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4507 Views 23 Replies 19 Participants Last post by  altobeginner
I have been playing for seven years, which probably doesn't make me a beginner, but I have been taught by several different teachers and none of them have really taught me improvisation. They mostly tell me to just "do it" and it will work out but then I go to an audition and I am told to work on my Jazz vocabulary. So my first question is, what is a Jazz vocabulary?:treble:

I uploaded a couple videos of me playing and I was wondering if somebody could watch them and critique me on how I could do better..don't worry about sparing my feelings, I really want to know! You can comment on youtube or post it back here, it doesn't matter. Here is the link:

Okay, one more thing: I am going to be attending a music intensive program this summer and I need to make a "Musical Resume" Can someone tell me what it is and what I should include on it?


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Wish I could do as well but try standing on the floor. Standing on the wall makes me dizzy.
Hey SaxGirl,

Good job, you're well on your way. You seem very young, yet your playing isn't timid, and you're getting your ideas out of your horn. That's more than most players your age can say.

As far as advice, I'd encourage you to continue to listen to recordings of players you like and do your best to emulate their tone, phrasing and ideas. This is a lifelong process. "Vocabulary" just refers to the set of melodic/harmonic ideas or "licks" a player has acquired. Again, this is a lifelong process. On a more technical note, pay close attention to your time when playing. I heard moments where it seemed you rushed ahead of your accompaniment.

Nicely done
Forgot to add: If you want to learn/pursue improvisation skills, I'd recommend getting a teacher who'll teach you. They can be really helpful in pointing you in the right direction.
Nice job SaxGirl.

Like everyone will say, find some good reference recordings of this tune, and listen on heavy rotation :)

This is one way of building your vocabulary, the other way is to copy some transcribed solos (try the parker omnibook, available at all good stores, and gathering dust on most of our shelves)

The omnibook is great for getting down some fast bebop licks which would help you a lot. I did a version of this tune on youtube a few weeks ago, and I just played it by ear, but certainly used a Parker riff here and there.

Try improvising over a slower tune, I find ballads easier (though some find them harder) because it is easy to trip over yourself in a fast blues like this

Good luck, I gave you 5 stars to help you on your way!!

(BTW there are some idiots on youtube, so be warned)
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Yes, if you want to learn vocabulary, you need to listen to real jazz musicians and copy their ideas/patterns/licks. Within these phrases are the elements of what make jazz sound like jazz. It's easy to tell a beginning improviser because all they play are scales and arpeggios. They don't know anything else yet. You need to see how the masters move beyond basic scales to create interesting jazz melodies and that can only be done through listening and transcribing (or transcription books if you want somebody else to do the work). You should also learn music theory so that you can understand exactly what's going on and why it works.

These are things where a good teacher comes in hand. A good teacher can teach you technique no matter what genre they specialize in. You don't just learn jazz improv by "doing it" with nothing else guiding you. A teacher with a jazz sax background can set you on the right path and teach you what you need to know about improv. When I was in college, I had classical sax lessons and jazz sax lessons.
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old git said:
Wish I could do as well but try standing on the floor. Standing on the wall makes me dizzy.
I read this before watching the video, and even after watching it, it took me some time to figure out what you meant. ("She looks like she's standing on the floor to me o_O" "Oh...")

At any rate, I'll second the fact that listening to experienced performers and even better: watching their videos will give you more to work with when you're playing. I'm trying to learn improv myself, and I've found that some of my best sessions are soon after I've listened to some great jazz.

I just noticed they have a YouTube tag for posts... testing:

edit: Hey, that's really cool, cept there's something that's keeping it from playing. :x
crazydaisydoo said:
The omnibook is great for getting down some fast bebop licks which would help you a lot. I did a version of this tune on youtube a few weeks ago, and I just played it by ear, but certainly used a Parker riff here and there.
Not to derail the thread, but I see you exchanged YouTube comments with Sparky Koerner. He's great isn't he. I used to play a lot with his son who is also one hell of a trumpet player.
Hey Liz, great job overall on this recording. You've got a strong voice, good solid tone and some nice musical ideas starting to form. I second the comment that having a good teacher is important, although in a pinch this kind of remote "tech support" can help. Before I continue, I want you to understand that any criticism here is not intended in any way to make you feel bad or discouraged... quite the contrary. Any advice or suggestions are intended to identify areas that could be improved to take your playing to the next level. All players have a "next level" available to them, even the greatest players in the world. This is what makes playing the horn so fun -- there's always something to work on.

SO... getting into specifics.

The first thing to think about when soloing is how time and note choices fit together. To execute a great solo is to combine these elements in a strong, interesting and comprehensible way. Our ears naturally gravitate toward strong and weak beats and notes. If you listen to something simple like a major scale, these strong and weak notes are very apparent. In a C major scale, the B pulling to the C is the strongest, F to G is second strongest, D to E is third and so on. Every chord is surrounded by these leading tones a half step away in either direction. So, a C major chord can be lead to by 6 different notes, each with it's own character. Steve Neff (Nefertiti on here) has a series of exercises he wrote that I highly recommend that exploit all of these possbilities.

So, now you have a way of getting to the chord, the next is knowing WHEN to get to the chord. Timing of phrases is super important, because you need to be aware of strong and weak beats, just like strong and weak notes. A strong beat is a down beat and the strongest of all is the first beat of the measure. Starting a phrase on a strong beat is something almost all inexperienced jazz players do, because it seems logical. It's how we practice scales, it's how etudes start, etc. The problem is that it makes a weak phrase in jazz. If you listen to the greats, especially how they start phrases, you almost NEVER hear them start anything new on a strong beat, unless it is for a very specific effect. Once you realize this, everything starts falling into place. And, if you combine the strong/weak NOTE choices with phrasing this way, your playing will take a quantum leap forward. A good technique to work on this is to start major scales on the AND of four, with the leading tone. So, B, C, D... etc. You will hear how strong and weak notes/beats line up, except at the very end. You can add in the flat 7 to make the pattern work better, so in C the last three notes would be Bb, B, C. You can add other leading notes in as long as you keep the weak/strong pattern going.

When you are playing, I hear a lot of sustained notes that cross bar lines and chord changes. When you pick a note to hang out on, it can be really cool if it is a note that resolves to the next chord. But, in the blues, there are not a whole lot of these that work, and doing so is kind of cliche. If you want to set up something that crosses chord changes, find a simple phrase that you can repeat across different chord changes. You hear great blues guitarists do this all the time. Experiment with these 3 and 4 note patterns and you'll find some cool things that work in any blues key, and even on standards sometimes. In terms of general phrasing, think in terms of 8 bar segments. Your phrasing tends to consistently be 4 bars long, which is fine, but longer ideas will by force be more developed.

In terms of saxophone stuff, you have a good base tone. One thing you should look at is how much diaphragm support you are giving your sound. You want to make sure that you're breathing from low in your stomach as opposed to the upper part of your lungs. The difference is, when you breathe in, your tummy should rise, instead of your shoulders. Then, when you push the air out, the muscles of your stomach are flexed, like you are doing a sit up. There's no "huuuuuhhhhh" sensation, it's more like deflating a tire "tssssssssssssssssss!!" where there is a lot of pressure and control. Another thing I hear in your tone is heavy emphasis on the fundamental. What this means is that of the harmonic spectrum that composes a note (Google overtone series), you are unconsciously focusing on the lowest notes in the "stack" -- which makes your tone more compact and less vibrant. This will also keep you from executing altissimo because that depends on having the ability to "activate" those higher partials of a note. A way to begin developing a richer, more resonant sound is to practice playing notes without the octave key. Try playing a C scale all the way up to high C without using the octave key at all. Once you master this, try just playing random notes without it. Next, try playing a low Bb, then make it an octave up, and then push it higher to F. Evetually, you'll be able to play "bugle calls" with nothing but lip and diaphragm. A teacher would be especially helpful when you get into this. From that point, your tone will be way better, and altissimo will be a piece of cake.

One other saxophone-specific thing... your articulation is focusing on strong beats. You should practice breath accenting the off-beat notes, as well as understanding syncopated articulations like Cannonball used (lots of groups of three). Listening is key here. Even though he played tenor, check out Dexter Gordon. He has some of the most eloquent and accessible phrasing of anyone out there.

Lastly, I wrote an article on here a while ago about the "swing limit" -- and you definitely want to check it out. You're doing a great job at this tempo, and you're not playing a bunch of extraneous notes, but the desire to do so is almost inescapable for sax players, especially those with good technique. (guilty as charged here!). A rule of operation is to be very selective about what you play. This includes notes, rhythms and inclusion of space between phrases. A great player like Miles Davis or Paul Desmond was almost known more for what they didn't play, as opposed to what they did play. They both used space and simplicity to an amazing degree. If you say something great, give time for it to sink in. This is another thing you'll find with all great players.

I know this is a lot to digest, but if you can work through it, these are all the keys you need to get on the road with basic jazz improv. From there, it's learning jazz harmony, rhythmic expansion, and how to get around on your horn.

Great job, and keep up the good work.
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Try singing lots of nonsense (ie scat) along to all your favourite jazz tunes, or indeed to any tunes at all. Make up your own melodies and phrases - the more outrageous the better. This encourages the concept of coming up with ideas on the fly, which of course is what improv is all about. Listen to singers like Billie Holliday and of Louis Armstrong as well as sax players and think about what they're doing that's not in the melody (ie improvised). Most of all, have fun with improv - start off small and don't hesitate to play less notes because less is often best. I'm a rubbish sax player but all of the above is based upon years of guitar playing and music composition. Good luck!

edited to add...

Excellent post from Jason above!
Finding your sound, getting into the groove, using some vocabulary (bends, trills, slides, growls, you name it) is all about iteration. The more you do it the better you get. I have always told my kids, that the first time you try something you sound terrible. The second time, you sound worse. It's what you do from there that counts. If it were easy anyone could do it.

So here's what I'm working on because I wasn't as serious as you at your age. Get a Doctor Beat unit and play with it or a metronome every opportunity you get. The idea is to develop an internal pulse. Once you have that then you can start a lifelong pursuit of understanding rhythms, time signatures, and syncopation.

Then there's the sound quest... :cool:
Great job, and I think that Jason Dumars gave about the best advice you can expect from someone that doesn't know you personally. That being said, what part of CA are you in? I know a few teachers that I would recommend if you are anywhere near the bay area.
How much harmonic theory do you know?
(Diatonic chord construction, modes, altered chords)
Playing some tunes on piano?
Understanding the parts makes it easier to "just do it"
The omnibook is great source of vocabulary.

Listen to the best players, learn/copy/steal vocabulary from everything you like. When you hear a line in a solo you like, figure it how to play it, then figure out why it works over the chords.

As everyone else has said - great job!

They've covered just about everything but I'd just like to mention the little pinky on the right hand, which seems to flay about a bit.

I should add that mine also does the same, after nearly 20 years of trying to control the thing.

Keep on playing girl - you've got talent!
In addition to the good advice others have posted, I'll add that playing with more confidence will make a huge difference. If you play with enough confidence, you can make just about anything sound right. Play like you're absolutely sure that whatever you're about to do is going to sound awesome -- even if you're not.
dstack79 said:
Forgot to add: If you want to learn/pursue improvisation skills, I'd recommend getting a teacher who'll teach you. They can be really helpful in pointing you in the right direction.
I just wanted to second what dstack said here because I think this is probably the best thing you can do. Find someone who will specifically teach you jazz. Anyone that tells you "just do it" is eschewing their teaching responsibilities. Jazz doesn't happen by magic.

I think it is important to have a teacher that can not only direct you properly (ie: what exercises to work on, what transcriptions to play etc...) but can also show you by playing said exercises and transcriptions.

Also, don't think that a jazz teacher necessarily has to play saxophone. I currently study with a jazz pianist and I have learned a ton.

Best of luck to you!
Jason and the other posters above have covered it well and given you lots of advice. I want to add that you did a good job on the head (the tune itself). You might try starting your improvisation by using some variation or embellishment on the head, rather than abandoning it altogether. This is easier said than done, but it will help you to learn melodic development, rather than running scales. I'll second what was said about leaving some space and paying attention to your phrasing. Since this tune is a blues, listen to some blues singers and note how they phrase. For each twelve bars there are usually three phrases, and they usually start with a "pick-up." That is, they lead into each chord change a beat or two early and often starting on an upbeat. But Jason covered this in his post. Keep it up; you sound good and will only get better with time.
Wow! Thanks everyone for your comments. I am going to take them with me to my music camp so I can work on it some more!

Thanks again!
Saxgirl07 said:
Okay, one more thing: I am going to be attending a music intensive program this summer and I need to make a "Musical Resume" Can someone tell me what it is and what I should include on it?


Good job Liz and great feedback from everyone. Jason's post alone can take you many summers/longer to work on.
On your other question, a "Musical Resume" is like a CV or bio-data but focusing exclusively on your musical experience.
Here's what you can put in:
1. Lessons/seminars you've taken, not only on sax
2. Your musical experience in school
3. Names of your music teachers (not only in school) and what they taught you
3. Compositions you done (if any) include CDs and videos (if you have them)
4. Performances/gigs you've done whether formal (recitals, band, orchestra, etc) or informal (like this youtube video)
5. Other related items (your equipment, goals, etc)
As in a CV make it as impressive as you can without going over the top.
Oh I second Old Git. Next time please make your video right-side up.(lol)

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Many didn't get as far as you!

Keep going girl. And dig into this site. There are a tremendous amount of qualified (learned and un-learned exceptional players, teachers, artists. I know the music I play with (practice with) is very much an expanded library of variation, technique, etc. and I know everyone has a qualified idea on what to suggest. But I could not contain my exitement yesterday when I found an obscure download that had some wonderful songs you can practice with to learn, then expand upon. It is called "The Radio Sounds Orchestra, and album is Turn your Radio on VOL.3. Look it up on the web, it downloads on a zip file, got the whole album for 9.99 and I think you will find some music their will enjoy. You can do just about anything with the music as far your fingers want to wander. Just my humble opinion on what I am sure will be a long list of opinions that will help you further your quest. Good Luck.
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