Out of the Gate

Out of the GateI wanted to talk today about a very practical tip that can improve your improvisations on the bandstand. Everything we do in jazz improvisation is about creating music in the moment. Today’s tip is simple, yet one that is often overlooked with younger or intermediate level players. That is the importance of starting out strong out of the gate.

We often times get in our own way by wanting our improvisation to be great and impress others that we force ideas that don’t fit what is happening in the moment and spiral downwards by wandering aimlessly hoping to find those that do. I want to make sure you have fewer of those moments on the bandstand. To start strong out of the gate there are a couple of questions you will want to ask yourself before you start your improvisation. These questions will set the stage for your improvisation and will give you a foundation to build your solo.

  1. What melodic and/or rhythmic statement do I want to make at the beginning of this solo? People remember the beginning and ending of your solo the most. If your opening statement is strong (melodic, catchy, definitive) then you can capture the audience’s attention. From here you can truly build your solo from what is happening in the moment.
  2. How does my opening statement connect with what is happening before this solo? We have to remember that our improvisation is NOT something separate from the initial composition. Your improvisation should be conversational which means your subject matter should be related to what has already been said (I don’t know about you, but I don’t like it if I’m having a conversation with someone and someone else comes in and changes the subject). If you’re following another soloist, how does your opening statement compare to their ending? If it’s not related then  you may want to edit your opening statement.

You have a greater chance of success in your improvisation if you have a strong opening statement that is related to what is happening in the moment. What happens after that opening statement will depend on how the rhythm section and the audience reacts. This is how the music influences the direction of your solo and why you can’t rely on licks alone.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s tip and that it has added some value and benefit to your playing in some way. If you haven’t checked out my books (Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose and Breaking the Monotony) yet, I would like to invite you to check out my Digital Store where you can find more information on them as well as my other products.

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Improv for Kids-Part 2 Simplicity

Part 2. Simplicity is one of the key ingredients in teaching young children about improvisation. While some kids might soak up theory information…most do not. Most, in my experience, just want to play. They want to improvise. Try keeping the theory information as simple as possible (like the first 5 notes of a major scale or the major pentatonic scale)

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The more in-depth theory can be saved for later after they have had an opportunity to have fun improvising.

Play the scales with them so they can try and match your sound. It helps solidify their scales as well as their intonation and tone on the instrument. Have them play those scales while you play chord progressions on the piano (or some form of play-along if you’re not comfortable playing them yourself).

Something else I do with younger students is limit the number of note options they have to improvise. Limiting their palette of options can free up their creative mind. This is one of the big reasons I like teaching pentatonic scales. 5 note choices is less information to organize in real time then 7 or 8. For younger students I like to limit their options of notes down to 3 or 4. I like having groupings that are part scale and part leap (like the examples below):

Obviously these aren’t the only small note groupings that can be used. However, they do contain some step-wise motion (major or minor 2nds) and slightly larger leaps. Melodies aren’t 100% scales or leaps. They are a combination of the two. Giving a child the combination helps them understand that improvising is more then just running a scale up and down a chord change. Give them an opportunity to play around with those simplified note groupings with you on a chordal instrument or play-along. Let them make mistakes and figure some things out.

Once they start getting the hang of it, or start getting bored with 3 notes, then expand their options outward. Start simple and expand from there. I find this causes them to learn complex ideas faster and they retain the information longer.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s tip and that it has added some value and benefit to you and your students! Don’t forget to check out my Digital Store today to grab one of my books, schedule a Skype lesson or get more information on how you can help be a part of my next album, “Mountain, Move.”

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Improv Tip Week #20-Using the Melody p3

Here we are at week #20 already! I truly hope you’ve been enjoying these tips (and those that have checked out the book too) and continue to check back in and share this blog with others. This is the final week of our Using the Melody series, so let’s dive right in. In this week’s tip, we will be discussing how we can use the melody itself (or other melodies) directly in your improvisations. There are three different ways we’re going to look at how we can use the melody in today’s tip:

The first is using contrafacts. Simply put, a contrafact is a new melody put over a familiar harmonic progression. You will find many jazz compositions that are based off of a common or standard progression. Two common progression types that have literally hundreds of songs based off of them are blues and rhythm changes (based off of the progression from “I’ve Got Rhythm”). Other notable contrafacts include “Donna Lee” which is based off of the chord progression from “Back Home Again In Indiana.” So how do we use contrafacts in our improvisations? When the opportunity arises within your improvisation, you can “quote” part of another melody that has the same harmonic progression. This is a valuable tool especially when improvising over blues and rhythm changes because there are so many melodies derived from those progressions. These, when used sparingly and with good judgement, can elicit a positive response from the audience (especially when the “quote” is something familiar). For example: quoting part of the “Flintstones” during a chorus of rhythm changes.

The second way we can use the melody is by quoting an entirely different melody that might fit part of the harmonic progression you’re playing. This is similar to using the contrafact, except we’re only using a small portion of another melody that may not have the same harmonic progression. Some times the other melody will work great if we just change one or two notes and other times the melody will fit perfectly. Quoting is something you hear MANY musicians (even outside of jazz) use in their improvisations. Below is a brief example of using part of a quote from “Well You Needn’t” over the “B” section of the changes to “What Is This Thing Called Love?”

The third way we can use the melody is by using fragments of the original melody. Fragments are short pieces of direct quoting of the original melody within your improvisation. How much of the fragment of the original melody is up to the improvisor. You can use a short theme of the melody (much like what we quoted in the example above on “Well You Needn’t”) and use it to develop it much like what we covered in the motif tips or you can take large segments (for example, the “B” section of “What Is This Thing Called Love?”) and directly quote that section.

As long as you use the melody creatively and don’t overdo it, you can use any one of the three ways discussed above (contrafacts, quoting and fragments) in your improvisations. Use your ear as your guide and make adjustments accordingly. It’s best not to force another melody to fit the changes you’re playing over, but take advantage of the opportunity every now and then when it presents itself. What’s the best way to work on this? Play melodies…A LOT of them! Learn new tunes and take note of how the melody is structured and how you might be able to use it later. Where do we find melodies? Anywhere! Keep your ear open when you’re watching TV/movies, listening to the radio (it doesn’t have to be Jazz, either), or even what nature is playing. Pay attention and you’ll find a wealth of material.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s tip as well as the series on Using the Melody. If you’ve enjoyed this, please share it with your friends via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ or any other site you’re a contributor for. I appreciate all of the comments and feedback from you guys and hope we can continue sharing ideas and dialogue. Also, check out my book (Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose) by going to Jason Klobnak Music. You’ll find more information about the book, specials I’m running as well as reviews from others who’ve purchased (it’s been a while since I’ve updated the reviews and I will get some new ones up there too). Enjoy!

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog/post. As a thank you I wanted to give you a FREE MP3 from the JKQ. Simply click the button below and fill out the short form and you’ll have it in just a few short moments!

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Improv Tip Week #19-Using the Melody p2

Hey Everyone…welcome back to Week #19 where we’ll be going into the second part of our multi-week series on using the melody. But before we do that, I wanted to thank every one again that was at my clinic at Drake University’s Turner Jazz Center on Friday (Oct. 7th). I had a great time and met a number of great people. Thanks again to Andy Classen (Director of Jazz Studies and Professor of Trumpet) for being a great host! I look forward to hearing good things out of those students and the further growth of Drake University’s Jazz Department.

Last week we looked at using the essential melody notes and guide tones to use the melody as our guide. However, our musical example didn’t have a difference between the essential melodic notes and the guide tones (they were the same). So, this week I wanted to take another jazz standard and use the same process we did last week to construct a solo based off of the essential notes/guide tones found in the melody. This week, we’re going to use Miles Davis’ Solar. Below is the melody with chords:

So let’s take a look at the essential melody notes. Again, we will still find that a majority of our essential melodic notes are guide tones. However, there are a few 9ths and 5ths that I’ve decided to use because I thought they helped define the melody (remember that in some cases personal preferences are ok). You will also notice that I’ve decided to use in some measures multiple essential notes/guide tones so I have additional targets to aim for during the solo. If you play through this reduced version of the melody (just the half notes and whole notes)-you can still hear the song. Below are what I would consider the essential melody notes and/or guide tones:

Now, let’s take the above as our road map and use some targeting principles (covered in previous blog tips and in my book, (Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose) along with some rhythmic creativity and build a solo:

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s tip! If you’ve enjoyed this tip (and blog), please be sure to share it with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ or any other site that you’re a contributor. There are even buttons on the bottom that will link you to your accounts. If you’d like more information on how we can creatively target notes, be sure to check out my book-Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose by going to Jason Klobnak Music. I look forward to hearing from you!

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog/post. As a thank you I wanted to give you a FREE MP3 from the JKQ. Simply click the button below and fill out the short form and you’ll have it in just a few short moments!

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Improv Tip Week #18-Using the Melody p1

Hey Everyone-here we are again with week #18’s tip-Using the Melody. This is the first week of another one of our multi-week series. If you’ve done any studying of improvisation in jazz, you’ll hear or read at some point the suggestion of “use the melody as your guide.” This is an excellent suggestion, especially for younger musicians or those just starting out in improvisation. However, I know for myself, no one really talked about how we’re supposed to use the melody as a guide. I had a few ideas of what it might be (like quoting the melody or using little phrases of the original melody in my improvisation), but never really had any ideas that clicked. The next couple of weeks, we’re going to look at how we can use the melody in our improvisations. The composer of the song we’re playing took the time to create the main theme or melody and we should be using it (or some form or part of it) while improvising. One of jazz education’s pioneers, Dr. Ed Byrne, has a lot of great material on using elements of the melody. This week’s tip is based off of his research and I recommend you check it out.

In my very first improv tip (week #1-Guide Tones/Targets), we looked at what guide tones or targets are and how they’re great notes to aim for in improvisation. We’re going to look at the melody and find it’s essential pitches. Many times, these essential pitches will be guide tones. However, many times the melody may not have a guide tone (3rds and 7ths) in a particular measure. We’re looking for essential pitches, or those that are most important to the melody…and sometimes those are 9ths, 11ths, 13ths, etc. Half notes or greater become obvious choices because they’re taking up harmonic space. If they’re less than a half note (quarters, eigths, etc) then I believe it’s up to the personal intrepretation of the improvisor to determine if it’s essential or not. The ears are the ultimate judge. We first determine what those essential pitches are and use them as targets for our improvisation. Depending on the harmonic progression, there can be multiple essential pitches.

After finding the essential pitches, we can use different tools to get us to our targeted notes (or essential pitches). For our first week, let’s look at a jazz standard and give some examples.

This first week we’re going to look at a standard that just about everyone in the jazz world knows (All the Things You Are). Below is the first 8 bars of this standard that we’ll be using.

The graphic below shows what I believe would be the essential pitches to ATTYA. You will notice that in the case of this song’s first 8 bars, the essential pitches happen to be guide tones.

Now that we know what our essential pitches are, I’m going to use them as notes that I’m targeting. If you go back through some of our past week’s tips, you’ll find a few different tools of what we can use to get these targeted/essential pitches. This is a very big part of my approach and you can find out more about how to creatively get to these pitches by checking out my book, Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose. Adding creative rhythm along with the tools to get us to our essential pitches creates an improvisation that’s based off of the melody. If you play the example below, you can still recognize the original melody.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s tip. Over the next couple of weeks we’ll be looking at a few different standards and expanding what we can do to “use the melody as our guide.” Thank you again for checking this week’s tip out and I encourage you to share this tip (and blog) with your friends via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ or any other music site that you’re a contributor. For more information on my book, Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose you can go to Jason Klobnak Music. Thanks again and I look forward to your thoughts/comments!

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog/post. As a thank you I wanted to give you a FREE MP3 from the JKQ. Simply click the button below and fill out the short form and you’ll have it in just a few short moments!

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Improv Tip Week #17- Motifs part 3

Welcome back to week #17 where we’re going to finish up our current mini-series on motifs. We’ve looked at how we can develop motifs by changing up the rhythm and probably the most obvious: notes. This week we’re going to look at what we can do with changing the intervals and the shape/contour. For those that may be joining us for the first time, let’s look at our original motif that we’ve been developing along with it’s general shape/contour:


Let’s first take a look at what we can do with the intervals. There are 3 intervals in the above example. The C to G is down a 4th, the G to A is up a major 2nd and the A to Eb is down a tritone. Using the interval combinations of 4ths/5ths, major 2nds and tritones we can develop the original motif. This can lead to some interesting options and I would suggest that when you’re developing your motifs that you save this type of development for later as they often lead to lines that go outside of the stated harmony (unless that’s what you’re going for). Depending on the effect you’re going for, re-arrange the combination of intervals. Using targeting principles with this takes more thought, but can be done. Below is an example over the same first four bar blues that we’ve been using. The original motif is stated in the first measure, but over the next three bars a combination of those intervals is used to develop something new (along with a re-statement of the original motif).

The last way we can develop our original motif that we’re going to talk about is manipulating the contour/shape of the original motif. We can use the same shape and transpose the original phrase, reverse the shape (reverse the direction) or keep the same shape but accent it’s characteristics (i.e. if the shape goes down…how far down do you want to make it?). The example below will use all three ways just mentioned:

I hope you’ve enjoyed the Motifs series and find them beneficial to your improvisations! Feel free to share this tip (and blog) with your friends via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ or any other site that you’re a contributor. If you’ve enjoyed them or have found them beneficial, let your friends know and have them stop by. Also, if you haven’t checked out my book Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose yet, you can go to my digital store at Jason Klobnak Music or by clicking the link on the right. Thanks again and I look forward to hearing from all of you!

 

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Improv Tip Week #16-Motifs part 2

Welcome back to our current series on motifs. Last week we talked about some of the different elements we can manipulate to develop a motif. This week, we’re going to look at how we can develop motif’s by changing up their rhythm. There’s a number of different ways we can change up the original motif’s rhythm. You can keep the same spacing and delay the motif by a determined quantity (i.e. delaying it by an eighth note, quarter note, etc) or by anticipating it by a determined quantity (i.e. pushing it by an eighth note, quarter note, etc). You can change the original motif’s rhythm by doubling it’s speed or slowing it down. You can also change the original motif by breaking it up and making it more syncopated (or less syncopated depending on the original motif). These are just a few of the ways we can manipulate the motif. Let’s look at a few examples:

Here’s our original motif…

Our first example below, we’re going to push or anticipate the original motif by an eighth note. However, in this example I’m still going to keep the original motif on beat 3 of each measure. To create some more interest in the line, I’m adding to the original motif in the third and fourth measure (but the motif is still present).

In our second example below, we’re going to delay the original motif by an eighth note. This time, we’re going to move the motif over by an eighth note each time it’s presented. To create more interest to the line again-I’m adding to the original motif in the fourth measure.

In our third example below, we’re going to break up the original motif by making it more syncopated. You’ll notice that in the second measure, we’re still using the original notes of the motif. However, we’ve inserted an eighth note rest in between each note to make it syncopated. It then is connected with another line that connects it back to another motif before we add in something different in the fourth measure.

All of the examples above are very short and brief to show what changes are being made to the original motif. The fun and challenging part we have as improvisers is taking the original motif and developing it using all of the rhythmic ideas listed above (as well as chaning the notes, contour, etc). For an exercise this week, take the original motif above and see what you can do rhythmically with it over a blues or jazz standard. Make your first couple of attemps simple changes to the motif over an entire chorus. After you get the hang of it-develop it more by varying the rhythm and adding more syncopation.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s tip on our Motifs series. If you’ve found this helpful, share it with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ or any other site that you’re a contributor. I would love to have this blog (as well as my book) helping as many people as possible. Having you talk about it with your friends on other networks or sites really helps draw interest and allows all of us to dialogue and help each other out on our improvisation journey. I also enjoy all of the comments and feedback that you have…so keep them coming! If you haven’t checked out my book yet, you can click on the link to the right of this tip or by going to Jason Klobnak Music.

 

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Improv Tip Week #15-Motif’s part 1

Welcome back to the blog! This is the 15th consecutive week of improvisation tips and we’re going to start into a multi-week series on motifs. A motif is a recurring subject, theme or idea. In the case of improvisations, motifs become great vehicles for improvisation because we can develop a simple idea into something more. Over the course of this series, we’re going to take a simple motif and show what we can do to develop it. Below is the motif we’re going to use throughout this series:

The above is a very simple idea (in this case a short blues lick). There are a number of different ways that we can develop a motif. We can look at the actual notes, contour/shape, rhythm, intervals, harmony (if the motif implies a harmony), articulation, etc. However, over the next couple of week’s we’re going to look at the first four: notes, contour/shape, rhythm and intervals. Below are the first three elements (we’ll get into intervals later):


We will look at how we can develop each of these areas as we go along, but we will also be examining how we use those developments in terms of targeting. Those that have been following or studying with me know that I’m very BIG on targeting-or aiming at a goal note with purpose. My book, Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose discusses some of the different ways we can creatively target a note. Each motif we use or the development of the motif we use should still be aiming at a target.

When we develop a motif, we look at the original elements listed above (notes, contour/shape, rhythms, etc) as outlines for what we could do with the motif to make it slightly different while still resembling the original idea. Each idea or development leads to another (a great example is Sonny Rollin’s solo on St. Thomas). As the improviser, it’s up to you to decide which elements you want to manipulate to develop the idea. You can develop one element at a time or multiple elements at once. For me, when I’m developing a motif during an improvisation-I like to change one or two elements at a time so each development is easily recognizable to the listener. In a way, it’s like time-lapse photography. The listener watches one frame slowly turn into something completely different.

Below is a simple example of changing a few elements at a time over the first four bars of a “C-Blues.” The first bar is a statement of the original motif. The second bar keeps the same rhythm and general shape/contour, but I’m changing the notes. The third bar is an exact quotation of the original motif. The fourth bar keeps the same rhythm, but slightly changes the notes and the shape/contour. You’ll also notice that each of the examples targets the 7th, root, #9 and 3rd (in that order). It was important that I kept the concept of targeting while developing the motif.

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll really dive into developing the motif’s notes, rhythms, shape/contour and intervals. I hope you’ll continue following this series and have found this week’s tip helpful. If you have, please share this blog with your friends via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ or any other site that you might be a contributer or frequent. Over the past couple of weeks there has been an increase in new friends following the blog (and buying my book) from outside of the US and wanted to say thank you and welcome! For those that haven’t checked out Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose, you can click on the link to the right or go to Jason Klobnak Music for more information. There’s also a short web commercial with reviews and testimonials below from those that have found the book beneficial.

I hope you enjoy and we’ll see you next week!

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