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thewing

Improvising... which scale?

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thewing    0

Hey! I'm a mediocre guitarist who is band now (but have only played for about 7 months). There will be a jazz concert next month and I've already mastered the songs and the solos, but I have to improvise myself. The obvious problem is I'm not sure how I'm going to receive a good sound off the minor pentatonic scale our teacher recommends us to use. I was thinking a Dorian or Mixolodian scale would be best, but I'm not sure if I can master it. A Major Scale might be good too. (I'm trying to work in a key that works well with B flat) Thanks. :smilinguitar:

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d00m    0

Well, your scales seem to be fine, it's just the manor in which you play them. Since it's going to be a jazz concert, add octave chords, chromatics, passing tones, minimal bends, and various explosive licks. Listen to Jay Soto, Chuck Loeb, Paul Jackson Jr., George Benson, etc. for ideas.

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Kirk Lorange    128

You'd find that all jazz players, whatever instrument they play, will follow the chords, not scales, so my advice is to really get a grip on the chords and use their tones as the main notes for your improvisational phrases ... as each chord comes into play, use its tones, then the next chord etc. You won't go wrong -- ever -- doing it that way. It's not easy, but it's a heck of a lot easier that trying to figure out which scales and modes to use. You need to know the chords to do that anyway, so one way or the other, concentrate on chords.

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bmurnahan    1

I agree with Kirk. Scales have their place in music and are a great aid in helping you improve your technique when practiced in various ways(breaking them up into intervals, etc). They also give you options on which notes to use as passing tones in between the scale notes.

But as Kirk states, all great jazz players are masters at following the chords. You also have to remember that it takes time. It doesn't happen overnight. In fact, over time great players play what they want to hear and don't think in terms of chords or scales.

They have spent many hours developing their ears to get to this point. And as Kirk likes to say,"melody loves chord tones," so the most melodic improvisers have their ears highly tuned into the chord tones.

Check out Joe Pass. Even when he plays solo you can hear the chords going by in his single note lines.

Get yourself a little fretboard road map. Pick a five fret area and locate the chord tones for each chord in the song. Improvise using only those notes on the matching chord. When you can do that reasonably well move to another five fret area and do it again.

Good Luck,

Bob

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gravitas    0

I agree with the last few posts. Playing the changes is really the technique that characterizes jazz music. I've been working hard at playing changes for the past year, and I'm really starting to get the hang of it. The key to learning to play changes is not to attack the whole thing as one beast: if you just spend hours trying to outline the chord, you're gonna go nuts, because you're destined to fail. That's not a defeatist way of looking at the technique, it's just the way it is. It's impossible to be able to go from not playing changes to playing them. Too much to think about, even if you've actually mastered the technique. My guitar teacher, whose the jazz prof at the local university... When I asked him what he thought about while he was playing changes, he answered drily: "my bills." I thought he was joking, but the better I get at it, the more I find that that's true.

The first step is to get used to moving between the individual tones through the harmony. Isolate movement between one tone to another- say, moving between the third and the second, or the seventh and the fifth- over two beats at a time. Use eighth notes. Do this over a progression that contains every kind of common chord (a common IV7 - ii - V7 - I), and you'll be playing confident jazz lines in no time.

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solidwalnut    5

Agree with all. Often what works to get some ideas as to what to play over which changes is to actually form the chords, or partial renditions, and play selected notes from those formations. This works for visualizing 'moving anchors'.

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Live Stone    0

I highly recommend the Chord of the Moment technique for Jazz and most styles. Kirks Plane Talk method and forum is invaluable for learning to improvise melody over Jazz and any style of music. It will give you an edge over playing strictly scales.

Danny

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StickMan    0

Personally, I wouldn't "improvise" at all. Sit down and work something out beforehand. Work at it long enough and you can develop a selection of licks that work at various places throughout the changes, but you shouldn't be trying to marry theory and technique when playing it live.

You'd be surprised at how far you can get with the right pentatonic, even in jazz format. So I'd take your teacher's advice on that. What you should do, however, is to look at how you can augment the pentatonic with some extra chord tones thrown in to keep it sounding "jazzy".

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Live Stone    0
Personally, I wouldn't "improvise" at all. Sit down and work something out beforehand. Work at it long enough and you can develop a selection of licks that work at various places throughout the changes, but you shouldn't be trying to marry theory and technique when playing it live.

You'd be surprised at how far you can get with the right pentatonic, even in jazz format. So I'd take your teacher's advice on that. What you should do, however, is to look at how you can augment the pentatonic with some extra chord tones thrown in to keep it sounding "jazzy".

I couldn't disagree with you more. Working it out beforehand is simply mechanical. Improvisation is the artful part of playing the guitar. It is where you marry theory and technique and combine it with the spiritual and emotional aspects of playing it live. Pentatonic scales can only take you so far and then they can be not in sync with certain chords that are not in Key, used a lot in Jazz pieces. If I couldn't improvise and create music on the fly I would quit playing. If I couldn't get past pentatonic and modal scales I would quit playing. My teacher and mentor Kirk has brought my playing skills to much higher levels using his methods. I don't intend to move backward in my playing.:winkthumb:

Danny

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StickMan    0

Hmmmm

I see what you're saying, but I have to disagree back at you.

Jazz is really intimidating to improvise over. You need to learn about a whole wack of arpeggio shapes, all kinds of theory to do chord substitutions, learn when to play "outside" to build tension and such before you can really just improvise effectively in a live situation.

And jazz moves fast, the rhythm section does strange things and they substitute chords, do bizarre exentions and voice leading that makes the changes harder to follow.

So when you start out, you simplify it. Start with pentatonics and learn how to add chord tones to tie solo into the harmony. Eventually the chord tones take over and the pentatonics drop away. In the meantime, at least you can do it.

More than half of improvising is coming up with lines that express yourself and work with the harmony. It's really, really hard to do extemporaneously with Jazz if you don't have a lot of experience. So why not take the time, slow the song down and work out those lines that express yourself beforehand? Then play that live, and build up some experience and confidence.

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Live Stone    0
Hmmmm

I see what you're saying, but I have to disagree back at you.

Jazz is really intimidating to improvise over. You need to learn about a whole wack of arpeggio shapes, all kinds of theory to do chord substitutions, learn when to play "outside" to build tension and such before you can really just improvise effectively in a live situation.

And jazz moves fast, the rhythm section does strange things and they substitute chords, do bizarre exentions and voice leading that makes the changes harder to follow.

So when you start out, you simplify it. Start with pentatonics and learn how to add chord tones to tie solo into the harmony. Eventually the chord tones take over and the pentatonics drop away. In the meantime, at least you can do it.

More than half of improvising is coming up with lines that express yourself and work with the harmony. It's really, really hard to do extemporaneously with Jazz if you don't have a lot of experience. So why not take the time, slow the song down and work out those lines that express yourself beforehand? Then play that live, and build up some experience and confidence.

Have already moved past that point. Been playing a while. I find working around the Chord Tones produces a much better melody line and is always on target with the somtimes out of the key jazz chords. All your scales, modes, bends, licks, hammor ons are right there in the Chord of the moment if you know the method that is taught by my teacher and mentor Kirk. We are not boxed in by any scale because we play all scales which are actually just modified major scales and are all parts of the scales in the PT methodology. Spring for the money and come join us at the Pt forum. You will learn a new midset about scales and learn to have more fun with your aquired skills. Take yourself to a higher learning curve fast. You will probably never use pentatonic again or rarely. I must confess I somtimes slip back to modal playing deliberately. You will be able to improv from your soul and never really sound like you just copied someone elses style. You will develop your own sound. Just a thought. Everyone has to do their own thing. I think you would really get into the PT groove. Listen to Kirk do some of his stuff. He never thinks scales and plays what he hears in his heart, mind and soul. His fingers do what he hears in his head. It don't get better than that.

Hope to see you at the PT forum. We do enjoy ourselves a lot as we learn a new mindset that people have searched years to find. A no nonsense way of playing the entire fretboad and knowing where you are at at all times without blowing a circuit in your brain.

There is a video of Kirk improving over a jazz piece that I posted with Band in the Box. Does anyone know where it is.? Stickman might enjoy hearing it.

Best regards

Danny

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solidwalnut    5

Interesting twist to this thread Stickman and Live Stone...

I think there's a middle ground here. One of the best goals in learning how to play to my mind is learning to sound presentable...Stickman's approach is very much like mine has been for many, many years.

I have always preferred to learn parts, put them together and then play them rather than improvise. For better or for worse, this is the style of player I became. It helped me become a good studio player because I have learned to concentrate and execute every playing nuance in a song...

Although Kirk and many others prefer to improvise and to play on the fly all the time, this doesn't mean that stopping to learn and to concentrate on parts, and learning to play them well, before they're presented is a lesser skill. Improvising, and learning to improvise well, is obviously an awesome approach; one that can carry a player far but PERHAPS for the player who is just learning they might be better off concentrating on the rudiments (the arpeggios, the pentatonics, etc.)

And it's just an opinion, but I believe that a guitar player does well to learn how to do both at the same time. Obviously, only the guitar masters know how to 'do it all' while most of us generally learn to only do one or two things well. There's a difference between trying to learn to do it all and actually learning how to play, and each of us must find the approach that works for us.

This is important, because too many players miss the boat on understanding how to learn to be technically good because they're informed that all they need to learn to do is to improvise. Learning how to play a parallel harmony part to a melody is often NOT accomplished by just winging it.

Steve

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Live Stone    0
Interesting twist to this thread Stickman and Live Stone...

I think there's a middle ground here. One of the best goals in learning how to play to my mind is learning to sound presentable...Stickman's approach is very much like mine has been for many, many years.

I have always preferred to learn parts, put them together and then play them rather than improvise. For better or for worse, this is the style of player I became. It helped me become a good studio player because I have learned to concentrate and execute every playing nuance in a song...

Although Kirk and many others prefer to improvise and to play on the fly all the time, this doesn't mean that stopping to learn and to concentrate on parts, and learning to play them well, before they're presented is a lesser skill. Improvising, and learning to improvise well, is obviously an awesome approach; one that can carry a player far but PERHAPS for the player who is just learning they might be better off concentrating on the rudiments (the arpeggios, the pentatonics, etc.)

And it's just an opinion, but I believe that a guitar player does well to learn how to do both at the same time. Obviously, only the guitar masters know how to 'do it all' while most of us generally learn to only do one or two things well. There's a difference between trying to learn to do it all and actually learning how to play, and each of us must find the approach that works for us.

This is important, because too many players miss the boat on understanding how to learn to be technically good because they're informed that all they need to learn to do is to improvise. Learning how to play a parallel harmony part to a melody is often NOT accomplished by just winging it.

Steve

Steve:

Can't disagree with that logic. I guess the main statement I didn't agree with Stickman on was:

Personally, I wouldn't "improvise"
I felt like this would be an entirely limiting and boring approach to music. But for him maybe not. Music is getting from one melodious place to another and I agree that there are many approaches that work. I myself have always been a modal player throwing in licks and chops and most of the time it doesn't sound too bad. I was just excilted to learn that there was another approach that took my playing to a more interesting and fun place for me. Therefore I get zealous of sharing that approach. No offense meant to Stickman and others that approach music diffierently.

I have two students coming this afternoon. They are from my church. One is in College and the other High School. Besides technique, Chords, licks etc., guess what I am concentrating on with them so they can have something to bring home and practice and improv and feel they are not stuck in a rut. You guessed it. Minor and Major Pentatonic, the major scale and how it can be played over the relative minor of the key. They think I am the greatest because I am giving them somthing they can apply immediately. Truth be known I am only a mediocre player on guitar but I truly enjoy playing. I have learned finger style, PT, and much more from Kirk, and you Steve also AT and others. All of you especially Clancy have made this a wonderful learning invironment . This is by far the best learning site on the internet with so many fine people always ready to step in and share what they know unselfishly. I really appreciate you Steve. Blessed are the peacemakers.

I am really a drummer all my life. But I refused to teach drums because I have no patience to go back and teach rudiments, boring, tedious things that I have for years played by instinct without thinking. Of course not thinking is one of my specialties.

Any there is really no disagreement on my part. Just wanted to share my view with the Stickman. I wish him all the great success in his lifetime guitar adventure. One thing is for sure. If you have a method and it works for you and others enjoy what you are doing then you had to have done something right.

All the best

Danny

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Kirk Lorange    128

Yes, interesting to read through these posts.

There is a big difference of course between improvising and playing learned lines and there's a place for each. I spent many many years as a studio musician, usually taking part in recording sessions for TV commercials ... that was always the bulk of the work. They were quick, straight to the point sessions where time is money and where guitarists were usually left to their devices to come up with a part. In fact, it was those players who could do that who were hired, because the writers and producers of the jingles rarely had anything written out. So after the rhythm section went down and some fills and melodic themes were asked for, we guitarists and keyboard players had to come up with something that worked. We'd have to invent something that fit the music (followed the rules) that was catchy, appropriate, right ... and then commit it to tape. Quickly. That's one form of improvisation.*

The other form: when I was a player in Sydney working live in bands, I'd often be asked to 'sit in' with other bands. You do need to feel totally confident to do that because invariably you'd be asked to play a solo in a tune you've never hear before. That's real improvisation. That's when you really do need to be thinking of something other than scales. The only way to be able to do that without making a complete fool of yourself is to be able to hear the changes, to know exactly what's going on musically at all times and to then create a part that's appropriate. As impossible as that may sound to some, the fact is that it's a lot easier than it sounds. There really aren't all that many underlying 'patterns' to pieces of music, whatever genre they may be. The I-IV-V structure underlies just about every piece ever written, and you get to hear it, to recognize it just as you recognize blue-red and green. Deviations form the primary chords are also recognizable (by ear). So, when I was in that situation, I'd play pretty well nothing the first time through the verse/chorus. I'd just listen and make a mental sketch of the structure that was unfolding. Next time through, I'd add a small, sparse part, maybe little compact triads and the odd line that would flow from those chords. By the time the singer pointed at me for a solo, I'd know exactly what the structure I was going to play over was and create a melodic part from the chords ... remembering that 'less is more'.

So that, to me, is what 'improvising' is. To get there, you need to do a whole lot of playing, a whole lot of remembering, and most importantly, a whole lot of compressing all that you learn into small packets of information, distilling it all down so that in the end you're thinking of almost nothing. You obviously can't create something as intangible and fleeting as music on the fly if your brain is swimming in information.

*When I met one particular jingle producer, I did a simple rhythm part for him on the first job. He then asked me stay back and pulled out a tape with a sort of rocky countryish track on it and asked me to play some lines over it. He said don't worry, it's a paid job, just play what you feel would be appropriate, it's for a movie soundtrack. I later realized that he was simply testing me, finding out whether I was worth calling back, whether I was going to be able to add value to his compositions without him having to coach me through every time and waste time. I did wind up doing a heap of work for him.

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Dewy    0

One thing I find odd that no one has really hit upon here is the actual chords? What is the Rhythm section doing? That would be worth learning before hand... giving you a better grasp of what scale or chords you'll be playing over.

Thats what I would call rehearsing for an Improv. Work the chords over in your head... "jot" them down onto a recording and try a few thousand things... remember what worked, and you'll have something to draw from, but no real idea of whats first or last.

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Kirk Lorange    128

Dewy, when I kept mentioning the 'structure' of the song, I meant the chords. They're the only thing that matters, really, and not so much their names but the Roman numeral values. That's what you 'hear' when you listen to the chord structure ... whether it's a I chord or vi chord or IV chord, whatever.

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Dewy    0

I see... that seems like something I have heard referenced when people talk about the I,IV,V structure of a song?

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Kirk Lorange    128

That's it, Dewy. If you go to the 'Music Building' lesson http://www.guitarforbeginners.com/forum/beginners-lessons/2426-music-building/ the analogy would be that you get to always know which room you're in simply by hearing it.

The I-IV-V structure you mention are the three major chords of the key, and they underlie just about every piece of music ever written in some way or other.

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