Improv approach

terrassierterrassier France
in Gypsy Jazz 101 Posts: 101
Came across this on another forum and wanted to share it here - It was part of a thread that I found interesting, this video discusses an approach that appeals to me at this point ...... as opposed to trying to string loads of licks together which doesnt really.

Be good to hear peoples thoughts.



  • PetrovPetrov ✭✭
    edited April 2017 Posts: 125
    I'm at a beginner/intermediate level and I found this video a few weeks back on Youtube. It really opened my eyes on how to improv on these type of songs.

    Typically while learning improv in the beginning, the big message is learn licks and/or play the changes. Since these songs have chord changes every 2 beats, I didn't really know what to do.

    This video just made things click for me. Don't think changes/licks, but rather think about what sound you want to imply. Since the chords are all in the tonality of the C major scale, you can play anything within that and enrich it with different colours of notes.

    I took this further with a lesson on the DC music website from Sébastien Giniaux. I think it's called Harmonic Concepts. It touches many of the same points as this video.

    In the end, what I got from all of this is that I no longer restrict myself with licks, arps and chord changes. Rather, I use all these ideas to imply whatever sound I want on any chord. It really made me take chances and play things I would have never before. I've been really surprised what I can get out of my improv when I just let go and play!
  • JonJon melbourne, australiaProdigy Dupont MD50B, '79 Favino
    Posts: 391
    One problem with this scalar, key area approach, is that you don't learn to hear each chord as it goes by for what it is. You lose, or don't gain, the ability to hear individual chords in a progression, instead playing notes from a general scale, which often fail to hit important arpeggio notes, giving the solo a feeling of "fishing" around, and general lack of direction. It can get you going quickly, sure, and you'll have something to play over those tunes with a faster harmonic rhythm, where you might struggle to do so with a more comprehensive conception of the harmony (and you might get lucky with some cool phrases), but you won't develop the sound of controlled voice leading that the pros have, either because they've studied it chord by chord, or just have ears of gold :)

    A few alternatives for playing over complicated progressions might be to 1) slow down and work things out very precisely, but at a fraction of the final tempo and increase it slowly (This obviously won't help you immediately, although it will work in the long run, you'll develop great ears, and your reaction time at tempo will improve a heap), or to 2) simplify complex chord progressions to their essentials (C Am| Dm G7 becomes C | G7, a much more manageable state of affairs that still preserves the tension-release pattern in the original Anatole that gives a feeling of harmonic direction to the solo).

    That said, you're right, there is a lot to be said for just going and playing, and it is a very good video, and those Sebastien resources are excellent :)

    Just some food for thought :)


  • JonJon melbourne, australiaProdigy Dupont MD50B, '79 Favino
    Posts: 391
    Also, although I've not always believed this, there's nothing at all wrong with stringing together licks, especially at a beginner stage, but even later. If they are well learned enough, they become a part of you and start to sound good and natural. Tchavolo is the premier exemplar of this style of playing, and he sounds fresh and awesome every time.
  • terrassierterrassier France
    Posts: 101
    Great input thanks - it all helps my basic understanding
  • PetrovPetrov ✭✭
    Posts: 125
    Jon, I think what I was trying to say is what you've posted ;). I'm just not explaining myself properly. Simplify changes, tension-release. This has been a big aha! moment for me. This video along with a few lessons over at DC has opened up new paths in my improv.

    Yes, don't forget the changes, but also don't restrict yourself to only the changes. This is more coming from a beginner/intermediate perspective to another player at that level. There is tons to do and different approaches for different people.

    Here's a example how I would have tried to approach this Anatole progression before. C Am7 Dm7 G7. I would have looked for licks that fit this progression and/or try to play on every chord change. And by that I mean playing a C on C, Am7 on Am7 etc... Not really thinking subs at this time considering my beginner/intermediate level and understanding of music theory.

    Now I would look at this same progression. I can use licks. I can simplify and play something like C G7, C Dm7 C, Fm C, Db C . etc...the list goes on. This showed me that you can play almost anything on any progression or chord. Of course it needs to make sense within the song and the solo needs to be coherent, but now I'm thinking tension and release. These are combinations I would have not thought of before because I was strictly focused/stuck on the chord changes. I also let my ear guide me a bit more. Now I'm playing subs, implying chord progressions tension/release etc, but I'm not thinking about it....I'm playing it.

  • Posts: 4,783
    Slow practice might be single most underestimated form of getting better faster.
    My first breakthrough, when I sucked a lot to when I sucked a lot less, came when I relegated myself to slow practice.
    And I mean veeeeery slow.
    Playing that slow at home gave my brain the space to actually keep tabs on what I'm playing, where I'm at in the song and where I want to go.
    Before a gig I'd have a practice session like this at home playing songs from a setlist for the night and later at a gig I felt I much more comfortable at the fast and faster tempos.
    Another thing that sort of released me from a trap was precisely suggested in the video, to embrace the playing in the key approach.
    I still play mostly in the key, but trying to listen and use my ear as a guide to imply the changes. Occasionally I'm able to hear that the change coming up is dominant instead of major or minor instead of dominant and so forth and I can modify the notes accordingly. Throw in a straight forward arpeggio and a lick I know will work and I can get myself through a song without feeling completely embarrassed.
    That said I still suck just less so.
    I guess what I'm trying to say is don't shy away from something that you feel is working for the moment and use it as the stepping stone, but also keep a big picture in mind of where you should ultimately aim to go.
    Every note wants to go somewhere-Kurt Rosenwinkel
  • terrassierterrassier France
    Posts: 101
    Yep thats it - stepping stones :)
  • edited April 2017 Posts: 3,707
    Try this experiment on tonality. Pick a 2-3 bar phrase that you like that fits with a ii V I progression (for example Dm7 G7 C69 or maj7) Loop it with a backing track really slowly (I so totally agree with what @Buco said about slow) Once you can play it relaxed with feeling shift the phrase up a semitone (same position 1 fret up) with the original backing track. Listen carefully to it and see what it says against the slightly more discordant harmony. Then try and fit it a little differently to the new harmony by changing the rhythm/timing/attack not the notes.

    A real game changer in hearing/thinking/playing.
    The Magic really starts to happen when you can play it with your eyes closed
  • edited April 2017 Posts: 4,783
    Good exercise to learn to target the chord tones and get better at voice leading is to go through the changes and play only a 5th of each chord with a half or whole step below approach (let your ear tell you when to use half or whole step).
    Then do the same with 3rds and 7ths.
    Slow down to a manageable tempo and if keeping track of the whole song is a challenge then break it down to smaller chunks and work on one at the time.
    Then when you're more comfortable you can start combining them (3, 5, 7) into small licks over each chord and you will also learn what common notes are there so you can connect the two chords with a line that has good voice leading harmony.
    PS you're not allowed to use the bass notes.
    Every note wants to go somewhere-Kurt Rosenwinkel
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