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Teaching melodic jazz improvisation
#2985102 05/28/20 04:10 PM
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Let's discuss methods some jazz teachers use to try to teach students how to improvise melodically. I think this can be a difficult thing to teach and seems to often be a weak spot in jazz education. Saying play this scale or arpeggio on this chord doesn't go very far towards good "melodic syntax."
Nahum wisely mentioned, "melodic intonation or musical syntax" in another thread. I think those concepts are key.
Barry Harris has a scale outline method, that expands to interval patterns, chromatic approaches, and specific scale degree embellishments that gets rather advanced, that ingrains a sense of melodic and rhythmic syntax.

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Re: Teaching melodic jazz improvisation
RinTin #2985109 05/28/20 04:33 PM
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I've been taking jazz lessons from an excellent teacher for at least 10 years. I don't think she has ever attempted to teach me to construct a melody, and I'm not sure how you'd do that. She will on occasion, critique a melody line of mine by pointing out that i repeated notes too often, or stayed within a very small range, or I didn't capture the feeling of the harmonic impression. But how do you teach melody creation?

When classical teachers teach composition, so they teach melody creation, or do they just teach tools like structure, harmony, etc?

Re: Teaching melodic jazz improvisation
RinTin #2985178 05/28/20 07:49 PM
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Originally Posted by jjo
When classical teachers teach composition, so they teach melody creation, or do they just teach tools like structure, harmony, etc?

When it comes to studying composition, it is worth getting acquainted with what is hidden under this heading:

Musical form.
Mode and intonation.
Meter, rhythm and pace.
The interaction of mode and meter.
Forms of motif.
Motif development and phrase formation.
Melody.
Texture.
Motif, phrase and sentence as a theme .
Period.
Intro, transition, code.
Classic shapes and schemes .


Actually, the theme "Melody" is considered in this way:

Melody as a thematic construction.
Ups, downs, climaxes.
Wavy type of melodic development.
Each melody is the result of the development of the main thematic motifs, forming some symmetry in the rhythm-intonation line.
The range of the melody and its motive-phrase structure.
The final motif
Couplet form of songs.
The connection of the melody with the text.



However, for the future composer, it is important not to study the textbook where this list is taken from, but to analyze the exemplary musical works completely.

In jazz, pre-transcription is added to this.

Re: Teaching melodic jazz improvisation
RinTin #2985264 05/29/20 02:14 AM
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For a brief time in college, my classmates in my classical percussion ensemble took a jazz side-class once a week with our late Jazz band director / pro Jazz saxophone player (who had played with some of the famous jazz organ combos in 1960's NYC/Philadelphia). We each took the class on what we had available, which was any melodic mallet percussion instrument - xylophones, marimbas, and vibraphones. The first lesson and consequent homework assignment was to take a simple 12-bar blues progression and write out a bass line (what would a bass player play?). I was surprised at this approach at first because as you might know, most mallet instruments don't even cover the bass clef, let alone deep bass player's notes. He used the same approach no matter what instrument you played - piano, flute, violin, sax, trumpet, percussion, etc. : first write bass lines in treble clef (or bass clef if you played bassoon, cello, trombone, double bass, etc.) and then play them on your respective instrument.


The first assignments were to write whole notes for each measure, roots only when you see a new chord change, so for example, taking a simple jazz blues in C (that he gave us a simple chord chart for)
C |F |C |C |
F |F |C |A |
D |G |C |G ||
Pretty much everyone had the exact same composition written down. Then the next week's assignment was to use half notes with extra ii-V patterns added in to the simple 12-bar blues chord chart that we were given (we were given the chords/roots to work with, we didn't have to know yet about jazz harmony). An example homework submission:
C E |F G |C A |G C |
F C |F F# |G F |E A |
D A |G Db |C A |D G ||
Here's where things got interesting. Given the small freedom of just one more note per measure, some students chose to make the extra note a 5th of the root (which is a strong classical interval for a bass part that we had all supposedly (ha) learned in classical music theory classes), but some chose to use the extra half note on beat 3 of every measure as a "connecting note"; which our teacher said that we could use to approach the "target note" of the following measure, just so long as it approaches the next root from a whole step or half step either from below or above. All the students' compositions sounded slightly different from one another, even at this very early stage of composition with many restrictions (half notes only, must use root when chord changes). Dare I say, you could almost see personalities emerging when each student performed their compositions back-to back!

The next assignment was to add a quarter note on beat 4 of every measure. Now the half-time bass lines start to emerge. What's cool is you start to hear lines that would be played by famous bass players in Jazz history. Then the 4th week's assignment is to use 4 quarter notes every measure, but still landing on the target notes or roots of each chord change. By this point, the students' submissions are substantially different from one another's, given the branching tree-like structure emerging from their small-scale decisions.

I won't belabor the syllabus plan, but as you can imagine, streaming 8th-notes are required in future assignments and different members of each chord must be targeted: for example: play/write smoothly flowing 8th notes and you must land on the root of each chord change. Now do it again, but you must land on the 3rd of every chord. It gets pretty challenging once you try targeting the 7th of each chord while streaming 8th-notes! It makes the student 'look ahead' and 'think ahead' slightly, which is so important in improvisation.

Not once during the entire semester were scales or modes talked about. I believe that when beginners start learning how to improvise melodies, they need a task that is simple, exact, and concrete that they can work with and that they feel comfortable playing. The benefits of this "target note" method are that it starts targeting right away with bass lines, is easy to play for different levels of abilities with whole and half notes in the beginning, it develops one's ear to hear the bass line in a jazz piece and therefore be able to follow the chord progression in future jazz study, encourages them to keep moving (steady streams of half notes, then quarters, then 8ths), and gives them something concrete to focus on so they don't get lost or feel helpless as opposed to someone being asked to "just blow a simple melody over these changes".

For more advanced students, the beauty of this method is that you start to hear idiomatic patterns (like bass players would play when you start out with the first exercises) all the way to bebop lines when you get to streaming 8th notes and occasional 8th-note triplets. When I got up to that level, I 'accidentally' started playing some riffs that my jazz idols played - Charlie Parker, Cannonball, Clifford Brown, Joe Pass, Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, etc. etc. That was truly a rewarding experience as a jazz student! By hearing those emerging patterns and then recognizing them in old jazz records, I was reinforcing my jazz ear and building up an improvising vocabulary that I could make my own.

Last edited by erichlof; 05/29/20 02:20 AM.
Re: Teaching melodic jazz improvisation
RinTin #2985266 05/29/20 02:29 AM
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Re: Teaching melodic jazz improvisation
RinTin #2985379 05/29/20 08:54 AM
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Erichlof:

A jazz pro I've been taking a class from recommends something a bit simpler, but a similar concept. If you are working on a piece with some tough changes he suggests a three part process:
1. Write out a bass line using quarter notes. This is the get a feel for the changes good voice leading.
2. Write out a chorus using continuous eight notes. This is the get a feel for which scales work over which chords and also to get a feel for how to transition from one chord to the next.
3. Write out an actual solo. He finds that the first two steps lead to a better product in Step #3.

Re: Teaching melodic jazz improvisation
RinTin #2985384 05/29/20 09:02 AM
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Amazing Keith Jarrett's advices on creating a melody were published by his brother Scott in the tutorial " Music composition for dummies ". Here is just a small quote from there:

Finding Your Own Rhythmic Phrases

Exercises

1. Find and notate a rhythmic phrase from your own personal
environment. It could be anything from the rhythm of a washing machine to the sound of your breathing or heartbeat. Maybe your engine makes an interesting rhythm when it starts in the morning. Maybe your dog barks in a rhythmic pattern. Maybe someone is hammering down the street or your door
or mailbox makes a rhythmic creaking noise. Whatever it is, if it has
rhythm, you can use it in your composition.
2. Notice the tempo of your walking.
Most people settle into a habitual pace when they walk. Try to change it up today. Go a little faster or slower and see how that feels. Try to feelthe upbeats between your footsteps as you walk. What kind of melody suggests itself when you listen to the rhythm of your walk?

(etc)

Re: Teaching melodic jazz improvisation
RinTin #2985409 05/29/20 10:21 AM
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Originally Posted by rintincop
Let's discuss methods some jazz teachers use to try to teach students how to improvise melodically. I think this can be a difficult thing to teach and seems to often be a weak spot in jazz education.

True, that is because there is no good method. There is not even a way to (objectively) evaluate a good melody from a bad one which makes it tricky.

I can think of a few things that can help though -
- developing a good ear is fundamental, so all ear training is essential
- memorizing lots of melodies and practicing playing them is essential (i am always surprised how hard it is to play a melody well, especially on the piano).
- singing is great, if you can sing it then chances are it is melodically alright (not that melodies that are unsingable are bad but generally by ‘melodic’ people mean simple lines, phrases not too long or short, not too many large intervals etc)
- practise improvising in simple phrases, concentrating on the shape of the phrase and where the emphasis is placed (rather than licks on 251 or scales arpeggio patterns etc). sing along as well

Re: Teaching melodic jazz improvisation
RinTin #2985464 05/29/20 01:41 PM
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I think this is an academic question.

Re: Teaching melodic jazz improvisation
RinTin #2985473 05/29/20 02:01 PM
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Here is how I teach jazz improv:

the classic bebop improvised melodic line is a string of eight notes that are composed of: chord tones on strong beats (1 and 3) connected by chord scales and arpeggios with approach patterns at chord changes.

Some teachers refer to approach patterns as enclosures. They are a combination of chromatic notes from below and scale degrees from above.

Look at any bebop transcription (especially Hank Mobley) and you will see these component parts used in this way.

Take a look at my free improv lesson here:

https://www.jazzpianoonline.com/courses/improv-the-concept

I analyze a Hank Mobley transcription to show you what these elements are and how they are used.

Once you know how an improvised line is built the next step is to gain control of the elements so that you can use them to improvise.


Bill
bill@jazzpianoonline.com
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Re: Teaching melodic jazz improvisation
RinTin #2985513 05/29/20 03:37 PM
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Due to the specifics of the college where I have been working for many years, I focus on the transition from zero improvisation skills to the first student experiences. Therefore, the selected action field contains a minor pentatonic scale, the simplest blues scheme, the corresponding blues groove and 3 power chords in the left hand, and the routine of creating 5-7 pitches riffs of two bars in length, including a pause. For starters, this is enough. At this stage, we are not talking about the bebop scale and other modes; however, pentatonic riffs from the very beginning are created in accordance with two fundamental intonations: “Question - answer”, or “Call and response”.
In this way, the intonational melodic curve receives a measure of importance similar to the rhythm from the very first moment . The question of when the melody should rise, and when to fall, is decided in accordance with the student's preliminary scenario.
In parallel, the student gets acquainted with the phenomena of stable (I, V), less stable (IIIb) and unstable steps (IV, VIIb) of minor pentatonic scale, and together with this the concepts of tension and resolution . Any mechanical approach to melody is excluded from the very beginning , and as a result, each note gets meaning.

Last edited by Nahum; 05/29/20 03:39 PM.
Re: Teaching melodic jazz improvisation
RinTin #2985624 05/30/20 02:10 AM
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@jjo
Yes that makes sense. I can't really do my late teacher's method justice in a wordy post, but to summarize - yes like your teacher's method, he eventually asked the students to write out (and perform at a comfortable tempo) a stylistic solo based on flowing 8th notes and breaths/rests where appropriate. This is after weeks of building up to this point by practicing writing flowing half note/quarter note streams that targeted a specified chord member, much like a good jazz bass line.

Towards the end of the course, the students are asked to think in higher-level over-arching terms about their solos. Words like 'call-response', short vs. long phrases, busy/hectic phrases vs. relaxed/sparse phrases, smooth step-wise phrases vs. leaping/arpeggio phrases, simple in the beginning leading up to climactic point and then easing back down by the end of a solo (ala Sonny Rollins), etc. etc.

One of the interesting later assignments for more advanced players was to try starting your 8th-note streaming phrases on beats other than beat 1. Even though I am a jazz pianist/classical percussionist who is comfortable with all sorts of rhythms/offsets, this was difficult for me when I was a junior in college. It later brought me comfort when I listened to the famous Marian McPartland Piano Jazz show where she asked her guest Bill Evans what he was trying to work on in his own playing. He replied something along the lines of "I'm working on comfortably displacing phrases on any beat of the measure." He then went on to demonstrate in his near-perfect style, how that might sound on the standard All of You. When Marian tries to play along, she replies, "Wow, that was like swimming against the tide!" ;-)

So I think the teacher must tailor the difficultly of the assignment with the ability of each student. In a large class format, this method works for mostly everyone in the beginning to middle of the semester, but at some point it is better to start pacing it individually with each student separately.

Last edited by erichlof; 05/30/20 02:15 AM.
Re: Teaching melodic jazz improvisation
erichlof #2985681 05/30/20 07:24 AM
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Originally Posted by erichlof
, short vs. long phrases,

The introduction of linguistic syntax into the melody provides a variety of phrase durations. For example: a statement on 2 bars and 2 explanations of it, each one bar. So the beginning of the "Lullaby of Birdland" is built.This is just one example; there are many situations that affect the dynamics of the duration of phrases; and everyone is familiar with this from their own experience. It remains only to link them with improvisation.

Only I argue that working on these qualities should be ahead of immersion in bebop.

Last edited by Nahum; 05/30/20 07:30 AM.
Re: Teaching melodic jazz improvisation
RinTin #2985857 05/30/20 02:03 PM
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Quote from an online article:

https://www.jazzadvice.com/thinking-about-musical-phrasing-for-improvisation/

"What is a musical phrase?
When you improvise a musical phrase, you essentially become a composer, creating new melodies on the spot over an established chord progression. Therefore, studying or at the very least becoming familiar with the elements of composition is essential for creating a successful musical phrase.
Let’s consult a few passages from Arnold Schoenberg’s work The Fundamentals of Musical Composition. He opens his discussion about composition by focusing on the musical phrase, and the same applies to improvisation:
“The smallest structural unit is the phrase, a kind of musical molecule consisting of a number of integrated musical events, possessing a certain completeness, and well adapted to combination with other similar units.”
“The term phrase means, structurally, a unit approximating to what one could sing in a single breath. Its ending suggests a form of punctuation such as a comma.”
“The mutual accommodation of melody and harmony is difficult at first. But the composer should never invent a melody without being conscious of its harmony.”
“Rhythm is particularly important in moulding the phrase. It contributes to interest and variety; it establishes character; and it is often the determining factor in establishing the unity of the phrase.”

From this we can gather that the effectiveness of a phrase comes down to three main elements:
Thinking in terms of a complete musical statement
An awareness of the harmonic background
Playing with rhythmic definition
The idea of phrasing is especially important in Schoenberg’s music. In abandoning conventional harmony, chordal construction, and ignoring the pull of V7 to I with his compositional system, the melody and phrasing of each piece are critical to the listener – and this was something that Schoenberg was very aware of.
Hearing a musical phrase that is stated and then developed is innate in every listener, whether it’s conscious and studied by the performing musician or unconsciously felt by the casual listener.
To the non-musician, listening to bebop may be as bewildering as a music student’s first encounter with 12 tone music, but in both cases the ear’s natural inclination toward melody and repetition is the life raft that saves us as we get swept away by unfamiliar harmony."

Re: Teaching melodic jazz improvisation
RinTin #2985883 05/30/20 04:04 PM
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Originally Posted by rintincop
] Arnold Schoenberg[/i]’s work The Fundamentals of Musical Composition.
This book was written in the United States in English with the help of an editor shortly before the death of A.Sh. , and was completed after his death. I do not know if it is possible to vouch for the accuracy of the transfer of all the wording of the author.
In any case, in 1917, Ernst Kurt's work “Fundamentals of Linear Counterpoint” was published, in which the author analyzes in detail the process of the emergence of melody and melodic energy, closely approaching the phenomenon of intonation, but without mentioning the previous works of the Russian theoretician B. Yavorsky. Work by Kurt strongly worth exploring!
https://www.upenn.edu/pennpress/book/1639.html

Re: Teaching melodic jazz improvisation
RinTin #2986200 05/31/20 12:59 PM
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Newcomer to improvisation on his 4th lesson : https://yadi.sk/d/F432__kjOJd0PA
He prepared the first version at home; the second version was played on the spot, previously telling the story aloud for a minute and a half. The breathing in the second version is more natural - apparently the effect of verbal phrasing.
The first two lessons of this student were devoted to rhythm, groove, pent. scale , riffing and meaning of simple intonation lines; even before studying the blues form; which, as you can hear, was causing him problems.

Last edited by Nahum; 05/31/20 01:00 PM.
Re: Teaching melodic jazz improvisation
Nahum #2986266 05/31/20 03:16 PM
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Dear Nahum, when you write "meaning of simple intonation lines" I assume that involves what you posted before:

Originally Posted by Nahum
[quote=jjo]
[i]Melody as a thematic construction.
Ups, downs, climaxes.
Wavy type of melodic development.
Each melody is the result of the development of the main thematic motifs, forming some symmetry in the rhythm-intonation line.
The range of the melody and its motive-phrase structure.
The final motif
Couplet form of songs.
The connection of the melody with the text.


Jazz piano Instructor. Technical Editor for Mark Levine's "The Jazz Theory Book". Studied with Mark Levine, Art Lande & Mark Isham (1981-1990). Also: Barry Harris and Monty Alexander (1993-present)
Re: Teaching melodic jazz improvisation
RinTin #2986279 05/31/20 03:41 PM
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Barry Harris prescribed these single note right-hand warm up exercises for jazz soloing.
The left-hand accompaniment maybe something like ||: I vi | ii V :|| Once these drills have been memorized, with good time, the average student can't help but weave bebop like phrases.

We play the scale to the 7th (up; down; up and down; down and up (half step rules apply for ranging beyond the 7th: add one or three half-steps, add none or two half-steps; the so-called "bebop" theory of balancing chord tones on the beat).
We play our scale in fragments from 1-5, 3-7, 5-7 (and descending 7-3, 5-1, 3-1).
We play our scale up and down in melodic 3rds (with a resolution target note in mind).
We play our scale up and down in melodic triads (arpeggios) (with a target note in mind).
We play our scale up and down in melodic 7th chords arps (with a target note in mind).
We play a chromatic approach to all of the above (with a target note in mind).
We play 5,4,3,2 phrases (also 8,7,6,b6 phrases) and the ascending forms. These are specific melodic embellishments assigned to each degree of the scale. Basically, they're two types that alternate between a chord tone pivot embellishment and a chromatic enclosure embellishment.
On E-7b5 to A7b9 play C7 (Bb down to the 3rd of A7: C#): Where you start depends on where you are in the line. The target is the third of the dominant, from which there are many possible routes home, often using the important diminished arpeggio.
We play balanced chromatic scales (borrow a note from above).
We play the diminished and whole-tone scales (they are V7 scales).
We don't play ii scales... we play major, tonic minor, and V7 scales (also whole tone and diminished scales)


Jazz piano Instructor. Technical Editor for Mark Levine's "The Jazz Theory Book". Studied with Mark Levine, Art Lande & Mark Isham (1981-1990). Also: Barry Harris and Monty Alexander (1993-present)
Re: Teaching melodic jazz improvisation
RinTin #2986286 05/31/20 03:54 PM
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I teach the above Barry Harris scale outline exercises (as a daily warm up) plus my students are required to memorize Oscar Peterson's 4 measure hybrid blue scales break on C Jam Blues. And my studenats also memorize the three diatonic motifs that Bill Evans linked and repeated many times in his solo on of "A Face With No Name"


Jazz piano Instructor. Technical Editor for Mark Levine's "The Jazz Theory Book". Studied with Mark Levine, Art Lande & Mark Isham (1981-1990). Also: Barry Harris and Monty Alexander (1993-present)
Re: Teaching melodic jazz improvisation
RinTin #2986445 06/01/20 03:15 AM
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Originally Posted by rintincop
Dear Nahum, when you write "meaning of simple intonation lines" I assume that involves what you posted before:

Originally Posted by Nahum
[quote=jjo]
[i]Melody as a thematic construction.
Ups, downs, climaxes.
Wavy type of melodic development.
Each melody is the result of the development of the main thematic motifs, forming some symmetry in the rhythm-intonation line.
The range of the melody and its motive-phrase structure.
The final motif
Couplet form of songs.
The connection of the melody with the text.

All this is based on views on the logic of musical composition; but who of the jazz educators focuses on this, instead of digging into various technical issues? "Meaning (i.e. logic) of simple intonation line" associated with what is on the surface: emotional flow, excitement and calm. This also includes the fundamental hierarchy of the use of dissonances and hi-los , appropriate stylistic sound. This is a very subtle parameter by which is possible to identify quickly a real jazz musician. On the other hand, owning this does not automatically mean that the musician can explain everything.

Last edited by Nahum; 06/01/20 03:16 AM.
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