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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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analyzing nica's dream

Analyzing Lines-Donald Byrd on Nica’s Dream

Analyzing Lines – Donald Byrd on Nica’s Dream

Analyzing 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:

analyzing 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 or for only $15/month get access to everything (every course, book, PDF, album, etc).

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End of Phrases

Thanks again for stopping by and checking out the site! If this is your first visit here, I would like to welcome and invite you to browse around and take a look at some of our past posts as well as my book (Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose and Breaking the Monotony) which are both available at my Digital Store.

Those that have been following know how big I am into the concept of targeting (or aiming at a goal note with purpose). In today’s tip, I wanted to talk about the concept of targeting and the importance of the end of the phrase. I believe if we focus on how we want our phrase to end before we start it-we will find that our ideas will not wander because we’re aiming at a goal ( in this case the end of the phrase) with purpose.

Students often struggle with wandering in their early stages of learning how to improvise. Their phrases/ideas start out great, but they aren’t sure how they will end it. Instead of making a musical statement, they have a run-on sentence (or paragraph for that matter) that lacks cohesiveness.

I find I have more creativity if I build my ideas backwards. If I know where and how I’m going to end my phrase, I now have different options of how I’m going to get there. Let’s take a look at a quick example. The idea below is what we will use as the end of our phrase:

The end of the phrase is targeting the 5th of the Cmaj7 chord. It has a definitive end. Now I have options of how I’m going to get to the ending phrase. Below are a few different options that you could choose from:

The above are just a few of the many options available going to the end of the phrase ( in addition, this tip opens up more creative options to the beginning of phrases too). This process is done in real-time and is something that you have to develop. However, the end result of this practice will pay off. You will find that you (and your students) will be making more cohesive musical statements and there will be less wandering. I hope you’ve enjoyed this tip and that it adds value and benefit to your playing in some way!

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Improv Tip Week # 52-Your Etudes

This week I wanted to talk about the benefits of creating your own Etudes. When we improvise, we’re creating something in the moment. We have an idea in our mind’s eye about what we’d like to do and the options we can go from a certain point. I also advise that we have targets we aim at with purpose. Those targets help us get to our destination and help create a more meaningful conversation with the audience and the musicians we’re sharing the stage. Etudes, though, are pre-planned solos to be used as a technical exercise that are disposable.

Wait, did you just say disposable?

Yeah. They’re meant to have a short shelf-life. You play it (work out the technical passages), analyze it (why did it work), and move on to another.

When you are working on a new tune it can be beneficial to write your own etudes because they help solidify and develop your understanding of the song.

Writing an etude is essentially composing your own solo. Write some ideas out and edit as needed. Play through a line or two and ask yourself some critical questions:

1. Does the line (or series of lines) sound good? If not, re-write them until they do.
2. Do the lines have rhythmic interest? If not, re-write it and make it more interesting. Jazz rhythm is syncopated, so find opportunities to add more syncopation to your line(s).
3. Is there anything that could be added or taken away to make it sound better? If so, make the changes.

The beauty of composing your own etude is you can fix mistakes and do an unlimited number of re-writes until it sounds good. This process helps your subconcious understand why some lines sound better then others and you will find they creep into your playing later. Practice your etude with no accompaniment at first and then add them later. And remember, etudes are technical exercises so don’t feel like you can’t change them (unless you like them as is).

Don’t feel like writing one today, but want to check one out anyway? Click the image below for a FREE etude from my book, Breaking the Monotony. It’s based off of the changes to Have You Met Miss Jones.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s tip! Please feel free to share it with your friends, colleagues, students or other sites that you’re a contributor. There are quick and easy social media share buttons below for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIN, etc.

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Improv Tip Week # 51-Additional Chromatic Target

I don’t know about you, but I can’t believe we’re already at week #51! Next week will be our 1 year anniversary of weekly improv tips. I haven’t fully decided what topics we’ll be covering after the 1 year mark, but I hope you’ve enjoyed this past year. If you haven’t had a chance to check out the past tips, you can go to the archives (listed by month/year) at the bottom of the homepage. This week I wanted to expand on the chromatic targets that I mentioned in my book, Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose.

The chromatic targets (or enclosures, upper/lower neighbor, etc) mentioned in my book were simply expanding out from our targeted note by as little as a half step or as much as a minor third. The chromatic targets themselves aren’t the focus, but they’re one of the tools mentioned to get to the note that we’re intending to land on (or as it’s mentioned in the book-aiming at a goal note with purpose). For this week’s tip, I wanted to give you an additional chromatic targeting tool that I like to use that’s not mentioned in my book.

You’ll notice with this chromatic target that the pattern starts a half step above your intended target, moves up a minor third, back to the half-step above and up a whole-step before resolving back to the targeted note. This tool has an exotic sound to it that doesn’t conform to the standard chromatic targeting principles (approaching chromatically from above/below, etc). You will want to use your ear to decide which target applications work best for you. For example, I like using this tool when my targets are landing on the 5th of the chord. Let’s take a look at what this would look like in an application on a ii-V-I in C-major:

To get this sound under your fingers and in your ears, practice the targeting tool on all 12 notes. This way you can apply it at any point in different harmonic situations on the fly. I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s tip! Please feel free to share it with your friends, colleagues, students or any other sites you’re a contributor. For more information on how you can creatively target notes (chromatic as well as others), check out my book at my Digital Store.

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Improv Tip Week # 50-Shapes part 2

Welcome to week #50! We have two more weeks until we hit the one year mark. This will be the 50th straight week of improv tips! If this is your first time joining us, please be sure to go back through the archives and check out the past 49 weeks. If you’re one of our returning friends…welcome back as we continue to look at how we can use the shapes of some of our favorite lines to build our own. Last week we looked at the infamous “Cry Me A River” lick. This week we’re going to look at another common lick used in the standard jazz vocabulary known as the “Gone But Not Forgotten” lick (GBNF).

For more information on what we can do to find the line’s shape, refer back to last week’s tip. Below, you’ll find the shape of the line with it’s original notes. The example below that is strictly the line’s shape with no accidentals.

When we remove the stems from the original line and just have the shape (or overall arc) we can apply our own rhythms. Not only that, but we can change up the harmonic context so it fits over a number of different situations. Last week with the CMAR shape I was listening to a song that had a heavy shuffle feel. Today I happen to be listening to some funk. So the examples below would be something I might apply to a song type that doesn’t swing. I also didn’t list any chord changes above the lines because they can be applied to different harmonic situations. The first example is based off of the original line’s shape AND note choices.

The next example is just based off of the overall shape of the original line:

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s tip and that it adds value to your playing in some way. I also want to say a big thank you to all who helped our fundraiser last week to fight Malaria! If you didn’t get a chance to help out, you can continue through October 2012 by giving directly to HappyBirthdayNate.com. Also, if you haven’t checked out my book (Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose) you can go to my Digital Store to get more information. It’s available in English (printed and digital) or Spanish (digital only) for a very affordable price. I hope you’ll check it out and find that it will add value to your playing as well!

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Improv Tip Week # 49-Shapes AND Malaria Fundraiser Day 1

Welcome everyone to Week #49 AND Day 1 of JKM’s Fundraiser to eradicate Malaria! Did you know that Malaria is 100% preventable? Yet, Malaria kills over one million people each year; 85% of those are children under the age of 5. Today, tomorrow and Wednesday 100% of all Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose book sales, booked Skype Lessons or clinics (they can be for later dates) will be going to help eradicating Malaria by purchasing bed nets for children.

We will be teaming up with HappyBirthdayNate.com and World Vision to do our part in making sure children’s lives are spared from Malaria. If you would like to donate without purchasing a book or scheduling a lesson/clinic, you can go directly to the site above to donate. Otherwise, you can go directly to our Digital Store to make your purchase or to schedule a Skype lesson or Clinic.

In this week’s tip (week #49), we’re going to look at taking a lick and using that lick’s shape to create new ideas. There are times when I’m improvising that I like to think about the shapes of the lines I’m playing. I’ve talked to a number of guitarists and pianists who prefer to think of shapes when they improvise because it’s conducive to their instrument. I think every instrumentalist can apply this concept. To start out, let’s take a look at one of the most common licks found in jazz: the “Cry Me A River” lick (or CMAR).

We’ve talked about using licks in other harmonic situations in past week’s, but this time let’s look at the overall shape of the line without any stems or rhythms:

The above graphic gives you a very good idea of the shape of the line. Now, let’s take a look at it without any sharps or flats and truly the shape of the line:

Now we can apply that shape to whatever rhythm or note length value we like to create a new line based on the original shape. The example below is taking the notes verbatim from the example below, but changing up the rhythm. I’m listening to a heavy shuffle tune now so I made this example with the intent of it fitting over that groove. This example could be played over a number of different harmonies:

The next example stems off of the same idea above, but combines it with the notes from the original riff. Note how we now have a completely different line then the original lick yet they’re still related:

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s tip and have found it useful to your playing! Please feel free to share this tip and site with your friends, students, colleagues or other sites that you’re a contributor. Also, please share what we’re doing with HappyBirthdayNate.com even beyond our fundraiser period. They’re raising awareness and funds through October 2012. Let’s continue to do our part to help those in need.

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Improv Tip Week # 48-Outside-In part 3

Welcome to week #48! We’re only a few more weeks before hitting the one year mark! I’ve got some exciting things to announce in the next coming days and weeks ahead so be sure to continue checking in. In this week’s tip, we’re going to continue in our series on Outside-In. We’ve been talking about how you can create outside lines with structure so they’re not random and have a flow of logic that connects with your audience. This week we’re going to look at tritone substitutions as well as superimposing a progression based off of a way Bill Evans often reharmonized ii-V-I’s.

Let’s first take a look at the often talked about tritone substitution. There’s been a lot of mystery associated with this term and I hope to clear some of that up to show that it’s not as complicated as some make it out. A lot of our recent examples have been in the key of C…so let’s switch it up this week and move to the key of Eb. Let’s start with the ii-V-I in Eb:

A tritone substitution is simply taking the V7 chord and replacing it with the same quality chord a tritone (sharp 4th or flatted 5th interval) away. Instead of having Fmin7-Bb7-Ebmaj7. You now have Fmin7-E7-Ebmaj7. Notice how the root movement descends chromatically. The reason why the tritone substitution works so well is that the Bb7 and the E7 (tritone away) share the same guide-tones (the 3rd and the flat 7th of the chord):

(Quick note: anytime you have a V7 chord that lasts a full measure…you can turn it into a one-bar ii-V. This holds true for tritone substitutions.)

This substitution is the same as what we’ve been doing the last couple of weeks in this series by superimposing chord changes. Tritone substitutions are commonplace in chord progressions and reharmonizations, but we’re going to look at superimposing the tritone substitution as a means of structuring our outside lines (i.e. the soloist plays the superimposed line while the rhythm section plays the ii-V-I). Below is a good example of how you can superimpose the tritone substitution over the standard changes:

The next example below is taking the idea of the tritone substitution a step further. The great jazz pianist, Bill Evans, was known for a lot of things in jazz. But, one of the aspects I admired of his was reharmonization techniques. Mr. Evans took an additional step in some of his reharmonizations with the tritone substitution. We can use that for our structure to go outside as well. In this past couple of weeks we talked about the 3-tonic and 4-tonic systems and how they’re connected by their V7 or iimin7 chords and also how they’re dividing the octave by major 3rds and minor 3rds. Bill Evans would take the tritone substitution (with the one bar ii-V, or Bmin7-E7 in our example above) and connect the iimin7 (Fmin7) to the tritone sub’s iimin7 (Bmin7) by ascending the quality of the chord up by minor thirds (Fmin7-Abmin7-Bmin7). That progression is below:

The final example is taking that superimposed progression above and playing lines based on that progression (while the rhythm section plays the standard ii-V-I):

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s tip and this series. You should have a good idea now of what it means to superimpose a chord progression and how we can use the idea of superimposition to play “outside” in a structured way. Always remember: You need to know how to play inside before you can outside and to connect to your audience you need to make sure you’re coming back inside at some point. Please feel free to share this tip/site via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIN, Google+ or other sites you’re a contributor. For easy social media sharing access, there are easy buttons below!

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