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Expressive Improvisation and Voicings

Discussion in 'Ask Todd Johnson [Archived]' started by Chaddycakes, Jul 28, 2007.

  1. Todd,

    Hey, thanks for spending so much time helping all of us play. I love your comping style and I model a lot of my playing on what you are doing.

    I have two questions. The first one is fairly simple while the second is not so simple. When you work out your voicings for chords, do you model yourself more after piano players or guitar players? Currently, I play more like a pianist in that I use a lot of 3, 7, 9, maybe a 5 etc. quartal style voicings.

    My second question is about improvisation. I know my fingerboard pretty well, I know my theory, my ears seem to be pretty strong, my technique is not perfect, but it gets the bebop stuff well enough (always room to improve, you know how it goes), I can play scalar patterns all day. But, for some reason, I still struggle with seperating my mind from my ear.

    How did you get yourself to start playing artistically, as opposed to just technically and mathmatically correct?

    Sorry for the weird question. Thanks!
  2. O yeah good question, I'm in the same situation as you and would also like some answers.
  3. Todd Johnson

    Todd Johnson

    Sep 27, 2005
    Anthem, AZ
    Hi Chad,

    Wow...great question.

    Voicings: Generally, I'm just listening for good voice leading....or keeping the note I want on top and then grab whatever "correct" harmony that's available. I don't think of it as a piano or guitar voicing....it's just a voicing. Musically speaking, it's all pretty much the same. I hope that helps.

    How do I seperate my mind from my ear?? Scissors or a shap knife work for me! ;) .....sorry, I couldn't resist!

    (the serious answer)

    What worked for me was to quit thinking so much.... period...and I just focused (and practiced) playing what I HEAR!! Then I could go back and let my brain figure it out later and be at peace with it.....because as you know, the brain (or at least mine) wants to know what's going on.

    I'll play a figure or melodic sequence....and then LISTEN for what the obvious follow up would be. THEN I GO FIND it and PLAY IT!!! It's basically "self transcription"....the more you practice it, the better AND FASTER you get at it.....eventually, you start to play WHAT YOU HEAR...instead of what you THINK.
    If you don't practice and develop this particular skill then you'll continue to sound "technically and mathematically" correct. It's all about playing what you hear.....We just have to stop and listen to what we hear....All too often we're just busy moving our fingers in correct patterns and not LISTENING!!!

    It sounds obvious, but if you don't practice playing what you hear, YOU WON'T GET GOOD AT PLAYING WHAT YOU HEAR....and playing what YOU hear is A LOT of what makes you sound like YOU!!!

    I could show you this in person in 5 minutes or less....I hope this helps......Let me know.......


  4. GREAT advice that I haven't come to appreciate until I discovered this for myself about two weeks ago. Thank you very much Todd!
  5. Shiveringbass


    Aug 21, 2005
    That problems of playing scales instaid of playing music is very common and I'm still suffering from it.

    I've also read a good article from Adam Nitti where he gives that advice :

    1) play a chord sequence that you have recorded or is part of a song you know.

    2)without your bass, start to improvise on that sequence mentaly.

    3) start to sing your improvisation and if you can, record it.

    4) finaly, take your bass, replay the recording of your vocal improvisation and just transcribe it into bass notes.

    This should help to connect your musical voice and your finger while stopping thinking in scales and paterns.
  6. I've been doing that a lot lately. Playing and improvising mentally, in my head, without a bass in my hands. Envisioning how I would play what I'm hearing. Both with improvising in my head, as well as transcribing in my head. Listening to a piano solo and really thinking about how I would play it on bass. What fingering patterns would make that same sound...and trying to do it as much in real time as possible.

    I think that's one of the best ways of learning to play what you hear, which to me is what improvising is all about :)

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