Pacing Exercises

 

It has probably happened to you once or twice unless you are just starting out on your improvisation journey. That moment on the bandstand or in rehearsal and you know that you are over playing. I think it happens to a lot of people (if not all) at some point or another. This week I am going to give a few tips and exercises that are  short, simple and you can use right away to help your pacing. I would suggest practicing these first before attempting to use on a gig unless you are positive you can do them in real time.

  1. Play your initial line and then sing back the same line in your head before proceeding to play the next. This can help balance the playing/resting ratio. You will notice that depending on the line you could be starting your next phrase in a place you are not accustomed to which can create some interesting results.
  2. Play your initial line and count down from 5. This is similar to #1 that you are creating the space, but now you have 5 beats to make your next statement. Again, this can create some interesting moments because of where it forces you to start your next phrase.
  3. Play your initial line and count down from 5, then 4, then 3 and so on. This takes exercise #2 and decreases the resting space. After you pass 1 beat between phrases you can start the process over.

Try these out this week during your practice sessions and see what they do for your pacing and phrasing. I hope this has added some value and benefit to your playing in some way!

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 part 3

 

I hope this series on Improv for Beginners has been helpful to you and your students. The 3 parts in this series is obviously not the only steps necessary in introducing and teaching improvisation to a beginner. There are a number of good sources and educators that specialize in beginners. If you or your students would like additional lessons and/or coaching, please feel free to contact me. I am also available to do clinics and masterclasses from Middle School-College/University level.

The 3rd part of Improv for Beginners is where I would introduce some basic theory and guide tones (as well as the different tools you can use to target those guide tones). In the three elements of music (Rhythm, Melody and Harmony) this would be the last piece I would introduce to students. It is my belief that a beginner should start on Rhythm and Melody before talking about Harmony. One of the very first tips ever made on this site (almost 3 years ago) was on this very topic. While some of it was copied over to save time, there are a few visual updates to this one to help with beginners.

If you’ve ever heard someone improvise and it sounds like they’re wandering….guess what? They probably are. One of the reasons improvisers wander is because they’re not aiming at specific targets. What are good targets, you ask? Guide Tones, of course! But, before you can talk about guide tones you need to explain to beginners what a chord is and how they are made. Below are two graphics I use from my book Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose.

The above picture represents a key scale (in this case C) moving up from the root note. Each scale step is assigned a number representing a scale degree. Don’t worry about the F# as the #11th scale degree with beginners for now. That comes up later in theory, but it is important for them to see the scale degrees and noting that the root, 3rd and 5th (which are the foundations of a chord) do not get re-numbered. Which brings us to the second graphic of separating the root, 3rd, 5th (and 7th) scale degrees to make the chord. These notes tell you the quality (major, minor, diminished, augmented, etc) of the chord.

This post is not an entire theory on harmony so if you need help with talking about the different chord types there are plenty of great materials and websites that go into that subject.

You may be wondering from what I initially wrote about guide tones and what they are… traditionally speaking, a guide tone is either the 3rd or the 7th of the chord of the moment. However, if you’ve ever listened to great improvisers…they never limit themselves to just the 3rd or the 7th (but they’re a GREAT place to target if you’re starting out). They often expand their guide tones or targets out to other chord tones or upper structures (i.e. root, 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, etc).

Take a song you are working on and figure out all of the 3rd and 7ths (guide tones or targets) for each chord. When you are practicing your improvisation with that song, target or aim with purpose for those guide tones. Just targeting the 3rd and the 7th is not going to make you an instant improvising sensation. But, they will help keep you on track of your improvisation and limit your wandering. One way to think about this is like planning a road trip on a map. You’re leaving point A (the beginning of your improvisation) and need to get to point Z (then end of your improvisation). You need destination points along the way to gas up or to eat. Those destination points are targets on your map. Those targets in your improvisation are your guide tones!

For more information on what tools you can use to get to your targets, check out Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose.

These three subject areas (and the order I mentioned them) are a great way to start a beginner out on their improvisation journey. If you or your students need additional help, please feel free to contact me and check out my books. I hope these have added value and benefit to you and your students!

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 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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Using Drop 2 in Improv Part 2

 

Welcome to part 2 of Using Drop 2 in Improv. In this post we are going to talk about another we can use the Drop 2 concept to help your improvisations. This tip is one that you would use in your practice room. If you go back and check out the series called Map It Out you can get the initial concept of “planning your route” on a tune you are working on. While mapping out a plan mark the changes with (where appropriate) a 4-part rootless voicing. Then apply the Drop 2 to those voicings (see below).

Much like planning out a guide-tone map we can use these rootless voicings as a map too. However, the Drop 2 voicings add more flavor to the line because of its change in interval. The example below takes a arpeggiated line based off of part of the rootless voicing. Notice what happens to the same line when the Drop 2 is applied. Be sure to play them on your instrument or piano to hear the difference:

Let’s do another example. This time instead of an arpeggio we will use a simple line and apply the concept. The first example uses the 4-part rootless voicing as a guide. The second example uses the Drop 2 version as the guide which made it easier to apply a pentatonic targeting technique (more information on that can be found in my book Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose).

Try it out this week. Take a tune you are learning and map out a “Drop 2 route.” See what new sounds and intervals you can creatively use in your improvisations. If you need help with the what/how to play over the Drop 2 voicings then I suggest you check out Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose and Breaking the Monotony.

 

 

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Using Drop 2 In Improv Part 1

 

Usually when people talk about using “Drop 2” they are typically referring to voicings (on piano or guitar) or an arranging technique. However, in today’s post I wanted to look at a creative way we can use the concept to spur ideas for your improvisations. Before we dive in to the idea I think it would be good to explain what a Drop 2 is for those that may not be familiar with that terminology.

The simplest way to explain what a “Drop 2” is to show you. If you take the 2nd voice from the top of a chord and lower it an octave you have a Drop 2 voicing. Below is a root position C7 chord. Beside it is the same C7 chord, but with the Drop 2 voicing applied.

There are a few concepts in arranging where using the Drop 2 voicing gives you a great sound (I especially like using it in the trombone section of a big band). However, I want to look at how using the Drop 2 idea can spur new creative ideas for your improvisations. We have all probably worked out arpeggios on our instruments (or at least should have/should be), but few seem to work on them outside of root position. Before you shut down thinking, “Oh, this is just an arpeggio rant” stick with me for a moment.

Those that have followed this site know how important I view the concept of targeting (aiming at a goal note with purpose). In this first part we are going to apply chromatic targeting principles (more info found in my book Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose) to the root position C7 chord and then again with the Drop 2 version. Play through these with your instrument and listen to the difference in line movement.

In this example the Drop 2 version is more angular then the root position version. While I might change the rhythm of the line up, I personally like the movement from the Drop 2 version with the overt tritone sound upfront. It does not sound like someone playing around with an arpeggio. Let’s use another example, but this time we wont start with a root position voicing. Below is a Bbmaj9 in a block chord voicing (which means all of the voices are within an octave) and then the same voicing applying Drop 2.

And a line utilizing chromatic targeting principles:

While the last two examples above used chromatic targeting on the “D,” you could use chromatic targeting on any of the notes found in the voicing. Next week we will expand the Drop 2 idea and look at some other ways we can use it for to enhance your improvisations. I hope you have enjoyed this tip and that it adds some value/benefit to you and your playing!

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Unexpected

 

You have probably heard the saying that “when life gives you lemons-make lemonade.” I know it is a cliché, but it is one that has some value to those that improvise. I wrote a post a few weeks back called Fight Through that talked about regardless of what circumstances life has given you; we still have to fight through and make music. In this post I wanted to talk about something similar and make the correlation between the unexpected things in life and how we can use that in our improvisations.

Let’s face it, there are some things in life we thought would be a “sure thing.” Ask a child what they want to be when they grow up and you will get a number of different answers. Follow those children 20 years later and ask if they are doing what they wanted to do. For some…maybe. For most…probably not. Life gives us some unexpected twists and turns. Improvisation has a way of doing the same thing. We can plan and plot, but when we finally get in the moment unexpected things can happen. Someone in the rhythm section plays something unexpected and before you know it your improvisation goes in a new direction.

Most of the time when this happens it is fun and exciting. Hopefully you know the song and harmonic progression well enough that you can go to that unexpected place together. Much like life; your attitude towards the unexpected will help determine your level of enjoyment and success. Remember you are involved in the improvisation process just as much as those you are playing with. Your input helps determine the destination.

A while back there was a video of Stefon Harris doing a TED talk floating around social media sites. He and his group of musicians did an excellent job of talking about how reacting to the unexpected creates (or detracts) from the art of improvisation. Check out the video below:

I hope you have enjoyed this week’s tip and that it has added some value and benefit to your playing in some way. The holidays are fast approaching and if you are looking for gift ideas for some musicians please go to my Digital Store today and check out my books and recently CD. I am very thankful to all of you that have made a purchase or download!

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Discovery-Brazil

 

This week’s Discovery location takes us to one of the most recognizable and largest countries in South America-Brazil! Brazil is the 5th largest country in the world with a booming economy. Most probably know that Brazil is the home of the Bossa Nova as well as other styles that are regularly incorporated into Jazz. Brazil has been home to some great jazz musicians born there as well as those who have made it their home. This wonderful country has not only embraced jazz in its various forms, but helped greatly influence the art form.

As with our past locations, the goal is to introduce you to 3 new musicians each week from different parts of the world. My hope is you will find some new discoveries, support them by buying their albums and by attending their concerts if you are in their area (or they in yours). Another benefit is for you to hear new musicians and how they approach their instrument and jazz. You never know where you might find your next favorite line!

Like a number of the other large cities that host live Jazz around the world, Brazil has live music venues too numerous to mention on this site. Someday, I would love to take my band (The JKQ) to the BMW Jazz Festival which is held in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. While I have not been, I have heard this is one of the most exciting Jazz Festivals on the planet. Take a look at their site to see who they had performing at this year’s festival.

Like mentioned with other great countries; Brazil has been the home to a number of jazz musicians known and unknown. Hopefully the musicians below are people you will start checking out (if you have not already).

Claudio Roditi– trumpet
Eliane Elias– piano
Nilson Matta– bass

These are just a few of literally hundreds of great jazz musicians you can find in and/or from Brazil. If you have checked out these musicians above, be sure to check out their websites and albums to support them. I would also highly encourage you to look up other great Brazilian musicians and see what this great country has to offer in terms of Jazz.

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