Sax on the Web Forum banner
1 - 20 of 71 Posts

· Distinguished SOTW Member
Joined
·
3,968 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hey everyone! I'm going to be presenting a master class in Philadelphia next month (more details to come!) on "Taking the Fear out of Improvisation." I think a lot of beginner (and even intermediate) improvisers are often paralyzed by fear and in turn don't explore and enjoy improvisation, which can be a real shame.

I'm curious: if you have (or had) some type of hesitation or fear about approaching improvisation, what is it?

If you'd rather answer in a PM or email that's totally fine as well - I appreciate any feedback.

Thanks in advance!
 

· Registered
Joined
·
939 Posts
There's a lot to be afraid of as most players seem to fail to meet the basic criteria of playing what they can hear in their heads and instead just regurgitate cut and paste riffs and arpeggios that may fit the changes, but communicate nothing. It takes years to make the connection to your horn so that it becomes your voice. Then you also need to have something to say musically.

The attitude of "anyone can play music" like "anyone can paint ...by the numbers", may satisfy some, but self knowledge of what's real should definitely scare players who can't hear what they are playing and are just running finger memory exercises.

If the exercise is in giving confidence and helping players forget their REAL inabilities, then I guess that's OK from a psychological point of view for the health of that person's ego. If the intent is to help them make their improvisations come from within them and be real, then a short course isn't going to imbue talent, or make up for the thousands of hours that's necessary.

It's a good topic and I applaud your initiative as there is definitely a market for all sorts of instruction. You're a great player and deserve to make a living as a pro.
 

· Distinguished SOTW Member
Joined
·
3,968 Posts
Discussion Starter · #3 ·
There's a lot to be afraid of as most players seem to fail to meet the basic criteria of playing what they can hear in their heads and instead just regurgitate cut and paste riffs and arpeggios that may fit the changes, but communicate nothing. It takes years to make the connection to your horn so that it becomes your voice. Then you also need to have something to say musically.

The attitude of "anyone can play music" like "anyone can paint ...by the numbers", may satisfy some, but self knowledge of what's real should definitely scare players who can't hear what they are playing and are just running finger memory exercises.

If the exercise is in giving confidence and helping players forget their REAL inabilities, then I guess that's OK from a psychological point of view for the health of that person's ego. If the intent is to help them make their improvisations come from within them and be real, then a short course isn't going to imbue talent, or make up for the thousands of hours that's necessary.

It's a good topic and I applaud your initiative as there is definitely a market for all sorts of instruction. You're a great player and deserve to make a living as a pro.
Wow - thanks for that detailed response! I really appreciate that. Here's the basic intro I have for it:

Too often in today's culture of jazz education, beginner improvisers are paralyzed by fear as they approach improvisation. The root of this problem points to the over-intellectualization and theory-first approach many educators take in presenting improvisational concepts and ideas. This clinic aims to take that fear away by bringing the most important aspect of improvisation to the forefront: telling a musical story using the skills you already have!

I think (just as you stated) the "paint by numbers" analogy is spot on, and so many people skip creating music and try to just produce something. I believe you can make a great solo using just 1 note!!
 

· Distinguished SOTW Researcher
Joined
·
3,275 Posts
There's a lot to be afraid of as most players seem to fail to meet the basic criteria of playing what they can hear in their heads .....
Yes! I'm glad to see this topic raised, and agree with what's being said here, especially the premise of "theory-first" being taken too far. Many times a kid (or adult) will approach me and say they have to play a solo, can I give them some pointers? I usually ask who their favorite jazz musician is, and usually they're hard pressed to come up with an answer. (except trumpet players, who say Maynard Ferguson). My point is, they haven't really listened much and don't really have ideas of what they want to play. They couldn't just scat-sing something like what they want to play, the idea isn't there. So perhaps it's fear of the unknown. It's cool to watch someone stand up and play a solo, and they want to do it too, but how do you know what to play?
 

· Registered
Joined
·
4,616 Posts
I fear getting lost. If I'm sight-reading a complex tune with an unusual form, I get lost, and it's hard to find my way back.

And of course I fear hitting a clam. That's a big one that can make you lose concentration or play it too safe, resulting in a boring, predictable, un-hip solo.

So I'd discuss how to follow changes (listen to the bass player, feel 2, 4 and 8 bar phrases, recognize the bridge, etc.) and how to recover from a wrong note and make it sound right (i.e., voice leading, resolving to a chord tone, etc.).
 

· Registered
Joined
·
112 Posts
I wonder if it isn't a case of over-complicating theory rather than being theory-first, whatever that might be. It's like there has to be a fancy name for everything, dorian, mixolydian, etc. And then the way it seems to be taught these days is that there's a scale for every situation under the sun. Bebop scales, blues scales, etc., etc. Why not just tell the student what the blue notes are? That seems simpler to me. So now there are a plethora of these types of scales. No wonder this scares people off! I think educators have just made it over-complicated so they can rattle off these grand sounding names so that everyone is impressed with their knowledge, if they actually have any that's useful.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
1,690 Posts
Definitely getting lost. But especially getting lost and not being able to figure our where the END OF THE SOLO is. That is most horrible. You know that horrible feeling- "Is this the end? Am I at the end now? Should I stop soloing? If I stop soloing at the wrong spot, how will that inconvenience the other musicians? Will that mess them up? Will they hate me? Will they never want me to play with them again? It goes on and on LOL.

This should not be comfortably related to beginners or intermediate players but to all players. Pros mess up all the time and have to deal with the fear of recovering- that is if they are good pros.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
2,862 Posts
I think most improvisers fear losing their focus on absolute concert pitch. Knowing in theory and thoroughly working out every possible variation of modulation that is available to them in the moment is always daunting. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s child’s play.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
220 Posts
Seems most of my fears have been mentioned already. One helpful piece of advice I recieved is to learn to embellish the song's notes and rhythm first in a solo. The basic framework is there, just work from there till you can step farther away from the song and still be in the grove.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
5,440 Posts
If it was easy wouldn't be such an art and appreciated as such.
Every time it's exciting and a little scary.
For me it's sometimes hard to tell if my solo was cool.
Being in the moment is what it's about.
That's why it's so rewarding.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
1,623 Posts
I enjoy improvising & have gravitated toward genres where it's the norm -- namely, klezmer & jazz. I try to hear what the melody is saying, & then retell that story in a different way. I don't reserve improvisation for solo leads only; I improvise rhythm parts as well, or polyphonic riffs to support other lead players. It's not about grandstanding. It's all in service to the music: feeling where it needs to go & what it needs to express.

At jams sometimes I see guys agonizing over what note to play next, as if an improvisation could be nothing more than a sequence of "right" notes. Ideally -- maybe after a blazing epiphany or a few thousand hours on the bandstand -- they'll get to the point where improvising is spontaneous & free, like laughter.
 

· Banned
Joined
·
26,884 Posts
I don't play jazz and the times I tried to I made all the major common mistakes such as not playing the changes properly missing the turnaround etc. While I understand jazz theory in a general way and know modes, scale and chord construction pretty well (I cannot say what a tritone substitution is however) it's so damn complicated compared to playing blues and rock I just gave up on it. Having to Play notes of a certain chord at a specific moment rather than what I hear in my head and what my fingers find intuitively kills it for me and I can't get it up to even start doing it. I have tried to learn licks and all the 251 lines in book after book but I can't memorize them any more than I could the Periodic Table of the Elements in College Chemistry. I have a ton of practice exercises by eveyone and his brother but playing them requires reading, and reading kills all the spontaneity for me. And anyway why do I want to play regurgitated lines instead of something I hear or feel in that moment? Maybe I just need to play free jazz or at least some form free of such a restrictive structure.
 

· Banned
Joined
·
2,815 Posts
Without a doubt, every student (no matter what age) I've started on the road to improvisation had this as their biggest issue:

-The idea of playing.......ANYTHING.......without music in front of them. Immediately, a cold sweat starts to appear. Any concept of time/rhythm, sound, etc. ceases to exist because "my God, how do you expect me to play something without it written out"?
The first thing I now do is to have them play a song (without music....gasp) that everyone knows, unless you've been living under the worlds biggest rock. Happy Birthday. It's unique because it contains every diatonic note of the key it's being played in. It helps learning intervals because there are some common, often used ones as well as triads in the melody. I tell them no matter what, to keep the melody in their head and unless it's a complete train wreck, try to recover and continue without stopping. While some struggle, most students pick it up very quickly and it quickly gets rid of the "no music" phobia mentioned above. We start off in easy keys and work our way through at least 3#'s and 3b's. The only clue I give them is the melody starts on the 5th of the key.
Eventually, I show them how I can still play the basic melody, but start to take liberties with both rhythm and notes. All while keeping the original melody in my (and their) head. It's a very basic, yet very useful way to start giving them confidence to play and/or try to figure out a basic melody without music.
Then I progress to a simple I/IV/V blues and the sweating starts all over again.... ;-)

J.
 

· Distinguished SOTW Member
Joined
·
3,629 Posts
To really become a true improviser, once you’ve mastered the instrument, Then it is learning a thought process Whereby you do with Jerry Bergonzi refers to “intuiting.” Stan gets called it entering the alpha state of relaxed concentration. This generally requires many years of training. Do you use a completely different part of your brain when improvising then when you’re reading music. This is incredibly interesting topic.

Basically, really excellent spontaneous jazz improvisation is the tapping directly into cosmic energy.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
4,622 Posts
There was an interesting neurological study using FMRI on what happens in the brain during improvisation:

https://www.npr.org/sections/health...e-rappers-brains-shows-roots-of-improvisation

In short, you need to be able to shut down your brain that holds memory and increase the activity in parts of the frontal lobes that are involved in thought (random brain activity) and action (interpretation of random brain activity). Of course, this is a little bit a paradox because you also need to have memorized the song that you are improvising on but then you need to suppress the obvious patterns of the song.

As to what scares you most? There are many ways to put this:
a) you completely screw up, you make every possible mistake that you never made (but as long as the crowd loves you it's all good)
b) you feel whatever you do is awful (but as Kenny Werner put it: you need to be aware that every note you play is the most beautiful note that anyone could play)
Those are the two main points.

The third one and maybe even more important is that you are so enamored with your prowess at improvisation and you repeat the same old crap over and over and nobody likes it except for you.

That's death :)
 

· Registered
Joined
·
171 Posts
The scariest thing about improvisation is having to listen to improvisors who spew scales, chords, and patterns ad nauseam, at vicious tempos, making me wish I'd gone to hear a Blue Grass band instead. I'm afraid to go out and listen to improvisors anymore.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
1,002 Posts
To really become a true improviser, once you've mastered the instrument, Then it is learning a thought process Whereby you do with Jerry Bergonzi refers to "intuiting." Stan gets called it entering the alpha state of relaxed concentration. This generally requires many years of training.
This hits the nail on the head for me.
I am not in any way afraid of improvising, I just simply do not have enough mastery of my instrument, my scales, my ear, my 'relaxed concentration' (love this term btw).
I am working hard to get there, but as a hobbyist, its slow going with other life priorities.
That said, public speaking doesn't scare me, nor would playing in front of folks, if I knew my stuff better, which, I don't.
I do try though, and I do fiddle/noodle to see what sort of comes out on its own.
I have always been amazed at musicians who know no theory, and can't read music, and can improvise like crazy...I don't have that skill set either, but sure am going to try to force it in my brain!
 
1 - 20 of 71 Posts
This is an older thread, you may not receive a response, and could be reviving an old thread. Please consider creating a new thread.
Top