What tunes/changes consistently put you into the improv "doghouse"?

in History Posts: 79

Apologies if this has been done before but I thought it would be fun to create a thread like this, both for venting purposes and to (hopefully) receive tips/wisdom from other players in the community.

For me, I've always had tons of trouble with Limehouse Blues - it's like the Django jazz version of Giant Steps, at least for my brain and ears lol. Give me other fast tunes and if I'm on, the ideas usually never stop pouring out! But Limehouse...even when I'm completely warmed up, playing hot and staying on top of the changes, I just feel like all I'm ever hearing is really fast arpeggios that are ultimately super repetitive and boring or relying a ton of of octave licks. Funnily enough and somewhat ironically, Limehouse has been haunting me ever since waayyyy back in the day while playing guitar in HS jazz band before I even knew Django existed...I just remember my younger self thinking "this isn't like any blues I've ever heard" lmao - fortunately, my teacher back then was awesome at simplifying all the ridiculous "piano chords" on ensemble charts like that and translating them into guitar for me.

So anyway, what's your albatross tune? Multiple tunes accepted!

Also, any tips on playing over Limehouse would be greatly appreciated too :)



  • RipRip olympia, washingtonNew
    Posts: 352

    I had a hard time coming up with ideas on the c7, until I realized that it was just like going to the iv chord in a blues progression. the obvious unobvious staring me in the face. also, you might not be taking advantage of some of the other arpeggios that work (depending of what year of jazz you may be wanting to draw inspiration from). Ask yourself, if you like modern sounds or older sounds, then figure out what those sounds are. And if you don't want to play so many arp, then you can use more approach notes, enclosures and scales. You could also try to play the same arp you currently are, but change things like rhythm, starting point, order, sing what you play, mix up the combination of whole, quarter, eighth, triplet and quarter notes. Try challenging yourself to play something new every chorus and now you are practicing improv.

  • Posts: 79

    Hi Rip, appreciate the tips and very interesting perspective about how you view the C7. My problem is more switching to the A7 tbh, mainly because if looking at it from a diminished scale approach, it's the same as C7 and making it sound less "same" has been frustrating...find myself continually attacking the Db for contrast. I'm not really going for any particular era of jazz soloing, most of what I play comes from my ears. To that end, I suppose a composed solo would be an answer but I'm of the school where improv needs to be organic if you're calling it improvisation. Although then again, you also just made me think a bit more about the C7 to A7...if root is on the low E for the C7 (as I often begin progressions), maybe I need to start viewing the A7 as a tritone sub and play over it more as a Db7 half diminished instead...would be very compact leading on the low E, same with the A string.

    And you're right about the rhythm aspect - I'm always of the mindset to just burn over fast tunes so maintaining constant 8th notes has become almost de rigueur...perhaps I need to rethink that mindset and step back a bit.

  • RipRip olympia, washingtonNew
    edited June 2023 Posts: 352

    If you take an A7 and build arpeggios of the chord tones, then you get the following:

    Note: an easy way to look at arp is to play a note, skip a note, play a note, skip a note, play a note (credit to Barry)

    If you play an arp off the root you get a A dom7 arp

    If you play an arp off the 3rd, you get a Db minor7b5 arp (same as Emin6, just diff inversion)

    If you play an arp off the 5th, you get a E minor 7 arp

    If you play an arp from the flat 7th you get a Gmaj7 arp

    These four arps can also be moved in minor thirds, giving you 16 different arps to choose from.

    I would start with the arps, however, of the chord you are on to get them in your ears.

  • wimwim ChicagoModerator Barault #503 replica
    Posts: 1,459

    Slimehouse can be hard not so much because of the changes but because of the cracking tempo.. it's difficult to do anything better than blaze through your canned licks at that speed.

    When going to A7 I think it's ok to just keep running on your C7 licks - or, on the other hand, start out thinking like you're playing over an A7 already from the bar 1. The rhythm section and the bass player can provide the necessary contrast.

    One tune that always puts me in the "improv doghouse" is Djangology. I have trouble making the A section sound like anything other than a big turnaround every time. The B section is weird and seems too short to do anything useful over, and a lot of the time I'll just end up repeating some motif again a semitone up. Embarassing.

  • RipRip olympia, washingtonNew
    Posts: 352

    lol. i hear you on the crackin' tempo thing, for sure! since c7 and a7 come from the same diminished they are basically the same, but with different tensions depending on which one you are playing over the other. from that perspective you could also add d#7 and f#7. the more you get them in your ears, the easier it is to release the tension. at this point, i'll take a slower line with good technique over a blazing lick any day of the week, unless it's being improvised with good technique.

    i've had similar issues with djangology, it does seem to be in the category of a turnaround, but what's helped me is to play slower lines and do a call and response type of thing, and then phase them around different bar lines. for example, you can start a your improvised melody line on the last Amaj of the B section and resolve it somewhere in the next A section. this will help to make it sound like your not just playing through the changes.

  • stuologystuology New
    Posts: 196

    I usually play Em ideas over the A7, it bridges C7 and G nicely so the lines flow a bit better. Playing the changes is an important foundation but I think it can sound a bit corny and repetitive if overdone. The way I cope with the speed of Limehouse is to put a bit of space into the notes, especially on the C7. I usually start with maybe two or three notes and something approaching a melodic idea and only ramp things up on the A7.

    I agree about Djangology, it's hard to come up with anything that doesn't sound like a turnaround (because it is a turnaround) and I've noticed in jams that players tend to come out with much the same ideas.

    A tune I've always struggled with is Swing 39 - I find it hard to make the Bb/C change interesting.

  • Posts: 79

    Wow, really appreciate all the tips - will review and get back when I'm done with work!

    @stuology - I'd consider looking at Gm6 arpeggio ideas into C7 arps for swing 39 (yeah, I've always heard the Bb more as a Gm6). Or Bb lydian to C mixolydian, if you'd like a modal approach. I've aped a lot of Gonzalo for dominant 7th chords, he likes to combine the diminished arpeggios with mixolydian, which can add a nice exotic feel (or at least that's how I hear it).

  • ScoredogScoredog Santa Barbara, Ca✭✭✭✭
    edited June 2023 Posts: 879

    Here is what I find to be the easy way on can play G diminished over the whole bloody thing. If you get bored of the sound, once the A7 is over you can play your normal G maj stuff over the rest. Happy to post an example if need be.

    Of course one can do more complex stuff but the above will get you through the tune quite nicely.

  • RipRip olympia, washingtonNew
    Posts: 352
  • edited June 2023 Posts: 4,812

    For me it's all about using what I have trying to get a good tone, phrasing and feel. On a good day I'll do it without tripping over myself. In general I believe ones time is better spent on a deeper exploration of concepts that are familiar and sort of reinventing those than diving into something new that will take a lot longer to assimilate. Kinda borrowing a quote from Bruce Lee, I don't fear the man that practiced 10000 kicks, I fear the man that practiced one kick 10000 times.

    I play straight arpeggios over C7 and A7, trying to connect them but not always. Not trying to connect them because this song is a really good vehicle for practicing dominant arpeggios so I use it to do just that. One thing I've been doing lately is playing these chromatic lines over C7 and A7. Over C7 from the low E, with triplets; a, g#, g then A string; d, c#, c and repeat that over 3 octaves resolving over C7. For A7 just move the whole thing one whole note up, starting with b, a#, a etc and resolve that over A7. Once it gets to G, I also often just play in the key center. One thing I like doing since discovering it, is to play A diminished (which belongs to upcoming D7) over the A7 to D7 turnaround resolving to G once it's there.

    Problem with this song in this genre is the melody is usually played by a guitar player and when you play the melody in a more manageable tempo, there's too much space. Once you play the melody where it's chugging along nicely, you're way up there in a higher range of 200bpm. In Bluegrass, this song is usually way more laid back. I think because fiddle takes care of the melody most times and it can sustain the notes filling the gaps in the melody.

    Every note wants to go somewhere-Kurt Rosenwinkel
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