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Sage Wisdom

"Good improvisation communicates harmonic progression melodically. Effective melodies manipulate harmonic content through the use of guide tones and preparatory gravity notes, masterfully woven in systematic tension, release, and transparent harmonic definition."

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February 16, 2006 | More Appropriate

Blowing notes. That's the indeterminate peril of jumping into jazz improvisation for the novice (and sometimes the self-centered jazz veteran), that self-indulgent diarrhea of sound that just fills space, but doesn't really say anything. Notes can often be "appropriate," but if they aren't assembled to "communicate," to enrapture the listener in the drama of tension and release, you just have to ask, "Why bother?"

Our unabashed loathing of improvisation base on the Pentatonic Scale is a classic example of filler sound that goes nowhere. Scale degrees 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 include the defining 1s t & 3rd , which mean something, but the other three notes lack color or compulsion.

That said, when you conceptualize vertical motion in melody, you can make these "extra" notes mean something if they go somewhere:

We talk of this in our gravity notes articles, but let's go vertical and embrace some harmonic motion. You can do this melodically, painting chords through arpeggios amidst your improvisation. Note, it doesn't even have to be all that rapid fire. You could fill a whole measure with the 3rd, 7th, and of the other color tones of the chord (+9, b9, +11, etc.), communicating far more harmonic "message" than machine gun peppering of notes.

We suggest learning what these notes are in the chord, strategically place them in your music and working your way backward in priority with all the auxiliary non-chord tones of the scale conceptualized as passing tones as you create your improvisation. Build the frame first, then dress and decorate it.

Another tip is to look at consecutive chords, isolate the notes that are different from chord to chord, and emphasize those distinctions in your playing. Albeit intuitively, it demonstrates to the listener you know where you are in the progression; it secures the harmonic rhythm of the song.

It's more than just playing appropriate notes. It's learning the hierarchy of which notes are most important in communicating the harmonic content of the music.

It's about being more appropriate...

Posted by Ted at February 16, 2006 5:39 PM

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