Saxophone Forum


by mattMrozinski
(35 posts)
8 years ago

getting lost in the progression

OK, so one more month of summer left until school. What my problem is, is that during a solo, i get lost in the progression. Its not that i don't know my chords, i've been practicing my major-6-dom7 and minor-6-7 chords every day by the circle of fifths. but then when i get into a situation in school (i remember from back in june this happening) i'd be totally lost in even the simplest 12-bar progression. I might catch myself at the end of a chorus or something but then the rest of my solos are nonsensical crap, in my opinion. when i am trying to follow the chords and such, my tone and pitch control goes to crap. My teacher said that there is no horizontal development when i improvise. I have one month to go. How can i have better solos with this "horizontal development" and what the hell is "horizontal development" anyways?

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  1. by swingstreet
    (315 posts)

    8 years ago

    Re: getting lost in the progression

    I have always disliked the fact that so many players have hugged the chord progressions of a tune. To me, it renders the song stiff and mechanical. For me, the purpose of practicing chords is that you become famliar with all of the tonal variations available so that you are then free to choose what you're going to play without getting stuck or lost. My approach has always been to think thematically, about the melody and key rather than the chords themselves. I was once at a jam session, and when I played my solo, one of the players remarked afterward that I wasn't always playing the chords as they are in the tune, yet it fit, and how did I do it? Quite simply, all I need to know is what key the tune is in, and just play the song, and improvise on the melody. You can't get lost that way, because you can concentrate on the music and the song instead of what the chord progression is. Chords are signposts, and yes, you have to practice them, but they should then set your playing free instead of binding it. I know there will be those who will disagree, but it has worked for me. Anyway, as long as you're playing in key, don't concentrate so much on the chord progression, just loosen up and play. Music should be fun, not stressful. That is why it is called "playing".

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  2. by The Insomniac Saxman
    (141 posts)

    8 years ago

    Re: getting lost in the progression

    Okay, here's my 2 cents . . . Get to know the form of the song FIRST, and identify specifically where the dominant cadences are (both simple V-I as well as expanded II-V-I). Start by developing your phrases around those resolutions, and resolving your lines using the tendency tones of the tritone in moving from V to I (leading tone resolving up to tonic, subdominant resolving down to mediant). Even spend some time writing out solos as a study to reinforce your knowledge of the changes. When you can comfortably do these things, chances are you won't get lost in the progression in the heat of battle. Then you'll be able to comfortably branch off and play asymmetrical phrases, phrases which overlap sections, etc. You've got to learn to stand before you can learn to fly . . .

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  3. by landrusax
    (44 posts)

    8 years ago

    Re: getting lost in the progression

    I agree with swingstreet that the goal is to tell a story and freely play what you hear, however, there are many ways to practice improvising over the changes precisely to incorporate into your vocabulary. I have found that the ideas I have are limited by what I hear in my head, in other words by practicing things that are uncomfortable you are adding ideas into your bag to pull from. I believe what your teacher is talking about when he/she says horizontal development is that you are not outling the chord changes, BUT ASK THEM! You should try some exercises to get comfortable with what the form of the song you are working on fells like. One of the ways to hear where you are at all times is to play quarter notes on the root of each of the chords. This seems simple, but the goal is to be able to sing the root ofthe next chord before you play it. You will then start to hear how the prgression moves and where the largest changes are. After you do this for a few hours, start horizontaly arpeggiating each of the chords with quarter notes. So if you have a C major chord for one bar going to a G major chord for one bar play: C E G B to G B D F#. These kind of exercises are not to make to hippest solo in any way shape or form, but they will hep you hear the changes, which is extremely important. After you feel comofortable with playing through the form only playing the arpeggios in quarter notes, try moving the starting note of the arpeggios arounnd. Such as for the previous example of C major to G major, play E G C B, G D B F#. This will get tricky so do it very slow. Only use the root, 3rd, 5th and 7th for this exercise. After many many hours, you can start performing these exercises with eighth notes. By limiting yourself to those notes, you are outling the changes and producing a clarity from the horizontal structures. Like I wrote earlier, this is not your end goal for improvisation, but I promise you it will increase your precision and help you to stop getting lost. Many jazz songs quickly move around from key centers, so you cannot rely on knowing what key the tune is in and improvise in that key alone. This is where the precision is very important. Good luck and have fun!

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    1. by Stiles B
      (101 posts)

      8 years ago

      Re: getting lost in the progression

      Yes swingstreet. Yes, Yes, Yes!!! I have always said that if you can't sing a solo, you can't play one. So many players get caught up in ripping through the changes and playing scales that they forget that music should be melodic. Not to take anything from the post-bop style of playing, but a player new to improvising should learn to walk before they run. I generally refer to written out chord changes as tonal centers to base my improvised melodies around. Once you get a comfortable feel for how to create a melody then you will be more able to go outside the changes. I had an old school band leader tell me that you should learn the lyrics to the tune you are playing and that will help you to not get lost in the changes. But don't forego learning chords, scales, and arps.

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      1. by swingstreet
        (315 posts)

        8 years ago

        Re: getting lost in the progression

        Indeed Stiles B, when I took my first lesson with Lee Konitz, he told me to listen to every vocalist I could, and apply their phrasing to the sax. My original inspirations on the sax, Benny Carter and Johnny Hodges, always played melodically, even on extended improvisations. They certainly knew where the changes were, but still played beautiful melodies on their improvisations. That's how I like to play. It seems like it has become a lost art in modern playing.

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        1. by redmondd
          (5 posts)

          8 years ago

          Re: getting lost in the progression

          i enjoyed reading your postings. it provided me some useful tips. i am an adult beginner who is struggling with chord changes. hopefully, by following your tips while i practice, i will some day be comfortable improvising and enjoy it. i will continue to read your postings so i can absorb all your expert tips. thanks very much for sharing your expertise.

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        2. by landrusax
          (44 posts)

          8 years ago

          Re: getting lost in the progression

          I agree that melody is the goal to telling a story through improvisation, but one cannot forget to practice the rudiments of chord changes. I heard Lee Konitz last weekend, and although melody was the core to all his improvisations, the melodies would not be possible if he didn't spend years and years and years practicing different ways to weave a melody through the changes. I agree that many current players disregard the importance of melody, but don't forget the importance the be able to accurately deliniate the changes-it will improve ALL melodies and improvisational technique thereafter.

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        3. by swingstreet
          (315 posts)

          8 years ago

          Re: getting lost in the progression

          When I studied with Lee, he never had me doing endless chord and scale exercises. He left these for me to practice at home. Our time together consisted of me playing a tune I had chosen from a variety of vocal recordings, like Nat King Cole, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennet, Mel Torme, Frank Sinatra, Anita 'O' Day, etc. First, I would play the melody of the song as close as possible to the way it was sung. In fact often, Lee had me singing the song first before I played it on the horn. I also had to incorporate the singers' phrasing into my playing. As the sax relates to the human voice it only makes sense, and it also gives feeling to the interpretation of the song. After singing and playing the song in its more or less original form, we then began playing the variations on the melody, much like many of the great classical composers have done when they did "Variations on a Theme" by other composers. We could try as many as variations, but in each, the melody still had to be recognizable. This is where my practice of chords and scales came in handy. However, the chords and scales were tools to help me freely improvise and create melodies upon melodies. At no time, were the chords and scales there to imprison us. Lee never once told me that I played a wrong chord or scale. In fact, by practicing my chords and scales until I knew them backwards and forwards, it set me free to just play the tune, concentrating on the song, not on its chord progression. Paul Desmond is one of the people you should listen to if you want to hear how knowledge of chords and scales translates into playing endless and beautiful melodies. Paul Desmond had a complete command of his instrument, yet he chose to play beautiful songs. If you listen to any of his improvisations, he keeps it melodic, yet with each chorus, he keeps unraveling new ideas and new melodies, never repeating ideas twice. I will reiterate that the practice of chords and scales is necessary. However, they are only useful if they help you to create new and seemingly endless variations on the tune. If you spend too much time thinking about them when you are playing a solo, you will at best sound mechanical, and at worst, lose the song completely.

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        4. by McGorryMusic
          (4 posts)

          8 years ago

          Re: getting lost in the progression

          I want to second the suggestion about checking out Paul Desmond. I'm a tenor player, but right now I'm committed to learning Desmond's solo on "All The Things You Are" on the "Two of a Mind" album with Gerry Mulligan. I chose it because it sounds so beautiful, full of melody and natural logic in the way it flows. I've done one chorus so far and what I've learned is that he inverts arpeggios in many ways, finding unlimited variations. This solo is a must, in my opinion, for an improviser. I'd also like to add that I think what you spend time practicing also depends on your level as a player. I think it's important to spend time on tunes (it's so easy to just practice scales and arps and not get to that), but if you don't have facility with your scales and arps, then that may not be so useful. I've been thinking lately that it is important to practice scales and arps within the context of the tune (assuming you can play scales and arps in cycle of 4ths, chromatic, etc. in all keys at a reasonable tempo). I read that Monk would practice a tune for hours.

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        5. by swingstreet
          (315 posts)

          8 years ago

          Re: getting lost in the progression

          That's what Lee always suggested to me. Just play the tune, learn it inside and out. I practiced chords and scales on my own. With Lee, it was the study of the tune that opened up the doors of endless musical possibilities. I'll second your choice of Paul Desmond's solo of "All The Things You Are". Also, check out his solo on "I Get A Kick Out Of You" from his East Of The Sun album. A brilliant solo filled with brilliant musical ideas.

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        6. by swingstreet
          (315 posts)

          8 years ago

          Re: getting lost in the progression

          I also want to add, that if you go to Mel Martin's site, you can find an interview with Lee Konitz. In it, Lee Konitz says that if you practiced the tune for two hours, you would learn more than spending a similar amount of time practicing chords and scales.

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        7. by landrusax
          (44 posts)

          8 years ago

          Re: getting lost in the progression

          I just wanted to remind some people that this post is titled "Getting Lost In The Progression", not " How To Improvise A Melodic Solo".

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        8. by swingstreet
          (315 posts)

          8 years ago

          Re: getting lost in the progression

          Yes, and I'm suggesting the best way to approach improvising is by way of the tune itself, and not getting hung up on the chord changes. The most common reason for getting lost in the progression is that players often forget about the tune itself and concentrate too much on the changes. Not only does it often sound mechanical and stiff, but less experienced players can easily get lost thinking this way. By concentrating on the song itself, and of course playing in key, you can avoid getting lost. I have heard plenty of players who spent most of their practice time on chords and scales, and still had difficulty negotiating a tune. I'll say it again. Practicing your chords and scales is important, but only as a tool to help you improvise more freely. Chords and scales are the foundation, but not an end to themselves. Too many modern players play as if they were.

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        9. by knorter
          (205 posts)

          8 years ago

          Re: getting lost in the progression

          I agree with most of what you say but how do you approach tunes like Stablemates, Moment's Notice or Along Came Betty?

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        10. by jamterry
          (573 posts)

          8 years ago

          Re: getting lost in the progression

          Kristy you lost me. :) Terry

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        11. by McGorryMusic
          (4 posts)

          8 years ago

          Re: getting lost in the progression

          I agree. There are many tunes (particularly Benny Golson's) that you can't play without knowing the changes. Another one, I'd say, is Dolphin Dance. I'm at the point where I've started memorizing as many tunes as I can, melody and changes. I've noticed that, when I first memorize the changes, I tend to outline the chords in my solo. But, after gaining an intimate familiarity with the tune, I almost don't think of the chords any more. There just seems to be this sea of notes available. However, I still know the changes. That seems to take some time and repeated playing of the arpeggios and scales. I think Kristy mentioned this in one of the previous posts.

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        12. by McGorryMusic
          (4 posts)

          8 years ago

          Re: getting lost in the progression

          The other thing that has been helping me tremendously in keeping my place in the progression (and memorizing), is analyzing tunes. I attended the Aebersold workshop this past June (I got a chance to hear Kristy play there, by the way, and that was fantastic). In David Baker's improv theory workshop, he spoke about learning tunes learning the Roman Numerals representing the chords. So, instead of learning "Take the A Train" as C6 for 2 bars, then D7b5, Dmin7 G7, C6, Dmin7, G7......I wrote it out and then memorized it as IMAJ, II7b5, II-7, V7, IMAJ, II-7, V7. This would be the A section with first ending. Then, I take it in different keys, which reinforces it for me. This can be slow at first, but it helps me see the shape of the progression and then recognize it in other tunes. Also, do something similar with the melody. Instead of learning the exact note names in a given key, write out and then memorize (through playing in different keys) the degree of the scale. For "A Train," the first part would be like this: 53513#5....6b7MAJ73....... 5 b54213. This looks a little confusing written with the computer, but when I handwrite it, it is easier to follow. I also group it in phrases and don't just clump all the numbers together. I picked up a spiral-bound book of blank sheet music and started writing one tune each day or so by using the Real Book and Aebersolds as references. It doesn't take too long and it's teaching me a lot. For the tunes I've written out, but haven't yet worked out in my practice time, I will play those in a weekly jam session I have in a studio and instead of reading from the Real Book, I can usually read it from my analysis and play the melody by reading the scale degrees and solo by looking at the Roman Numerals and thinking of the chords in that key. It takes some time to get used to, but it is worth it to me. Jerry Coker has a new little (literally a small) book called "Keys Unlocked," which I picked up at Aebersold. He emphasizes the importance of learning tunes in all keys. I've always heard that, but it seemed difficult. If you take some of the easier tunes first, which are a lot of the standards, such as Green Dolphin Street, A Train, Night & Day, you can develop to doing the tougher tunes in multiple keys (not there yet myself).

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        13. by swingstreet
          (315 posts)

          8 years ago

          Re: getting lost in the progression

          The most fundamental way to approach any tune, no matter how abstract, is with your ears. Then everything you have ever practiced plus your own imagination and creativity will take care of the rest.

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        14. by McGorryMusic
          (4 posts)

          8 years ago

          Re: getting lost in the progression

          I agree that the ear is incredibly important, but I'm not totally clear on what you mean in your post. Are you saying don't do anything theoretical, like analyzing a tune, and instead just learn by ear? Although I think learning a tune by ear is great (I do that as well as the analysis approach), there's also tremendous value in understanding the progression and the relationship of the intervals theoretically as well. Would you agree? As I said in my post, after doing the analysis and really knowing progression, the progression starts to fade away and it's like driving on "cruise control." There's an available pool of notes and the harmony of the tune has left it's imprint on your creative mind and creativity guides you. It's like with driving a familiar route, you don't think about it anymore, but there are guideposts along the way that trigger your navigation unconsciously.

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        15. by landrusax
          (44 posts)

          8 years ago

          Re: getting lost in the progression

          I completely agree with McGorryMusic about the analysis and performance overt chord changes. I have also worked with Jerry Bergonzi on the roman numeral analysis system, it is very very helpfull in playing tunes in all keys and feeling comfortable. Of course your ears are incredibly important, but if you try to use your ears alone when playing moment's notice in the key of Gb, good luck. Once you have shedded like crazy over a specified progression, your body goes into cruise control like McGorryMusic wrote above. It doesn't stop the creative flow for me, it enhances it because I have a pool of possibilites to pull from.

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        16. by knorter
          (205 posts)

          8 years ago

          Re: getting lost in the progression

          Ok use your ear and record yourself playing Stablemates or any other tune of that difficulty. Then share it with the rest of us and back up what you are saying. I have playing examples posted on this site. It's one thing to talk about playing, it's another to actually play. I don't discredit your experience and I feel you have a lot of interesting views so I hope you don't take this as disrespectful but I have to judge a person's opinion by their playing not their words. I feel I would understand your perspective much more by hearing you. You may be a wonderfully gifted player and I hope to be impressed by your abilities and style. McGorry and Landru--I couldn't agree with you guys more :) We are talking about 2 things here. 1. The craft of playing jazz 2. The art of playing jazz Most people cannot achieve art without spending time on the craft. The artistic side is achieved when you can manipulate the rules that you have studied to provide something that is fresh while still maintaining a connection to the style you are playing. It's one thing to reharmonize the chords to a tune that you have studied. That is a situation where your ears come in handy but too many people use explanations like yours as an excuse to "shuck and jive" their way through a tune they sort of know. Again, I don't believe this to be true of you personally because I haven't heard you and would like to reserve judgement until I have heard you. That's only fair. I've spent a lot of time teaching jazz to the masses--people who don't come by this info naturally. I've worked with people who don't have an ear for this--they can sit on a major third of a minor chord and not react to that sound. They play a blues scale or wiggle their fingers whenever they get to something different in a progression. I help these people by showing them the theory and relating the sounds of certain notes or scales to the theory of the tune. They learn to play by ear but not randomly. They are connecting the theory with the sound. They learn to make educated choices or even guesses at the beginning of their development and then are creative once they have built their foundation.

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        17. by jamterry
          (573 posts)

          8 years ago

          Re: getting lost in the progression

          If you try to understand this stuff too much you will give yourself fits. To the person who is having trouble staying in the pocket I say: You have to memorize the progressions, know how to spell the chords, know diatonic modes. and not think too much. Your teacher is telling you that you are not going anywhere, but rather sitting on the chords as Kristy mentioned. I don't know how they teach you in school, but I think you need to dig in and nail that stuff so that you can make it your own. I even forget my OWN music if i don't practice enough. Kristy is right about the craft and art. The craft comes first and the art after. Hey Kristy I was running a pretty clean nod when i read your original post so i misread it. I thought you said how do you approach tunes? like stablemates, moment's notice, or along came betty? I took this to mean stablemates=tunes you know well, moment's notice=tunes you have to learn on the spot, along came betty=an idea that you just came up with. Sorry for that. To the person who had the question, you need a platform of the scales, diatonic modes and vertical chord spelling. I talked to a tenor player a few months back that is arguably the best tenor still alive from the old days. He agreed with me on the idea that there is no set formula for learning this stuff. YOU MUST MEMORIZE YOUR PROGRESSIONS. It doesn't matter what key it is in. You get it when you get it, and the more you play it , the faster you get it. Do they teach theory in high school? A theory class would be a good idea to help your spelling and intervals. These are only suggestions and I'm not trying to be right. All the best :) Terry

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        18. by swingstreet
          (315 posts)

          8 years ago

          Re: getting lost in the progression

          Okay Kristy. You're right, words are easy, but this is a forum where we exchange ideas with words. I do hope one day to be able to play with some of the people on thid forum, including you. However, whatever you may think, I am not blowing wind out of my ass here. I've had the experience. I'll give you a little background to where I'm coming from. I've already metioned that I studied with Lee Konitz. I also studied with Tim Price, Frank Vicari and Kirk Feather. Living in New York City and working in several jazz clubs as a bartender has also given me the chance to see and hear, as well as speak with some of the greatest players, sax and otherwise, in jazz. Some of the players I have been fortunate to actually sit down and talking with are Sonny Fortune, Gary Bartz, Vince Herring, Chico Freeman, Joe Lovano, and my idol, Benny Carter. I know Kristy, you'll accuse me of name dropping, but them's the facts. I consider myself very lucky to have met so many players on my journey to learn music. One of the players I was fortunate to meet was Art Pepper. He was the one that told me, and I quote "you've got to have big ears to play jazz". He elaborated by telling me that many times he was in a situation where he didn't know the tune that was called, or it was an original tune by someone else, and all he knew was the key when it was called. He said, he just listened to the other players, particularly the rhythm section, and took it from there. Of course, the fact that he practiced his chords and scales and knew his theory helped him. However, once he was up there, he just concentrated on making music. Lee does the same thing. Paul Desmond did that. Paul Desmond had often said that he didn't practice much. That didn't mean that he never practiced, but once he was familiar with chords and scales, he just played the tunes. Now, I've already mentioned that you must learn your chords and scales. It's essential. However, once you have learned all the scales in all the keys, and once you have learned all the chords, then you just play music. Sounds simple doesn't it? Because ultimately it is. Lots of players tend to mystify playing as if it is only for the select few. It isn't. I have also been in situations where I didn't know the tune that was called in a jam session. I just knew the key. From that point, I had to rely on the fact that I had practiced my horn and learned my chords and scales, but I just listened and then played. That was what I learned from Lee and Art and most other players. Maybe you think I'm full of it. I really don't care. However, these players relied a lot on their ears, and they told me so. That approach has helped me to be more creative in my playing, no matter how imperfect, as opposed to playing the usual bebop and post bop cliches that so many horn players get into. Lee told me in one lesson that if I played 100 solos, I'll be lucky if 4 of them are any good. I've quoted Lee before on this, but I'll repeat it here again. He told me in my first lesson "Always play over your head". Think about what this means. The fact that these players had a firm foundation in theory and practice was of course a major factor in their ability to play a great solo. However, once they were up there, they just concentrated on making music. They knew what they were doing, so there was no need to think about anything but the tune. Let's go back to the original post. He states that he knows his chordsand scales, and still gets lost in the progression. Because he thinks more about them then about the song. It's not his fault. I know lots of teachers who teach players so much theory and then students get so caught up in it, that they never learn the simple art of making music. What I was doing Kristy, was simply passing on information that I learned from some real masters, and that has worked for me, and would work for others. If it doesn't suit you, fine. However, it doesn't invalidate my point of view and my approach to playing. I don't shuck and jive my way through a tune I don't know. I'm applying principles that were taught to me by players with far more experience than either of us.

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        19. by chiamac
          (586 posts)

          8 years ago

          Re: getting lost in the progression

          I just have a little to add to this. I get bored of hearing solos that are just a re-mash of licks a player has learned. Yes, it will impress someone out there - "wow this person can play that in every key!" BUT it will put off a lot of people out there as well. Also, scales, scales, scales!!! Finally, use that band in a box stuff and run your sax though a mic though some headphones. It's a BIG help to hear yourself though the phones, this will clearly bring out any wrong notes and stuff! just my .02

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        20. by knorter
          (205 posts)

          8 years ago

          Re: getting lost in the progression

          Swingstreet, I've said this before to you in a different post-We really believe in most of the same things we just describe it differently. When I hear you advise someone to play by ear it makes me nervous because certain inexperienced players will take that as permission to just play whatever. By reading all of your posts I know that you define playing by ear to be much more than that. It is the identification of certain ideas that reoccur and connecting them with your playing. You don't have to call it theory. But these musicians don't start over everytime they learn a new tune. Recently I was talking with David Baker about the Smithsonian Jazz Orchestra. David said there was a fast lick in the sax section and when it wasn't smooth he said "Come on people it's just a bebop scale" At this point a very well known sax player from NYC said "What the F%^& is a bebop scale?" From his experience he knows that players add chromatic areas in lines, usually in the same spots, to make ideas line up better. He figured that out in the real world not in a theory book but he still knew what it was. When players talk about learning a tune on the bandstand there is so much more than just winging it. You and I take for granted some of the things that come easily to our ears. You would be surprised to hear many of the people out there trying to play with no point of reference. There is one more thing I would like to throw out there-maybe I'll start a new topic on this. Jazz Improv is changing like sports-- you have to be faster and better than the musicians of old. Partially because they figured everything out by themselves so it took them longer to develop. Cooking from scratch so to speak. Because of jazz education the system of learning the basics of improv has become codified. 18 year olds can and do sound just like the famous players of before--of course it will take them a long time to develop their own sound. That's a concept that is frustrating. I have mixed feelings about it. I know a lot of you self described old school players learned in the school of hard knox. I respect that but the system has changed and more people are trying to play this music. Before only the talented people tried because you had to be somewhat gifted and naturally talented to grasp these things. Now that anyone can buy a book or look up stuff on the internet, more people are trying. They are relying too much on the written aspect and not enough on the sounds of things. I have my pet peeves with jazz education too-but I feel that a combination of ear training and theory is the way to learn.

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        21. by jamterry
          (573 posts)

          8 years ago

          Re: getting lost in the progression

          Hey Kristy, Start something new because I agree about the physical aspect of the changing times. That's why I tell people about doing drum beats with the tongue, using the riffmaster for finger strength and etc. I lift weights almost every day trying to hang on to my body. Good technique comes easier with strength and finger dexterity. I have to practice winds and piano; stamina plays a big part in it. Just a thought. :) Terry

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        22. by swingstreet
          (315 posts)

          8 years ago

          Re: getting lost in the progression

          Kristy, before I came to Japan, I was working at a jazz club in NYC, that decided on monday nights, to feature the students from the New School Jazz program. Lots of eager young kids. These kids were loaded with music theory. Technically, many of them could play rings around me. What I heard from them reminded me of something Beny Carter said to me. He also said that all the young players could play better than him or his contemporaries, but they were lacking individuality. Jazz education had given them loads of theory, but never taught them how to develop individuality, which is what jazz had once been about. Now, all players sound so alike, unless I have a CD cover with a personnel listing, or unless the DJ says the names of the players on the radio, I have no idea who's playing. Yet, if I hear Johnny Hodges, Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Bird, Paul Desmond, Ben Webster, etc., I know from the first few notes who it is. Also their own individual harmonic approach. These New School students all played the same thing. You could put ten players of the same instrument up there, and no difference, or little difference, tonally and harmonically. The worst part of it was that most of them behaved as if they knew everything there was to know about playing. I never heard a single original line of thought in their playing. To these kids, jazz started with Charlie Parker and ended with John Coltrane or maybe Ornette Coleman. They chewed up everything they could learn from these greats, and then spit it back out in much the same form. So, there are lots of young players playing like this, and jazz has hit the brick wall. One time I went to see Bob Berg at a club in Boston. Now, I don't want to dsrespect the dead here, but that night, all Bob Berg did for me was demonstrate the scope of his harmonic knowledge. He never spoke to me. In one solo, he threw out every harmonic device he ever learned. His solo lasted almost 20 minutes, no kidding. It had to be one of the most self-indulgent solos I've ever heard. His subsequent solos were more of the same, so there were no surprises. However, not once did I ever hear anything that spoke to me. What he did was swallow the dictionary and then spit out technically perfect sentences that said nothing. In other words, just a lot of words. Poetry it wasn't. I have chosen to play older stuff, because it swings and sings. It's fun to listen to. You don't have to over intellectualize it. What you do have to do is practice, learn and above all, listen. We listen to music, that is why the ear is so important. Music is a language. Once you digest all the components of the language, then all you have to do is speak. You no longer speak by thinking about nouns, verbs, prepositions, etc. You just freely speak in your own choice of words. Music should be approached the same way. Once you complete your text books, and have studied the language, throw away the book and just talk, and most of all, listen. This is why God gave us two ears and only one mouth.

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        23. by jazzears
          (12 posts)

          8 years ago

          Re: getting lost in the progression

          I'm strictly a hobby player, and mostly a guitarist at that (I used to be a clarinet player, and I am currently fascinated by the sax, and am learning to play three of them). But I have experienced "getting lost" on every instrument I have ever attempted to play. So I think I have a good basis from which to comment. I think most of us have pretty good ears for tunes. Tunes run through our heads constantly. When we listen to fabulous solos, most of us are hearing counter melodies at the same time. Technical players are probably thinking about the changes. But I think most of us are just getting carried along by the tune. I'll guarantee you that our AUDIENCES are getting carried along by the tune. So I try to practice my improv by just listening to as many wonderful solo intepretations as I can possibly find. I listen for hours. And then I hum or whistle or sing to myself, and I let my imagination take me wherever it will. And then I try to teach my fingers to do my bidding. In other words, I try to get my inner-head ear into my fingertips so that I can play whatever improv idea is running through my head--as fast as it comes to my imagination. Whenever I stop listening to my inner ideas and start thinking about where I am in the chords, I tend to lose myself (and the rest of my rehearsal band in the process.) Or I resort to a packaged lick that I've worked out for myself, and that isn't a very satisfying solution. If I were a much more technical player, I suspect this would come easier to me. It doesn't come easily. But I think the greatest improvisors (the instrument doesn't matter) were and are all able to play anything they can hear in their heads, and I think their improv ideas are mostly based on melodic structure. I could be totally wrong, and perhaps I am. But I suspect most of them were thinking "tune" and not "changes" when they played those great solos. Of course, I tend to play more traditional stuff, and am not even technically qualified to comment about modal playing and such. I'm just a guy who gets lost, too, and all too frequently! But I'm never lost in my head. Only in my fingertips. My advice: Practice whatever you hear in your head, until you can play it as fast as you can think of it, and don't take time to think about the technicality of it, because the tune is moving too fast for that. Did any of that make sense to you guys?

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        24. by Sax Mom
          (964 posts)

          8 years ago

          Re: getting lost in the progression

          Makes sense to me. Thanks for the comments.

          Reply To Post


        25. by swingstreet
          (315 posts)

          8 years ago

          Re: getting lost in the progression

          I go with jazzears here. This is what I've been saying. When you think about the chords too much, it's easier to get lost, and if you don't get lost, you can sound mechanical. The tune, the melody should always come first. Yes, singing it is one of the best ways to know the tune. That is how I learned with Lee Konitz. Know the tunes, and then you can create new melodies around them. Again, this doesn't mean that you shouldn't study chords and scales, but they should not be the be-all and end-all of your playing, and unfortunately, it is for too many players.

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        26. by syrasax
          (75 posts)

          8 years ago

          Re: getting lost in the progression

          Ditto on a couple of fronts jazzears. I too am what I would consider a hobby player and only recently have I dived into learning more about improvisation. I have NEVER been awed by the solos that show off how fast someone can fly their fingers. I have always been moved by the melody. Now sometimes the melody can move fast and that's OK, it just has to have some connectivity to the tune as opposed just moving the fingers fast to create lots of notes. And I have always been a visual person, I always seem to look for the picture in my head which has served me well in my career in television however it hasn't always been that great for my music. For years I'd improv to jazz tunes in my head and much of the time I liked what heard . . . in my head. But when it came time to press the reed to the lips my visual instincts took over and I demanded to see the notes in my mind and that just didn't work. A very long story short, last year I took lessons from this really terrific teacher who showed me how to open my ears and build what he called a sound factory in my head. For the first time I understood how jazz was meant to be played, hear it your head and play. This teacher tells the story of a sax player he heard one night and there was a point in the concert when he just didn't play anything during his solo . . . for at least 4 or 5 bars, just nothing. Afterwards my teacher asked him what happened? Why did he stop playing? His answer? "'Cuz I didn't hear anything." I am so far from being able to improv with any degree of competence but I'm pretty confident that I'll get there someday. And they'll be the tunes I hear in my head.

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        27. by landrusax
          (44 posts)

          8 years ago

          Re: getting lost in the progression

          KNORTER has said some very important things about this subject. Kristy KNOWS what she is talking about! If anyone has any ideas about this subject refer to her messages. Of course melody is number one, but read her post to understand why its important to learn all the theory behind what works. Extreme technique is by no means the end all goal, but it will let you hear the melodies in many different ways.

          Reply To Post


        28. by Stiles B
          (101 posts)

          8 years ago

          Re: getting lost in the progression

          After reading through all the posts here, I don't think I saw one that discouraged an improviser to neglect their scale and theory practice. Rather it was to give a different approach to not getting lost in the changes of a tune which I believe is the result of a player over-thinking what they are playing. Perhaps by simplifying ones approach to what goes on in their mind, it might free up some space to think ahead in the changes and/or hear what is happening around them. Knowing theory and scales and technique is always quite important, I think the point that was trying to be made was to not forsake using good old ear training and gut instinct and intuition.

          Reply To Post


        29. by jazzears
          (12 posts)

          8 years ago

          Re: getting lost in the progression

          Ladies and Gentlemen: Please allow me to clarify something. In my previous post, I was not suggesting a total reliance on "ear" playing. Sorry if it seemed that way. Jazz is very technical, but it is also very emotional and expressive. That's what is so wonderful about it. That complexity and balance between technicality and instinct...that's what usually makes it cook! I believe the very best players that any of us have ever heard knew a great deal about theory and technique...but they also possessed that wonderful ability to make their fingers and their embouchure go to any tone they could hear in their head. I said "tone" rather than "note" because I am convinced that they weren't thinking of the names of specific notes when they improvised. I believe they were simply hearing beautiful, expressive melodic lines in their heads, and they had developed the ability to play anything they could imagine, in the same manner that most people can whistle a tune. The best improvisors always seem to have an excellent sense of chord tone, or perhaps of modes, and the have incredible physical technique. They've paid their dues when it comes to scale practice, and so forth. But equal to any of that, they have an IMAGINATION, and when they are imagining a melodic line, I don't believe most of them are thinking of the names of the notes they are playing. They are waaaaay beyond that. Nor are they usually thinking of the chords they are playing through. They are simply hearing a nice melodic line which "lays" perfectly over the bass and piano (or guitar). I really think I'm correct in that belief. Many thanks to one and all for allowing me to participate in this discussion.

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        30. by syrasax
          (75 posts)

          8 years ago

          Re: getting lost in the progression

          One more clarification. At the same time I was working on my "sound factory" I was also working on scales, chords, progressions etc. One goes with the other so not to worry folks, plenty of theory to go around and . . . get lost in :)

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        31. by knorter
          (205 posts)

          8 years ago

          Re: getting lost in the progression

          Jazzears--beautifully said. K

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        32. by swingstreet
          (315 posts)

          8 years ago

          Re: getting lost in the progression

          Yes jazzears, the best players knew lots of theory and certainly knew their scales and chords, but you're right, they concentrated more on the sounds they were making than whether it was a Cmajor scale or Dm chord. They already knew what they were playing, so they concentrated on making pure music. In practice, you have to spend equal time developing all aspects of your playing. There are also the physical and mental(or even spiritual) aspects of playing. Developing your emboucher, reading skills, hearing, chord and scale practice, etc., are the physical aspects. Your imagination and creativity come from that other part of you that is connected to a different source. After mastering the physical aspects, you have to know how to tap that higher source, or else the music is just mechanical, a formula. You can program computers to play what a lot of young very highly schooled players are playing nowadays. So, if you've already studied your chords and scales, and you know them well, and can hear them, it's time to forget about them, at least enough so that your creativity and imagination can take over and you play some beautiful music.

          Reply To Post


      2. by user0188
        (2 posts)

        8 years ago

        Re: getting lost in the progression

        Play what is in your gut. Hear the music. Live the music. Learn that stuff for learning sake, but when it comes down to it, no one cares if you play with great technique but have nothing to say. Joe Lovano was a guest at the Reno Jazz Festival 7-8 years ago when I was playing there in college, most of the people walked out on him because all he did was rip through every song the same way no matter how fast or slow the song was. For classroom study I'm sure that was impressive, but for music lovers, it was unbearable to have to sit through.

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        1. by landrusax
          (44 posts)

          8 years ago

          Re: getting lost in the progression

          I was also there in Reno and heard Joe. Although he is not my favourite player, he sounded beautiful. It doesn't make sense to me to criticize such a wonderful artist. I have heard him many times live, he is a VERY good musician. I have heard Joe play very beautiful melodies while imropvising.

          Reply To Post


          1. by do-ray-me
            (1 post)

            7 years ago

            Re: getting lost in the progression

            Hey, first post. Love how impassioned you all get about how you approach making music. I guess personal expression is always gonna be expressed in a personal way and maybe that's part of what's so hot/cool about it. Love and peace.

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