How to Build a Jazz Improvisation

One Methods:Focus on Improvisation

You might know how to solo, and may be very good at it... for a couple of bars. But if it doesn't go anywhere, the listener quickly loses attention. Here are a few steps to help you avoid this...

Steps

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    Don't give the improvisation everything you've got straight away- start it simple and relaxed, and give it somewhere to go.
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    Try building upon a motif/idea- for example, a simple rhythmic or melodic phrase that is repeated, and then slowly altered in a manner which is interesting and sounds good.
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    Quote! In other words, reference another song that is in the same key, or you have transposed to be so. Don't overdo it, you could even just play a few lines from, say, star wars, or a well known pop song.
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    Learn a few "tricks" you can use if you run out of ideas halfway through- for example, melodic lines or even impressive sounding, simple exercises- for example, the Hanon exercises.
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    Alter the way you play passages. For example, you could lay back on the beat for effect, or even push ahead to do similarly.
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    Listen to many jazz artists to get the idea, and even transcribe some of their passages and use them in your own solos! It'll sound good to those who don't know the passages, and you'll be respected by those who do!
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    And, finally, do whatever you enjoy, and whatever sounds good.

Focus on Improvisation

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    Be aware of what is happening in the band before you begin your solo. Be aware of the type of song, its genre, its meaning, its emotional tone. In other words, be aware of context.
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    Have an approximate idea of what you want your solo to sound like before you start and where you want it to go. In other words, what effect you would you like to create on the audience. This can change later on as the band audience react.
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    With context in mind, work out a suitable motif, emotional tone and/or message to start your solo with that enhances the music of the band. It can be anything: burning intense a la John Coltrane in My Favourite Things or simple and understated a la Joe Henderson in Song For My Father.
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    Develop your solo towards the idea you had in point number two, working with the band, interacting with it and keeping your ears open.
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    Don't be afraid of repetition. It builds affinity and agreement and can generate excitement in the audience. Carried on too long though, it generates boredom.
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    Consider varying different aspects of your solo - volume, timbre, melodic tension, pitch, silence. These are all tools for you to use to achieve your communication.
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    Once you feel you have achieved point number two, wrap up your solo, all the while listening to the band. You may need to play some phrases to "wind down" your solo if it got really intense, or you can even just stop right at the peak. Either way it should be a self-determined action.
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    Acknowledge the audience's reaction.

Tips

  • Play out. This means: don't inhibit yourself. Have certainty that you can nail this thing and DO IT!
  • The key is to practise, practise and practise! Play along to some Jamey Abersold CD's in order to get the idea of what to do, and don't be afraid to try anything out when practising- better to slip up when practising than when in concert!

Warnings

    1. Don't rely on licks, patterns and other nonsense. Communicate, create and react in present time. This is an improvisation, not a regurgitation. If it seems appropriate to reference another player or song, then ok but don't overdo it, as it robs your solo of depth and tends to trivialize it.

Article Info

Categories: Songs and Song Writing