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Jazz Sax Lessons: Introduction to Improvisation

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Now I want to talk about improvisation.
An introduction to improvisation that is.
During the course of these lessons I'm
going to be talking about a lot of
details, harmonically, melodically, some
exercises, all kinds of different things.
In fact, if you want to refer to
my lessons a little farther into
the curriculum,
there is gonna be improvising 101,
improvising 102 and then improvising 103.
Where I get into specific harmonic
ideas and scale ideas and so forth.
But for the for the purposes of this
lesson I want to talk to you just about
the idea, of improvisation.
Because sometimes we jump right
into the minutia of it, the scales,
what goes into in creating
an improvisation.
But we don't think about the, I don't
know, the concept, what the idea is.
And so let's touch on a couple of
those things really quick, okay?
One is that first of all,
when we improvise,
we are thinking about tonal centers.
No matter what chord you're looking at,
if you're looking at a, or playing over or
improvising over say a major seventh
chord or a dominant seventh chord or
a minor seventh chord or some sort
of altered chord or whatever it is.
The root of that chord
is your tonal center.
So, for instance,
let me just give you basic idea of that.
So if I was playing in
something over in the key of A,
in the key of A major,
I'm gonna play the scale for you.
That's our A Major Scale.
So, if I see in front of
me an A major seven chord,
I want to be thinking about what
relates to that tonal center.
So, the question for you,
what is a tonal center?
Of an A chord, it would be A, exactly.
So when I'm playing something,
whether it's really something very simple,
Or more elaborate.
You can tell that the tonal
center of those licks are.
[SOUND] Is rather,
[SOUND] Right there, right?
That's why we learn our seventh chords.
That's why we learn our triads.
Because we gain more knowledge and
awareness of the tonal center that
we're aiming for when we play.
So, another thing about improvising
too is that it's two fold.
Often times when I'm
teaching improvisation.
I teach a lot about how to refer
to the scales that you're playing,
what part of the arpeggio you
want to start your licks on,
your ideas on, what part of the arpeggio
do you want to end your licks on.
How to get from one chord,
one tonal center to another tonal center.
All these different theory based ideas.
But the other side of that
is simply using your ears.
Again it's like that analogy, not being
able to see the forest through the trees.
The forest is the end result it's
the solo that you come up with,
it's the individual ideas
that make up your solo.
And so if you're thinking so
much about, okay, I've
gotta start on the third of this chord and
then I've gotta go either diatonically or
chromatically to the fifth
of the next chord.
And then I've gotta go in some
sort of linear fashion to this.
And you're thinking about
all these theoretic ideas.
You're not thinking about the music.
There are a whole lot of musicians,
amazing historic improvisers
that probably knew very
little about chords yet
they are the improvisers
that we all listen to.
It's amazing reading some of these
biographies of some great musicians and
almost none of their history really
focuses on what they studied
harmonically it's more about
what they felt when they played.
What they were hearing in their head.
So, but it's a combination because if you
rely totally on your ear then you're gonna
miss invariably some important harmonic
connection to what you're playing.
If you're thinking about.
Purely what's on the paper and
the harmonic content of your playing.
Then you might miss out on what you're
really hearing in your head and
might miss out also on
the emotional content.
Dont forget this a artistic
expression of ourselves.
So we wanna make sure we're being true
to what we're hearing inside here and
inside here.
So, be aware of that too.
Also, when we play,
when we improvise I should say,
we're making up phrases and so,
a phrase isn't just like a non-stop line.
I do a fair amount of,
do quite a few workshops and
working with students at
jazz festivals and things.
And I'll be in the audience as
one of the I hate to say judges,
but a critiquer if you will.
And so often a beginning improviser
will play something that is just,
and maybe this is you.
Check it out.
Where you start to play a solo.
And it's just this not stop rambling mind.
That just, goes and
goes and goes and goes.
And it's not really a statement.
So, as I'm talking to you now, hopefully
I'm speaking in the right sort of way I'm,
I've got one point, and I make another
point, and then I make my third point.
And, it's logical and
it's phrased, oriented.
So, the way to think about that is to
make sure that when you play your solos,
that you use space.
And you think about your
next idea before it happens.
These ideas can be improvising to a person
who's not experienced at improvising
can be a really daunting thing.
It certainly was to me.
It still is, it's a constant
learning process, absolutely.
But the idea that it has to
be complicated is not true.
And even the most complicated things
aren't really all that complicated when
you break them down.
But, one things true, whether you're
playing something very notey or
super simple,
one note at a time is playing in phrases.
So concise
things too.
Another thing to think about
too is the end of our phrase.
I think a lot of times we tend to go,
and go, and go.
Is because we can't think of
how to end our, our lick, or
idea our phrase, and
so, we just, we don't.
We just keep going.
And so, you want to think about
the beginning of your idea.
And you want to think about how to get
to the end of that particular thought.
That I thought might be quite long,
but there's going to be an end.
At some point,
we're gonna run out of air, so you're
gonna end your phrase at some point.
I remember, I think it was my first,
I played in the Chick Corea Electric Band,
and one of the very
first records that had to have been the
first record, because I remember there was
one tune that I was playing a solo on and
it was really hard.
Harmonically it was something I had
been working on it but was still hard.
And so we got to the studio and
we were kind of running through it.
And before we actually recorded
I went up to Chick and I said,
Chick I have a question about
the chords in this tune.
Do you have any suggestions
on this chord in particular?
He said well use space.
I thought, okay use space.
I looked at him and said yeah but
what do I do between the spaces?
[LAUGH] What do I do when
I'm actually playing.
The spaces I wasn't having trouble with.
I could play nothing quite well.
Anyways it drives home
the point that we're going
to thinking about phrases when we play so
phrase, phrase, phrase.
So in all the things
in my school here that
deal with more direct harmony
as far as improvising and
more direct melodies as we improvise,
always keep these ideas, these macro
ideas if you will in mind that it's about
playing one phrase to the next phrase,
it's about keeping your
ear on the tonal centers.
And it's about making sure that
what you're playing sounds good.
Use your ear, be true to your ear, be true
to your heart, be true to your head and
make sure that whatever you're playing is
ultimately what you want to get across.
All right, hope you enjoy those ideas and
onto the next one,
got any questions, let me know.
Take care.