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 ūüôā

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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Storytelling

I have two daughters that love it when I read them books and tell stories before bed time. They especially love my improvised stories where they give me a subject or characters and tell me, “tell us a story on that, daddy!” It stretches my creativity a bit, but it is a lot of fun for them as well as myself. I have been thinking of the parallels of improvising on the bandstand in jazz with being a great storyteller.

There are a number of things we can learn from storytelling. One of the obvious parallels are that we communicate with a rhythm section and audience when we improvise (or at least we should strive to be doing that). But, I wanted to take a look at what characteristics a good storyteller has and how as improvisers we can learn from them. It is difficult to do this if you have not already learned your scales, can play your instrument with a certain level of proficiency and have an understanding of harmony, etc. I would suggest you check out some of the many other posts/tips on this site that will help that stage of your development and then come back to this.

I will admit I am not the greatest storyteller (although my daughters would argue otherwise), so I found an online source of characteristics from iLoveLiteracy.com that I thought were great. They are listed below:

  1. moves through a logical sequence of events
  2. has interesting characters
  3. includes details to develop the plot, characters and setting
  4. includes a problem that must be solved
  5. uses attention getting introductions
  6. tries to build suspense
  7. makes eye contact with the audience
  8. speaks at the right volume and speed for the audience to hear and understand them clearly

While reading that list I took inventory of how I approach improvising on the bandstand and took note of things that I did similarly and those that I know I can improve. Below are a few parallels that I see with jazz improvisation:

  1. improvises through the harmonic progression in a logical manner 
  2. interesting motifs, licks or melodic fragments
  3. develops the motifs, licks or melodic fragments to tell a story
  4. reacts to musical cues from other band members
  5. makes a clear opening statement (see Out of the Gate) to beginning of improvisation
  6. builds the improvisation with dynamics, articulation and phrasing that creates an overall arc that includes a climax
  7. makes eye contact with the audience. I am guilty of this because I tend to close my eyes while improvising
  8.  improvises in a way that the audience can understand them on some level (i.e. melody connects with the average listener while an array of technical virtuosity may not)

Try this out at some point in the coming days/weeks. As an improviser are you an effective storyteller? If not, work on becoming one by practicing some of the parallels above. People remember great storytellers…

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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 #20-Using the Melody p3

Here we are at week #20 already! I truly hope you’ve been enjoying these tips (and those that have checked out the book too) and continue to check back in and share this blog with others. This is the final week of our Using the Melody series, so let’s dive right in. In this week’s tip, we will be discussing how we can use the melody itself (or other melodies) directly in your improvisations. There are three different ways we’re going to look at how we can use the melody in today’s tip:

The first is using contrafacts. Simply put, a contrafact is a new melody put over a familiar harmonic progression. You will find many jazz compositions that are based off of a common or standard progression. Two common progression types that have literally hundreds of songs based off of them are blues and rhythm changes (based off of the progression from “I’ve Got Rhythm”). Other notable contrafacts include “Donna Lee” which is based off of the chord progression from “Back Home Again In Indiana.” So how do we use contrafacts in our improvisations? When the opportunity arises within your improvisation, you can “quote” part of another melody that has the same harmonic progression. This is a valuable tool especially when improvising over blues and rhythm changes because there are so many melodies derived from those progressions. These, when used sparingly and with good judgement, can elicit a positive response from the audience (especially when the “quote” is something familiar). For example: quoting part of the “Flintstones” during a chorus of rhythm changes.

The second way we can use the melody is by quoting an entirely different melody that might fit part of the harmonic progression you’re playing. This is similar to using the contrafact, except we’re only using a small portion of another melody that may not have the same harmonic progression. Some times the other melody will work great if we just change one or two notes and other times the melody will fit perfectly. Quoting is something you hear MANY musicians (even outside of jazz) use in their improvisations. Below is a brief example of using part of a quote from “Well You Needn’t” over the “B” section of the changes to “What Is This Thing Called Love?”

The third way we can use the melody is by using fragments of the original melody. Fragments are short pieces of direct quoting of the original melody within your improvisation. How much of the fragment of the original melody is up to the improvisor. You can use a short theme of the melody (much like what we quoted in the example above on “Well You Needn’t”) and use it to develop it much like what we covered in the motif tips or you can take large segments (for example, the “B” section of “What Is This Thing Called Love?”) and directly quote that section.

As long as you use the melody creatively and don’t overdo it, you can use any one of the three ways discussed above (contrafacts, quoting and fragments) in your improvisations. Use your ear as your guide and make adjustments accordingly. It’s best not to force another melody to fit the changes you’re playing over, but take advantage of the opportunity every now and then when it presents itself. What’s the best way to work on this? Play melodies…A LOT of them! Learn new tunes and take note of how the melody is structured and how you might be able to use it later. Where do we find melodies? Anywhere! Keep your ear open when you’re watching TV/movies, listening to the radio (it doesn’t have to be Jazz, either), or even what nature is playing. Pay attention and you’ll find a wealth of material.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s tip as well as the series on Using the Melody. If you’ve enjoyed this, please share it with your friends via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ or any other site you’re a contributor for. I appreciate all of the comments and feedback from you guys and hope we can continue sharing ideas and dialogue. Also, check out my book (Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose) by going to Jason Klobnak Music. You’ll find more information about the book, specials I’m running as well as reviews from others who’ve purchased (it’s been a while since I’ve updated the reviews and I will get some new ones up there too). Enjoy!

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 Tip Week #19-Using the Melody p2

Hey Everyone…welcome back to Week #19 where we’ll be going into the second part of our multi-week series on using the melody. But before we do that, I wanted to thank every one again that was at my clinic at Drake University’s Turner Jazz Center on Friday (Oct. 7th). I had a great time and met a number of great people. Thanks again to Andy Classen (Director of Jazz Studies and Professor of Trumpet) for being a great host! I look forward to hearing good things out of those students and the further growth of Drake University’s Jazz Department.

Last week we looked at using the essential melody notes and guide tones to use the melody as our guide. However, our musical example didn’t have a difference between the essential melodic notes and the guide tones (they were the same). So, this week I wanted to take another jazz standard and use the same process we did last week to construct a solo based off of the essential notes/guide tones found in the melody. This week, we’re going to use Miles Davis’ Solar. Below is the melody with chords:

So let’s take a look at the essential melody notes. Again, we will still find that a majority of our essential melodic notes are guide tones. However, there are a few 9ths and 5ths that I’ve decided to use because I thought they helped define the melody (remember that in some cases personal preferences are ok). You will also notice that I’ve decided to use in some measures multiple essential notes/guide tones so I have additional targets to aim for during the solo. If you play through this reduced version of the melody (just the half notes and whole notes)-you can still hear the song. Below are what I would consider the essential melody notes and/or guide tones:

Now, let’s take the above as our road map and use some targeting principles (covered in previous blog tips and in my book, (Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose) along with some rhythmic creativity and build a solo:

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s tip! If you’ve enjoyed this tip (and blog), please be sure to share it with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ or any other site that you’re a contributor. There are even buttons on the bottom that will link you to your accounts. If you’d like more information on how we can creatively target notes, be sure to check out my book-Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose by going to¬†Jason Klobnak Music. I look forward to hearing from you!

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 Tip Week #18-Using the Melody p1

Hey Everyone-here we are again with week #18’s tip-Using the Melody. This is the first week of another one of our multi-week series. If you’ve done any studying of improvisation in jazz, you’ll hear or read at some point the suggestion of “use the melody as your guide.” This is an excellent suggestion, especially for younger musicians or those just starting out in improvisation. However, I know for myself, no one really talked about how we’re supposed to use the melody as a guide. I had a few ideas of what it might be (like quoting the melody or using little phrases of the original melody in my improvisation), but never really had any ideas that clicked. The next couple of weeks, we’re going to look at how we can use the melody in our improvisations. The composer of the song we’re playing took the time to create the main theme or melody and we should be using it (or some form or part of it) while improvising. One of jazz education’s pioneers, Dr. Ed Byrne, has a lot of great material on using elements of the melody. This week’s tip is based off of his research and I recommend you check it out.

In my very first improv tip (week #1-Guide Tones/Targets), we looked at what guide tones or targets are and how they’re great notes to aim for in improvisation. We’re going to look at the melody and find it’s essential pitches. Many times, these essential pitches will be guide tones. However, many times the melody may not have a guide tone (3rds and 7ths) in a particular measure. We’re looking for essential pitches, or those that are most important to the melody…and sometimes those are 9ths, 11ths, 13ths, etc. Half notes or greater become obvious choices because they’re taking up harmonic space. If they’re less than a half note (quarters, eigths, etc) then I believe it’s up to the personal intrepretation of the improvisor to determine if it’s essential or not. The ears are the ultimate judge. We first determine what those essential pitches are and use them as targets for our improvisation. Depending on the harmonic progression, there can be multiple essential pitches.

After finding the essential pitches, we can use different tools to get us to our targeted notes (or essential pitches). For our first week, let’s look at a jazz standard and give some examples.

This first week we’re going to look at a standard that just about everyone in the jazz world knows (All the Things You Are). Below is the first 8 bars of this standard that we’ll be using.

The graphic below shows what I believe would be the essential pitches to ATTYA. You will notice that in the case of this song’s first 8 bars, the essential pitches happen to be guide tones.

Now that we know what our essential pitches are, I’m going to use them as notes that I’m targeting. If you go back through some of our past week’s tips, you’ll find a few different tools of what we can use to get these targeted/essential pitches. This is a very big part of my approach and you can find out more about how to creatively get to these pitches by checking out my book, Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose. Adding creative rhythm along with the tools to get us to our essential pitches creates an improvisation that’s based off of the melody. If you play the example below, you can still recognize the original melody.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s tip. Over the next couple of weeks we’ll be looking at a few different standards and expanding what we can do to “use the melody as our guide.” Thank you again for checking this week’s tip out and I encourage you to share this tip (and blog) with your friends via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ or any other music site that you’re a contributor. For more information on my book, Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose you can go to Jason Klobnak Music. Thanks again and I look forward to your thoughts/comments!

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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