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Jazz improv- where to start?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Fassa Albrecht, Sep 30, 2008.

  1. I know how to do some improv but I've always been interested in jazz and jazz improv.

    Where is the best place to start and what is essential to know before I start? I know my scales and my music theory pretty well.

    Also, are there any sites/specific books I should take a look at? I've got one called The Ultimate Jazz Bassist but it's horrendously confusing.
  2. ^Cheers
  3. Cheers

    Also, does anyone know of a SMALL book of scales I could get for to keep in my Shergold case?
  4. ilovethesechord


    Jun 27, 2008
    Meet a "Jazz" drummer.
  5. ^:D
  6. ihassiphilus


    Sep 30, 2008
    I'm new to jazz myself, but scales don't help a ton. It's more important to understand how chords work and fall together. Learn standard tunes and look for common patterns. It's more important to be able to walk properly than solo.

    For example: ii-V-I is very common, I-VI-V-ii is a common turn-around. You use diminished chords when going down a fifth (let's say E to B). Your circle of fifths comes in really handy. E to A etc.

    Arpeggios and common walking patterns are great to learn. Try Todd Johnson's dvd's. They're very good for someone who hasn't walked before and Todd has been nothing but friendly and helpful to me. Besides a handful of other things, Todd's dvds are probably the best out there.

    Carol Kaye's teaching stuff is good for theory and chordal stuff, reasonably priced etc. Fair warning: she's pretty set in her ways and can be a little...testy sometimes. Nevertheless, she does know her stuff and can play some mean bass (and guitar).

    Good luck. Jazz is like that little old asian man who turns out to be a Karate master and kicks the crap out of you when you think you've got 'em.
  7. DocBop


    Feb 22, 2007
    Los Angeles, CA
    +10 Adam's improv classes are real good and Adam a great teacher.
  8. Dogbertday

    Dogbertday Commercial User

    Jul 10, 2007
    SE Wisconsin
    Blaine Music LLC
    Dan Hearle (sp) "scales for jazz" is the ultimate small scale book.. it outlines a bunch of scales and what chords they work over... also then reverses it and lists chord types with what scales go over them.. I'm taking improv 1 at school and we've so far used nothing but that matched up with "maiden voyage" (mostly using maiden voyage just for the CD and charts)
  9. Oratorio


    May 9, 2007
    The first and most obvious step is to work with an instructor on this. That's what I've been doing, and I'm not sure how far I would've gotten if I hadn't had someone to show me how it can be and how improvisation could work. Some tunes are pretty tough and do lots of modulation throughout the tune, while others mostly stay in the same key. I think theory is the key here. Also, I think learning to develop a motif would be essential but that might be intermediate improv.

    Learning to walk a IIm - V7 - Imaj7 is very essential to jazz. You might think it seems silly that these chord relations keep appearing in jazz songs everywhere, but it sounds very natural.

    I'd suggest you pick out a song from Real Book, write down a bass-line, then play the chords, then play the melody, and use some software like Band-In-A-Box to improvise over. And while modes are a great thing, remember what they essentially are - a major scale, starting from different points in the scale.

    A wise bassist told me, that there really isn't enough time in the year to learn how to play great on every mode. So why not learn how to really work the major scale instead? :smug: Ofcourse you need to be able to do both, but I think that's a point right there.

    Sorry if my post didn't make a whole lot of sense, I just got up :p
  10. +1. I can say from experience that this is indeed a bargain, especially given the personalized attention that you can get from Adam.
  11. I study jazz in college. Its not easy...and there are no surefire ways to become a good jazz improvisational musician. The biggest thing one must do..is constantly immerse oneself in jazz and practice as much as possible. Whenever you can..listen to the greats...and your fave's...and absorb. Live eat and sleep jazz.
  12. Deacon_Blues


    Feb 11, 2007
    I've listened a lot to jazz. I won't say I can't play jazz to save my life, but it's not very far from the truth. Guess it's not enough to just listen or walk over some easy songs like autumn leaves, I should transcribe solos and stuff to get a better clue about what's really going on. And play jazz. Every day. But I don't. Maybe it's because I will not get as good as the pros I know anyway...
  13. ihassiphilus


    Sep 30, 2008
    +1 to transcribing some solos for ideas for your own solos. However, keep in mine that you don't learn to play jazz from transcribing. That approach isn't going to help you; I tried and it never worked for me. I was just running into the same wall repeatedly.

    Not trying to start something, but, for the love of God stop with the scales/modes. The scales have a secondary role; yes, you get a chord from a scale. Beyond that, everything more or less comes from chord-tones. The non-chordal tones are just passing notes, really.

    Ray Brown, Ron Carter and the rest don't think in terms of scales. Neither did Charlie Christian, Miles Davis or any of the 'lead' instruments.

    Scale-players have a problem of sounding repetitive and boring after a while.
  14. paganjack


    Dec 25, 2007
    Los Angeles, CA
    just find a jazz band or combo and jam for a while. if you can. the best way to learn is to do. let your ears tell your brain what works and what doesn't.

    i guess that's mostly how i learned, although i did the book thing for a while too. after a time, i just didn't think about it anymore- my hands knew what to do. for walking lines, just go with the flow.

    For solos, always remember this: with the right facial expressions there are no wrong notes... heh heh heh.
  15. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    +1 to thinking in chords rather than scales.
  16. Thanks guys.
  17. cnltb


    May 28, 2005
    A few approaches.
    First I would always play the head. Know the head( tune) cold.
    Inside out .
    You can then use that as a basis for your improvisation.
    With this you will get a feel for the changes, but play them and construct walking lines on the changes of any tune, as it will give you a feel for where they are on the neck and of the harmonic rhythm of the tune . if you do that with a number of pieces you will hopefully notice certain conventions ( such as ii-v-i ,i-vi-ii-v etc).
    Be alert to the gender ( major/minor/dim/half dim) and then learn the scales, starting with the modes( i recommend learning them in all keys but starting with the cycle of 5ths/4s as the cycle is everywhere in jazz.Also know the blues sequences cold.

    Once you've done these things you should be ok I recon.
    Rhythm is obviously another thing to play around with.
    But to say it again- Know the tune!
  18. I am perpetually learning. I've been "playing" bass for over 25 years but only in the last few years did I get over my "fear of soloing/improvising".

    Now I am not a "chop master" - I don't have Wooten/Jaco/Bona dexterity or speed and I am still a little wobbly, BUT I have started stepping up and going for it. I've figured out a few simple things that have helped me feel a lot better about the solos and impovs I've done so far:

    When practicing by yourself:
    1) Learn the melody of the piece and be able to play it as if you were the lead instrument.
    2) Listen to horn, wind, and vocalists when they both improvise and play the head. You're allowed to be lyrical too - so do it!
    3) Take the melody and what you've heard Miles, Ella, Aretha, et al. do and imitate it. Play with the melody - stretch some notes then quickly recover to get to the next part of the phrase - etc... Demonstrate that you know where the melody is and that you can move around it without losing contact with it or the phrase.

    When jamming with others:
    1) Listen to what others are doing - borrow a bit and give it back to them when it's your turn.
    2) Start simply and make well formed statements that reflect the melody of the piece in some way.
    3) Use space to create interest. If you are like me and not the choppiest or most powerful player, sliding up to a high note and holding it for a second or two before riding a scale down can draw the listeners' ears in. Playing note after note after note after note will ultimately make people stop hearing what you are doing.
    4) Always - always - always think in terms of logical phrasing. Things like "playing across the bars" only makes sense if you prove you know where the bars are.

    Another thing - I think this is a Wooten quote - "You're never more than a 1/2 step away from a good note" - so don't get too hung up on "knowing" where all the good notes are. You'll find 'em - and you'll find the ones you'd rather not hit again. When you do hit one of those famous "out" notes, use it - hit it, bend it up 1/2 step (cuz you're never more that a 1/2 step away) and turn it into a really interested statement that could actually become the signature of that phrase. One you'd have NEVER found had you been following every rule and only playing the "good notes".

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