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Let me just start by saying I'm mainly into jazz and, although I'm a novice on the saxophone (tenor), I've been taking a few stabs at jazz improvisation on the guitar and clarinet to no avail. Yeah, it's a long and treacherous road and I know very well if instant gratification is what you're after you're in the wrong genre.

Everyone's heard the proverb "The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones" (at least in one form or another). The problem is I don't see any small stones at all. Just this huge, intimidating mountain that stops me dead in my tracks. I know a bit of theory, I can harmonize the major and minor scales no problem, I know the standard key signatures like C, G, D, A, E and F, Bb, Eb (working on the rest), familiar with the modes and how they work (don't think they have much application in standard bebop), and so on. I don't know that much about jazz harmony to be honest, I'm familiar with the 2-5-1s, extensions, non-diatonic chords, modulations but I don't really know any standard progressions.

I don't have that much problem improvising though. I can come up with some lines and I try to be a bit bold when playing, but it's' not jazz at all. It may lack coherency but it's not completely aimless. I've been learning John Coltrane's solo on Blue in Green on my sax these past few days and apart from the quick runs he does I have it mostly down. I haven't really worked through the theory of it but I don't think Blue in Green is the best introduction to jazz theory. I've also been learning Dexter Gordon's solo on "Guess I'll Hang my Tears Out to Dry" and I've been having a lot of fun with those two.

I simply can't get into the thinking process. I don't really want to always be on top of the changes and precisely what notes I can use, and then finding out what notes have what purpose. Like if I play an F# over this Emin7 and hold it over the next chord Gmaj7(add11) I am moving from playing a major 9th to a major 7th, and that = good!. I find that incredibly depressing. I've been reading some of the threads here and it seems most of you don't do this but instead a combination of knowing the theory and just playing. How exactly can you combine the two (seemingly) contradictory schools of thought? By sporadically ignoring the harmony? I don't really understand.

Not sure if anyone is willing to read my ramblings but I hope someone can offer advice. I'm sure I'm not the only one who is totally lost.
 

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Grafton alto | Martin Comm III tenor
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Start writing some tunes. Find some chord sequences to existing standards and write new melodies. Composition is slow improvising. Improvising is speeded up composition.

Another thing to do is write some melodies, either at the keyboard or by just noodling on your horn. Then harmonise them. See how many different chords can fit those melodies.

If all of this seems to be a weird way compared with the conventional way to learn (transcribing etc), I'm suggesting it because you seem to know the conventional method, and it isn't quite doing it for you. Everyone's brain has different preferences for the way things sink in, so taking a different approach may work.

It's good that you "get" why modes have little use in standard bebop.
 

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1. Know all your keys inside and out. (I know you are working on this...but you really need to master this before you move on)

2. Transcription is the key!!!!! Personally, I think that learning whole solos is very important, but at your current level I suggest transcribing little chunks of things that catch your ear. This will build your vocabulary quickly and challenge you with a variety of progressions.
 

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Well, I think solos should ideally be played out of being inspired to do it and not to mainly just go through the motions with things like theory in mind.

I think most of the great players I have heard and met (and these include some unknowns) tend to have instincts for certain things and trust their instincts and play off their instincts rather than following a paint by numbers mailing it in way of playing.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Start writing some tunes. Find some chord sequences to existing standards and write new melodies. Composition is slow improvising. Improvising is speeded up composition.

Another thing to do is write some melodies, either at the keyboard or by just noodling on your horn. Then harmonise them. See how many different chords can fit those melodies.

If all of this seems to be a weird way compared with the conventional way to learn (transcribing etc), I'm suggesting it because you seem to know the conventional method, and it isn't quite doing it for you. Everyone's brain has different preferences for the way things sink in, so taking a different approach may work.

It's good that you "get" why modes have little use in standard bebop.
Thanks, this seems like a viable method. I'm going to try it out soon. I guess it is sort of difficult if you don't actually know the ins and outs of jazz harmony but what better way to learn than to experiment? I have actually come up with a few jazzy chord progressions before but very few of them have any real heads (and even then I don't really know the theory, I just used my ear). Maybe another good method would be to take some established melodies and reharmonize them. Thanks for the ideas guys.

PS: @saxpiece: I was not learning those two ballads simply because I felt I had to, I learned parts of them on clarinet a few months ago and since those two are among my favorite ballad performances I decided it would be a good idea to start with those on y'know, tenor sax.
 

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Grafton alto | Martin Comm III tenor
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Thanks, this seems like a viable method. I'm going to try it out soon. I guess it is sort of difficult if you don't actually know the ins and outs of jazz harmony
Trial and error can be great here. Once you understand the concept of chord tones on a strong beat, and passing notes to go between them, you can experiment by just taking one note and trying diferent chords against it on a keyboard.

e.g. say you have a G in the melody and you are in the key of G, obviously a G chord will fit nicely (though in most cases not a a Gmaj 7). But so will a Am7, A7, C maj7, Eb maj7, Bb6, Em7, D11, Ab maj7, E7 b10 (or #9), B7+ and so on.

All you need know is the construction of the chords, not the ins and outs of jazz harmony. But having found a chord, whether it's a simple diatonic or something more chromatic, it will invite you to think about the next chord with the next strong melody note, and this will force your brain and (better still) ears, to do some voice leading. It's along journey, and this is just one (slightly left field) method that I found helpful in getting my rather strange brain to tackle the issue.

(NB: this is more composition than impro, but as I said, composition is just slowed down impro)
 

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PS: @saxpiece: I was not learning those two ballads simply because I felt I had to, I learned parts of them on clarinet a few months ago and since those two are among my favorite ballad performances I decided it would be a good idea to start with those on y'know, tenor sax.
Sometimes I have trouble working out what the question was about.

I thought you knew the nuts and bolts of Jazz theory but wanted to move on from that.

That's why my post focused on performing with inspiration.

I once read an interesting article about Charlie Parker by a Swedish Trumpet player who toured with Charlie in Sweden.

He said Charlie had some nights where he was off and the local Swedish sax players would have played much better than Charlie but then Charlie had some nights when he was on and it was apparent why Charlie had the reputation he had or still does.
Charlie knew the same theory and had the same technique on the off and on nights.

This is where the theory only goes so far and inspiration and other things are the rest and it is also undefinable how some players can have this ability and others can't and the same goes for any other field.

Anyone can learn theory and practice and they are the easy part of music.
Having instincts for certain things in music like soloing or composing or inspiration is another thing and some of it can be learned but a lot of it can't.
 
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