Clark JM Jazz Mandolin
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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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April 10, 2008 | Improvising: Take your licking

Last week we spoke of three ways of arriving at material to induce both a cerebral (brain) and tactile (finger) approach to developing material for improvising: Gravity Notes (of the scale), Arpeggios (linear chord spellings), and Pentatonics (a glimpse of the triad and two auxiliary tones). There is another approach worth investigating, and it's something we tackle in another section of the website on Improvisation Techniques. (If you haven't read it, now would be a good time.)

What we've outlined in this concept is simply taking a motif, a phrase, a "lick," and building off of it using some of the theory concepts you've picked up. It can be something as basic as altering the phrase within the context of a new scale, injecting auxiliary notes, extracting nuggets, or varying the rhythms. What you end up with is something musically consistent, but also fresh in the ear of the listener. It's like remodeling a house, rather than starting an entire building from scratch.

We challenge you to find some licks you like. It can be the first two measures of "Scrapple from the Apple," a recognizable lick from one of your favorite players, even a line from a Bach Violin Partita. Make it simple, though; the idea is to retain consistency, and just see what you can do limited to a simple set of fresh notes. You may astound both yourself AND your audience with what a simple dose of creativity can do to supercharge your solos.

Like the old Timex watch TV commercials from the 60's, but instead of "It takes a licking, but it keeps on ticking," your improvisation can now be, "Take your "lick" ing and keep on ticking....

Posted by Ted at April 10, 2008 9:46 AM

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