Improvisation while learning "Gypsy Jazz Techniques" book.

edited September 2013 in Gypsy Picking Posts: 5
Hi, I have been learning your book for the past 4 months now, and have a question. Over the past month or so (I have made my way through the first 5 techniques and accompanying pieces) I am finding it really hard to get a grasp of improvisation. I would consider myself a very confident guitar player, but have left all my old setlist aside as I am concentrating on my gypsy jazz playing. I have simple enough pieces in my head but can never transpose them to the guitar. I have composed a few different pieces using the exercises I have learnt from your book, but if I need something extra I can never seem to figure it out.

I don't know if this is because I am just not meant for this style or because I am still an amateur in the realm of gypsy jazz.

Any comments would greatly help as I am becoming increasingly frustrated


  • MichaelHorowitzMichaelHorowitz SeattleAdministrator
    Posts: 5,971

    Learning to improvise is a life long process and is akin to learning a language. Just learning a few licks is analogous to speaking French with a simple phrase book. To truly improvise, you need to learn the "language of jazz" buy doing years of listening, transcribing, and practicing. It's a long process, but it's all about the journey!

  • good words Michael
    The Magic really starts to happen when you can play it with your eyes closed
  • Lango-DjangoLango-Django Niagara-On-The-Lake, ONModerator
    Posts: 1,680
    Well, blindbuffin, the truth is that it ain't easy, bbut at least two or three things help keep you from throwing in the towel

    - looking back since you started playing GJ, hopefully you see some progress?

    - the encouragement you get around this website from your fellow 'frustrati"

    - going to functions like Django in June and getting inspired by the great players there...

    Keep practicing!

    Paul Cezanne: "I could paint for a thousand years without stopping and I would still feel as though I knew nothing."

    Edgar Degas: "Only when he no longer knows what he is doing does the painter do good things.... To draw, you must close your eyes and sing."

    Georges Braque: "In art there is only one thing that counts: the bit that can’t be explained."
  • good words stuart

    I will add .... if you can play with people better than you...once you at a decent level they will push you

    listen as much as you can to the musicin the genre that speaks to you the most
    The Magic really starts to happen when you can play it with your eyes closed
  • There is quite a bit of good advice. Jon Delaney posted this some time ago and it is definitely fruitful:
    "1. Pick a solo - probably Django is a good place to start and end, although Tchavolo is good too, because he plays simple ideas, but really, really well, and with amazing time.
    2. Learn the solo (100% speed, and being very picky about technique and timing
    3. Figure out how everything in it fits against the chords theoretically (chord degrees etc)
    4. Could you have thought of all the phrases - ie do you have an arpeggio pattern to account for each phrase?
    5. If not, practice patterns for the ones you don't
    6. Work out whether some licks could work over different types of chords (ie often minor lines work also over the relative major, or over the dominant 7th a fourth above...major lines that don't use the 7th often work verbatim over dom 7th chords)
    6.5 Some licks work well starting a beat or a half beat earlier or later. Try playing the lick starting on all of these beats - 1,1+,2,2+,3,3+,4,4+
    7. Take one short phrase at a time from the solo and improvise over a new tune playing only that phrase - finding a way to make it work over every chord, or just leaving space if you can't.
    8. Are there any "tricks" or technical gimmicks in the solo (chromatic runs, DUD picking licks )etc? If so, learn them exactly and go back to 7 to practice them.
    9. Learn some hard Waltzes to get you technique working.

    Hope that helps. That's basically my practice regime."

    Original thread is here: viewtopic.php?f=24&t=9612

    I've been adding this into my practice routine. I learn a solo, etude, or waltz. I get it as close to the tempo as possible (usually fall short). I do not consider it "learned" until I can play it with a metronome by itself without the aid of grilles or transcriptions. I check my learning every so often by playing along with the recording. Then I break it apart and run its individual "licks" through twelve keys (when possible). This sort of simplifies this, but its a good way to get some of the language in your head.
  • Posts: 5
    Gentlemen thank you all for the replies to my post.
    I see that I am in fact on the right track and can see myself coming along at a steady enough pace.
    I am from a mainly blues and classic rock but in all honesty my technique and picking pattern are not in keeping with what I am learning at the moment. So I find I get confused with trying to incorporate my old licks.

    Is there a reason that minor songs are easier to learn?
    I am going to ask a question that will make me look silly. What is a three note arpeggio?
    I am mainly self thought so I am only catching up with the terminology.

    Work out whether some licks could work over different types of chords (ie often minor lines work also over the relative major, or over the dominant 7th a fourth above...major lines that don't use the 7th often work verbatim over dom 7th chords).
    Just to copy and paste the above quote from jkaz.
    This is stuff I often read but have no idea what it means.
    Is there a chance someone could simplify this for me?
  • jonpowljonpowl Hercules, CA✭✭✭ Dupont MD-100, Altamira M01F
    Posts: 630
    Possibly dumb question, but are we talking about "Gypsy Picking"? I can't locate Gypsy Jazz Techniques in the media section on
  • AmundLauritzenAmundLauritzen ✭✭✭✭
    Posts: 236
    Losing motivation temporarily is something every musician experiences, even those who we consider to be the very best.

    When you play and one day you think it sounds like shit while it sounded fine before, it's because your ear is better and therefore your expectations are higher! Try recording yourself at your best one time when you are fairly satisfied with what you play. I can guarantee that six months down the road, you will think it stinks because then your ears have grown and your taste has matured more. You are reaching beyond your abilities. This is good, it's what you want, but you must not let your brain trick you.

    Many musicians will think they stop progressing when in fact what happens is that their ears grow faster than their muscle memory. So they hear all these beautiful phrases in their mind, but the fingers can't catch up. Their ears make a leap and they try to play something, but the fingers aren't programmed to that so the musician will think he is getting worse. Be aware of this illusion.
    Then after more practice the fingers catch up(many call it breaking a plateau) and the musician will feel very confident for a while until the ear leaps again and the fingers and muscle memory need to catch up.

    Maybe most people don't experience it like this, but I certainly do. It has been a recurring phenomenon in my practice since I started practicing improvisation.

    In the end it's all muscle memory: connecting your brain and fingers and programming yourself to play quality music by repetition, repetition and more repetition. You're building and reinforcing neural pathways until it becomes an autonomous reflex. After years of dilligent work, you have so many phrases down cold that they just play themselves and you improvise. That's really all there is to it. Then that process continues for the rest of your life as you keep refining your style.

    That's how I see it.
  • pickitjohnpickitjohn South Texas Corpus, San Antonio, AustinVirtuoso Patenotte 260
    Posts: 936
  • Excellent post, Amund. By this logic, my ear must have grown much quicker than my ears or my fingers aren't hearing it.
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