Let It Go

Maybe you have been there…maybe not. It is frustrating. Especially when you are in the moment and things have been going well up until that point. For whatever reason (and it could be a number of them) you have painted yourself into a corner with your improvisation. You realize the line that you are playing will not work. It could be the line wont fit the changes or it could be that you have started to wander.

At this point in time you have a critical choice to make as an improviser. There are two roads you can choose, but you have to make the decision quick because you are in the moment. Here are your options:

  1. The first is to try and play yourself out of the jam you have put yourself in. I will be honest, this can be fun and it can make an improvisation more exciting…when it works. The problem is that it does not work that often. This can actually increase the wandering effect. It is a vicious cycle. You wander to find something that works and you go further down the rabbit hole and wander some more. An effective improvisation is a conversation with the soloist,the rhythm section and the audience. Wandering is like the soloist speaking run-on sentences or constantly going on tangents that have nothing to do with the subject.
  2. In my opinion, the best option is to Let It Go. Stop playing the line as soon as you get to that point. End the statement at a logical point (sooner then later). Take a second to step back, breathe and start a new statement. Repeat this step as soon as you notice that you are going there again. If it happens too many times then you need more time with this chord progression.

I am not a psychologist, but there is something about our human wiring that wants to feel justified about a line we are playing. If it is not working out, we tend to feel like we need to work it out to protect our ego. If you had a chance to hear yourself in this process it does not sound good. However, when we drop our ego and let the line go you position yourself for a greater chance of success.

I hope you have enjoyed this tip and that it has added some value and benefit to your playing in some way! The JKQ is slowly making our way to getting our album Mountain, Move completed. We could still use your help, though. Stop by our Digital Store today and make a donation, purchase a book, schedule a clinic or Skype lesson. Every dollar gets us closer to our album release!

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Break It Down

It happens to all of us at one point or another. We get excited on the bandstand and get caught up in the moment. We have a tendency to overplay and force the swing feel instead of allowing it to happen. Our articulations become harsh and our lines either fall apart or they wander aimlessly. Honestly, this is normal. We allow our heart rate to dictate what we play instead of the music. The good news is that there is a simple tip that will help you calm down and swing harder.

A number of great jazz educators talk about this, but the first person to hip me to it was Greg Gisbert. Instead of feeling quarter notes (or even tapping on 2 & 4) while playing, break down how you feel the time to a lower denominator. For instance, instead of feeling the time in 4/4, feel the time in 2/4  (in a sense you are playing as if it were in half-time).  You could even break it down to 1/4 (every measure is felt as 1 beat). Essentially you are breaking down how you feel the tempo.

There are a number of benefits for feeling the tempo this way:

  • The tempo feels slower which has a calming effect on your heart rate. This allows you to think in larger phrases which will also cause you to not overplay.
  • Faster tempo songs become more manageable.
  • Your articulations even out and you’re more likely to lock in with the rhythm section. This actually helps you swing in faster tempos. It does not sound forced.
  • Slowing things down allows you to look ahead, notice what is happening around you and react with the rhythm section (instead of having a one-way conversation).

This simple tip will have an immediate calming effect on the bandstand. However, it is also good to use when practicing. Getting used to playing in a half-time (or less) feel will only benefit your playing.

I hope you have enjoyed this tip and that it adds value and benefit to your playing in some way. The JKQ could still use your help in getting our album mixed/mastered. If you would like to help finish this project you can donate, buy a book or schedule a Skype lesson at my Digital Store today!

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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Analyzing Lines-Donald Byrd on Nica’s Dream

About a year ago I started a series on Analyzing Lines. We took a look at a few lines of  some of the giants of jazz and broke them down to see why and how they worked. If we can uncover those questions we can learn to build our own lines. The jazz community recently lost a great jazz trumpeter, Donald Byrd. I remember the first time I heard him play was on Nica’s Dream on The Jazz Messengers album by Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers (Columbia, 1956). I’ve included a YouTube link at the bottom if you haven’t checked it out.

I wanted to do a tribute analysis from one of my favorite lines in his solo on Nica’s Dream. Like I mentioned in the previous Analyzing Lines series-this is my breakdown of what I see him playing and how we can relate and build from it. I’m not inferring in any way that this is how Mr. Byrd played or thought about improvisation.

Below is the line that occurs in bars 42-45 on his solo in Nica’s Dream:

For those that have been following my posts, you know how much I dig targeting concepts. So let’s take a look at how Mr. Byrd targets specific notes in the line above. Bar 42 looks like he is thinking in the key of Db. You will then notice that he chromatically targets the “F” in bar 43:

Then he uses a diminished targeting concept to target the “F” in bar 44 on the Bb7(b9):

A similar targeting concept is used to target the Bb in that same bar:

I love the way this particular line flows. It has a great combination of targeting concepts, key centered playing and soul. If you’ve never checked out Donal Byrd’s playing, I would highly recommend it. If you would like to know more about how to construct your own lines with different targeting principles (like those mentioned above), I would suggest you check out Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose which you can find at my Digital Store available as a digital download (in English and Spanish) or as a printed/bound version.

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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Map It Out part 4

map it out

Welcome to the last part of the Map It Out series. In today’s post we will finish looking at the song Stand Firm by completing the “B” section and then creating a route through the whole progression. If you haven’t looked at the earlier parts in this series, I highly encourage you to check those out (or any of the other past posts on improvisation, composition, etc).

First, let’s take a look at the “B” section to Stand Firm. We mentioned last week that the “A” sections were in Abmaj, yet had a quick minor 2-5 that went to C minor (or the 3rd of Ab). Instead of implying a C minor sound, like the “A” section, the “B” section goes to the C minor. It’s complimented by it’s 5 chord-the  G7(b9).

 

 

 

 

 

As mentioned in the previous parts, we want to keep the map options simple through the first pass or two. So I’m listing different pentatonic scale options to simplify the thought process.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One option that I see that sticks out would be the Bb major pentatonic because it could be used over the entire “B” section. Again, this DOES NOT mean this would be your only option for improvising. It does, however, help provide a mental map of what your options are going through the changes for the first time. The more familiar you get with the progression, the more options you have available.

Now we have all of the different sections (intro/vamp, A section & B section) mapped out with some pentatonic options. Here’s how our map turned out:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The final stage is to take that map and chart out a route. You could do this in the moment if you are at a mature enough stage in your improvisation development. If you’re a beginner, I would suggest you do this before hand. Here’s one charted route based on the map above:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It may be hard to tell from the picture so here’s another version that may be easier to read:

  • Intro/vamp: Bb major pentatonic to C major pentatonic (repeated twice) to Db major pentatonic to Eb major pentatonic.
  • A Section: Eb major pentatonic through the first 6 bars. Then the Ab major pentatonic to the Bb major pentatonic in the 7/8 bar. (repeated)
  • B Section: Stay on the Bb major pentatonic because it works over both the Cmin7 AND the G7(b9)

This is ONE possible route you could take. There are a number of different route options. To hear which one I end up taking in the recording studio-be sure to grab my CD “Mountain, Move.” It should release in the Fall of 2013. If you’d like more information on how you can be a part of the CD project, you can visit my Digital Store today. Individuals and businesses that support the project not only get a copy of the album when it comes out, but they will have other benefits added along with it (including tickets to the CD release, their name/company logo on the jacket or CD, etc for certain donation levels). Be sure to stop by today and be a part of the project!

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Map It Out part 3

map it out

Welcome to part 3 of the Map It Out series. If this is your first time visiting this site I’d like to welcome you to check out the previous posts on this topic as well as a number of other categories you can find on my blog. Also, be sure to check out the Lick of the Day as well as my Digital Store.

Last week we finished mapping out a plan for the intro/vamp section. This week I wanted to take a look at the “A” section of Stand Firm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first chord of the “A” section is an Abmaj9. If that were the only chord to the “A” section then we could use just about anything that was in the key area of Ab major. However, you’ll notice in the 7th and 8th bar that there is a Dmin7(b5) and a G7(b9). Those are not in the key area of Ab major. When you see something out of the key area you know you need to do some quick investigating to find the relationship.

Any time you see a chord progression that looks like the two types listed below-they are some form of 2-5 (and the “5” chord can have any type of alteration applied). 2-5’s and 2-5-1’s outside of the original key area are temporary modulations or setups for key changes:

  • Xmin7 to X7 = a major 2-5 (which may or may not resolve to the one chord)
  • Xmin7(b5) to X7(b9) = a minor 2-5 (which may or may not resolve to the one chord)

If we take that information and look at the Dmin7(b5) to G7(b9) in Stand Firm we know it is a minor 2-5. Where would it resolve? To some form of C (typically a C minor). How is the C minor related to the Abmaj9? It’s the 3rd of the Abmaj. So the minor 2-5 in bar 7 & 8 is a minor 2-5-1 of the 3rd scale degree of the original key area. Because we go back to the Abmaj9 we know we’re not changing keys so it  is a temporary modulation.

This means we could apply some form of C minor to the Abmaj9 chord (this can give the chord an Abmaj9(#11) sound) and simplify our initial options. 

 

 

 

 

Over the minor 2-5 itself we can use a number of different options. However, since we’ve been talking about simplifying our options in this Map It Out series and using pentatonics-let’s look at some pentatonic options over the minor 2-5. Over the min7(b5) you can use major pentatonics based off of the b6 or the b5. Each one gives a slightly different sound then the other. Another option is to use the F-insen pentatonic scale (insen pentatonic based off of the b3). For more information on that I would invite you to check out previous posts on pentatonics on this site.

Over the 7(b9) you can use major pentatonics based off of the b9, #9 or #11. There are a number of different pentatonic (and non-pentatonic) options you can use for these, but that could turn into a completely different topic altogether. You can use the melodic minor scale, pentatonic scale, diminished, etc.

 

 

 

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s post on mapping it out. Next week we will finish mapping out Stand Firm and looking at the “B” section. For more information on how you can use various pentatonic scales to creatively target notes in your improvisations I would highly recommend you check out Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose which is available at my Digital Store.

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Map It Out part 2

map it out

Last week we looked at mapping out a plan of attack when looking at a new chart or chord progression. We’re going to take the same chart (Stand Firm which will be on my album Mountain, Move later this year) and go further into the progression mapping out a plan. Last week we looked at some different options on the first two chords of the vamp/intro. In today’s post we will take a look at the remainder of that section. Below is the part of the piano part:

We talked about how the first two chords of the intro/vamp are the same chord quality just a whole step a part. This continues until the 7th and 8 bar. It takes the same chord quality and moves up a half step then an additional whole step (Dmin11 to Ebmin11 to Fmin11). Similar to last week’s map we can take pentatonic  pairs and move them up a half step and then another whole step as shown below:

From there you can develop a road map of where you might want to go. Below is the full intro/vamp:

You can use whatever tools you want. I’m using pentatonics for these examples because they’re simple and contain great melodic possibilities. I’ve listed two different option paths you could take through the vamp/intro section:

  1. Eb major pentatonic -> F major pentatonic (repeated 2x) -> F# major pentatonic -> Ab major pentatonic
  2. Bb major pentatonic -> C major pentatonic (repeated 2x) -> Db major pentatonic -> Eb major pentatonic

Obviously there are a number of different combination paths you could choose, but like I mentioned last week I think it’s best during your first run-through of a new chart to find the path that has a nice linear path.

Next week we will take a look at the “A” section of this chart and continue mapping out a plan. If you haven’t already done so, I’d like to invite you to check out my Digital Store where you can get more information on my books (Targeting: Improvisation with Purpose and Breaking the Monotony), Skype Lessons and information on how you can help be a part of the Mountain, Move recording project. Also, don’t forget to check back daily for the Lick of the Day that is in the upper right corner of the site!

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Improv Tip Week #42-Analyzing Lines Series 4

Welcome to week #42 where we’re continuing our series on analyzing lines. This week, we’re going to look at a line I was checking out while listening to Cannonball Adderley. It’s off his Them Dirty Blues album and is a song written by his brother (Nat Adderley) called Work Song. Like I mentioned last week: we’re breaking down these lines so we can find what makes it “click” so we can re-create something similar in our own playing.

Below is the line that I wanted to break down from his solo. This line occurs in his second chorus on the 6th bar:

I almost don’t want to state the obvious, but Cannonball shows that you can take something as simple as a descending chromatic line and make it sound great all in how articulates it:

While Work Song is not a typical blues, it is definitely played with a lot of blues elements and style. The Adderley brothers inflect the blues into many of their improvisations to great effect. This line contains a great example that sometimes inserting the blues sounds great even though it doesn’t fit chord/scale theory. Some may argue that this particular line is something else, but to me it is essentially a blues lick with two additional chromatic passing tones:

The last part of the line that I look at is how Cannonball uses targeting principles to connect his line. This shows that Cannonball was targeting the 3rd of the C7(#9) and the 5th of the Fmin7. For more information on how to creatively target notes (whether chromatic or other devices), check out my book Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose. What has always intrigued me about Cannonball Adderley is that when he would use chromatic targeting-it was almost always with great rhythmic variety.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s tip and the latest in the analyzing lines series. Please feel free to share this tip/site with your friends, colleagues and students. There are links below for quick sharing access to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.

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