** As featured in issue 51 **
Over the past nine lessons, we have looked at the building blocks you need to start playing convincing Jazz solos. Concepts based around, Major and Minor II V I progressions, Arpeggios, and scale based approaches. We have learned many licks and complete solos based around standard Jazz progressions. Now we need to focus on the hard part, making it all into music! This lesson isn’t really about improvising, that's a whole series by itself, this is looking at the idea of applying concepts you have learned in your improvising which requires a different approach to just sitting down and letting muscle memory take over.
Ask yourself the following question: When you practice improvising, do you just play around ideas, licks, lines that you always have done, and your fingers naturally go to. Or do you make a conscious effort to apply some new vocabulary into your playing? It's fair to say that when the heat is on (playing in front of an audience for example), most players are never truly improvising something brand new, they are drawing from years of learnt vocabulary, with maybe 5% of something new creeping in. It's much like holding a conversation, you just talk without thinking, using words you have learnt, it is very rare that you will throw in a new word you have never used before!
With this in mind, it's good practice to actually target a particular area of your playing when sitting down to work on improvising. This could be a new rhythm, scale, lick, new approach etc. If we consider what we have been looking at in my previous columns geared towards Jazz improvisation, using arpeggios to outline changes as well as Modal based playing. Therefore, we can really use these concepts to focus our improv practice. The backing track I have supplied is the same as last months, to recap these are the changes:
|Cm7 |Cm7 |Fm7 |Fm7 |Dm7b5 |G7 |Cm7 |Cm7 |Ebm7 |Ab7 |Dbmaj7 |Dbmaj7 |Dm7b5 |G7 |Cm7 |Dm7b5/G7 |
In the previous lesson, we looked at two different solos, one using just arpeggios and one using a key centre approach. It would be worthwhile recapping this lesson if you are unsure how this chord progression is constructed, what scales/arpeggios work over it. This time I want you to try and abandon any lick based playing and try to truly improvise and start developing your own voice. Set a challenge to improvise just using arpeggios, then just a key centre, and then mix it all up. Try some of the licks we have learned but alter them rhythmically or change them from minor to major, also trying working licks into your playing, so they don’t stand out like a sore thumb. The key is to really focus and LISTEN to what you are doing. If you find yourself drifting off and your mind wandering, take a break and try again. Short, focused study is far more beneficial than hours of thoughtless widdle. In the video I take a pass at soloing over the changes to give you an idea of how I sound when I'm improvising rather than demonstrating the licks, I tend to play in a very different way rhythmically when I'm not reciting lines.
If you can, it's also a good idea to record yourself and listen back with a critical ear, keep the recordings then over time you will be able to hear your progress.