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Improv Exercises, Ways to Open Up

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by Seanto, Nov 9, 2017.


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  1. Seanto

    Seanto

    Dec 29, 2005
    RVA
    I've always been a very free player, way before i started seriously playing jazz. Improvisation has always been deeply set into my bones, sometimes to my detriment. I have a good friend who is a piano player but coming from jazz on the opposite spectrum. He has fantastic technique on the instrument and can play very technical material, note for note. The problem is he can't seem to get comfortable improvising and playing in a more free manner. He relies heavily on transcription, and actually performs those transcriptions.

    He texted me this morning about a great idea he had. He wants to transcribe a set of Oscar Peterson tunes and perform them with me as a duo, he would play note for note transcriptions of Oscar Peterson.

    I thought this was a horrible idea, for so many reasons. One being i respect Oscar and his band members so much that i would never dare doing a half assed tribute to him. Two being i have no interest in playing transcribed material, or even alongside someone playing transcribed material for a whole gig. I think i kind of hurt his feelings when i essentially trashed the idea and said i would prefer we just play using our own voice within our own arrangements of tunes we like. He confessed his own voice is weak and that playing these transcriptions will help him develop it. While partially true, he has been saying this for years at this point and has transcribed quite a bit of material.

    How do folks teach others to become a more free player and embrace improvisation in a group setting? I want to find ways to coach him if at all possible. He's a great player but needs to find his own voice in jazz.
     
  2. damonsmith

    damonsmith

    May 10, 2006
    Quincy, MA
  3. Seanto

    Seanto

    Dec 29, 2005
    RVA
    Thank you sir!
     
  4. tmntfan

    tmntfan

    Oct 6, 2011
    Edmonton canada
    have him play a phrase of Oscars and then a phrase of his own. think of it like trading 4's with the transcription.

    or take a transcribed phrase and play with it. take the idea and stretch it out or simplify it.
     
    lz4005 and Seanto like this.
  5. Get him away from the piano first. He's developed a rigid thinking framework and needs to break away from that. I've found it great to explore another instrument or voice for inspiration.

    Get him to sing melodies, & then sing improvised lines. He's got to grow stronger CREATING the ideas.

    Use alcohol if necessary. :whistle:
     
    Seanto likes this.
  6. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    NYC
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    I can't tell if you're talking about doing this in a session or on a gig. Former is cool, latter decidedly not so. If he's not an improviser, I'm not sure why he's looking to play a jazz duo gig. If he wants to start gigging, my suggestion would be to start in a larger ensemble, that way the weight isn't on him and he can easily bail after a chorus or even not blow at all if he's not hearing anything.
     
    lurk likes this.
  7. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 28, 2011
    Torrance, CA
    I suppose the first place to start is, does he want to learn to improvise?
     
  8. Seanto

    Seanto

    Dec 29, 2005
    RVA
    His idea was to do the Oscar thing on a gig, to get the concept booked somewhere down the road. I have no issue with performing transcriptions in a session or the practice room for developmental purposes. But on a gig, no. He has played some solo ragtime piano on a couple gigs, so i think he is thinking of approaching this like his rags, although he wouldn't generally even take any artistic liberties with those.

    I agree about playing in a larger ensemble. I have tried to get him in to sub with a rehearsal big band i play with weekly, but the regular guy doesn't seem to be taking many days off and there are a couple players ahead of him on the list.

    He took lessons with a jazz grad piano player for a few years. He also minored in jazz at university on the trombone. His heroes include Bill Evans. I'm really not sure why he isn't "getting this" and is so stuck in a box. I am hoping to find some ways to bring him out of it, hence the thread.
     
  9. Seanto

    Seanto

    Dec 29, 2005
    RVA
    He says he does, but could be lying, hah. See post above for more on his background. I'm actually wondering if some of this goes deeper, like a fear of being judged by others. But i'm no shrink, just trying to see if others know of ways to break out of the sort of classical music way of playing jazz.
     
  10. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 28, 2011
    Torrance, CA
    Ask him if he'd like to hire you to coach him. If he's not willing to pay you some token amount to tutor him, he's probably not serious about learning. If he is, you could check out the book Damon recommended; I haven't seen it so I can't comment.

    You could also consider getting him away from the keys as @Groove Doctor suggested and have him try to sing a melody to a familiar, mostly diatonic tune like Autumn Leaves. I think getting him away from the keys removes all of his devices which forces him to try something new. If that doesn't work too well, you could try getting him started by giving him a short phrase and then ask him to create variations on it. You could even sing it back and forth over a single 7#9 chord as an exercise - lots of room for harmonic exploration in a 7#9. Then, other short standards like Blue Bossa, Song for My Father, etc. Ultimately, he has to get comfortable with the rhythmic accuracy and interest of his phrases being more important than the pitches, first, then he, IME, can develop more sophisticated harmonic ideas.

    Another exercise I've experienced is group free singing which can be really cool when it gels. The only rule is you have to make noise after "go!"
     
    Groove Doctor likes this.
  11. mtto

    mtto Supporting Member

    May 25, 2008
    Los Angeles, CA
    Two thoughts. First, call-and-response games over simple changes, one chord, or completely free, but tonal/modal.

    Second, "Effortless Mastery" by Kenny Werner. I suspect he is a much better improvisor than he thinks he is, given what you've written about his background, and his issue is a psychological block rather than a technical one.
     
    bass183, tmntfan and Groove Doctor like this.
  12. Well with the whole transcription, one of my teachers gave me a great kernel of advice on transcription during my first year of undergrad. Rather than focusing on transcribing whole entire solos all the time and possibly getting too obsessed with that whole process, just find little sections of recordings you really like, whether they are composed or improvised, and just learn those. I still do transcribe some solos every now and then, but this idea has helped me approach transcription from more curious point of view rather than trying to force myself to learn the language that way. This process has helped me, but again it’s not for everyone in the end.
    Another thing that could be helpful is to encourage him to get away from writing down these solos. I remember Steve Coleman mentioned in a workshop that he has never written down the Bird solo’s he’s memorized and encourages his band members to the same. And I do remember Bobby Bradford talking about how he learned a lot Dizzy Gillespie, but never really wrote them down. If transcription is a helpful way for him to learn in the end, getting him to trust his ear more so than a piece of paper could hopefully be really effective.
     
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  13. Seanto

    Seanto

    Dec 29, 2005
    RVA
    Yes that pretty much matches how i transcribe. I'll find, say 8 bars, to learn and analyze against the changes/melody of the tune. Honestly my ideas mostly come from a combination of listening(alot of it) and experimentation on the instrument.

    You all have given me some ideas. I think i'll see if he wants to come by for some sessions where we focus on improvisation and we can try to utilize some of the methods described here. Alot of this is truly up to him, but maybe i can push things in the right direction. For me, no one really taught me how to improvise. I learned it through experimentation on various instruments and careful listening to a whole lot of music over a big genre spectrum.
     
  14. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 28, 2011
    Torrance, CA
    And that's my concern, that you were compelled to improvise and he may be compelled NOT to. Determining that could save you a lot of investment.
     
  15. tmntfan

    tmntfan

    Oct 6, 2011
    Edmonton canada
    could also have him transcribe a different instrument (like a sax solo) and then have to fill in the rest of it. (comping and bass)
     
  16. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    I'd back away slowly and walk away. Your time is better spent elsewhere
     
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  17. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    You could coach but are you qualified? And even if so, why would you want to invest time in someone else unless you really believed in him. What are you getting it of this? Doesn't sound like much. You're prob not getting paid to do so.
     
  18. Seanto

    Seanto

    Dec 29, 2005
    RVA
    No, i am really not qualified to professionally teach jazz, but maybe qualified to give someone who wants to improve at improvising some ideas on how to do so, player to player. That is really the extent of my question, i don't plan to spend hours pushing the dude in a direction he is potentially not going to follow through on. I presumed some folks here may had encountered a not so keen improviser in their teachings and would offer ways to push someone out of that. Folks here offered some fairly simple ideas to do just that.

    Only thing i get out of it is satisfaction of helping a lifelong friend with one of his music problems, and potentially gaining another player to make some good music with. And your right, this may be fruitless. And if you've experienced folks like this and don't think they will ever change, then i value you sharing that experience.
     
    mtto likes this.
  19. jallenbass

    jallenbass Supporting Member Commercial User

    May 17, 2005
    Bend, Oregon
  20. What has helped my cousin is composing her own solos. Sure... not pure improv, but helps put confidence in her own ideas.
     
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