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#1744272 - 09/01/11 03:41 AM How to improve jazz improvisation?
Manachi Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/29/09
Posts: 90
Loc: Sydney, Australia
I'm starting to get my scales down better & better, but when I improvise using notes in the scale of the current chord the lines just don't sound exciting. When I used to hear my piano teacher do it, even just using the current scale it woudl sound edgy & jazzy.

I keep reading that transcribing music and copying lines etc is the way to go, but are there any small 'everyone knows them' riffs or lines that I should look into? Something that will inspire? Any basic tips that will make my impro sound more 'jazzy' than just doing scales & combinations of scales? Any tone of the scale that should be emphasised?

Sorry if they're stupid questions, but just looking for some inspiration!

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#1744274 - 09/01/11 03:42 AM Re: How to improve jazz improvisation? [Re: Manachi]
Manachi Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/29/09
Posts: 90
Loc: Sydney, Australia
The other question I wanted to ask was this:

In your experience, how much of improvisation is recalling learned 'riffs' vs just trying to make new lines on the spot? I'm wondering if more of it 'learned riffs' than I suspected?

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#1744289 - 09/01/11 04:59 AM Re: How to improve jazz improvisation? [Re: Manachi]
custard apple Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/09
Posts: 2303
Loc: Sydney
What type of jazz do you like e.g. jazz fusion, bebop ?

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#1744294 - 09/01/11 05:13 AM Re: How to improve jazz improvisation? [Re: Manachi]
chrisbell Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/11/07
Posts: 1368
Loc: Stockholm, Sweden
Listen a lot to good jazz piano. Keith Jarrett's trio, Herbie Hancock, etc
_________________________

I never play anything the same way once.

https://soundcloud.com/chrisb/sets
https://www.youtube.com/user/djboing/videos

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#1744299 - 09/01/11 05:46 AM Re: How to improve jazz improvisation? [Re: Manachi]
ten left thumbs Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/22/09
Posts: 3336
Loc: Scotland
Just to let you know, there is a thread here (join the JOI jazz joint) which functions as a study group of people doing just that - improvising jazz lines - working out of Dave Frank's book (Joy of Improv).
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I am a competent teacher.


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#1744333 - 09/01/11 07:42 AM Re: How to improve jazz improvisation? [Re: Manachi]
knotty Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/01/07
Posts: 2995
Loc: Bethesda, MD (Washington D.C)
>>In your experience, how much of improvisation is recalling learned 'riffs' vs just trying to make new lines on the spot? I'm wondering if more of it 'learned riffs' than I suspected?

It depends. If you play blues, riffs are very important.
If you play bebop and such, less so. More than riffs it is a language that you create. You find things you like and work on them in many keys, apply them to many tunes, unless you finally own those concepts. Finally, that defines your own sound. That's why the great musicians are so easy to recognize, they all have their own language.

>>Any basic tips that will make my impro sound more 'jazzy' than just doing scales & combinations of scales?
Notes are just not that important. You can sound really good just playing scales and chords. More important is the flow, how you rest, and how you end your lines. That's what will make your lines Jazz.

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#1744495 - 09/01/11 12:54 PM Re: How to improve jazz improvisation? [Re: Manachi]
Dan Pincus Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/02/09
Posts: 49
Loc: Illinois, USA
Quote:
I keep reading that transcribing music and copying lines etc is the way to go, but are there any small 'everyone knows them' riffs or lines that I should look into? Something that will inspire? Any basic tips that will make my impro sound more 'jazzy' than just doing scales & combinations of scales?


Manachi, hi

I think that everyone has their own way of becoming comfortable with their individual Jazz playing. Some players swear by learning patterns and riffs. Some players swear by learning scales. There was a time when I would, using the metronome, practice all the Modes of Melodic Minor. I spent hours and years at that. There were positives such as it brought my hands closer to the keyboard and helped a bit with dexterity. But it really did not help me with developing many new ideas. However, and very importantly, knowing what types of scale choices were available for chord types and function was a must for me. This is another way of understanding the “Jazz Language”. There are so many tools that can be used in “wood-shedding” ideas and will help you in your development. Continual day to day, month to month, year to year, patient practice will eventually lead to plateaus. Once you arrive there it will still not be enough. The important thing I believe is that you take your time and play within your daily abilities. You will feel improvement every time you play. I encourage you to become familiar with Dan Haerle’s books. Read them slowly and understand what he is conveying to the reader.

One of the many tools that aids in my continual exploration is knowing the left handed voicings for a tune even if you are a horn player, bass player. This shows you where the harmony is and allows you the freedom to move around a tune. (There is actually set of part writing rules that you can follow that will produce some very basic but good sounding left hand voicings for Jazz. If you would like a copy I could PM them to you. They were not written by me.)

Another great tool is using the metronome. I will sit at the piano and play a tune on 2 & 4 for a long time. It is kind of like warming up with a heavier bat before approaching the plate. The metronome confirms your weak spots and shows you where the space is in the tune. If you really listen closely as you are practicing and get really good at it, you’ll find that when you turn off the metronome you can really whale on parts and passages that previously made you stumble.

Also, transcribing is really a great tool. Not only does it improve your ear and supply you with new riffs & motifs, it also helps you with your time. You might spend an hour trying to transcribe a particular riff and in so doing your ear has to constantly be aware of the time as you figure out the notes and rhythm of the riff.

Hope this helps…..
Dan smile
_________________________

www.DansPianoJazz.com

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#1744870 - 09/02/11 12:11 AM Re: How to improve jazz improvisation? [Re: Manachi]
erichlof Online   content
Full Member

Registered: 04/26/10
Posts: 370
Hi Manachi,

A great book that contains some memorable and very usable patterns/licks for jazz piano is the Essential Jazz Lines: Piano Style of Bill Evans book:
http://www.amazon.com/Mel-Bays-Essential-Jazz-Lines/dp/0786662670

What is nice is that this book lifts actual lines played by Bill Evans and categorizes them into chord patterns that you are likely to encounter. For example ii V, ii V I, ii V i(minor key), etc.

As I recall, it only has treble clef right hand lines and the reader is supposed to supply left hand voicings ('Bop shells' for solo piano, or 3-4-note voicings for group playing). But the amount of ideas in this book is really inspiring. These will get you past the scale-plateau and into more melodic soloing.

Also, since the book deals with Bill's style, the lines feel really good on the piano as he played them. As you were wanting, there are some "everyone knows them" riffs in this book - in all types of harmonic progressions!

If you are wanting something challenging that is non-pianistic but great nonetheless, any transcriptions of Charlie Parker (Omni book), Clifford Brown, and Joe Pass (who had wonderful bop guitar lines) are sure to please and inspire.

Good luck with your jazz soloing endeavors!
-Erich

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#1744878 - 09/02/11 12:26 AM Re: How to improve jazz improvisation? [Re: Manachi]
erichlof Online   content
Full Member

Registered: 04/26/10
Posts: 370
Sorry to double post, but to answer your question about "any notes to emphasize in the scale?", yes and the Bill Evans book deals with this subject. Typically for bop-type lines, you want to emphasize and land often on chord tones (root, the 3rd, 5th, 7th) preferably on the strong beats of a 4/4 measure (beats 1 and 3).

This is by no means a rule, because you can cite many examples of great solos that break these 'rules'. But I find that soloists like Bill Evans, Joe Pass, Sonny Stitt, Bud Powell, early Oscar Peterson, all have this in common. Landing on those chord tones inside a stream of swing 8th notes gives what I like to call gravity or weight to the line.

If you totally abandon this technique, your solo line seems to float in the air, but if you adhere to the technique, the solo seems more 'logical', grounded - it seems to have more direction and purpose. Sorry for the vague adjectives, but that's the only way I can put that sound and feeling into words.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OXg0Zoxfa50&feature=player_detailpage

Hope this helps!


Edited by erichlof (09/02/11 12:39 AM)

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#1744901 - 09/02/11 02:29 AM Re: How to improve jazz improvisation? [Re: Manachi]
DaveRobertsJazz Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/08/09
Posts: 74
In addition to working in chord tones or outlining the chords, another good way to get comfortable improvising is to play off of the melody.

In my opinion, too many jazz musicians abandon the melody when they solo. The result is that one tune tends to sound like the next once the soloing starts, and it gets boring for the listener.

I usually try to reference the melody and use it as a jumping off point for soloing. You can take a melodic phrase from the tune and then play it up and down the keyboard or invert it. Sometimes all you need is an interval. For example, "Emily" features intervallic leaps, which are then fun to play with in a solo.

Some tunes are distinguished more by their rhythm. So I might try to feature that rhythm in my solo on that tune.

Start simple by just embellishing the melody in your solo and then gradually work toward more original playing off of and around it.

One thing I've never done is learn riffs. Just dropping in a cool lick to sound cool, regardless of the tune, does nothing for me.

The other nice thing about referencing the tune when you solo is that it helps the listener follow what you're doing rather than getting lost in a rambling series of notes that are only anchored to chord changes.

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#1745007 - 09/02/11 10:16 AM Re: How to improve jazz improvisation? [Re: Manachi]
daviel Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/14/07
Posts: 933
Loc: Waxahachie, Texas
Listen to other good improvisors. Cop their licks.
_________________________
"She loves to limbo, that much is clear. She's got the right dynamic for the New Frontier"
http://roadhouseallstars.com/

David Loving, Waxahachie, Texas

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#1745039 - 09/02/11 11:09 AM Re: How to improve jazz improvisation? [Re: Manachi]
Dan Pincus Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/02/09
Posts: 49
Loc: Illinois, USA
Manachi,

I agree with what DaveRobertsJazz and erichlof had to say about a few things.

Dave:
Quote:
In addition to working in chord tones or outlining the chords, another good way to get comfortable improvising is to play off of the melody.


Erich:
Quote:
Typically for bop-type lines, you want to emphasize and land often on chord tones (root, the 3rd, 5th, 7th) preferably on the strong beats of a 4/4 measure (beats 1 and 3).


Both statements refer to referencing the framework and inherent nature of a particular tune. Of course you do not have to maintain a stringent connection to the melody nor do you have to always adhere to the main chord tones or strong beats of the measure. But, keeping them in mind and alluding to them in your improvisation can be a useful tool as you navigate through the chart. Use of the metronome on 2 & 4 in your practice will cultivate within you the feeling of Jazz until someday it just becomes second nature to you. But, you are not locked into everything being on 2 & 4. You can emphasize any beat(s) you want.

Over the years, I have listened carefully to many players but the one Pianist that stands out and has helped me the most to understand the piano was/is Bill Evans. He makes sense to me all the time. Even in the most obscure passages that he plays you can always hear where 2 & 4 is. I can always hear the melody when he plays even though he may not be playing it directly. He seems to always be referring to it in some capacity. I think that is why he attracted so many listeners including the less sophisticated Jazz listener, because people can relate and understand what he is doing. The advice from Dave and Erich state some of the common denominators of good Jazz pianists. I believe that through time and effort, slow practice and making a concerted effort of being understood when you play will make you the type of player that wants to continue learning and not give up…..

Dan
_________________________

www.DansPianoJazz.com

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#1745052 - 09/02/11 11:48 AM Re: How to improve jazz improvisation? [Re: Manachi]
knotty Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/01/07
Posts: 2995
Loc: Bethesda, MD (Washington D.C)
>> Typically for bop-type lines, you want to emphasize and land often on chord tones (root, the 3rd, 5th, 7th) preferably on the strong beats of a 4/4 measure (beats 1 and 3).
For me, I don't really care for that rule. It just seems kind of made up to me. And I think if anything, it kills the creativity.
I also don't think it's all that correct that beat 1 & 3 use chord tones in bebop.
I find it interesting though, so I'm picking up the omnibook and I'm going to see how often beat 1 and 3 are a chord tone. To define chord, I'm going to use what the omnibook says, and that will be the easier argument against my highly scientific approach smile
I'll take Moose because it's almost the first in the book, and frankly, one of the best solos ever.
I'll follow this pattern. Bar number followed by Y for yes or N for no for beat 1 and 3.
1NN - 2NY - 3YN - 4NN - 5YN - 6NN - 7NY - 8YN - 9YY - 10NN - 11YY - 12NY - 13YY - 14NY - 15YN - 16NN
and so on.
It seems to me like Bird didn't really follow that rule all that much.
One might say, well that's because he's outlying other chords and extensions. The point being that if someone was to learn jazz from scratch, looking at leadsheets with chords in it, then playing chord tones on beat 1 and 3 seems pretty limiting to me. So much to think about when it ultimately doesn't matter. Instead, why not focus on great flow? That's what makes people go "Wow".
Outlining chords is a great idea however, but I'd say do it with complete disregard for which beat you are on.
In other words, I'm in the old school of thought that says "know the melody, your chords and your scales". Worry about good flow (makes people go "Wow", ending your lines right (makes people go "Yeah"), and taking nice clean rests between phrases (gets people ready for the upcoming "Wow").

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#1745314 - 09/02/11 08:29 PM Re: How to improve jazz improvisation? [Re: knotty]
custard apple Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/09
Posts: 2303
Loc: Sydney
Originally Posted By: knotty
>>
In other words, I'm in the old school of thought that says "know the melody, your chords and your scales". Worry about good flow (makes people go "Wow", ending your lines right (makes people go "Yeah"), and taking nice clean rests between phrases (gets people ready for the upcoming "Wow").



Thanks Knotty. Well put.

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#1745423 - 09/03/11 01:20 AM Re: How to improve jazz improvisation? [Re: Manachi]
erichlof Online   content
Full Member

Registered: 04/26/10
Posts: 370
Hi Knotty,
I understand that emphasizing chord tones on the beat can be limiting, but that was my point. From his post, I gathered that Manachi is just getting going with the whole improvising thing and I wanted to give him a basic outline of what he could try to start with. I liked your flow suggestions and Dave's playing off the melody suggestions as well. All approaches are valid for the beginning improviser. I am coming from the Target-note or Goal-note school of thought.

Actually, I got ahead of myself because the first thing to do in learning my approach is to play quarter note bass lines on your instrument regardless of how high pitched it might be (trumpet or sax, doesn't matter). Try to play quarter notes, emphasizing the root every time. So your analysis would look like 1YY 2YY 3YY 4YY, etc. In other words, force yourself to keep walking and then move up to 8th notes when you're ready. Target the root only, then go back through the tune and target the 3rd only each chord, etc. etc. all while playing a steady stream of swing 8th notes (which I find will help with the flow thing).

At first it sounds mechanical, but slowly and surely as you hone your technique, lines will start to emerge that you have heard Bird play, Dizzy play, Oscar Peterson play, etc. Then I add in playing off the melody for nice phrasing and flow into the solo by adding rests every once in a while.

What's nice about this method is it forces the student to keep playing forward and thinking ahead just a little bit, and sooner or later, how you land on the chord tones and connect the chords will give you some cool 'licks' that you don't have to learn and memorize verbatim to be able to string together a decent solo. The ideas are generated organically by the improvising student.

There are many ways to skin a cat, but often times the learning improviser needs something simple and concrete (perhaps limiting and mechanical) to focus on so they are not overwhelmed.

Just my 2 cents.
Good luck with the improvising Manachi! smile


Edited by erichlof (09/03/11 01:41 AM)

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#1745431 - 09/03/11 01:36 AM Re: How to improve jazz improvisation? [Re: Manachi]
erichlof Online   content
Full Member

Registered: 04/26/10
Posts: 370
Sorry to double post again, but if you get really good at the targeting exercises, you could have a solo that sounds like this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3j0mWWCrMAI&feature=player_detailpage

Keep in mind that he doesn't target the root each time, but he mixes which one it is that lands on beats 1 and 3. It might be the root, 3rd, 5th, 9th, etc. But what I like is that the solo flows because of the steady stream of 8th notes. And the lines have gravity or 'weight' because he lands on a chord tone on the strong beats. This isn't always the case - sometimes he anticipates or delays the target by an 8th note, but generally speaking, by doing the above exercises, you could approach this type of solo organically instead of copying it lick for lick.

I agree with Dan that I always come back to Bill Evans because he embodies improvising on the piano at its finest. That's why I highly recommended his "Jazz Lines.." book.

-Erich

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#1746935 - 09/05/11 02:35 PM Re: How to improve jazz improvisation? [Re: knotty]
DaveRobertsJazz Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/08/09
Posts: 74
Originally Posted By: knotty
>> Worry about good flow (makes people go "Wow", ending your lines right (makes people go "Yeah"), and taking nice clean rests between phrases (gets people ready for the upcoming "Wow").

The point about rests between phrases is a good one. I highly recommend singing or humming along with your soloing. This not only leads to more melodic solos, but it forces you to play in phrases.

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