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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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October 31, 2013 | Paul Glasse on composition and line


We enjoy picking the brains of the pros on how they go about creating good improvisation. In our December 2009 interview with Paul Glasse, the question came up, and as usual, Paul came up with some great answers. The following is an excerpt you'll find helpful on devising your own strategy.

Question: What note choices or avoidance thereof do you find helpful in designing hip sounding bebop lines? Are there particular "snippets" of note patterns that you find always seem to come up? Is there a method you use when first attacking a jazz standard? i.e. find all the 3rds and 7ths in the chords, etc... I'm looking for the fishing pole and net here so I can try and come up with my own fish.

Paul Glasse: I think when I first started trying to play swing, and bebop that I tended to err on the side of playing too many roots to the chords, spelling things out too literally and just naturally trying to neatly tie up all the melodic loose ends. As I've played and listened more I've become more familiar with jazz vocabulary and in the process become more comfortable with melodic ideas that unfold gradually and don't always resolve themselves neatly right off the bat. I think that it's OK to pose a melodic question.

When first attacking a jazz standard I really don't use one specific system. I try to learn the chords and melody. I look for how the two work together--that is be able to play the melody and understand how it relates to the chords and vice versa. I generally try to solo over the chords a few times and deal with things in a few different positions and or registers, making sure to hone in on any unique harmonic moments of the particular tune.

While I don't have a system for it, I guess I do, at any given moment of a song, want to be dialed in on what's going on harmonically--yes, 3rds and 7ths are really important. Idiomatically, the drop from a root to the 3rd below it crops up a lot in bop lines as does the overlaying of blues vocabulary with various other approaches, such as chord substitution or alteration of extension tones. If the original tune has lyrics it can be helpful to know those--just another route to really getting inside the song.

In an ideal world we could all just create endless, inventive, melodic variations on tunes without thinking through any kind of technical filter. I think, while we might have times that this actually works, in truth, most of us are aided by some technical stuff. The technical thinking may help us figure out some safe things to play, or might help us identify (and find on the instrument) what we're already hearing in our head. I find that I play best when I'm able to bring several of these levels to bear--either at the same time, or at least rapidly transition between approaches. Within a given tune there may be sections that I can approach very intuitively, without much conscious thought, and other points when I may have to play more deliberately to technically negotiate a harmonic hairpin turn in the tune. Invariably, the more any of us plays, the more we just hear "better" and can increasingly trust our ears and instincts.

Paul Glasse Interview
Thin-slicing and Music Theory
Building a solo
Going beyond "playing."
Improvisation Techniques

Visit: Paul Glasse Reverb Nation Page
Music on Amazon

Posted by Ted at October 31, 2013 1:32 PM

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