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Thread: Improvising

  1. #76

    Default Re: Improvising

    Quote Originally Posted by DavidKOS View Post
    That sounds good - but wouldn't it help if the teachers also taught some jazz tunes by ear?
    Sure. It's great to be well rounded. But to get good at something, practice that thing. To get good at improvising, practice improvising. I think it is challenging for teachers to teach creativity, so they substitute noncreative methods.

    Playing professionally, my son hasn't really had to learn anything by ear. If he is playing someone's original composition, they give him a chart. Giving a chart to someone who can sight read is the most efficient way to communicate a tune. It may be different in other genres.

    Of course, using your ears is how you learn taste, timing and tone. But I think that how much you need of that varies by the individual. My son picked all of that up just by listening--not imitating. Other people have to work on it more explicitly by duplicating what someone else does. It's like with "swing feel". Some people feel it instantly, while others struggle with it. It might be one of those things--like learning a foreign language--where it helps a lot if you start young.

    The odd thing is that he developed perfect pitch without doing any ear training or learning by ear. He just eventually memorized the way all the notes sound.
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  3. #77

    Default Re: Improvising

    Quote Originally Posted by mmuussiiccaall View Post
    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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    Don't these feelings vary depending on the harmonic context?
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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.

    BTW, I am sending you a PM for a different question. Thanks.

    I simply do not agree with this idea of “composition speed”.

    Improvisation is an urge, a desire, you discover in yourself. Then the hard work begins, training your ear, expanding your vocabulary of devices, including harmony. And the more you know, the more you will find in actual performance.

    No improviser tries to “compete” with composing, he’s driven by desire and curiosity, his feeling for the possibilities of this very mode of expression and his openness to challenges from the other bandmembers.

    The goals and values are different. To better appreciate this I suggest listening to two extreme examples, available on YouTube and Spotify. The first is “Those Nights With Candlelight and Wine” with the Nashville Guitars, an extremely wellbalanced and thematically economic composition (the outside is almost entirely based on one idea, down a second, up a third). The second is Paul Desmond’s solo on Perdido (from the Oberlin concert). To attempt the first in improvisation would be silly. The second combines familiar devices to be sure, as blues scales and sequencing (far removed from the rigid and mechanic approach of, e.g., Ornette Coleman) but with a freshness and immediacy that cannot really be calculated. A breathtaking performance, one of Desmond’s very best. ,


    Ah, that’s the word I’ve been searching for, “immediacy”.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yQ0eKp8PNEc

    https://www.youtube.com/results?sear...light+and+wine

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  6. #79
    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Improvising

    Quote Originally Posted by JonZ View Post
    Don't these feelings vary depending on the harmonic context?
    Of course they do ...

    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.
    IOW, the advice was to play the scales in a harmonic context, "Play a major scale while the chord it corresponds to is playing."

    Some great advice there, thanks!
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  7. #80
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    Default Re: Improvising

    Quote Originally Posted by ralph johansson View Post
    No improviser tries to “compete” with composing, ...
    I haven't gotten that impression from anyone's remarks here; "compete with composing"? It is plain and simply composition, on the fly and in the moment. Immediate composition.
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  8. #81

    Default Re: Improvising

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Gunter View Post
    Of course they do ...



    IOW, the advice was to play the scales in a harmonic context, "Play a major scale while the chord it corresponds to is playing."

    Some great advice there, thanks!
    But the notion of a chart is static.

  9. #82
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    Default Re: Improvising

    Quote Originally Posted by JonZ View Post
    But the notion of a chart is static.
    Ah, yes, I agree. Chart wasn’t useful for me personally. YMMV. But Don’s advice was helpful, as usual. Much appreciated.
    Technique, theory and fun, fun, fun. I love playing, studying and sharing MUSIC.
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  10. #83
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    Default Re: Improvising

    Here's a lick in A Major that uses 6 of the possible 12, what does anyone think, hear, feel.....when you play it?

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  11. #84

    Default Re: Improvising

    Oops I totally lost my post about leroy jenkins - I have no idea what just happened.

    Oh well - it's nice to have a holiday jazz thread. Here's a good one I've been listening to - some of my favorite artists..https://youtu.be/FqMoarPDohE

    https://youtu.be/49ZPD-cAKz8
    Last edited by catmandu2; Nov-29-2019 at 11:06pm.

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    Default Re: Improvising

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Gunter View Post
    I haven't gotten that impression from anyone's remarks here; "compete with composing"? It is plain and simply composition, on the fly and in the moment. Immediate composition.
    What I’m getting at is this bovine manure about “speed of composition”.

    #50: “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.”

    Such a remark reveals lack of understanding of improvisation, its possibilitiess and motives. It’s not about safety. For a better understanding I could refer to Barry Kernfeld’s article in the Grove Dictionary of Jazz, e.g. from the Introduction: “Improvisation is generally regarded as the principal element of jazz since it offers the possibilities of spontaneity, surprise, experiment, and discovery, without which most jazz would be devoid of interest …”

    Not to mention communication. Decades ago I often sat down with some friend for a session of free improvising on two guitars. On one occasion the other guy dove into a long chordal sequence that had every sign of being completely precomposed. I stopped playing, he simply didn’t leave any room for me.

    It’s hard to imagine that Grisman is ignorant of these values. Maybe he hopes to provoke reflection: why do you improvise or want to improvise? Because you’re supposed to? I repeat: Improvisation happens. It’s simply an urge you discover in yourself, leading you to develop certain skills, such as a good ear for harmony and rhythm. If you don’t have that desire, forget it. It can’t be taught.

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  14. #86
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    Default Re: Improvising

    Quote Originally Posted by ralph johansson View Post
    What I’m getting at is this bovine manure about “speed of composition”.

    #50: “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.”

    Such a remark reveals lack of understanding of improvisation, its possibilitiess and motives. It’s not about safety. For a better understanding I could refer to Barry Kernfeld’s article in the Grove Dictionary of Jazz, e.g. from the Introduction: “Improvisation is generally regarded as the principal element of jazz since it offers the possibilities of spontaneity, surprise, experiment, and discovery, without which most jazz would be devoid of interest …”

    It’s hard to imagine that Grisman is ignorant of these values. Maybe he hopes to provoke reflection: why do you improvise or want to improvise? Because you’re supposed to? I repeat: Improvisation happens. It’s simply an urge you discover in yourself, leading you to develop certain skills, such as a good ear for harmony and rhythm. If you don’t have that desire, forget it. It can’t be taught.
    Spread that equine fertilizer Ralph....

    For a better understanding I could refer to the first couple of paragraphs in the introduction of Jerry Coker's "Patterns For Jazz" (a book I've used over the years since buying it in the mid 1970's)

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    A lot of "improvisations" are learned ii-V7-I patterns/licks or circle of 5ths licks. or treading water with scale patterns etc. Spontaneous?.... maybe digital diarrhea When an improvisation is really happening at peak level, it is composition. "Composition" of tunes/breaks etc. polishes one's skills at manipulating phrases into something more cohesive than random noodling. It's something that carries over into your "spontaneous improv." Let me put it this way; if you've written 50 limericks, doing another one on the fly is going to be much easier.

    And for those that couldn't seem to grasp the underlying rationale for vocalizing tunes you know, scales you are learning etc.... Yes, it make it easier for one to pick up tunes on the fly in a jam. But it also carries over into making it easier to play those new ideas which pop into your skull. It's a big mistake to think everything progresses linearly....there's a LOT of lateral thinking that starts running on those new neural pathways you have been installing.

    For those who keep quoting Malcom Gladwell's "10,000 Hours" theory. I'd suggest you read David Epstein's "Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World" which touts the benefits of "cross-training" and the lateral thought insights applied from other fields.

    https://www.amazon.com/Range-General...s=books&sr=1-1

    Niles H

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  16. #87
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    Default Re: Improvising

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Gunter View Post
    I haven't gotten that impression from anyone's remarks here; "compete with composing"? It is plain and simply composition, on the fly and in the moment. Immediate composition.
    Improvisation is different from composing. If it's not, we need a different word for 'composing'. You can revise when you compose, and you can't revise when you improvise, which leads to a reliance on formula phrases and pre-existing frameworks. (It also creates excitement when people improvise since something might happen that nobody expects, and it might be something good.)

    This might be a hazy distinction when it comes to small-group genre music, where you can use formulas to improvise a convincing piece of music, but you're not going to get 60 people to improvise a piano concerto unless you want something pretty vague and messy.

    I personally think Jon's right that the only way to learn to truly improvise (as opposed to creating something in advance and playing it by memory) is to pointedly work on it. If you want to create music in the hotseat, you've got to accustom yourself to the hotseat.

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  18. #88

    Default Re: Improvising

    I don't agree with the first statement.

    Quote Originally Posted by SincereCorgi View Post
    Improvisation is different from composing. If it's not, we need a different word for 'composing'...............

    I personally think Jon's right that the only way to learn to truly improvise (as opposed to creating something in advance and playing it by memory) is to pointedly work on it. If you want to create music in the hotseat, you've got to accustom yourself to the hotseat.
    Merriam-Webster defines composing as 'formulate and write music'. Improvisation doesn't involve any attempt at permanence, although someone may record and transcribe an improvised work.

    I do agree that improvising requires practicing and folks will use phrases and frameworks as tools, but like with spoken language, I don't think folks are concerned with the grammar when they are playing, only there sound (meaning).
    Play it like you mean it.

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    Default Re: Improvising

    Time for a little levity....
    When asked the question on how he improvises, John Duffey famously said, "the more I think about it, the worse it gets".

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    Default Re: Improvising

    Quote Originally Posted by mandocrucian View Post
    Spread that equine fertilizer Ralph....


    For those who keep quoting Malcom Gladwell's "10,000 Hours" theory. I'd suggest you read David Epstein's "Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World" which touts the benefits of "cross-training" and the lateral thought insights applied from other fields.

    https://www.amazon.com/Range-General...s=books&sr=1-1

    Niles H
    Seems you’re commenting on things i’ve never said.

    Let’s try again. An improvised performance is a composition to be sure— it is composed of everything that goes into it. That’s trivially true and trivialities don’t explain or prove anything. What I’ ve been trying to explain is that “speed of composition” doesn’t explain anything because “speed” is a quantitative concept, hence ignores the qualitative difference in possibilities and demands between working out your solos in advance, and improvising them.

    To become a good improviser you need to improvise, and play with people. The idea that precomposed solos give a better chance of creating something of value excludes the perhaps most important aspect of improvisation, group interaction. In a serious jazz group the fellow players would (musically) challenge the soloist to take a less safe route.

    Bluegrass may be different. One extreme example is Mountain Dew with the Stanley Brothers where Bill Napier plays the same QUERTYstyle solo four times. In many cases solos are closed within the overall form, instead of bridging the verse before and after them. I like to hear a soloist emerge from the background and fade into it at the end. But it is really futile to prescribe or describe what improvised solos are or should be. What drives or structures a performance can be many things, dynamics, variations or contrasts in rhythm, phrasing and phrase lengths, alternate changes, conflicts and their resolution. Or something else, yet to be discovered.

    I don’t believe that composing solos is a good preparation for improvisation. I’ve recorded with two top musicians (one of them today an ECM recording artist) and the material I brought was really tricky. They didn’t precompose their solos. Instead they hade me playing the changes over and over again on my guitar, very straight, no substitutions, fills or runs, until they had the changes in their ears. Over my accompaniment they played very basic stuff; e.g, almost all of the bass player’s phrases started on the root. There was no attempt at creativity or originality; that was saved for the recording.

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    Default Re: Improvisin

    What we don’t know is if the two accomplished improvisers ever tried composing solos at home while developing their improv chops. Given that many of us have tried learning transcribed improvs, it seems pretty normal to practice a solo chorus at home.

    But you are quite correct that won’t fly in a real setting, or won’t be very satisfying. As I noted before, with others improv is a conversation, and even an *a cappella* performance is a monologue which needs to be coherent to be understood. Learning phrases and anecdotes others created gives you a stock of words and phrases that have meaning to others. Similarly, if you have under your fingers a large stock of ready and familiar phrases, you can participate in the musical conversation. No one makes up every note out of the blue. Every riff you hear Grisman, or Charlie Parker play, has been played before. What is new is the whole story, not the words or phrases.

    Most of the elements of improvised music are taken from composed songs, which take some of their figures from previous improvisations, which built on previous elements from tunes and songs. For amateurs in a jam, a ready-composed chorus is no terrible crime, but may not fit as you hope. Just keep adding new riffs heard in jams, in songs, and tunes, and especially listen to other instruments for variety.
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  25. #92

    Default Re: Improvising

    Music is a form of communication as is speaking and language.

    Jamming and improvising is analogous to an impromptu conversation. Conversation is usually not planned out. It may contain some stock phrases (hi, how ya doin', long time no see, workin' hard or hardly workin', its been a coons age, etc.) even cliches but the order, sentences and even topics are unplanned and come spontaneously as do the awkward pauses and silences. But it would be generally weird to have a written script for a conversation. Improvising is a conversation between friends or adversaries or acquaintances or coworkers.

    Composition is like a formally written speech or stage play. Everything is planned. There is little room for impromptu bits. The expression comes in the form of nuance and how emotion is communicated within the planned form. Just as it would be weird to script a conversation, it can really mess things up to deviate from the script of a play or speech.

    These analogies can be helpful to understand the similarities and differences between improvisation and composition, where one leaves off and the other begins and where the boundaries are.

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    Default Re: Improvising

    Quote Originally Posted by CarlM View Post
    ....
    Just as it would be weird to script a conversation, it can really mess things up to deviate from the script of a play or speech.

    These analogies can be helpful to understand the similarities and differences between improvisation and composition, where one leaves off and the other begins and where the boundaries are.
    Yeah. But to write a speech or to have a really good conversation both require that you have a good command of the language, including common and uncommon phrasing. (and maybe something interesting to say) This is often a major hurdle for speakers of 2nd language and musicians.
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    Default Re: Improvising

    I wanted to post a simple example of how I arrange a tune, involving improv and tools that I know how to use...

    We're in a season that uses a lot of tunes for celebration that we don't usually play during the rest of the year. Because I haven't ever previously arranged The First Noel for mandolin before, I decided to use that song for this demo.

    The video is 8:52 long, it's very informal, unedited, warts and all, and possibly boring to watch, but it does show some of the type of things that I'll do to arrange a song.

    And, note that the end of the video doesn't mean the final arrangement has been found, but now there is foundation for performing the song has been figured out, and from there any further improv will have a structure to work within. I'll probably repeat a session or two like this one, continuing to polish the arrangement foundation, before I practice it with my band.

    This is what's happening in the video:

    0:00 whistle tune to remember how it goes (in G)
    0:52 begin working out on mandolin, single picking
    1:50 begin working on integrating in tremolo and double-triple stops -- chords
    3:25 free-playing around with the tune in a variety of ways
    5:15 begin trying different keys: C and D
    7:30 concentrate on the key of D for voices

    Arranging the First Noel:

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  30. #96

    Default Re: Improvising

    Here's some perspective - albeit from a lyrical/taksim POV; there are many approaches to improvisation not included here, but this can be generally applied. The point given toward the end about having music in your head is salient. https://youtu.be/uBxt7FujMbw . Point being, we are so full of music, that it is natural to improvise - to create using resources readily accessible to you.

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    Default Re: Improvising

    Quote Originally Posted by ralph johansson View Post
    Seems you’re commenting on things i’ve never said.


    Bluegrass may be different. One extreme example is Mountain Dew with the Stanley Brothers where Bill Napier plays the same QUERTYstyle solo four times. In many cases solos are closed within the overall form, instead of bridging the verse before and after them. I like to hear a soloist emerge from the background and fade into it at the end. But it is really futile to prescribe or describe what improvised solos are or should be. What drives or structures a performance can be many things, dynamics, variations or contrasts in rhythm, phrasing and phrase lengths, alternate changes, conflicts and their resolution. Or something else, yet to be discovered.


    QWERTY, of course, and hade -> had

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    Default Re: Improvising

    I think there is a distinction to be made about improvisation. I think Bluegrass breaks, and Jazz breaks are different animals, that perhaps need to be approached differently. There are likely many different kinds of improvisation. I think of the sections of classical pieces that are meant to be improvised, or indeed entire variations on a theme meant to be "composed" spontaneously. And so there, I just thought of a third kind of improvisation.

    Are we trying to highlight and extend the drama and energy of the original piece with our improv, or trying to show a departure from the melody that expresses something different, maybe humorous, or to create a new drama with how far we can depart from a melody without getting lost or losing the way back. Or taking something iconic and making it our own. Lots of other purposes I am sure.
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    Default Re: Improvising

    To build on what Jeff said, improvising in a certain style and improvising in general are two different animals. If you want to speak a language fluidly, you need to do it as others speak that language. Same for music. Transcribing and learning great players solos teach you to speak their language, meaning play that style.

    For example, if you want to play authentic traditional Bluegrass mandolin, you need to know some Bill Monroe.
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