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Learn to improvise - where to start?
#2791481 12/15/18 05:44 AM
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Many paths lead to mastering the skill of improvisation, but by and large, there are 4 main ways:

1. learning by ear and/or written transcriptions;
2. preliminary study of chords and harmonic patterns;
3. preliminary study of scales;
4. preliminary study of small structures - riffs, motives.

Of course, from the very first moment the question arises: where is it preferable to start, and what is its advantage. I would like to hear opinions on this issue.

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Re: Learn to improvise - where to start?
Nahum #2791630 12/15/18 03:05 PM
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The starting position of students studying improvisation can differ dramatically - from complete ignorance in theory and harmony, accompanied by a weak possession of the instrument, to those who graduated from musical academy in the piano class, but who nevertheless cannot improvise; what usually happens to those who have studied the musical notation of (classical) music more than the music itself.
Among the above four learning paths, two relate to theory, and the other two to the language itself.

The first way - in the presence of good hearing and memory - generally does not require knowledge in theory and harmony; in the same way, a little child learns to talk by ear without knowing anything about grammar and syntax.
If, in addition, there is a good voice, then even the preliminary ability to play any instrument is not required.

The second way already requires possession of the instrument to some extent in order to play chords and build pieces of melody around them (that's how I learned). The melody is created from combinations of arpeggios and ornamentation around chord pitches.

The third way in recent decades is the most popular: the study of diatonic scales on the white keys and linking them with chords. The melody is created by combining fragments of scales.

The fourth way is initially builds bridges between music and human speech using only black keys (the african way) . .

Last edited by Nahum; 12/15/18 03:10 PM.
Re: Learn to improvise - where to start?
Nahum #2791821 12/16/18 02:07 AM
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In fact, the fourth way is based on the beginner's advanced skills developed over a long period of time: natural musicality, the ability to sing and talk, and the ability to press keys in one or another order. Everything else outside the student is extremely limited to pentatonic on the black keys. In such conditions, any child can begin to improvise.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NCAyyNQzqUM&list=UU6fqDmZ4pyKBMwRtE4VUMvw&index=54

The main problem on this path: acquaintance with speech melody , its identification and transfer to the instrument. This can be a problem even with professional pianists - nobody taught them that.

Last edited by Nahum; 12/16/18 02:08 AM.
Re: Learn to improvise - where to start?
Nahum #2791841 12/16/18 04:28 AM
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Hi Nahum

Thanks for another fascinating set of posts.

The way I learnt, and still use to a large extent is option 2. A friend explained to me (eons ago) that you don't need to be able read all the music on the page. If there are chords there (generally for guitar when I initially started) you base what you're doing on those. So simplistically for those who don't know, if I see an E guitar chord shape/box I know E, G# & B will fit in an improvisation, or to play an accompaniment. Understanding that also helps you to see inversions quicker.

Initially I used this for simple blues and rock tunes, mostly playing on a rubbish Elka home organ I had back in the late 70s. Of course since that time I've expanded my chord knowledge, and can see complicated chords both on the keyboard and within written music now and instantly play them.

To a lesser degree I've used option 3 and tried to various types of scales and modes and apply them in Jazz.

I certainly wouldn't claim that the way I learnt is the best way. It just happened, more by luck than anything
I wish I had a better ear...... or more of them!!

Cheers


Simon

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Re: Learn to improvise - where to start?
Simon_b #2791900 12/16/18 09:18 AM
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Originally Posted by Simon_b


Initially I used this for simple blues and rock tunes, mostly playing on a rubbish Elka home organ


Aha, that way you learned the pentatonic and blues scale!

Quote
The way I learnt, and still use to a large extent is option 2...I certainly wouldn't claim that the way I learnt is the best way. It just happened, more by luck than anything


Quote
To a lesser degree I've used option 3 and tried to various types of scales and modes and apply them in Jazz.


There is no reason to think that one of the options closes the way for others. At the end, everyone meets in the same place; the only question is - in what order? This is not an arithmetic equation, where the sum does not change from a change in the places of the terms. Here time can vary from half an hour (sic!) to many years.

After 4 lessons : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rf6OxbXVGjg&t=4s


After 3 lessons : https://yadi.sk/d/elUvDZpG0CUKEw

Re: Learn to improvise - where to start?
Nahum #2792594 12/18/18 03:55 AM
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[Linked Image]

Re: Learn to improvise - where to start?
Nahum #2792605 12/18/18 05:16 AM
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The path of combining the melodic line with speech can be heard here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1KrLzQa1ygU 06:18 - The World Is Going Wrong

The violinist plays simultaneously with vocals, exactly keeping a rhythm, intonation, breathing and articulation. Since the melodic line is a series of riffs, this format is most suitable for a beginner with a musical ear, acquaintance with the blues scale (or pentatonic) and a certain mastery of the instrument.

Re: Learn to improvise - where to start?
Nahum #2793317 12/20/18 03:38 AM
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The impact of preliminary storytelling on the meaningfulness of musical improvisation.

https://yadi.sk/d/F432__kjOJd0PA

2 records of blues improvisation at 5th lesson of the same beginner student (still confused in form ) : the first - improvisation completely without preparation; the second - after asking the student to tell a story about himself within a minute. One can feel immediately sound character change , more organized thinking with clear breathing between phrases and the absence of unnecessary notes .
Who can tell what is happening inside this black box under the influence of the spoken language? Dr. Charles Limb has not investigated this yet ...

Re: Learn to improvise - where to start?
Nahum #2796252 12/28/18 03:28 PM
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Improvisation is something I need to learn.

Oddly, I improvise much much better when I'm not concentrating (probably because I lack the theory?)

I have a stand alone digital piano that I'm now using for most of my piano practice.

I also have a very cheap 88 note midi keyboard, and on top of the midi 88 note keyboard, I have a sliding shelf thing with a synth like midi keyboard on (and a ton of VST midi synths etc).

If I play the 88 note midi without pushing the synth kB out of the way, I am effectively playing the 88 note keyboard blind as it's hidden from view.

like in this pic

[Linked Image]

When I do this, I manage to come up with all sorts of interesting things that fit well.

When I have it so that I've pushed the top keyboard out of the way, hence can see what notes/chords I'm about to play on the 88 note,

as in this pic

[Linked Image]


my brain lacks the confidence to experiment (not sure if that makes any sense), and I find myself much much more limited in my improvisation

Re: Learn to improvise - where to start?
Nahum #2796670 12/30/18 04:05 AM
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Improvisation starts with memorization of basic phrases in the idiom. If you want to learn how to improvise jazz, you need to study jazz melody lines, and for awhile, maybe several years. I used to sit with my cassette player and just try to write down everything that Miles Davis and John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins were playing. When I got frustrated with the cassette player, I would just listen to a phrase, and stop the player. Then try and play it back exactly as the masters did. A lot goes into it, but it pays off over time. There are literally thousands of youtube videos on how to do this now. Youtube is your friend.
All the best and good luck with your music. and Happy New Year!


Rob Mullins
www.planetmullins.com
Recording Artist and Jazz Piano Instructor
Re: Learn to improvise - where to start?
Rob Mullins #2796680 12/30/18 06:08 AM
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Originally Posted by Rob Mullins
Improvisation starts with memorization of basic phrases in the idiom.

I would like to know what you mean by "basic phrases in the idiom. "

Re: Learn to improvise - where to start?
Nahum #2803719 01/18/19 06:52 PM
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I had a bit of an epiphany when I thought of improvisation as "spontaneous composition." I noticed most musical and enthralling improvisations I heard developed and expanded on ideas, created and resolved tension, just as good compositions.

I recall studying Sonny Rollins and Joe Henderson solos when I realized this. For instance, Rollins' playing on "Blue 7" and Henderson's on "Song for My Father" (Horace Silver album) start with very simple motifs and brilliantly build.

So with that in mind I decided to see what I could come up with if giving myself some more time. I took the chord changes of a piece on which I was working and would write out some solos. I'd typically start with a simple motif, then try to expand and develop it over a chorus or two. (I typically did this by holding down a chord on a piano and playing the solo ideas with a saxophone, as that was my main instrument). I learned quite a bit and discovered a lot of things I liked, and a lot I didn't. I never played a written-out solo in a performance, but I used a lot of the ideas, and I believe my thinking this way significantly improved my soloing.

Last edited by Tim P; 01/18/19 06:53 PM.
Re: Learn to improvise - where to start?
Nahum #2803739 01/18/19 07:55 PM
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Originally Posted by Nahum
I would like to know what you mean by "basic phrases in the idiom.”

My sense is that “basic phrases in the idiom” is similar to #4 on your list (quoted below). In other words, small musical structures that are characteristic of a genre.

Originally Posted by Nahum
... Many paths lead to mastering the skill of improvisation ... by and large, there are 4 main ways:
1. learning by ear and/or written transcriptions;
2. preliminary study of chords and harmonic patterns;
3. preliminary study of scales;
4. preliminary study of small structures - riffs, motives.


For myself, my blues-jazz teacher had me start me with a combination of:
#1 (learning by ear) and #4 (study of small structures/“phrases in the idiom”), which then became #2 - a study of the underlying chords and harmonic patterns.

#3 - the study of scales, has happened more by osmosis rather than targeted study.


We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams.
Re: Learn to improvise - where to go next?
Groove On #2803844 01/19/19 05:36 AM
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Originally Posted by Groove On

My sense is that “basic phrases in the idiom” is similar to #4 on your list (quoted below). In other words, small musical structures that are characteristic of a genre.

.
Now I understand, thanks! I would call them elementary motives or submotives.
====================================================================================
Non-structural melodic thinking through chords and scales is like demonstrating the stage of plowing up the soil and sowing dried seed as the music itself. How many students and not only fall through on it! Structural thinking is already a musical harvest. Question: what next?
We will never forget that the improviser is a personal story teller through musical (or off musical) sounds. In classical music in a broad sense, the story is sung, also on the instrument; in jazz, it is expressed partly by dance, partly by singing, and partly by prose; historically gradually converging with the atonal Sprechgesang of Schoenberg , but it's not for students yet . What yes for students - understanding the difference between the melodic structures of musical poetry or dancing ; and musical prose; and I'm only talking about jazz.

Re: Learn to improvise - where to go next?
Nahum #2804949 01/22/19 08:08 AM
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My preference would be #3, scales and building off of scales (I often understand arpeggios and riffs as glorified scale variations), because (for me at least) they get the music theory into my fingers better than anything else.

Scale practice is the vehicle that for any place I am in a song, it directs me where I can go, and if I play around the key notes or go into increasingly out scales, it can still sound good without sounding canned. And, the best part, the harmony largely comes for free & right at hand when you get the forms into your fingers; you can't say the same the other way around. And of course scales build both your technique and your harmonic mind, e.g., if you're playing a game like shifting scales with quick changes that progresively speed up. It also works well in conjunction with #2; they're mutually supportive, but scales is the one that really gets it into my fingers & mind.

By ear is right out for me because my mind doesn't work like that.
And learning by small structures leads my playing to sound very canned, and probably hurts my technique and harmonic mind if anything since you're internalizing shortcuts.

Re: Learn to improvise - where to start?
Nahum #2805124 01/22/19 03:53 PM
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Originally Posted by Cade
.
And learning by small structures leads my playing to sound very canned, and probably hurts my technique and harmonic mind .
The study of small structures has its advantages: first, the novice improviser quickly gets rid of unnecessary notes, and the rest fill up with meaning. In this regard, I recall the infinite monkey theorem states that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type any given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare (but this is, of course, a wild exaggeration laugh ).
Secondly, even the smallest structure contains a number of elements necessary for the most important in improvisation - motivic development:
Rhythm + articulation
Melody as a sequence of intervals
Melodic intonation (contour)
The location of the initial note of structure in height
The location of the initial note of structure in time inside the bar
Overall range of structure
Number of notes
Notes order
Melodic skeleton
Harmony
Scales

Re: Learn to improvise - where to start?
Nahum #2805696 01/23/19 09:19 PM
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I see your point but let me ask a follow up question on that note, since I may not be the only person that has this kind of issue with it.

Scales and chords/harmony practice are easy for me practice as I can largely invent my own practice material endlessly, with scale variations, constructing voicings, and running them through changes increasingly rapidly, etc. I never run out of new material to practice and I feel like I'm always making progress.

Small structures almost by definition are things one has to take from sources and (I feel) can't just invent, aside from simple things like arpeggios or set riffs, and consciously throwing them into tunes. The biggest source I recall going through was something like one of David Baker's Bebop books has 100 bebop patterns, and I'd play through them just to get the movements into my fingers. (I'll also play written transcriptions for this reason.) It's just that the patterns don't stick very well and I don't know how to "make progress" with them in the same way as scales, voicings, & running through changes, since I don't know where else to go with patterns than repeating them or consciously placing them in tunes. I recognize that something's lacking in my playing by not having structure beyond knowing where I am in the changes, but it's harder to know how to fill that gap, or put more concretely, how to fill practice sessions with new and progressive material that consistently fills that gap over time.

Re: Learn to improvise - where to start?
Cade #2805847 01/24/19 09:05 AM
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Originally Posted by Cade
It's just that the patterns don't stick very well and I don't know how to "make progress" with them in the same way as scales, voicings, & running through changes, since I don't know where else to go with patterns than repeating them or consciously placing them in tunes.

You are not the only one - many students, working hard on chords and scales, suddenly discover that their improvisations do not sound like the transcriptions of famous artists. Getting started on improvisation with chords and scales is the easiest way; over time, however, it turns into some kind of laziness (also transcription). And, of course, the musical result isn't the one that someone would like to receive.
Originally Posted by Cade


Small structures almost by definition are things one has to take from sources and (I feel) can't just invent, aside from simple things like arpeggios or set riffs, and consciously throwing them into tunes.

The first thing I teach students is to evaluate every sound they play, like every word they say, worth its weight in gold. If you combine them with verbal text to create a small structure, it will also become valuable.
Here is an example on blues form : I randomly got the phrase Today I feel the blues stronger than ever!


[Linked Image]

Then created a speech melody - by sensation; and then began to modify short pieces, and did not forget to insert a descending pentatonic scale, the function of which is the transition between two short phrases.

[Linked Image]

Last edited by Nahum; 01/24/19 09:06 AM.
Re: Learn to improvise - where to start?
Cade #2806089 01/24/19 03:26 PM
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Originally Posted by Cade
The biggest source I recall going through was something like one of David Baker's Bebop books has 100 bebop patterns, and I'd play through them just to get the movements into my fingers. (I'll also play written transcriptions for this reason.) It's just that the patterns don't stick very well and I don't know how to "make progress" with them in the same way as scales, voicings, & running through changes, since I don't know where else to go with patterns than repeating them or consciously placing them in tunes.
Innovation in phrasing of bebop has become the rhythmic basis of drum solo in melody, so the typical phrase of bebop consists of several elementary patterns, each of which can be used for development in accordance with the above parameters.

Re: Learn to improvise - where to start?
Nahum #2807217 01/26/19 11:43 PM
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Originally Posted by Nahum
Here is an example on blues form : I randomly got the phrase [b]T[i]oday I feel the blues stronger than ever.

Love it, nice example. laugh


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