Hey Everyone! Welcome to Week #5’s tip-Independence in Improvisation. Today (July 4th, 2011) in the U.S., we celebrate our Independence Day and what better day to talk about independence in improvisation than today? This is a topic that I don’t hear talked about enough in jazz education when discussing improvisation. This week’s tip is something that I try to work on at least once a week and encourage everyone to do the same.
Independence in improvisation could have a few different definitions, but the one that I’m applying refers to the ability to improvise effectively with no accompaniment. A few years ago I had the honor to take a lesson with jazz trumpeter, Ron Miles. We talked a lot about melodic considerations while improvising, but the topic that dominated the majority of our discussion was the ability to improvise when no one else is around (or when the rhythm section drops out for a chorus). This not only works on your time, but makes you focus on the melody and chord changes on a deeper level.
In our modern age of technology, we have become very dependent on our digital “rhythm sections.” Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE using Aebersold’s, Band-in-A-Box and my current favorite…iReal Book for the iPhone. As a matter of fact, I use them on a regular basis. However, we become dependent on having something else feed us the changes and dependent on it keeping time for us. It can cause our improvisations to become reactive instead of proactive. When we’re playing on the bandstand, we’re playing with other musicians who are making music with us. If we’ve spent all of our time with a digital rhythm section, it becomes more difficult to interact with the REAL musicians on stage. The more time we spend working on a song independently, the more freedom we have with that song. It’s become so ingrained that we don’t have to think about it on the bandstand and our focus can move from what I’m playing to what we’re playing.
For this week, take the song(s) that you’re learning and improvise with no backing track of any kind. If this is your first time utilizing this concept, it will probably be a little difficult for the first couple of times. However, after a short time of working on it, when you play it with a rhythm section you will feel a new level of confidence and a sense of freedom to interact with those around you.
I hope this week’s tip has been as helpful to you as it has been to me! There are 27 days left in July, so if you haven’t entered for the July $100 drawing yet, be sure to go to the link on your right or to Jason Klobnak Music to get the details on how you can win and the official rules for the drawing. On July 31st, 2011 a $100 Amazon.com (or a $100 pre-paid credit card) winner will be announced via video HERE on this blog!
Otherwise, we’ll see you next week for Improv Tip Week #6!
Hey Everyone! Welcome to the last week of the rhythm series. This week, we’re going to talk about rhythmic quoting. Before we talk about rhythmic quoting, let’s talk briefly about what quoting is for those that may not know. Many of our favorite improvisers will often times “quote” melodies we’re familiar with inside of their solos. Those melodies fit within the chord changes of the moment, but may not necessarily be the song they’re playing. These melodies often come from cartoons, lullabys/children’s songs, classical music or other jazz standards. As long as it’s a recognizable melody…listeners will notice.
Now, let’s talk about this week’s topic…”rhythmic quoting.” We can take the same concept of melodic quoting and apply it to rhythms. The great thing about this tip is that there many sources of songs that have interesting rhythms (bebop heads, big band charts, Latin charts, Pop/R&B charts, etc). If we remove the melody and keep the rhythm, we can use that rhythm as a source for ideas in our improvisation. The listener may not be able to recognize the rhythm you’re playing, but it’s a great way to vary up the solo from running eigth note lines.
Below are a few examples. The first example is the rhythm to the first four bars of the jazz standard, Solar
The next example is taking the first four bars of a blues and using the rhythmic example of Solar
Let’s take another recognizable jazz standard, Pent-Up House and use the same process. The first example is the rhythm from Pent-Up House that we’re going to use followed by the musical example.
I hope this week’s tip is helpful in giving you more rhythmic creativity in your improvisations! For more information on using these type of rhythmic ideas, be sure to check out Breaking the Monotony or look into one-on-one lessons through Skype!
Hey Everyone! Welcome to week 3 of the improv tip series. We’re continuing the rhythm series and this week I’m going to talk about how we can use a clave to help with our rhythmic interest in swing. Some of you may be saying, “Wait a second, Jason. Clave is a pattern used in Latin music. How can I incorporate that into swing?”
Good question! Clave (and it’s various patterns, i.e. the 2 + 3 and 3 + 2 son clave and rhumba clave) is a HUGE part of latin rhythms. However, we can utilize those same patterns in swing. There are countless YouTube videos up of drummers showing how they work on their swing by playing their kit alongside a clave pattern. As improvisers, we can utilize the same concept. It’s great to have connected and flowing eighth note lines in our improvisations, but we need to create rhythmic interest as well. Last week I quoted Dizzy and how he mentioned he “fills his head with rhythm.” So in this week’s tip, we’re going to “fill our head” with clave rhythms. There are a number of clave patterns that you can use. I’m going to give just a few brief examples of some clave patterns (there are more and you can utilize them as well).
As an exercise, practice improvising using just those rhythms over a song you’re working on. Obviously, this is just an exercise and not something you would play on the bandstand over and over as that would be too predictable and boring. However, when you have the feel of the clave going in your mind, you can create rhythmic interest in your improvisation. Some lines can have the clave pattern or you might find yourself articulating eighth note lines with the clave pattern. Below are just a few quick musical examples of how an improvised line can be influenced by the clave. The first one is pretty obvious the pattern. The second is a predominately eighth note pattern, but the articulation is reflective of the clave pattern.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s tip! I talk about how I connected my melodic lines in the examples above in my book, “Targeting: Improvisation with Purpose.” You can check it out by going to THE STORE.
Welcome to Week #2 in the improvisation tip series. Starting this week, we’re going to discuss a few topics related to rhythm. In today’s music education, most people can agree that rhythm is one of the weakest areas for students. Today, I’m giving a “2 for 1” special on rhythm because I couldn’t decide which rhythm topic to start with! So let’s dive in….
#1: Beats 1 & 3. There’s so much to talk about with just this topic that I’ve decided my next book will be all about rhythm and this could easily be a chapter or two. In 4/4 time you have strong and weak beats (or tension and resolution). Beats 1 & 3 are the resolution and 2 & 4 are the tension (we clap on 2 & 4). The majority of harmonic changes happen on beats 1 & 3 (resolution). Melodically speaking, we want our lines to end on resolution (or targeted) points most of the time (unless you’re extending the line, etc). However, many struggling improvisors tend to start their melodic lines on beats that make their resolutions awkward. One way to resolve that problem is to feel 4/4 music in “half time” or by feeling the pulse on beats 1 & 3. This does two major things. First, it’s easier to conceive ideas at “slower” tempos. However, you will need to remember that while you’re feeling it slower…the changes are still going by at the normal rate. Secondly, by feeling beats 1 & 3…they give you great launching pads for your melodic line. Notice how many great lines you transcribe start on the “and of 1” or the “and of 3.” They also tend to make your line resolve in logical places. There’s more we can discuss on this, but I’ll save some of that for another week.
#2: Syncopation. When we hear the phrase jazz rhythm…the first word that should pop in to your mind should be-syncopation. Jazz is FULL of syncopation. It’s what gives the music it’s forward movement. I don’t know about you, but when I hear someone improvise, I want to hear more than just a string of eigth notes. Don’t get me wrong, continuous eighth note lines are important and every musician should be able to do them. However, they’re not the end all. If you look at a lot of the bebop heads that were written, very few of them were quarter notes and half-notes (like many of the American Songbook standards). They were full of syncopated rhythms (i.e. Confirmation, Donna Lee, etc). In an interview, Dizzy Gillespie was asked what he thinks about when he improvises and he said, “I fill my head with rhythm.” If you talk with those who were around Dizzy the most…they would tell you he filled his thought process with syncopation. For an exercise, take a song you know the most and forget about what you would do harmonically. Fill your head with jazz syncopation (if you need help, sing what a drummer would play or sing the rhythm to a bebop head). Keep that syncopation flowing in your mind and then start to improvise over the changes. For the first couple of times you will either revert back to your melodic sense (you stopped thinking the syncopation) or your lines will sound awkward and wont resolve in a logical manner. Don’t worry about it…because it’s an exercise. However, over time, the syncopated rhythms and your melodic sense will start working together and your lines will make sense and they’ll SWING.
Next week we’re going to continue on the topic of rhythm. Also, if you haven’t checked it out already, be sure to either click the link to your right or click below for more information about my book, “Targeting: Improvisation with Purpose.”