lewt your subconcious mind control your fingers. You may find letting go of the need to sound good to be more difficult than learning to sound good.
 

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Usually, when I have students at this level, I find it helps to have them write out a solo. I ask them to use all the ideas and concepts they have down and to write out the best solo they can. The next lesson we look at it and play through it. I offer my suggestions on how it could be better. I have had many students tell me they have learned a ton through that process on how to build and compose a great solo.


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Improvisation is an art form, a means of expression. The real artist plays what he hears in his head at the instant it it happens, it isnt preplanned or memorized. You need to be technically proficient on your horn to the point that you can play whatever you hear in your head. All the books and methods are just mechanical actions. Obviously you need to know the chords, but the real music happens when you start playing what is in you within the chord framework. There is no" by the numbers" system that will help you. That is just part of the mechanical actions. In a nutshell: learn to play what is in your head, learn the chords and then improvise.
It is so very simple, but to be good is a lesson in self-discovery.
 

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i'm gonna say this from the perspective of being BEHIND your skill level...
2 months? really? a couple months to "vastly expand" your vocabulary? i might be wrong, but it sounds like you've put a lot of effort into learning a lot of licks, but i doubt that a couple months is long enough for (all of) them to become a part of your vocab, useable in situ. i'm getting the image of a student gobbling up (literary) vocabulary lessons then, after accomplishing a pile of vocab/definition tests, wonders why they can't speak with eloquence using such vocab.
in every student's language classes, they go through a great deal more "vocabulary" material than they EVER end up employing in their speech/writing. in order to use the vocab in fluent speech (kinda like improv), the brain has to be able to pre-access the word/phrase in an instant and know how/when to use it. this requires practice using the vocab. developing the USE of the vocab.
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personally, i think you are doing just fine (from your post). i just think you may be expecting development to come much faster than it does in real life. i don't mean that as a discouragement, but to encourage towards patience and perseverance. give your brain/ear time to develop - lots of time. that includes developing improv lines/melodies.
 

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Obviously I'll continue transcribing and expanding by vocabulary for years to come, but in the meantime, what can I work on to make my solos really say something meaningful? I would appreciate any of your thoughts. Thanks!
A lot of what did it for me was just getting out and playing. Go to jam sessions, set up jam sessions etc. But what some other people have said is right, you cant try to force a 'meaningful solo'. Your best material may come on nights when you aren't thinking about what notes to play. Also, all the patterns you've been practicing will start to naturally come into your playing over time. At least that's what happened with me. Michael Brecker used to say it took months and months to get new material into his playing and depending who you are that may be the case.

Keep shedding, mix up your practicing every now and again, and dont forget to get away from the horn and for that matter music altogether every once in a while.

This might help might not, but this is what I've learned in 12 years of playing
 

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Instead of playing building blocks, play what you feel, play what you hear, play what you imagine, play what you love. Good building blocks will serve you well, but you have to do something with them.
Nobody forbids combining your ideas and ready-made blocks; for example, you start 4 bars of a prepared block, take its last note as a starting point for your next idea, end it on some note; and start the next finished block from it. In a way, your own story with quotes.
 

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There is a lot of great advice here already; especially the writing out a solo. This is great as it helps with a lot of concepts. Specifically melodic line development. This is the more helpful practice specific approach.

On another note...
You almost need to define what you mean by “meaningful” though. Who are you listening to? How much are you listening? Are you just listening to saxophonists? How much are you playing with other musicians? When you do how much are you listening to them? How much do you hear over the music?

Sometimes it’s not a matter of the technique, but can you hear yourself playing the notes and patterns over, not just the changes but, the tune. When you go to learn a tune, listen to multiple versions. You get an idea that there are different things to say, and people thought different things when they were playing together. Example: “All the things you are” Joe Henderson from State of the Tenor. Before you listen to this one find another few versions and then listen to this one. Rhythmically, there is a lot of feel to it that doesn’t translate in a lot of other versions. Nothing against them, but Joe said what Joe wanted to say.

I also would suggest looking into Hap Galper’s book Forward Motion and perhaps checking into some of his videos of masterclasses from YouTube. I found the book first, but at least one of the videos talks about the type of thing you are mentioning. Hope it helps.
 
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