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Thread: Improvising

  1. #51

    Default Re: Improvising

    Quote Originally Posted by James Vwaal View Post
    ........So if a solo is not as interesting as the melody, then why produce something less interesting via "spontaneous improv"?.......
    ..
    1. Because you have to start somewhere.
    2. Interesting or boring is a matter of taste.
    3. Many situations (jams) have unbounded repetoire choice so rehearsal for specific tunes is not possible.
    4. The goal may be to practice ‘spontaneous composition’ with others.

    I’m sure there are more reasons.
    Play it like you mean it.

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  3. #52

    Default Re: Improvising

    Quote Originally Posted by James Vwaal View Post
    But Dawg was saying that it is all composition, and that the speed is maybe irrelevant. I agree that one who is fluent in a specific genre will be able to compose more quickly; however, how interesting a solo sounds is more important to me than the speed of composition. So if a solo is not as interesting as the melody, then why produce something less interesting via "spontaneous improv"? Working on an "alternate melody" in the practice room sets one up with a better chance at producing something as interesting, or more so, than the melody line.

    BTW, I am sending you a PM for a different question. Thanks.
    There are many great performers who build solos long before the performance and many who build them on the spot, and many more who do some of both. The key to any of these is developing fluency in the music and the instrument, regardless of the speed that one uses to build the composition.
    Best, Stevo

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  5. #53
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    Default Re: Improvising

    a few rambling responses to this interesting and challenging discourse on improvising, aesthetics, and life itself...
    Let's start with the OP's question. Dear OP, you may want to use your fretboard familiarity and scale/arpeggio knowledge to cultivate phrases, melodies, or melodic segments, as opposed to "licks". One thing I hear often is "I learned all my scales and arpeggios, now all my solos sound like scales and arpeggios!" So, a couple of things to try...Play a major scale with the cord it corresponds to plays. Listen to each interval, stopping at each one. Inventory what feeling, vibe or effect each note yields. A 6th, for example may sound happy or swingy, a 2nd or 9th consonant but also "going somewhere". What we're looking for here is new starting points for your solo..starting your break on a color tone can help break out of repititious diatonic(scalewise) movement. There's a lifetime of fun stuff right in that major scale. After getting a feel for those intervals, try the same examination on the chromatic scale to get vibes off of the "alterations"or "tensions". For example, a b5 sounds kind of angry doesn't it? Imagine starting your solo on that! You are immediately playing a feeling or expression rather than a mathematical pattern or route.
    Another thing to try is to sing something, then find it on the mandolin. You don't have to be a "singer" or "have a good voice", it's just an attempt to create lines that have a vocal quality. The average listener(sorry)relates more, more readily receives, soloing that approximates singing or tunes or songs, and we are less likely to present "a bunch of notes" when using this approach. We are certainly less inclined to sing scales or arpeggios or "sheets of sound" when we're singing around the house or in the shower, etc. If you combine this with the above step and notice what intervals and note to note movement you gravitate toward, you're cultivating your own idea of how you like your own solos and melodies to sound.

    now back to general ramblings:
    Was it Charlie Parker (case can be made that he is one of the greatest improvisers in history..other case made that he relied on a deep collection of beautiful melodic phrases, combined and re-combined..)who said regarding scales and arpeggios "you've got to learn all that stuff, then forget it and just play.." ? Was it Charlie who said that?

    Vassar Clements said " I just paint myself in a corner, then I try to get to get out.."

    I asked a jazz hero/friend here in Chicago if there were particular scales, chord substitutions, devices that he recommended. He said "You've got to know everything." He went on to say "after a while it seems to be all one thing--there's only one tune. One chord. One note."

    I have often quoted Dawg's ideas about improvisation and composition being possibly the same thing. Of course he's right. In classes and workshops sometimes I'll play a phrase off the top of my head, then have everyone play it back. When they do I say if you can do that you can improvise, because you've just engaged that improvisation/composition process--you heard something, then found it on your mandolin. When we improvise we hear something in our head, then find it on the mandolin..

    consider also the discussions of Bach being the original jazz musician..he was finding the cool notes which expressed harmonic movements("cadences", "changes")in the 1600's, apparently at a high rate of speed, often "in the moment"...

    the same hero who recommended "know everything" also suggested trying to get out of the way of the music..."If you hit a note then stand back and admire it or say 'dig that note, dig me'....you're done! It's over!"

    John Carlini wrote a wonderful tune called "Mugavero" named after a revered percussionist who offered advice that can be applied to improvisational pursuits: "Wait for the right note."

    In an article somewhere I read a good distillation of two distinct and useful approaches to improvisation. Auther boiled it down to two camps/terms/ styles :Paraphrase and Free Invention. Paraphrase of course being a reshaping or personalizing of an existing melody...shifting a rhythm, adding notes in an open space, leaving a note out, changing a note, etc while retaining the melody's essential form and vibe. Free Invention being where you generate your own rows of notes, playing "off the changes(chords)" relating scales or modes or arpeggios to the chord progression of the vehicle tune, or also ignoring them for "outside" sounds. Paraphrase or Free Invention. Both are improvisation, both are valid, all good. (Choro and fiddle tune improv usually leans toward Paraphrase. Bluegrass and Jazz employ elements of either/both. Nether approach is better or worse than the other.

    One more blast from my sax playing friend: "Nobody wants to hear you up there running someone else's stuff. They want to hear about the road to your city."

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  7. #54

    Default Re: Improvising

    Two things that have not come up, except very peripherally, are rhythm and dynamics. Some of the posters said explicitly that it is all about melody. That is not true. Expression comes through rhythm, timing, dynamics and articulation also. These are tools for improvisation.

    The best illustration of this is the first line of the Christmas song Joy to the World. "Joy to the world the Lord is come." Play the notes (the melody) of that line through with each note given the same timing and dynamics. What do you have? (spoiler below)

    It is just a scale. A one octave scale starting and ending on the root note. Do-ti-la-so-fa-mi-re-do Yet it is one of the most recognized "melodies" in the world. It only becomes recognizable as the song when proper timing and dynamics are applied.

    Likewise hamboners play recognizable songs and tunes despite having little to no melody as such. They rely on rhythm and dynamics to make the tune recognizable. They will freely improvise over a known tune.

    One tool toward improvisation is to take a melody line you know and change the timing and dynamics. Sometimes this can be to create a particular "feel". One great exercise Keith Yoder taught me was to play a tune then he would say: "Now play it as a blues", then as a fiddle tune, then as kind of a slow ballad, as a swing tune, etc. as we would play through a fiddle tune eight or a dozen times. Each time we would try to capture the feel of that genre, sometimes through adding a subtracting notes but mostly through timing, dynamics and articulation.

    Another was to play the lines emphasizing particular notes for a different dynamic feel, the first or third or last note , etc.

    Finally to go to extremes you can completely change the time signature (in practice obviously, not on stage without warning) playing 4/4 songs as two steps, waltzes and so forth.

    Rhythm, dynamic and articulation changes have generated as many ideas for me as melodic changes.
    Last edited by CarlM; Nov-21-2019 at 2:59pm.

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  9. #55
    Registered User mmuussiiccaall's Avatar
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    Default Re: Improvising

    As Don says in #53 Listen to each interval, stopping at each one. Inventory what feeling, vibe or effect each note yields. A 6th, for example may sound happy or swingy, a 2nd or 9th consonant but also "going somewhere".

    here's my personal chart regarding emotions and the fingerboard


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    Default Re: Improvising

    T here's a few guitar books i can recommend, they're NOT scary theory books, they have enough theory, starting w/pentatonics, working thru different minor scales, mixolydian,

    Guitar Theory by Serna

    https://www.amazon.com/Guitarists-Gu.../dp/1423483219

    Soloing strategies by Tom Kolb

    For mandolin, the jazz oriented books by Stiernberg, Todd Collins and Ted Eschliman are good
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  12. #57
    String-Bending Heretic mandocrucian's Avatar
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    Default Re: Improvising

    Music Interviews - Sonny Rollins: 'You Can't Think And Play At The Same Time'

    https://www.npr.org/2014/05/03/30904...oHg70z6NaZnKp8

    Niles H

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  14. #58
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    Default Re: Improvising

    Quote Originally Posted by CarlM View Post
    One tool toward improvisation is to take a melody line you know and change the timing and dynamics. Sometimes this can be to create a particular "feel". One great exercise Keith Yoder taught me was to play a tune then he would say: "Now play it as a blues", then as a fiddle tune, then as kind of a slow ballad, as a swing tune, etc. as we would play through a fiddle tune eight or a dozen times. Each time we would try to capture the feel of that genre, sometimes through adding a subtracting notes but mostly through timing, dynamics and articulation.
    What a fantastic idea! I have done this while mindlessly noodling around with various tunes, but never thought to do it in any organized manner. This could be a great ear-opener.
    "I don't want to get technical or anything, but according to chemistry, alcohol actually IS a solution."

  15. #59
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    Default Re: Improvising

    Quote Originally Posted by Don Stiernberg View Post
    Another thing to try is to sing something, then find it on the mandolin. You don't have to be a "singer" or "have a good voice", it's just an attempt to create lines that have a vocal quality. The average listener(sorry)relates more, more readily receives, soloing that approximates singing or tunes or songs, and we are less likely to present "a bunch of notes" when using this approach. We are certainly less inclined to sing scales or arpeggios or "sheets of sound" when we're singing around the house or in the shower, etc. If you combine this with the above step and notice what intervals and note to note movement you gravitate toward, you're cultivating your own idea of how you like your own solos and melodies to sound.
    REAL PLAYING, imo, is SINGING ON THE INSTRUMENT, especially in improvised music.

    Learning your scales, arpeggios, etc. is fine, but FAR TOO OFTEN, it is done in such way that minimizes or ignores the ear. i.e. Read the notes off the paper and send it to the fingers. Practice scale patterns (as finger exercises) watching HBO as muscle memory drills. Yeah, you can drive on automatic pilot to work, or the grocery store without thinking about it.

    On various flute forums, largely populated by classically oriented players, it is really aggravating to see their ingrained mindset. "I need some Celtic flavored music for a recital/wedding/etc. --- recommendations?" And then people chime in with names of books, or composed/arranged sheet music of tunes, everything for the eye-trained player. I'm sure I annoy these folks (except for the minority of jazz or world music flutists) by saying, "Why don't you just go to your local library and check out some CDs (or go to YouTube) and find some tunes that catch you ear, and then either learn them BY EAR, or go to one of the abc tune sites, like theession.org if you just have to have some standard notation? It's what almost ANY rock/folk/countryblues player would do!" I suppose they need pre-arranged piano accompaniment music for whatever eye-trained player they'll have backing them who is too lazy or just can't spontaneously play something chordally appropriate by ear. People asking for "harder" or "more complicated" versions/arrangement of Christmas carols 'cause they are so dependent on sheet music; they can play technically more complex stuff, but unable to think up something adequate on their own! PATHETIC!

    The bottom line, as I see (or hear) it, is that a lot of the responses here are putting the cart before the horse. The EAR (to hand) is PARAMOUNT. . And the way to do that is to vocalize . You MUST "hear it" to be able to "sing it". When you practice tunes, or scales or whatever, vocalize simultaneously what you are playing on the instrument. Again....You MUST "hear it" to be able to "sing it". Make the fingers respond to what you are singing.

    Start with stuff you can already play.... You know, it's amazing, but a LOT of people can not hum the melody of tunes that they can rip out on the mandolin. That means, they really do not hear it; it's primarily by-rote muscle memory. Vocalizing "Twinkle Twinkle" and "Three Blind Mice" is remedial ear-training, but it's a start for fusing the ear and hands together.

    Yeah, you can learn various licks to fit numerous chords and start dropping them into tunes, or stringing them together, but if it is muscle memory, it isn't really "improvising". The audience may buy it, but it's is still BS-ing. Don't get me wrong....this is a necessary step/stage on the road to improv, but it isn't the real thing.

    Someone on FB posted some YouTube video of the Austin City Limits mandolin episode, with Johnny Gimble, Tiny Moore and Jethro all on stage together. For my taste, Gimble played they best solos of the three (though Tiny wasn't too far behind). Why, Gimble "sang" on the instrument (regardless whether he's playing mandolin or fiddle). But if you've read interviews, he (JG) talked about how he learned tunes as a kid... he'd spend the hour walking home after some show he saw, singing the tune(s) he wanted to remember, and then he'd put it onto fiddle when he got home. EAR EAR EAR.

    I played mandos for over 30 years (at a pro level) before ever picking up a flute. I had a rough time at the beginning with the instrument, never having played any winds before. Reading notation and playing at the same was too complicated, so I started with tunes I already had in my head, and HAD TO THINK THEM to be able to play them. I put the same methods of teaching beginner mando (ear>hand) into how I learned flute. Now, when I pick up the instrument, "Radio-Ozone" comes in loud and clear from the stratosphere. The ideas and new tunes pour in like they never did on stringed instruments. I've probably got 800-900 originals (PDFs and midi files) on the computer, and at least 85% of them were made doodling/improvising on flute. It's like looking up at clouds and just seeing images/animals in them.

    As far as specific steps to incrementally learn to improvise I've listed these in the past here on the Cafe forum, though I have no way of finding particular (long) explanations. You might want to look for "transposing game", "memory jukebox" as key phrases in a search.

    Putting the ear in charge will boost your playing even if you don't improvise. You should be able to pick along with new tunes much faster and easier. But for improvising, real improvising, it is a NECESSITY!

    Niles H

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    PS: I noticed that nobody seems to appreciate the Sonny Rollins interview on the subject I posted.
    Last edited by mandocrucian; Nov-22-2019 at 1:21pm.

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  17. #60

    Default Re: Improvising

    Quote Originally Posted by mandocrucian View Post
    REAL PLAYING, imo, is SINGING ON THE INSTRUMENT, especially in improvised music.
    Thanks Niles! I must have read something like this from you before but I've started to add a lot more singing to my practicing and it is rapidly improving my ear/instrument relationship. I definitely feel a lot less lost when I'm not familiar with a tune. Intervals don't mean a thing if you can't hear them.

  18. #61
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    Default Re: Improvising

    Worth mentioning though, there's definately a place for "eye trained" people in music. I have a brother who plays violin with symphonies, and while there may be people present there who can coincidentally also play by ear, you won't find anyone in a symphony doing so. Charts and written music are all that is played in that environment, with no improv, perhaps with the very subtle exception of the conductor and/or the concert master. This is an environment that requires exact reproduction of the written page.

    My brother and I sit down together sometimes to try to play music together. I can follow along and provide harmonic backup for the music he plays, but because he doesn't play by ear or do improv at all, he can't play along with songs I play. And similarly, because I can't site-read written music and because I'm all by ear and improv, I can't play my brother's pieces exactly, and for that matter, I can't play a song of my own exactly the same way that I played it a few minutes ago.

    These are completely different musical cultures. And, there's a place for each of them. Some people can only do music "by eye" and some people can only do music "by ear"...

    And some people can do both well... For example, our band's fiddler is one of these people, she's an accomplished classically trained violinist, but her instructors always also stressed ear training. She loves bluegrass and plays it wonderfully and tastefully by ear, but she also can site read and plays classical music beautifully; and she also plays piano as well as fiddle and she sings, and can get along on rhythm guitar very nicely. I'm humbled and honored to be able to play with her. Clearly, the only reason we can play together is that she is equally talented with playing by ear and improv.
    -- Don

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  20. #62

    Default Re: Improvising

    Here is a great example of the same song played side by side on fiddle in two different musical styles to get two different flavors. Mariachi and western swing.
    That is another way to think about improvisation and express the tune differently.


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    Default Re: Improvising

    Quote Originally Posted by Doug Brock View Post
    Sounds like you're doing the right things and headed in the right direction. It can be difficult to let go of your rehearsed intro licks and try something new during the heat of a song, but I think that's where the most fun is had, when you take a risk and it works. And when it doesn't work, well then you took a chance and didn't die, so that might make you more comfortable improvising the next time. And don't pause or grimace or apologize when you make what sounds to you like a mistake, but just keep on keeping on, like it was meant to be, and most folks will never even know that you "messed up."

    Of ocurse, over the years I've stored a lot of ideas on both my instruments, but I don't think of them as licks, but as devices, eg., various approaches to chords (playing through them or around them, bypassing them (e.g. using dim or wholetone scales) spicing them, etc.), ways of connecting them, rhythmical ideas.

    I have composed and kept about 70 tunes in various styles, and often I take my time, exploring the implications of my original inspiration, until I strike a pleasing balance or structure. That also means that I discard a lot of ideas, but they do add to my repertoire of devices, so I rarely feel I've examined these ideas in vain. They will help in future improvisation. ANd, of course, having gone through this process I'm all the more aware of the possibilities of the finished tune and much more aware of why all the notes are there and what I can do with them.

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    Default Re: Improvising

    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Cowham View Post
    This doesn't necessarily answer your question Br1ck, but I thought it worth sharing this clip where guru Grisman talks about improv and offers (to my mind at least) some profound insights about the subject. Hope you find this as interesting as I do
    sorry, I can't get the video to embed, here is the link https://vimeo.com/244123483
    I don't think he offers any insights at all. Saying "it's all composition" is not helpful in explaining the possiblities and deeper motives of improvisation. The analogy with the age of a painting is completely irrelevant, as painting is not a performance art (in general). Improvisation is creation in performance, and its possibilities lie there. Among them, the most obvious is spontaneous interaction. Listen to, e.g., Miles Davis' two choruses on the 1964 recording of Funny Valentine. It's not really a very complete and coherent statement; I think of it as a dialogue with the drums, moderated by the bass and piano. By contrast, some of the stuff that Stan Getz recorded in the 50's is so complete and fluid it makes me think he doesn't really need the rhythm cats (we do, of course). And then contrast this with some of his later recordings, e.g., those with Joanne Brackeen on piano, or with Bill Evans' trio. Etc.

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    Default Re: Improvising

    Quote Originally Posted by Philphool View Post
    Ralph,
    You have to know that I'm not really a jazz guy. Although I enjoy some jazz, my ignorance is overwhelming. So I'm not noticing all those things that are obvious to you, but not noticeable at all to me. Would that it were different.

    Byt my point is that I made these observations because of my lack of experience -- I was lost.

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    Default Re: Improvising

    [QUOTE=CarlM;1744698]
    Likewise hamboners play recognizable songs and tunes despite having little to no melody as such. They rely on rhythm and dynamics to make the tune recognizable. They will freely improvise over a known tune.



    Ok..this is me,,I didn't know there was a name for it,,so I'm basically a "hamboner"..

  26. #67
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    Default Re: Improvising

    Quote Originally Posted by ralph johansson View Post
    Byt my point is that I made these observations because of my lack of experience -- I was lost.
    Thanks Ralph. I've reread the responses on the previous page and a dim bulb is beginning to light up a little.

    My musical history has been one of strictly rhythm/simple backup player for decades of my life. When I discovered the mandolin in my 50s, I still approached it for a long time, telling myself how much I hated 'fiddle tunes' (because they were melody). Only for less than a decade have I really tried to apply myself to hearing and working on motifs/riffs/devices. It's been hard in part because I've ignored that part of the music for so long.

    I think it's just going to be a thing of specifically looking for those things and spending lots of time with them. I haven't given it enough attention obviously.
    Thanks for the guidance that you and Tom and Bill have given. I'll keep working on it. Thank goodness that it's at least interesting and fun.
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  27. #68

    Default Re: Improvising

    Quote Originally Posted by T.D.Nydn View Post
    Ok..this is me,,I didn't know there was a name for it,,so I'm basically a "hamboner"..
    Actually this is hamboning, demonstrated in the videos below.




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  29. #69

    Default Re: Improvising

    Quote Originally Posted by mandocrucian View Post
    The bottom line, as I see (or hear) it, is that a lot of the responses here are putting the cart before the horse. The EAR (to hand) is PARAMOUNT. . And the way to do that is to vocalize . You MUST "hear it" to be able to "sing it". When you practice tunes, or scales or whatever, vocalize simultaneously what you are playing on the instrument. Again....You MUST "hear it" to be able to "sing it". Make the fingers respond to what you are singing.
    My son is playing jazz with top pros in the LA area, and has never learned a tune by ear or sung a line. His teacher would give him some changes, show him various note collections that would work well in that context, and then say "What do you hear inside?" Then he would find those sounds on the bass. I think that turning on that inner voice is what allowed him to advance rapidly.

    People who are great at copying by ear are not necessarily good improvisors. They are good copiers. You get good at improvising by putting in hours improvising, purposefully adding new tools to your playing, and incorporating feedback from more advanced players.
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    Default Re: Improvising

    Quote Originally Posted by CarlM View Post
    Actually this is hamboning, demonstrated in the videos below.



    Ok,thanks man,,that definitely ain't me...

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    Default Re: Improvising

    Quote Originally Posted by mandocrucian View Post
    PS: I noticed that nobody seems to appreciate the Sonny Rollins interview on the subject I posted.
    I read and appreciated very much - just didn't think to comment on it. Thanks for posting - not sure how I missed this when it originally aired.
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    Default Re: Improvising

    Quote Originally Posted by James Vwaal View Post
    But Dawg was saying that it is all composition, and that the speed is maybe irrelevant. I agree that one who is fluent in a specific genre will be able to compose more quickly; however, how interesting a solo sounds is more important to me than the speed of composition. So if a solo is not as interesting as the melody, then why produce something less interesting via "spontaneous improv"? Working on an "alternate melody" in the practice room sets one up with a better chance at producing something as interesting, or more so, than the melody line.
    This is a good question, but it assumes that improvisation is nothing more than composition, which is not the case. Improvisation is certainly spontaneous real time composition in front of an audience. But as opposed to other types of composition, there is no attempt at permanence or future performance. Improvisation is not meant to last, not meant to be performed by other people. It is meant to be a personal response to the energy of the moment, and its heartbreaking beauty is that it does not last, it is and should be gone in the following moment.

    I really think that a recording of an improvisation is not the improvisation, just like a picture of a sunset is not the sunset.
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    Default Re: Improvising

    Quote Originally Posted by JonZ View Post
    My son is playing jazz with top pros in the LA area, and has never learned a tune by ear or sung a line. His teacher would give him some changes, show him various note collections that would work well in that context, and then say "What do you hear inside?" Then he would find those sounds on the bass. I think that turning on that inner voice is what allowed him to advance rapidly.

    People who are great at copying by ear are not necessarily good improvisors. They are good copiers. You get good at improvising by putting in hours improvising, purposefully adding new tools to your playing, and incorporating feedback from more advanced players.
    That sounds good - but wouldn't it help if the teachers also taught some jazz tunes by ear?

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  37. #74
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    Default Re: Improvising

    Quote Originally Posted by dhergert View Post
    Worth mentioning though, there's definately a place for "eye trained" people in music. I have a brother who plays violin with symphonies, and while there may be people present there who can coincidentally also play by ear, you won't find anyone in a symphony doing so. Charts and written music are all that is played in that environment, with no improv, perhaps with the very subtle exception of the conductor and/or the concert master. This is an environment that requires exact reproduction of the written page.

    My brother and I sit down together sometimes to try to play music together. I can follow along and provide harmonic backup for the music he plays, but because he doesn't play by ear or do improv at all, he can't play along with songs I play. And similarly, because I can't site-read written music and because I'm all by ear and improv, I can't play my brother's pieces exactly, and for that matter, I can't play a song of my own exactly the same way that I played it a few minutes ago.

    These are completely different musical cultures. And, there's a place for each of them. Some people can only do music "by eye" and some people can only do music "by ear"...

    And some people can do both well... For example, our band's fiddler is one of these people, she's an accomplished classically trained violinist, but her instructors always also stressed ear training. She loves bluegrass and plays it wonderfully and tastefully by ear, but she also can site read and plays classical music beautifully; and she also plays piano as well as fiddle and she sings, and can get along on rhythm guitar very nicely. I'm humbled and honored to be able to play with her. Clearly, the only reason we can play together is that she is equally talented with playing by ear and improv.

    "Eyetrained"? I've never heard of classical training that doesn't involve theory and ear training (I'd like to hear from August Watters on this). How can you possibly become a good reader if you don't understand how individual notes fit togehter or relate to the form of the piece, and if (some of) the notes you play come as a surprise?

    The daughter of a friend of mine took voice and piano in secondary school. My friend, who is a fair amateur guitarist, was very impressed with her training which involved. e.g., identifying the voicings
    of chords, whether they had the tonic, third or fifth in the bass, etc. But, of course, ear training alone does not make anyone a good improviser, and she enver even tried. You got to have that urge, and, of course, understand the idiom. Another friend, one of the best blues and jazz guitarists in my country, with an excellent ear, has tried at times to play BG on violin, without success. He doesn't feel the idiom. That's a pity, because otherwise he could really take it somewhere.

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    Default Re: Improvising

    The total musician has to be able to do it all. There are classical musicians who cannot learn by ear. And it has nothing to do with they're being paper trained. It is because they haven't worked on learning by ear. Those musicians who cannot read, it has nothing to do with their ear training, and entirely due to not learning how to read.

    Those who can memorize but have trouble sight reading, it is because they don't spend time working on sight reading.

    And so on. One gets good at improvising by working on improvising regardless whether one can read music or learn by ear or operate a helicopter.
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