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Improv for Beginners

 

A lot of the tips that get posted on this site vary from intermediate to advanced concepts found in improvisation. While there are a few focused on beginners, I thought it would be good to post a few more to help those that are just starting out. On the right-hand side of this site there is a pull-down menu that list categories of topics. If you are one of those that beginning improvisation is where you are at now I would encourage you to go check out that category (For Beginners) to see some of the other posts in addition of the one below.

One of the big concerns I have heard from beginning improv students (and teachers of those students) is where do I begin? There is so much information out there it can be hard to find a good starting point. Do we start with scales? Theory? Transcribing? Let me give you my suggestion for where a beginner should start:

  1. Rhythm/Time
  2. Listening

Everything else you can work on, in my opinion, supplements those first two items. Here’s why: To have the proper sound, feel and phrasing you must have good rhythm/time. To have good rhythm/time you have to understand what is considered good by listening. #2 is something everyone should be doing already. Listen to your favorite players (old and new) and get their sound, phrasing, rhythm/time, articulation, use of space and ideas in your ear. Close your eyes and picture yourself there with them. How much should you listen? A lot. As a beginner what you listen to can help shape who you are as a musician and WILL eventually come out. Who you become as a musician is a combination of all the influences you have stored in your head.

#1 is something that can develop over time by listening AND playing rhythmic exercises. The exercise below is one that I like to use with beginners. This is also mentioned in my book Breaking the Monotony. Unless the beginner already has a pretty good sense of rhythm/time, they need to be exposed to good Jazz rhythms. This exercise takes a rhythmic example that the student plays while using any combination of the three notes listed.

Rhythm to be used:

Note choices:

Example of what this would look like over a simple Bb blues:

You can get into the theory later, but I find it is best when talking about notes to limit a beginner to 3 or 4 to start. Let them find out the different variations of what you can do with those notes on their own. Eventually they will become bored with those and will naturally want to expand their palette (although I have heard plenty of Jazz Giants do more with 3 or 4 notes then some do with all 12).

In my opinion, this is the best way to start beginners. This gets them started playing something and using their ears and rhythm to come up with ideas. As I mentioned at the top of this post, be sure to check out some of the other posts in the For Beginners category. In addition to those posts are my books you can find in my Digital Store as well as the Skype lessons/coaching I offer for all levels of players.

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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Targeting Using the Augmented Scale

Targeting Using the Augmented Scale

I wanted to share a fun sound that I have been experimenting with recently. For those that have followed this site the past 2+ years know that I am believer in the concept of targeting. This post will be looking at how you can use the augmented scale through the lens of targeting principles that I outline in my first book, Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose.

What is the Augmented Scale?

Since we have a number of people who visit this site from different levels and abilities we will take a look at what exactly an augmented scale is. An augmented scale is made up of two augmented triads that are a minor third apart. I have also heard an augmented scale called the “minor third, half-step scale,” but not very often. For most in the jazz community (or at least those that know about it) call it the augmented scale. Below is the C augmented scale:

Augmented Scale

Most Jazz educators will tell you that you can use this scale over any augmented 7th chord (for example a C7+) or a x7#11 chord (example would be a C7#11). I agree that the augmented scale works well over those so I am not disagreeing with that usage. However, like a lot of melodic/harmonic devices they can be used with targeting principles. Again, I am not going to outline what those are right now.

Targeting Using the Augmented Scale

However, let’s look at how using the augmented scale to target the “C” below in two different situations cause a unique and powerful sound over the listed progressions:

AugTargetEx1

AugTargetEx2

In my practice time I have been gravitating to this particular sound lately. I love the combination of the minor third and the half-step because of its melodic possibilities. I would invite you to try the above example in different harmonic situations where the targeted note would be a “C.” I hope you have enjoyed this week’s tip and that it has added some value and benefit to your playing in some way!

 

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Drumgenius App Review

If you have followed this blog and have purchased Breaking the Monotony I wanted to share a review of a smart phone app I recently downloaded. It is called Drumgenius v1.4 by the guys at Projazz Lab. For the record, I was NOT asked to do a review of this app. However, I did want to let you know about the app and how it can be used to enhance your jazz improvisational studies (whether you are a drummer or not). I strongly believe this app can be a powerful resource for my students and those that are working with my book, Breaking the Monotony (or even Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose).

Drumgenius v1.4 is made for the iPhone and Android based operating systems so it wont matter what type of smart phone you prefer. The app contains (at the time of this writing) around 300 different styles of drum loops that sound great and have a number of applications that you could use. Loop styles range from Afro-Cuban, Brazilian, Funk, all types of jazz (straight and swung) and odd meters. For drummers, you can play along with each loop to not only get the feel, but work on timing and groove. For other musicians, it gives you the opportunity to work with a drummer anywhere you have your phone. You can work on timing, rhythmic creativity and phrasing. For those that have Breaking the Monotony, this app can be especially helpful because a number of the loops come with an option to include the clave pattern over the loop! You can use a number of different loops as a practice aid with just about every chapter in Breaking the Monotony (or Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose)! Another great benefit (especially for someone like me who is not a drummer) is you get proper names and a short history of the drum loop. As a composer I now have a resource to say, “Oh yeah…that is the drum groove I am wanting for this section on my chart. I always wanted to know what that was called!”

To get a feel of what it looks and sounds like, below is their video found on their website as well as Youtube:

The app itself is free to download. Along with the app you get 3 free loop downloads that come with the app. You can purchase 3 levels of loop downloads in their app store. The first is 10 loops, 50 loops or infinite (which is all 300 loops or any new updates they have in the future). I did not catch the prices for the first 2 levels because I went straight for the infinite option. It was $9.99. For the iPhone, the app also works in the background so you can continue to use your phone for other features while still listening to the loop.

Since I have made this app purchase I have been using it in my daily jazz practice and have been thrilled with the benefits. There is something to playing duets with a drummer that help an improviser’s time, phrasing and rhythmic creativity. Now I can work on those whenever I have my horn and phone. Overall I give this app 5 stars!

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Independence

While I was pondering what I should write about this week I was reminded of a post that was made two years ago around this time and is also written about in more detail in my book, Breaking the Monotony. In the U.S. we celebrate our Independence Day on July 4th which is later this week. I thought this week a re-post was in order. I hope you enjoy!

“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! Be sure to go to Jason Klobnak Music to grab your copy of Breaking the Monotony or Targeting: Improvisation with Purpose. Every book sale and donation helps the JKQ with our Midwest tour expenses coming up in August. More details on the tour will be coming soon!

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Harmonic Major

In this week’s post I wanted to talk about a scale that does not get a lot of mention in improvisation classes, but it one that is quite effective and easy to learn. That scale is the Harmonic Major scale. Some of you may be wondering, “Wait a second Jason…harmonic MAJOR? I have heard of the harmonic minor scale, but what is the harmonic major scale?” Well, I am glad you asked! Before we take a look at the harmonic major scale, let’s take a look at the more common harmonic minor scale.

The harmonic minor scale is a minor scale that has a lowered (flat) 6th scale degree and a major 7th scale degree as shown in the example below.

C harm min

There has been quite a bit written about this scale and its uses. However, we are going to look at the harmonic major scale. The harmonic major scale is essentially a major scale with a lowered (flat) 6th scale degree. The C-harmonic major scale is shown below.

C harm maj

The harmonic major scale, like every other scale, can be used over various harmonies. One of my favorite uses is over V7(b9) chords. If you take the harmonic major scale and start on the 5th scale degree (if in C…that means you would start on the G), it fits perfectly over the V7(b9) chord. Another way to think about it is if you have a V7(b9) chord, you can use the harmonic major scale a perfect fourth up from the root of the V7(b9) chord. You get the b9 of the V7 chord, but none of the other alterations that are found/heard when you would use a diminished or altered scale.

The example below is a line based off of the C harmonic major scale played over the G7(b9) chord:

harmajex1

I personally like the sound between the flat-6th and major 7th. The scale still has an exotic texture to it-yet still has that familiar major feeling at the same time. I hope this tip has added some value or benefit to your playing!

For more information on how you can use the harmonic major OR harmonic minor scale to creatively target notes in your improvisations you can check out my book Targeting: Improvisation with Purpose or Breaking the Monotony at my Digital Store.

Thank you for checking out my blog! If you’d like to join my mailing list I would love to send you a FREE MP3 from my band. Simply click on the image below and in a few short steps I’ll send it over!

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Sequences

The Jazz community recently lost another great musician in pianist Mulgrew Miller. I have been a fan of his playing for years-especially his time with Woody Shaw. While thinking about his playing and some of his characteristics (and there are many) I loved the way he played sequences. In honoring Mr. Miller I thought this week’s post should be on using sequences in your improvisation.

What are sequences? There are two types of sequences you will find in jazz: melodic and rhythmic.

  • A melodic sequence is the repetition of a line at a different pitch.
  • A rhythmic sequence is simply the repetition of a rhythmic line.

Both types of sequences are not hard and fast rules. A melodic sequence can be exact interval repeats (digital patterns) or different notes entirely. The general outline or shape of the line is what is repeated. It can have a different rhythmic pattern or the exact rhythm pattern repeated (but with the notes changing).

We are going to look at an example and how we can sequence a pattern. Below is our basic pattern that we are going to use throughout this post.

 

The next example takes our pattern above and uses a sequence over the first part of a 4-bar progression. This example takes the exact pattern and modulates it to the next chord. In this example we keep the same rhythm as the original:

 

You do not have to keep the exact rhythm to create a sequence. The next example takes the idea from above and rhythmically anticipates the F# going to the D7:

 

Another way you can continue the sequence is by keeping the rhythm and shape of the original pattern, but changing the notes so they fit the next chord:

 

That same idea could be repeated over the entire progression, but you may want to add other elements to the idea to keep it from going stale. A few ways to do that is to compress the rhythm down or expand the rhythm out:

 

 

In the final example below we take some of the different elements of sequencing above and put them into the 4-bar progression (I-VI7-ii7-V7):

 

I hope this post has added value to you and your playing in some way and that you can start adding sequencing to your improvisational tools. For more information on how you can use digital patterns for sequencing, check out my book Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose. For more information on how you can rhythmically energize your improvisation check out Breaking the Monotony at my Digital Store

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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 3 Feeling Rhythm

Part 3. Last week we talked about keeping things simple. Simplifying the amount of information that the children have to pick from while improvising. In this part I want to talk about the importance of having children learning to feel rhythm. This is just as important (if not more) then the notes themselves.

When children are young is the best time to work on ingraining proper syncopated and swing-type rhythms to where they become second nature as they continue to progress. Every student I’ve met that grew up around syncopated rhythm (either in the home, churches, community organizations, etc) always have a better feel and pickup on improvisation better than those that don’t.

Have the children clap along with you to some second line and clave rhythms. (On the second line example, have them clap along with the bass drum).

Then have them clap some of those same lines while listening to you play a chord progression on the piano or a play-along. Be sure to make it swing. This helps them understand that the clave pattern CAN be used in more than just Latin-type music.

Finally, have them play the 3 to 4 note grouping you gave them from last week’s post and use the second line and clave rhythm. This gets them thinking about rhythm and note choices. To me, the rhythm should be thought of first…then the note choices.

I talk about this in more detail for adults in my book, Breaking the Monotony. You can check it out by going to my Digital Store for more information. There are also a few reviews listed above in the tabs at the top of the page. I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s tip and that it has added value and benefit to you and your students!

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