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Jazz Sax Lessons: Improvising 101

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Now it's time to work on
the basics of improvisation.
Improvising 101.
If you get 10 different
people in front of you,
to talk about how to begin to improvise.
You are going to get perhaps 10 very
viable approaches how to reach your goal,
and that's all great.
Here's my viable approach to improvising.
Here's improvising 101 for you.
So, in a nutshell, basically you
want to think about improvising as
making up your own melodies
over a particular tonal center.
So that's why when you think about
major chords, or minor chords,
or dominant chords, or diminished chords
or all these different kinds of chords.
All those are.
Chord types are all involving tonal
approaches over a particular center.
Over the root of the chord.
All that stuff is important but
it breaks down to the same idea.
Which is to make sure that when you
improvise something you're playing
in the chord.
And so here's some good
ideas to start that process.
We've already talked about the scales, all
the major scales, all your minor scales,
dominant scales.
If you've got any question
about any scales,
they are definitely in my school here.
So check those out.
So are the arpeggios.
So when you see a chord.
Like the chord we're dealing with for
this lesson, on my alto Is A major,
or it's an A major scale,
A major seven chord.
And then if you're playing your tenor or
your soprano,
you're playing a D major chord.
So when major chords are, very simply put,
it's just the chord that
fits over the major scale.
So if you know your major scales you'll
be able to play over Major chords.
So, what we have in our major
scale is the scale itself and
the corresponding arpeggio.
So the arpeggio,
as we've covered, is the root,
the third, the fifth and
the seventh degrees of the scale.
So once you learn your arpeggio and
once you learn your chord.
You are ready to begin improvising.
So what I've written down here on
the sheet that you have there that says
improving one o one.
Make sure you have the E flat sheets,
it's very short for alto and beri players.
And the B flat sheet for
tennor and soprano players.
Is the way I wrote it out.
Pay no attention by the way
to the time signature.
I wrote it that way so
that you would see it all in one measure.
So we're not actually going
to be playing in 12/4.
That is completely unimportant.
What is important however,
is the fact that all the half notes
All these circled notes
here are the arpeggios.
The root, third, fifth and
seventh, those are our arpeggios.
Those are our target notes.
You want to be thinking about that,
it's important to think about
the arpeggio as your target notes.
Those are gonna be the go to notes, those
are gonna be the most important notes of
your improvisation over every chord.
But here we're dealing
with just one chord.
The rest of the notes make up
the entire A major scale, okay?
From the root all the way
up to the octave.
So, in a nutshell, basically
improvisation is about creating phrases.
It's just like talking.
I'm gonna say something now and
then I'm gonna say something again.
And then I'm gonna say
something a third time.
When we improvise we do the same thing,
but we use the notes that are available
over the chord that we're
playing at any one given time.
So of course we're gonna be talking
later about how to play from one
chord to another, but right now
we're just focusing on one Chord,
so I'm gonna play along
with a track right now.
And this track is a little monotonous
because it is just one chord.
Sounds kinda cool actually, but I'm gonna
play the whole scale over this track.
And then I'm gonna play the arpeggio,
Before I play the track, I wanna just
play that live for you, just The scale.
And actually if you want to
play along with me, please do.
Now, don't pay attention to the rhythm.
I wrote the half-notes so you'd see,
distinguish the difference between
the chord tones and the scale tones.
So the half-notes are the chord tones and
the rest of the notes are quarter
notes Are the scale tones.
I don't wanna say that the scale
tones are less important.
I just want to indicate
that the arpeggio notes,
the first note, which is the root,
the third, the fifth, and seventh are,
again, the most identifiable
sounding notes of any chord.
So those are the ones we
really wanna center on.
For a good reason that I'll show you.
So when I play just those
notes it sounds like.
That's the arpeggio root third fifth
seventh, fifth third root and
then the whole scale.
Sounds like that.
We've already played plenty
of those in this school.
So I talked about creating
phrases when you play, and
a great way to start improvising
is simply to do this.
Make sure that the first note of your
phrase Is a chord tone, a root, third,
fifth, or seventh.
And the last note of your
phrase is also a chord tone.
A root, third, fifth, or seventh.
So in this key, on the alto, the chord
tone's the first note of your little
Phrase, lick, idea whatever you want to
say is either going to be an A, C sharp,
and E or a G sharp.
And the last idea the last note
of that same little statement
is also going to be one of
those core tones, okay.
So before I run the track, here's an idea,
I'm going to play an improvised lick,
Here we go.
So if you look at that and listen to it,
the first note was A, it was the root,
I went up to the fifth,
I went down to the fourth, and
I came, I landed on the C sharp.
I began on a chord tone, the root,
I ended on the third, the C sharp.
All the other notes, it's great that I
went to the fifth chord tone, great.
The idea is that the notes between
the first note of your phrase and
the last note of your phrase are all
notes that are within the scale.
They can be chord tones,
they can be scale tones.
But no matter what you do,you wanna
make sure that all the notes justify
in the scale of the chord,
the chord scale essentially.
And that the first note is a chord tone
and the last note is a chord tone.
Okay, I'm going to play another lick.
Okay so I start it on the fifth, on my E,
went down to the third, diatonically.
Diatonic means it's all
the notes of the scale,
chromatic would be notes that
would be chromatic obviously.
But I went down diatonically,
down to the third, went up to the G sharp,
the seventh.
But then I ended on the [SOUND]
I ended on the fifth, okay?
Another chord tone.
So very often,
the mystery of improvisation is not how
to begin a phrase, but how to end it.
Where do I go?
It's like your in.
It's like, aah, where's the ladder?
I'm in the pool.
So by thinking of improvising this way,
by making up your Your melodies,
making sure that
are bookended by chord tones.
You're making sure that you're
locking right into the chord.
And that the chord is very identifiable.
And that's why we learn Scales to
go along with chords because now
we have our notes that we can use.
It's like if you're in the kitchen and
you've got seven different items
to make To make a meal and,
you know, you can use as much as you want
to of any one or all the ingredients.
You can just use one of the ingredients.
You can use them all.
You could use all of all of them or
you can just use three of them or
just two of them.
But the fact that you've, You're just
gonna use those seven ingredients,
you're guaranteed that whatever you
end up cooking is gonna taste good.
So, same thing.
You're guaranteed that whatever
you play is gonna sound good
if you use the notes that are diatonic
to your scale and that you begin and
end your phrases on chord tones,
so there you go.
Once again, before we move forward,
I wanna do this with you.
I'm gonna play a little lick, and
you play a four-note lick, and
I want you to play back a four-note lick.
Don't play my lick, play one of your own.
Look at the sheet, make sure that your
first note is one of the chord tones.
And that you can do whatever
you want to in between as long
as they are scale tones,
as long as they are diatonic notes.
And then end on a cord tone as well so
here's my four note phrase.
Okay, so there we go.
Your turn.
I'm gonna give you five seconds.
Okay, how was that?
I'm gonna do another one.
I'm going to start on the fifth and
end up on the third.
you can play it like me if you want to but
make up your own also by the way.
Ready, you got five seconds, ready, go.
Now make up a phrase,
it doesn't have to be super long but
you know don't restrict yourself to the
number of notes, don't make it super long.
[LAUGH] Just make it four or
five ,six, two, whatever notes.
But here we go.
I'm gonna make up another one.
[NOISE] I started on the E and
went diatonically up to play the F sharp.
I played my B diatonic and my A and
ended on that G sharp which is my 7th.
Your turn.
You got five seconds, ready, go.
Okay, awesome.
I'm gonna assume that that was great.
I'm gonna do more than assume, because I'm
really hoping that you are gonna play some
of those licks for me and
film them and send them to me.
Okay, so now, take it to the next step and
actually play with a little track Okay so
this track is just over the key of, for
us E flat people over A major seven.
And for the B flat folks,
it's gonna be D7, okay.
I mean D major 7, okay.
So, here we go.
Okay, so there's
an example of what I want you to do.
Now your track is gonna be
a lot longer than that, so
you can work with it for a while.
I wanted to just give you a couple
of examples of what to do.
But again,
it's all about just, you wouldn't be
here if you weren't into jazz music.
You've heard improvised solos.
That's there more elaborate
ways of playing, but
you know what, it all breaks down to
exactly what I'm saying right here
that you want to identify every
chord that you're playing and.
Pretty good chance that if you transcribe,
I have a lesson on transcription
by the way, so check that out too if you
wanna learn more about transcribing.
But if you transcribe, there's a very
good chance that if you're transcribing
one of your favorite solos,
that this exact process is happening where
in it's basic form,
that the first note of somebody's playing.
If it's not the first note,
it's close to the first note.
Maybe somebody might approach their
first note with something else.
But for the purpose of this lesson, it's
a basic concept, but it's super important.
Not only is this kind of the rule
that if you wanna break a rule,
rules are meant to be broken, in this
case, this rule isn't meant to be broken.
It can be nudged here and there,
but this is the meat and potatoes.
Okay, this is the idea that you
really want to grasp that once again,
when you play one chord, identify
that chord, identify it by playing
the first note of your phrase as a chord
tone, the root third, fifth, and seventh.
And the last note of each phrase also,
to be the root third, fifth, or seventh.
Now, you can also do things where as
long as you follow that first note and
last note rule, you can do things like
instead of just playing diatonic notes,
we can play chromatic notes.
We can approach things
not just we're well in.
If you got into my warmup
exercise number two,
the chromatic studies chromatic exercise,
you know your chromatic scale,
upwards and sideways and
backwards and whatever way possible.
So just using whatever notes you want to,
to get from one chord tone to the next.
Again, book-ending your ideas with
those chord tones is important.
But instead of perhaps going
you can go
so, that's totally cool.
You're still following the first note and
last note rule.
But now you're using chromaticism
rather than just diatonic notes.
So I wanna play the same track for you
now, and I'm gonna use some chromaticism,
but it's gonna sound a little
bit more exciting, but if you
got any questions about this, let me know,
that's the whole beauty of ArtistWorks.
So let me know if you have any questions
about chromaticism versus diatonicism, but
in a nutshell,
we're following the same rule here.
And except now we're just going to
a little freer as far as the notes we
choose, and
we don't have to just use diatonic notes,
we can use some chromaticism to go from
a chord tone to another chord tone.
Okay, here we go.
Okay, so
now we've gone through improvising 101,
just over one chord making
sure that your book ending,
your phrases with chord tones,
and filling out your phrases,
your motifs, your licks,
however you want to refer to them,
with either diatonic notes
directly from the scale or
chromatic notes from the chromatic scale.
But again, the important thing is
going from one chord tone to the next.
So, here's your assignment.
You can do this obviously with minor
chords, you can do it with dominant
chords, but the idea is making sure
that you focus in on one chord for
this lesson, for this purpose.
So take any arpeggio from
the arpeggio exercise,
the corresponding scales from the scale
exercises, and do this exercise,
[COUGH] pardon me, do this exercise
without any tracks whatsoever.
So for instance, if you want to use C
major, I'm going to use my C major triad.
my C major scale to go
along with that triad.
come up with motifs using this formula,
So starting and
ending your phrases with a chord tone, and
filling them in either diatonically or
So you can just mess around with it for
awhile and come up with some cool licks.
So, and it really just is
a matter of connecting the dots.
Also you can do minor scales whatever you
want to do, I kind of encourage that,
I don't kind of encourage it,
I completely 100% encourage that.
And that way you're getting,
again used to playing and
creating phrases that
really fit with each chord.
So a little glimpse into improvising 102,
which is going to be how to connect
one chord to the next chord, so
we play with more than just one chord.
So, off to improvising 102.
Good luck with 101.
>> [MUSIC]