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How to learn improvisational jazz

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by bongostealth, Dec 8, 2012.

  1. bongostealth

    bongostealth Supporting Member

    Jun 3, 2011
    Atlanta, GA
    So I've been bitten by the jazz bug. There are some UNBELIEVABLE improvisational players out there that just boggle my mind with their lines. I don't have any formal musical training and probably won't be going to bass school any time soon as I am currently in law school.

    Either way, how can I learn to play like the following individuals: Hadrien Feraud, Evan Marien, Dana Hawkins, Robert "Bubby" Lewis, Damian Erskine, among others.

    No matter how hard I try to come up with improvisational lines, my lines and approach always ends up sounding nothing like improvisational jazz. Maybe I'm not creative enough with my playing and/or don't know my scales and modes.
  2. lfmn16


    Sep 21, 2011
    charles town, wv
    How long have you been trying and what have you done to learn?

    Transcribe hundreds of their lines and Practice steadily for a few years before you get discouraged.
  3. bongostealth

    bongostealth Supporting Member

    Jun 3, 2011
    Atlanta, GA
    Well, I would love to transcribe their lines but they play so fast that I cannot keep up with what they are playing. Also, I don't know if they have any of that stuff actually written down for me to transcribe. Otherwise I would break it down piece by piece.
  4. khutch

    khutch Praise Harp

    Aug 20, 2011
    suburban Chicago
    I assume that by transcribe he means listen, copy, and then write down what you have learned to play in a form (tabs, standard notation, whatever works for you) that you can refer to later when your memory of a given piece has faded a bit. There is no need to transcribe already written out parts unless you only read tabs and it is in standard notation for example. Like you I find that virtually nothing is written down and of course you have to understand that by its very nature improvisational work in any genre will very rarely, if ever, be written out unless you do it yourself.

    There are software tools that may help you learn to play what you hear. The freeware sound editor program Audacity can change the tempo of a piece without changing the pitch. It also has some filtering functions that can help you isolate the bass from other instruments so that you can hear it more easily. I use Audacity and it works quite well in my experience although I have not used it for this particular purpose. I play in a church band and the rehearsal materials we get are often in a different key than we play in so I typically use Audacity to change the key of the recording. The result can sound quite artificial if a large change in pitch is needed but it does work and it helps a lot when practicing.

    There are also commercial programs like Riffstation (which advertises on TB from time to time) that can do similar things. I believe Riffstation is available in a 30 day trial version. I assume there are others although I don't know of any to suggest.

    Like you I find that improvisation comes hard and my results are formulaic and unsatisfying. However I have only been playing seriously for about a year now, I am 60 years old, and I am starting see the occasional glimmer of improvement so don't be discouraged, keep at it. I think that with time we both can become respectable!

  5. bongostealth

    bongostealth Supporting Member

    Jun 3, 2011
    Atlanta, GA
    Thank you for the information. I downloaded the Audacity software and will be sure to try it out.

    My results are also formulaic. My pathetic method at the time being is simply different permutations of 4 to 5 note lines all across strings within a 5 to 6 fret horizontal and vertical radius. It has worked a little bit but of course the possible permutations are exponentially compounded once you add rhythms, odd time meters and time signatures to the mix. As a result, I feel like I'm walking to the moon instead of taking a high-powered space rocket.
  6. Matt R.

    Matt R.

    Jul 18, 2007
    Huntsville AL
    I'll second the Audacity suggestion. I use it regularly to slow parts down. Great tool for learning.
  7. gadgetgirl

    gadgetgirl Supporting Member

    Dec 1, 2005
    East Coast
    Capo for iPhone/iPad/Mac is a good app too.

    check out jazzbooks.com and aebersold's play along series, starting with the how to improvise book 1 for basics.
  8. JTE


    Mar 12, 2008
    Central Illinois, USA
    Go to the theory and instruction forum of Talkbass (where this post probably should be-all you'll get a LOT more response there rather than here in the instrument section).

    Read through the stickies in the instructions forum and search the threads fornrhis exact topic.

  9. bh2


    Jun 16, 2008
    Oxford, UK
    I used to play with a jazz piano and just used to follow the left hand, alot of improv is feel and groove, learning your scales will help though.

    I play by ear mostly... they are sore now!
  10. Best way I learn is by seeing and doing. Im not great at jamming of the top of my head. But if I sit and take a few minutes to write out what I am wanting to play or what I am hearing in a song then I have all I need to store it in the brain.

    From the way it seems you might be the same way or this may be the best option to learn this style.
  11. tkozal


    Feb 16, 2006
    New York City
    Learn the Jazz language. Things like the modes of the ascending melodic minor, etcc
  12. lfmn16


    Sep 21, 2011
    charles town, wv
    How about a couple examples of the jazz you are trying to learn.
  13. mbeall


    Jun 25, 2003
    Gotta learn the language. Start with the basic theory stickies here. It's just time, lots of listening, focused practice, and study. Things like the modes of the different scales (Major, Minor, Harmonic Minor, Melodic Minor), their related chords, and how to spell all the chords in all their inversions have to be second nature in your ears and under your fingers so that you don't think about it. Much in the same way that you don't think about things like subject verb agreement or how to spell words when conversing in English. I really don't see this happening for you without a teacher to guide you. You can learn some of their "licks" but it won't mean anything if you don't understand/hear how they work so you can apply the concepts outside of the original contexts. If your priority is law school then learning jazz is gonna take a long time. Not saying don't do it or even trying to discourage you, just trying to put it in perspective. If this is just a hobby for you it's gonna take a long time so just stick with it an try to get in a little (30 min - 1 hour ) every day.

    Also check out http://scottsbasslessons.com/ as this is a really good resource in lieu of a personal teacher.


  14. Sloop John D

    Sloop John D

    Jun 29, 2012
    What theory do you know at this point? That could help us give you some suggestions about what you would want to study to begin playing in the style of the players you named.

    Also, a nice thing about the modern jazz players is that a lot of them have lesson videos on youtube. If you look through a couple of those videos that would probably help you gain some understanding of their technique and give you a better idea of what you need to work on to develop that type of playing style.
  15. grisezd


    Oct 14, 2009
    I made the mistake of faking my way though lessons as a kid and now find that learning theory all over again is daunting. I still want to fly, though. And rarely I'm able to. It's very satisfying when it works. What I do is to listen hard to music, anything that's on, and try to sing over it any way that comes to me. Then i try to play some snippets of what i sang. I usually discover that what i sing falls outside the rock and roll boxes i'm comfortable with. I spend a little time living with that "new" fingering and exploring it, and suddenly it ends up in my toolbox. What I end up with when playing live are really new riffs and phrases that I pull from that wouldn't satisfy what I consider to be truly improvising, but sometimes they lead me into opportunities to fight my way out of a corner. And that to me feels like flying.

    I like to think that the first guys to improvise music didn't know theory, or what theory was. The game has changed since then, but I'm happy with what little I can do!
  16. Turxile


    May 1, 2011
    In addition to all the good advice above, play melodies of songs.

    Keep trying. Seriously, keep trying.
  17. chiron_griffin


    Apr 19, 2012
  18. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    Look at the players he's listed; these are all bass guitarists and all mostly fusion style players. I don't think Aebersold is whar he's looking for.
  19. Yeah, but he probably hasn't figured out that he's not gonna be able to play like Erkstine and the rest of those guys without acknowledging at least some of the early masters like Chambers and LaFaro first. I think that would be like trying to learn to swim by jumping into the ocean during a hurricane.

    Besides, those guys can only play like that because they were, and are, completely and totally obsessed with bass playing. It's literally all they do, and all they think about. So while the OP has good intentions, it's not liable to happen anyway...
  20. bongostealth

    bongostealth Supporting Member

    Jun 3, 2011
    Atlanta, GA
    You guys are all correct. I guess I will definitely start out with the originals like LaFaro and Chambers. I guess its just going to take me a while because, without formal training (which I would want), I'm going to have to use other resources to learn it on my own. I'll keep trying though.