Improv for Beginners part 2

 

Welcome to part 2 of starting beginner’s on their improvisation journey. Last week we started off with what I believe is a great foundation to getting a beginner going. There are a number of different opinions, theories and options. However, this is how I like to introduce those just starting. I have seen it work and believe it builds a strong foundation for their playing. I would encourage you go back to PART 1 and read through that if you are just joining us.

The next step is introducing MELODY. Where do we get melodies from? First, we get them from the music we play. What songs are the students learning? If they are really young students are they learning those early nursery rhyme type songs? All of these are melodies. Reading music is important, but have the students learn to play the melody without looking at the music. Internalize it. Once we learn the melody we can use it later. The melody can be embellished with a variety of tools, but they mean nothing without the foundation of the melody. As an exercise, have a student take Happy Birthday and improvise on it. If they have been working on rhythm and listening, you would be surprised at what they can probably already create with it.

Still not sure if you think it is a good exercise? Check out this video made by Wynton Marsalis in France a few years back:

Where else can we get melodies from? One of the scale types used in virtually every culture is the pentatonic scale. There is something melodic about that particular scale that has been creating melodies around the world for generations. If a student still needs to work on their major scales they need to be learning those in addition to the major pentatonic scale (minor scales are important too, but get the major one’s down first). While I do not believe running up and down scales themselves is how you should learn to improvise, they are important to know because they give us a color palette to choose from when improvising and the pentatonic scale is a melodic gold mine.

Combining the two elements of the melody of the song the student is learning with the pentatonic scale in the home key is a great place to get them thinking creatively. The pentatonic scale in the home key can be used to target key notes (landing areas) in the melody. For more information about how you or your student can use a pentatonic scale to creatively target notes you can check out my book Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose. 

Remember these are just beginning students. Give them achievable goals to start with before adding more complex ideas. I find a higher success rate with beginners that are given a few details to work with and then adding more pieces when ready rather than dumping everything at once. In my teaching studio, rhythm (time, feel, etc) and listening are the foundation. Melody is the next layer. Check back next week for the next layer 🙂

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 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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Improv for Kids-Part 1 Have Fun!

I wanted to start a new mini-series on teaching improvisation to kids. Most of my students are teenagers on up, but occasionally I will work with kids that are 10 and under. It’s amazing how much of an interest they have in improvisation and how quickly they absorb information.

The first part in this series is one that I think is applicable for adults just as much as it is for children. Have fun! Adults especially when we work hard on developing a skill set we tend to get serious and lose the joy we had when we first started improvising. This isn’t just something that we do when we are practicing, but something I think we should try to do when we’re on the gig as well. I believe we captivate an audience if they can first sense that we’re having fun which then translates into them having fun.

Some fun things for kids to do when first learning how to improvise is to try and imitate something that is funny to them on their instruments. For instance, I love listening to trumpeter Clark Terry. To me, he is at the top of the list of jazz musicians who have fun while they play. Below is an example of Clark Terry playing in his latter years while doing his Mumbles character.

Singing along with Clark Terry’s Mumbles character helps give some melodic ideas and phrases. If the kids attempt to imitate they are accomplishing two goals in one: 1) Having fun 2) Learning the language.

Another thing you can have them do is to try and transcribe simple melodies by ear and play with it. The video below is from a gig I did on my birthday and you will notice the “Happy Birthday” melody thrown in by a few different soloists. This was the last song of the night and we were having fun! You’ll notice the audience was enjoying it as much as we were. Jazz doesn’t have to be uptight and stuffy!

I hope you’ve enjoyed the first part of this series. If you haven’t had a chance to check out my books or want to help get us closer to our album goal you can go to my Digital Store for more information!