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A Thought on Improvising


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#1 OFFLINE   AX7221

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Posted 02 September 2007 - 01:13 PM

This sort've relates to the ultimate goal, but I have a different idea I'm leading into. In the song "Johnny B. Goode," Johnny can play the guitar like he's ringing a bell. So to me that means its a lucid process, he doesn't have to think about all kinds of technical stuff, he just plays.

A while ago I realized that I hit a rut. The problem was I had this staunch objective of learning scales, modes and chord tones so then I would be good at improvising, and the creative stuff will just happen. So I was doing these things, and I would jump right in, like I learned where the 2 and 3 are with respect to the root, then the 4, 5, then the 6 and 7, so I would play the 1, 2 and 3 very uncreatively then the others to dill it in (this was just for the 1 octave too). So I would play these things and drill in where the notes are. Then I was trying to drill in where the chord tones are, and I was able to drill them in, but it wasn't creative at all. As a result I played like I was playing scales, then when I started to learn chord tones I still didn't sound much better, I did sound better, but this was before I got PT.

So now I'm trying to relearn how I improvise. Basically I'm trying to strip down what I "know" and play things I don't (but stay in theory). It's tough to explain, like I'll record a few bars of power chords and just go with it creatively, instead of regimental patterns I didn't realize I had.

So now while I'm trying to learn how to improvise I'm not focusing on how to stay in key, or how to play chord tones, I'm focusing on how to foster creativity.

I hope you all know what I mean, like I'm trying to learn to just let the music come out of me. I was trying to skip steps as fast as I could using theory, but without expanding creatively, in fact suffocating my creativity.
If you learn how to play songs, then you learn songs. If you learn how to improvise, then you learn music.

#2 OFFLINE   felixdcat

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Posted 02 September 2007 - 01:52 PM

I hope you'll make it. :smilinguitar: :smilinguitar:

#3 OFFLINE   Doug

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Posted 02 September 2007 - 04:43 PM

Hey Ax,
there's a book called Effortless Mastery by Kenny Werner that I really think you'd enjoy judging by your post. It's written for the jazz musician (which Kenny is) and explains his philosophy on practising and improvising. It's a paper back - not expensive - check it out.
"we don't see things as they are, we see things as we are" - Anais Nin

#4 OFFLINE   chorizo

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Posted 02 September 2007 - 05:31 PM

I wish you the best of luck with your quest AX. A lot of what you say sounds familiar. Some days my thoughts transfer to my fingers (or rather, my fingers just seem to find the most pleasing notes themselves), this is when i get the most satisfaction from playing guitar. Probably more often though, its a struggle to be creative. Not sure why this is, whether certain types of music suit my playing style, the key, my mood or whether i had a good nights sleep :dunno: . I am trying to figure it out. Finding a way to achieve this satisfaction (more) consistantly is my goal (for now :winkthumb:).

#5 OFFLINE   starsailor

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Posted 02 September 2007 - 05:36 PM

Interesting Ax, I do study theory but of the two I spend more time playing songs or hunting round the fretboard for new sounds and chord runs I find this good fun and really get to know the guitar, I think theory is important and will continue to study but personally I don't think focusing on one area for long periods of time is good for a person and your new approach seems to work better for you, sometimes it's great just to let your imagination run free and see what you come up with, it's good if all the aspects of learning guitar can be used to complement each other in my opinion and I originally started playing to have fun and never lose sight of my original intention, good to see you're out of the rut and enjoying yourself.
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#6 OFFLINE   papadog65

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Posted 03 September 2007 - 12:54 AM

Hey, AX,
I think I can understand what you mean about the unsatisfying sound of playing just scales against a chord. Same thing was going on for me, trying to invent melodies but not having much luck.

For the past couple of months I've been looking hard at modal scales and modal pent scales. After drawing out some diagrams I've been trying them out by dropping 2nds & 6ths, and starting a tune on a note other than the root.

I'm sure no expert, but a couple of times of out of ten it sounds okay to me. Much more to follow before it all makes sense to me!

John

#7 OFFLINE   AX7221

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Posted 03 September 2007 - 11:57 AM

papadog65 said:

For the past couple of months I've been looking hard at modal scales and modal pent scales. After drawing out some diagrams I've been trying them out by dropping 2nds & 6ths, and starting a tune on a note other than the root.

I wouldn't do that, that's what I'm trying to recommend not to do. Like instead of trying to take leaps and bounds through music theory, just record something simple and go with it. Once you learn all this theory you won't have learned creativity. I tried playing in the gypsy scale to try to ignite some creativity and it worked a little, but it only worked a little. So I realized that I have to focus on fostering creativity not memorizing theory.
If you learn how to play songs, then you learn songs. If you learn how to improvise, then you learn music.

#8 OFFLINE   papadog65

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Posted 03 September 2007 - 02:16 PM

I appreciate your comments, AX,
It sounds like you've gone through the stage where I'm at now. In my case, I tend to be analytical anyhow, so digging into some theory and looking at patterns has led me to the hope that I'll be able to find the "right" notes.

Your point about "fostering creativity" caught my eye. I have no clue about how to approach that. My first thought would be to start reading all about it, but I'd probably end up again where I am now.

So, would noodling around with a backing track, hoping that music falls out be a way to eventually "feel" where good notes would be on the fretboard? I'm a little skeptical, as I can't even hum a tune "creatively". Am I doomed forever to play songs that I already know from the radio?

#9 OFFLINE   starsailor

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Posted 03 September 2007 - 04:01 PM

papadog65 said:

I appreciate your comments, AX,
It sounds like you've gone through the stage where I'm at now. In my case, I tend to be analytical anyhow, so digging into some theory and looking at patterns has led me to the hope that I'll be able to find the "right" notes.

Your point about "fostering creativity" caught my eye. I have no clue about how to approach that. My first thought would be to start reading all about it, but I'd probably end up again where I am now.

So, would noodling around with a backing track, hoping that music falls out be a way to eventually "feel" where good notes would be on the fretboard? I'm a little skeptical, as I can't even hum a tune "creatively". Am I doomed forever to play songs that I already know from the radio?

Just a thought Papadog, I don't think you'll be doomed forever to play songs from the radio, if you can get a few chord runs together you can get a decent tune, I don't know if you visit the Collaboration and Songwriting threads but it's worth having a look, more members are having a go at Songwriting, and songs are being built from the ground floor, just watching and listening to the song construction is very educational and I personally have benefitted creatively from visiting the forum and watching what people do.:winkthumb:
You don't stop laughing when you grow old; you grow old when you stop laughing.

#10 OFFLINE   papadog65

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Posted 03 September 2007 - 05:25 PM

Thanks, starsailor,
I do okay with a number of chord progressions, but it's hard to come up with melody, other than whacking out a few chord tones and partial arpeggios.

I've seen some of those threads you mention, but a long time ago. I guess it might be time to re-visit them. Thanks for the tip.

#11 OFFLINE   starsailor

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Posted 03 September 2007 - 05:36 PM

papadog65 said:

Thanks, starsailor,
I do okay with a number of chord progressions, but it's hard to come up with melody, other than whacking out a few chord tones and partial arpeggios.

I've seen some of those threads you mention, but a long time ago. I guess it might be time to re-visit them. Thanks for the tip.

Pleasure Papadog, see your point on the melody, I've got a lot to learn still but it's good learning new things and I love playing guitar, I think it will just fall into place for you, I think we're all blessed with creativity it just a question of finding the spark, easier to say than do I know but it happens eventually.:winkthumb:

Best Wishes

Chris
You don't stop laughing when you grow old; you grow old when you stop laughing.

#12 OFFLINE   belle111

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Posted 04 September 2007 - 05:12 AM

it is always a good thing to be in a field where we have an aptitude for......plaine lucky.....because some are force into doing not their cip of tea....you guys got the skill and talent...go for it...

#13 OFFLINE   AX7221

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Posted 04 September 2007 - 08:05 PM

papadog65 said:

I appreciate your comments, AX,
It sounds like you've gone through the stage where I'm at now. In my case, I tend to be analytical anyhow, so digging into some theory and looking at patterns has led me to the hope that I'll be able to find the "right" notes.

Your point about "fostering creativity" caught my eye. I have no clue about how to approach that. My first thought would be to start reading all about it, but I'd probably end up again where I am now.

So, would noodling around with a backing track, hoping that music falls out be a way to eventually "feel" where good notes would be on the fretboard? I'm a little skeptical, as I can't even hum a tune "creatively". Am I doomed forever to play songs that I already know from the radio?

I saw your post the other day, but I didn't know what to write back, so I was thinking about it, and the answer is I don't know.

But this is something that I think is above guitar, and even music itself, creativity. It's all about not getting stuck in routines, and trying different and new things. (I think that is the ultimate goal for musicians, like most of the names we hear about are people who simply decided to try something that people wouldn't bother to b/c it isn't expected to sound good, and maybe in most cases wouldn't). But aside from creating a new genre or something, its all about not getting stuck in ruts.

You said something about how you're concerned with finding the "right" notes. And I've heard people talk about that on here but I think that's just terrible phrasing. Like there is no such thing as right or wrong (so long as the person playing knows what he/she is doing). So I think that that phrasing creates an impression of oh good I found the "right" note, so now I don't have to improve upon that, crap I played the "wrong" note, that's against the rules. I don't want to go off the deep end on that though, b/c the "right" note could be the note you were meaning to play, I just wanted to get away from the idea or right vs. wrong.

On G4B&B a while back someone recommended that I just listen to the backing track and play a jam in my heard. I did this a little, and it was helpful, but I never finished the BT and would try to play the part of what I played in my head.

Also on what I said before. I can casually play in the minor key. So because of that I can stay in the minor key w/o really focusing on doing so. So what I was doing was focusing on just playing some sort of melody. And, the reason I say I'm in a rut is my difficulty in playing a melody, like I think I would always play the same melody in different ways. On thing I tried doing was I learned the melody to greensleeves then I used the chord progession for the song to make a BT and improvised that melody a little bit.

However I'm not positive on exactly how to foster creativity, but I know that in all kinds of other things people can encourage themselves to think outside of the box. One thing I like but is hard to do in guitar b/c it's in real time is I force myself to consider all kinds of possibilities no matter how wrong they appear at a first glance. I'm not sure how to adapt that for guitar, but I'm sure it can be done in some way shape or form.

I hope this post helped in someway. Also its nice to hear I'm not the only one going through this. :)
If you learn how to play songs, then you learn songs. If you learn how to improvise, then you learn music.

#14 OFFLINE   flannr

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Posted 05 September 2007 - 12:13 PM

I used to teach guitar, and one of the trick I used to get my students to improvise was this:
I'd give them two notes, say the root and the flatted third (I guess I'm teaching the blues here) and I'd play a simple 1/4/5 progression nice and slow. I'd say, OK, play anything you want, but you can only use those two notes. So what does the student do? They're stuck with putting two notes together in as many different ways as possible. Can you play a triplet? How about two sixteenths and an eigth note? How many patterns can you make with two notes and every possible rythm combination? Do any of them sound familiar.

When you master that, try adding the fourth. Now you've got three notes...

Back when I was being a professional musician I had a couple of rules I followed: If you can't think of anything clever to do - reach into your bag of tricks. Of course that means you've got to have a bag of tricks. If you remember how to play two notes like they're a solo, you're off to a good start. The other rule was, if you make a mistake, do it three times and then correct it (they say jazz is riffing on your mistakes). For example, you hit an F# instead of a G and it sounds so sour it makes you squirm. Hit it again and squirm some more, hit it again and squirm some more, hit it again and slide up to that G. Try it, it works great, and if you don't tell anyone it was a mistake, you're Miles Davis...

Oh yeah, that was rule 3 - you never let on it was a mistake. In music, you're only as good as the people you can fool. I mean if my ears aren't good enough to tell you're a little out of tune or a little late hitting a note, and you don't tell me, I won't know. If you're playing for my son, (who's a music producer in Maine), he'll grab the guitar out of your hands and tune it for you; his ears are better than yours will ever be. He'll tell you where that note should have landed, and if you can't do it, he'll edit what you play to make that note land where it should have... 9 times out of ten, you'll be the best musician in the room, and Mike lives in Maine so he won't bother you...

#15 OFFLINE   AX7221

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Posted 06 September 2007 - 10:47 PM

flannr said:

I used to teach guitar, and one of the trick I used to get my students to improvise was this:
I'd give them two notes, say the root and the flatted third (I guess I'm teaching the blues here) and I'd play a simple 1/4/5 progression nice and slow. I'd say, OK, play anything you want, but you can only use those two notes. So what does the student do? They're stuck with putting two notes together in as many different ways as possible. Can you play a triplet? How about two sixteenths and an eigth note? How many patterns can you make with two notes and every possible rythm combination? Do any of them sound familiar.

When you master that, try adding the fourth. Now you've got three notes...

Back when I was being a professional musician I had a couple of rules I followed: If you can't think of anything clever to do - reach into your bag of tricks. Of course that means you've got to have a bag of tricks. If you remember how to play two notes like they're a solo, you're off to a good start. The other rule was, if you make a mistake, do it three times and then correct it (they say jazz is riffing on your mistakes). For example, you hit an F# instead of a G and it sounds so sour it makes you squirm. Hit it again and squirm some more, hit it again and squirm some more, hit it again and slide up to that G. Try it, it works great, and if you don't tell anyone it was a mistake, you're Miles Davis...

Oh yeah, that was rule 3 - you never let on it was a mistake. In music, you're only as good as the people you can fool. I mean if my ears aren't good enough to tell you're a little out of tune or a little late hitting a note, and you don't tell me, I won't know. If you're playing for my son, (who's a music producer in Maine), he'll grab the guitar out of your hands and tune it for you; his ears are better than yours will ever be. He'll tell you where that note should have landed, and if you can't do it, he'll edit what you play to make that note land where it should have... 9 times out of ten, you'll be the best musician in the room, and Mike lives in Maine so he won't bother you...

Hi and welcome to the forum!

I tried your idea about just playing 2 notes, then 3 and so on and it helped me out alot! (Btw I'm always happy to see another guitar teacher on G4B&B.)
If you learn how to play songs, then you learn songs. If you learn how to improvise, then you learn music.

#16 OFFLINE   monk

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Posted 07 October 2007 - 08:49 PM

In order to be creative, one must have something to be creative with. The potter must have clay. The carpenter must have wood. The tailor must have cloth. If one wishes to be melodic one must learn melodies. There is no better way to learn how to create melodies than to learn melodies. In regard to improvisation, there is a great deal of misunderstanding of what improvisation is. The following is a copy of a post I made earlier on the Plane Talk forum. I hope it's helpful.


Music is a language just like English, Spanish, French, Japanese or German. All spoken languages have words, spelling, grammar, sentences, pronunciation. When you have a conversation with someone you aren't making up the words as you speak. You are responding "instantly" by drawing upon the reservoir of words in your vocabulary. Improvising music works the same way. Improvisation is the spontaneous reorganization of your musical vocabulary. In other words, the rearrangement of something that already exists.

When we speak, we generally do so intuitively and it seems to be an automatic process. However, if you consider how babies learn to speak, it is neither intuitve nor automatic. Language is learned by imitation. We repeat the words and prhases we hear our parents speak. Upon entering school, language is then further developed through spelling, grammar and the enlargement of the vocabulary.

Django Reinhardt, Wes Montgomery, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Christian, Charle Parker and other great improvisers did not drop out of the sky fully formed. Each one developed his craft by listening to and learning from the people who came before them. No artist develops in a vacuum.

Since jazz, at least prior to the 1960s, is chord based music it's easier to see and hear how PT can be applied. Same goes for blues prior to around 1950. Rock music is, on the whole, a scalar music and it's a bit harder to find rock players to listen to who are not using pentatonic or diatonic scales. However, there are great players such as Larry Carlton who have used a chord tone approach to soloing.

The basics of music are the same for all styles. Chromatic scale, diatonic scales, pentatonic scales, arpeggios, chords and rhythms. How these things are used is what determines the style. Ask a rock player, a country player and a jazz player to play a G chord. It's likely that you'll get 3 different chord shapes but they are all playing a G. How we apply the tools available determines style.

Think of copying solos and learning licks and phrases as acquiring vocabulary. Don't just learn a lick. Disassemble it, reassemble it , play it backward, analyse it to see why it sounds good, see if it will work over other chords. In other words, do the same thing with music that you've done with spoken language your entire life.

Remember, every great guitarist started out copying someone else. That's how they acquired their basic vocabulary. They became themselves by using their own minds to develop what they learned.

As Howard Roberts was fond of pointing out, "If you steal from one person, that's plagiarism. If you steal from a lot of people, that's research."

Regards,
Monk

#17 OFFLINE   Kirk Lorange

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Posted 08 October 2007 - 02:19 AM

Great post, Monk. :winkthumb: Thanks.

#18 OFFLINE   coldethyl

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Posted 08 October 2007 - 03:51 AM

monk said:

As Howard Roberts was fond of pointing out, "If you steal from one person, that's plagiarism. If you steal from a lot of people, that's research."

Regards,
Monk


I agree 100% with all you said Monk, and particularly like the quote by Howard Roberts.:winkthumb:

A great blues guitarist once said in relation to learning from other players but ultimately coming up with your own style, "you take the cream from other players, but you've gotta come up with the pudding."

Made me chuckle to myself when I heard it, but I got the drift of what he was trying to say.
"Good Music is that which penetrates the ear with facility and quits the memory with difficulty" Thomas Beecham

#19 OFFLINE   knight46

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Posted 08 October 2007 - 07:19 AM

Excellent post Monk...well said.

#20 OFFLINE   eddiez152

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Posted 09 October 2007 - 12:39 AM

Great post Monk !
Nothin sweeter than the sound of music comin out of a 6 string box - EZ me Music / ASCAP "Music is a social act of communication, a gesture of friendship,the strongest there is"-Malcolm Arnold





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