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It seems that the received wisdom is that shedding transcribed solos is an important part of improving improvisation skills and vocabulary. I have tried this many times but always feel like I am not getting anywhere and then stop. I've tried listening to the recorded solo over and over, I've tried just playing the solo over and over, I've tried picking out phrases. But I'm not making any headway.

I am primarily self-taught, but took a lesson a few months ago with a great sax player I know down in the Caymans to get my improv skills evaluated, and his advice was (of course) that I needed more ideas and to shed transcribes solos. So I really want to try to make it work.

What successful techniques/approaches have any of you used in shedding solos to expand your vocabulary?
 

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Distinguished SOTW Member, Forum Contributor 2014
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Start with something simple and short that you really like. It use to take me a LONG time to learning a solo by ear but I was always starting with some Killer Brecker solo that was just too difficult. Some like to write down the solos and pull out bits and pieces to learn in all twelve keys. I do that to some extend but when I transcribe I'll going for feel, tone, and non-note techniques such at pitch bending, altissimo etc.

The notes are the easy part and there are tons of written transcription book but it's all the other stuff that I need. I would also suggest learning ONLY from the recording at first until you can play the entire solo from memory. Reading a solo is a hard habit to break.

I also use and app called Learn That Song to loop parts of solos - I think there are better ones but I'm use to this one.

Just my 2 cents.
 

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I can't transcribe for toffee... but I practice as I learn etudes - and, seems to me, etudes are in part, collections of fun riffs - that come with play-alongs.... transcribe the demo track, then check my understanding (or bail my self out) from the music. eg. Randy Hunters Styles and Greg Fishman etc.
fwiw, I use Music Speed Changer on android, which can loop and slow down and I use for the backing tracks anyway. I also use a cheep pair of Philips over ear Bluetooth headphones so that the sax and the music balance quite well without too much volume.
 

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It takes about 3-4 weeks of heavy shedding a lick to have it begin to show up in natural ways in your improv. Take a lick, any lick, from a transcribed solo (or somewhere else), and play it in all 12 keys and all octaves. Play it every day.

After a week of this, try to work it in into the 1st 2 or 4 bars of a blues, then freely improvise the rest of the chorus. The idea is to learn to lead in to the lick while improvising, and learn to use the lick as a launching pad for the next phrase; having it be in a particular location at the top of the chorus keeps you on track. Of course, keep working the lick as an exercise in all 12 keys (or is it 15? Gb and F# aren't really the same key...)

After a week of this, try putting the lick into a different tune, and put it in different spots. Also, continue to work the blues improvisation, but do it in all 12 keys! Of course continue the lick exercise as maintenance.

That should get you started on internalizing the lick.

I remember showing a lick I came up with to Bishop Norman Williams one night at a gig (we both played at The Scene a lot, and the leader, Tommy Smith had a big band we played in on Sunday afternoons). Next week at the big band gig, he stood up for a solo, kicked me, and proceeded to play the snot out of that lick, using it as a jumping off point for all kinds of stuff. My original lick was on major triads with a leading tone into the third, descending by minor thirds - in other words, a diminished scale lick. Bishop took it apart, and played the basic triad lick all over the place, ascending and descending, by 1/2 steps, whole steps, minor thirds, major thirds, and fourths. Basically kicked my ***. But it taught me how to practice a lick :)
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Thanks to all for the advice


It takes about 3-4 weeks of heavy shedding a lick to have it begin to show up in natural ways in your improv. Take a lick, any lick, from a transcribed solo (or somewhere else), and play it in all 12 keys and all octaves. Play it every day.

After a week of this, try to work it in into the 1st 2 or 4 bars of a blues, then freely improvise the rest of the chorus. The idea is to learn to lead in to the lick while improvising, and learn to use the lick as a launching pad for the next phrase; having it be in a particular location at the top of the chorus keeps you on track. Of course, keep working the lick as an exercise in all 12 keys (or is it 15? Gb and F# aren't really the same key...)

After a week of this, try putting the lick into a different tune, and put it in different spots. Also, continue to work the blues improvisation, but do it in all 12 keys! Of course continue the lick exercise as maintenance.

That should get you started on internalizing the lick.
Yeah, I definitely bite off too much each time. I like this approach.
 
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