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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 23, 2006 | More Blowing

More "Blowing..."

We explored in the previous tip, the concept of communicating chord tones. The purpose of "proclaiming" these important notes accomplishes the definition of harmonic substance--melodically. This is a different approach than playing modes or scales, and takes a bit more thinking, but what it does is introduce the vertical elements of the music, horizontally. Yes, you could strum the chord, but you can also introduce the chord in the form of an arpeggio; doing this in improvisation kills two "Birds" with one stone. (No reference to Charlie Parker intended...)

Sounds great in theory, but how do I learn how to do this in the "real world?"

Start with dissecting the chords. If you are visually oriented, print the chord names out and write the 3rd, 7th, and color tone of the chord (-11, +11, etc.) on a blank staff for a whole tune or chorus. Now go back and slowly play these notes alone, develop material that arrives at them, sort of working backwards, then start to connect them, but the idea is they need to be prominent. If you are more tactile-oriented, just play the chords, doing the same by picking out the notes you want to be heard from the chord, and create melodies that set-up and prepare for these notes.

The goal is to be able to strip out the accompaniment and still be able to hear the harmonic progression. Whether you write them onto the staff as practice or swap between chord and melody real time, you want to learn to fuse both the linear and the horizontal aspects within your improvisational melody factory.

If you played a duet with a bass line, could your listeners hear the chord progression in your improvisation?... If so, mission accomplished.

Posted by Ted at February 23, 2006 4:23 PM

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