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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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July 16, 2009 | Improvising: Throwing mud on the wall

Sometimes we let fear and intimidation prevent us from tackling the challenge of creating our own art. The very notion of improvisation strikes terror in the heart of even many advanced players, let alone novices; we steer clear of public (maybe even private) embarrassment, not wanting the responsibility of wrong or inappropriate notes.

Here's a hint: start with some right notes. Look at the chord structure of your chorus and determine the most obvious of notes. Picking out the tonics should be the easiest, but go for something more harmonically relevant like the 3rds of the chords (later the 7ths). These can be your reference points as you splotch pieces of mud on the wall.

Your next step is to work from those points, throwing more "mud" trying to fill in around them. Use passing tones, small licks and riffs, familiar musical phrasings, but think of it not as creating an entire improvised chorus, but as connecting splotches, a network of interrelated notes.

Keep the wall sparse at first, don't give in to the urge to fill it with notes, and again be sure that your 3rds and 7ths are aurally apparent. Drive your in-between notes to them, not just throwing random mud. There's an old saying that if you through enough mud on a wall, eventually it will stick; that's not our goal here! We're not talking about creating a wall of mud, rather a wall of art.

Jazz is all about the balance of calculation and intuition.

Each chorus is a different wall, although they can be similar. As you build a solo, there will be a climax, or perhaps a series of climactic intensity; those are when your wall will have more mud, but don't underestimate the power of space.

Jazz is all about the balance of calculation and intuition. Start with the calculation, and fill in with the intuition. The big secret is the more experienced you get at it, the more the calculation becomes intuition.

Improvising: A three-pronged attack
Playing musically: Part 2, play the chords
Analysis: Macroscopes and Microscopes Part 2
Thinking in Sentences

Posted by Ted at July 16, 2009 8:33 AM

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