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Thread: Improvising

  1. #26
    Lurkist dhergert's Avatar
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    Default Re: Improvising

    Quote Originally Posted by Br1ck View Post
    ... I also think starting with a melody and gradually wandering away from it is a solid path.
    I'm going from the opposite direction, I build the chords first for backup support, than find the melody or close-melody within the chords which my left hand is already forming. Coming from deep chord-melodic banjo playing for improv, this seems to be the natural direction for me, and of course my non-standard mandolin tuning helps me with that, although I would think that any tuning that is well known would do the same... So for me the key is knowing the neck, no matter what tuning is involved.

    I suspect though that there is no single way to get into improv, but once you have it you'll never want to stop. It's totally fun and really gets those neural synapses humming. From what I read, once a person is "in the groove" with improv, the brain releases more than normal levels of dopamine, the satisfaction hormone.
    -- Don

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  2. #27
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    Default Re: Improvising

    I also find that the ease with which one can follow the chords for a break and still approximate the melody depends a lot on the song. For instance, one of the songs we perform is a cover of The Weight (by The Band). Every time we perform that song (we play it in key of G), I 100% improvise my break, and for the most part it comes out pretty well. On other songs I have to do a more up-front planning and parts of my break have to be more rehearsed.
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  3. #28

    Default Re: Improvising

    Quote Originally Posted by Br1ck View Post
    I'm at the point where I can play most any fiddle tune off a site like mandolessons.com in a couple of days, and I have quite a few licks I can throw in here and there at the end of the vocal line of a bluegrass tune. If someone gives me some notice I can work out a basic solo break. What has been happening is my rehearsed solo break never seems to get played. I start it off but end up throwing in the intro licks , or something else that works. If not as well thought out as what I've practiced, it isn't generally a car wreck. Is this how improvising starts happening? I've played scales and arpeggios from day one, and sometimes play the right arpeggios over the changes. Is it just a matter of learning a bunch of licks you can string together cohesively?

    I'm working my way up the neck too, with scales and arpeggios learning where to shift, ans also making up fiddle tune variations that take me there in order to shift in a musical context. Anything else to push my improv skills? I know, play with others a lot....
    Learn the core melody notes, then play other scales, patters, arpeggios, etc. and hit a core melody note at key times so people know what song you're playing.

  4. #29

    Default Re: Improvising

    Something to think about as you get more advanced is creating a structure to your solo.

    Does it have a beginning, middle and end? Is there tension and release? Are you developing any motifs? Is there variation in dynamics and tone? Are you using a tasteful variety of techniques?

    These are the types of compositional elements that separate a well-crafted solo from stringing together licks and patterns. Do a search for "best guitar solos" and listen to what is going on. Take the solo on "Hotel California", for example. What is going on there that makes it so compelling?
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  5. #30
    Lurkist dhergert's Avatar
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    Default Re: Improvising

    To me, the reason it's so great is that it was improvised, on the fly, at least at first. The artist didn't sit down and consider all the compositional elements to include before he played it. It came from inside.

    To me, that's the beauty of improv. It's the artist's inner soul making the music. You never know exactly what to expect.

    To do this, a musician has to know their instrument well enough to play without thinking about technical details. Having a rich toolset to pull from is also important. And knowing the basic melody of the song helps. Mostly, the instrument has to become an extension of the mind.
    Last edited by dhergert; Nov-15-2019 at 12:06pm.

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  7. #31
    Phil Goodson Philphool's Avatar
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    Default Re: Improvising

    Quote Originally Posted by dhergert View Post
    To me, the reason it's so great is that it was improvised, on the fly, at least at first. ... It came from inside.

    ... Having a rich toolset to pull from is also important. And knowing the basic melody of the song helps. Mostly, the instrument has to become an extension of the mind.
    1. I don't care whether the player thought about his solo yesterday or he made it up as he played. To me, it sounds the same. (I recognize that it's not really 'improv' if it was previously considered.)

    2. "A rich toolset" is often talked about and the usual advice to to "listen to lots of music from your genre..." Unfortunately, many of us are not good at listening and recognizing the bits and pieces of solos that can be taken and used later in our own solo. I know that it takes repetition and time, but I'd love to hear if anyone has any personal approach to absorbing, recognizing, and piecing together those 'tools'.
    Specific advice appreciated.
    Phil

    “Sharps/Flats” “Accidentals”

  8. #32
    Lurkist dhergert's Avatar
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    Default Re: Improvising

    Quote Originally Posted by dhergert View Post
    ... Mostly, the instrument has to become an extension of the mind.
    Quote Originally Posted by Philphool View Post
    ... I'd love to hear if anyone has any personal approach to absorbing, recognizing, and piecing together those 'tools'.
    Specific advice appreciated.
    This is probably going to be a little controversial, but it is my experience...

    I remember as a very young kid, before I played any instruments, hearing songs and repeating them by whistling or humming or singing or even just breathing a tune if I was in that situation. And with complicated songs, I'd come close, and then embellish the song to make it more similar to the original. These are the most simple and natural, "extension of the mind" instruments that people have. Short of having an instrument in my hands, this is naturally still how I improvise today.

    From years of teaching music, I've observed that if a person can hear a tune and do this kind of simple repeating and improvising using these natural instruments that are part of their bodies, they can pretty easily transfer that to the instruments that they play. I've had a lot of students who can do this naturally. I've had some students who with time and effort have been able to learn and practice it. And I've had a lot of students who despite lots of time and effort, just can't come close to it -- I've worked closely with some of this last kind of students for years trying to gently teach improv, unsuccessfully, and eventually improv can become a source of frustration. But happily there are other ways...

    My personal conclusion is that if a student cannot do this kind of simple natural improvising after three to six months of serious effort, it probably isn't one of the natural talents and abilities that they've been provided, and a different track for their music learning is going to be more successful. That doesn't mean they cannot enjoy music and in fact they can still become excellent and even great musicians, but improv is probably not going to be one of those things that they excel at.

    Part of this mix is also ear-pitch training, which is also a natural ability related to music, and which can also be taught to some extent for many people.

    The long and the short of it is that music can be successfully learned by ear, and/or it can be successfully learned by using a form of written music such as sheet music or tablature. Learning which, or what combination of these tracks works the best for each of us as individuals is probably the first and most important task that a person who wants to learn music, and eventually improv, can accomplish.
    -- Don

    "It is a lot more fun to make music than it is to argue about it."

    2002 Gibson F-9
    2016 MK LFSTB
    1975 Suzuki taterbug
    (plus a large assortment of banjos, dobros, guitars, basses and other noisemakers)
    [About how I tune my mandolins]
    [7/29/2019 -- New Arrival!!!]

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  10. #33

    Default Re: Improvising

    Quote Originally Posted by Philphool View Post
    ....2. "A rich toolset" is often talked about and the usual advice to to "listen to lots of music from your genre..." Unfortunately, many of us are not good at listening and recognizing the bits and pieces of solos that can be taken and used later in our own solo. I know that it takes repetition and time, but I'd love to hear if anyone has any personal approach to absorbing, recognizing, and piecing together those 'tools'.
    Specific advice appreciated.
    Simple specific exercise given to me by my teacher:
    a. Create a simple 4 bar progression on a backing track. Progression could be I-IV-V-I or I-iim-V-I.
    b. Choose 4 notes from the home key using 2 chord tones and any two other scale tones.
    c. Loop the progression multiple times and play against that using only the 4 tones to create melodies.
    d. Choose 4 different notes, again using 2 chord tones and 2 other scale notes and repeat steps b and c.
    e. Repeat from a using a minor key progression.
    f. Try new found insight on a simple tune.
    g. Repeat until competent

    This is just a start to create motifs on which to create breaks. You can always use more sophisticated progressions or any number or variety of notes including no chord tones. Some choices will sound better than others, that would be part of the learning. There is a Berklee DVD on creating motifs using only 3,4 and 5 notes which may prove useful as well.

    For me specifically, I find its overwhelming at my level to have to choose from all of the available notes on the instrument and all the possible rhythmic variations. By limiting my universe I am strangely given more freedom to experiment without feeling lost. While having only 4 notes seems limiting, the use of repetition and rhythmic variety makes it possible to confidently develop lines that provide insight into useful items for soloing on more complex pieces.

    "Any damn fool can make it complicated"-Norman Blake talking to David McLaughlin about a simple blues tune.

    Ymmv.
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  12. #34

    Default Re: Improvising

    Quote Originally Posted by Philphool View Post
    1. I don't care whether the player thought about his solo yesterday or he made it up as he played. To me, it sounds the same. (I recognize that it's not really 'improv' if it was previously considered.)

    2. "A rich toolset" is often talked about and the usual advice to to "listen to lots of music from your genre..." Unfortunately, many of us are not good at listening and recognizing the bits and pieces of solos that can be taken and used later in our own solo. I know that it takes repetition and time, but I'd love to hear if anyone has any personal approach to absorbing, recognizing, and piecing together those 'tools'.
    Specific advice appreciated.
    I think the most efficient approach is to use an outside resource to explain the tools that are commonly used in your genre, be it a teacher, a book or a video. Then spend a lot of time experimenting with the tools, creating interesting music. Many people find outside feedback, from a knowledgeable person, on their attempts helpful. With only very rudimentary music theory, you will be able to more easily figure out what is going on in most of the popular music genres.

    Learning to improvise is just like anything else. You start slowly, work on narrow objectives, and produce poor workmanship at first. We set too high of a bar for ourselves, because most of the examples we are exposed to are at a professional level. This can lead people to incorrectly believe that they just don't have the talent for it.
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  14. #35
    Phil Goodson Philphool's Avatar
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    Default Re: Improvising

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill McCall View Post
    Simple specific exercise given to me by my teacher:
    a. Create a simple 4 bar progression on a backing track. Progression could be I-IV-V-I or I-iim-V-I.
    b. Choose 4 notes from the home key using 2 chord tones and any two other scale tones.
    c. Loop the progression multiple times and play against that using only the 4 tones to create melodies.
    d. Choose 4 different notes, again using 2 chord tones and 2 other scale notes and repeat steps b and c.
    e. Repeat from a using a minor key progression.
    f. Try new found insight on a simple tune.
    g. Repeat until competent

    This is just a start to create motifs on which to create breaks. You can always use more sophisticated progressions or any number or variety of notes including no chord tones. Some choices will sound better than others, that would be part of the learning. There is a Berklee DVD on creating motifs using only 3,4 and 5 notes which may prove useful as well.
    ...
    Thanks Bill. This looks useful to me.
    And is that Berklee DVD available anywhere?
    Phil

    “Sharps/Flats” “Accidentals”

  15. #36

    Default Re: Improvising

    I'm with dhergert – can you sing what you want to play? Can you imagine what you want to play in your head, and play what you're imagining?

    Ya, learn all your scales and chords and arpeggios so that your fingers will know where to go, but like Grisman says, it's all composition – mastering the "tools" is a necessary step, but it won't give you the ability to compose.

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  17. #37
    Phil Goodson Philphool's Avatar
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    Default Re: Improvising

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Bevan View Post
    I'm with dhergert – can you sing what you want to play? Can you imagine what you want to play in your head, and play what you're imagining?

    Ya, learn all your scales and chords and arpeggios so that your fingers will know where to go, but like Grisman says, it's all composition – mastering the "tools" is a necessary step, but it won't give you the ability to compose.
    Yes, I can sing what I plan to play. I can imagine some things in my head and then play them. I've got scales and arpeggios.
    The problem is that the ideas that are in my head are very limited. Someone else might play a break and I'll wonder why I didn't think of that.

    I look down into my bag of tricks and ideas and just don't seem to see nearly enough. Most of my breaks sound very similar in overall sound and approach, even if the melodies are different.
    I'm not very creative. Help!!!
    Phil

    “Sharps/Flats” “Accidentals”

  18. #38
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    Default Re: Improvising

    Quote Originally Posted by Philphool View Post
    1. I don't care whether the player thought about his solo yesterday or he made it up as he played. To me, it sounds the same. (I recognize that it's not really 'improv' if it was previously considered.)

    It does? When I first encountered jazz, after about half a year of playing the guitar, more than 60 years ago, I was immediately struck by two things. 1) Most of the time the repeats and sequencing in the composition were not reflected in the improvisation. 2) Rests and long notes often did not appear in the "expected places". In the beginning that was very confusing, but in time it became the first step towards understanding the true nature of improvisation. There is, of course, much more to it, but I'll save that for a later post.

  19. #39

    Default Re: Improvising

    That's super helpful Pete, thank you!
    I play:
    * Saltarelle Bourroche chromatic button accordion
    * Ozark 2240 Mandolin
    In my spare time I run https://www.mudchutney.co.uk selling folk music and celtic themed t-shirts, hoodies etc.

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