There are many different schools of thought on how to teach or learn jazz improvisation. Some people recommend learning all the relevant scales and how they fit chord sequences, some recommend learning lots of established phrases, licks and patterns, some recommend just learning and playing tunes by ear. The best jazz improvisers often can’t explain the process, it is something ... Read more…
Over the years there have been various different methods used to write chord symbols. Jazz evolved from using simple harmony back in the old days to quite complex harmony that was made popular by the bebop innovators, which used upper extensions (9ths, 11ths and 13ths etc.), and chromatic alterations (b5, #11 etc.).
In early traditional jazz, triads were often used so ... Read more…
About Scales & Chords
When you are starting learn jazz impro, there is a great temptation to learn the appropriate scales that fit the chord changes, as with the chord/scale method aka Scale Syllabus. This approach has some merits, it can be a “kickstart” to improvisation: as long as you remember the scales that fit the chord there is little else ... Read more…
I always hesitate before recommending the study of scales for improvising jazz. Although it can be very useful to know the some of the scales which “fit” a certain type of chord, you should always bear in mind that scales are there to help you create melodic lines, not just to be the lines. Playing a scale over a chord will often ... Read more…
One Chord Jazz and Funk Grooves
These are usually tunes or sections of tunes based on a one or two chord repeated pattern. A one-chord pattern in a minor key can imply an Aeolian, Dorian or Phrygian mode. As soon as a second chord is added the mode is usually more clearly defined.
Dm7 – G7
Implies Dorian as the G7 contains ... Read more…
How many jazz improvisers construct a completely original solo? It may be fair to say that most players rely on scales and patterns (aka licks, phrase or in more academic circles, formulae). Jazz is an ever evolving language, the established patterns and licks are borrowed, adapted and mutated into new ones. New styles of jazz sometimes dictate new harmonic structures. The great ... Read more…
OK, that sounds a bit radical. Transcribing is of course useful, but it can be so much more useful.
One of the most common pieces of advice we see regarding learning to improvise is about the importance of transcribing. This means listening to and writing down someone’s improvised solo.
Surely this is how you learn what they are playing?
Well, you would learn ... Read more…
Timing in music means different things to different people.
To me it sometimes means knowing when to play, and when not to play. Coming in at exactly the right time after a break, or when to make a solo relax or climax. When to play a repeated riff or one long note and when to go “out”. When to play simply ... Read more…
Tonic Patterns and Cadences
These are often more restricting for jazz improvisers than V7 or IIm7-V7 chords, as chromatic alterations do not sound good in many cases. The most useful chromatic alterations are blue notes, which should be used with care as the context dictates whether they are appropriate or not. Much of this is to do with individual taste or techniques of ... Read more…
Memorisation, whether it’s totally committing something to memory, or used to help with (sight) reading tricky music, can be seen as two almost separate techniques:
Randomness and patterns.
Memorising random bits of information is the hardest, for example if you can’t speak English, memorising a sentence is difficult because it’s just a collection of different words, but if you speak the language, ... Read more…
Riffs or Licks – What’s the Difference?
Licks are short musical phrases used in jazz, blues and rock improvising. Some players have a memorised collection or repertoire of favourite licks that they will throw into a solo every now and then. Riffs, on the other hand, are usually licks or phrases that are repeated as part of a tune or improvised backings. These may repeat ... Read more…
Recommended Jazz Reading
This is not a comprehensive list, just a few of the jazz books I recommend. These were all used on the undergraduate jazz & pop music performance programme when I was teaching at the University of Southampton. Useful for theory, improvisation & arranging techniques. This section includes books on jazz and music theory, transcribed jazz solos, real books, ... Read more…
Jazz Tunes & Standards
Jazz and pop musicians learn tunes from records, other musicians or from printed music. Jazz musicians sometimes specialise in a particular area but there are some tunes that everyone should know, if only to avoid embarrassment at a jam session when someone calls Summertime. It is important to know the harmony as well as the melody. Most standards are ... Read more…
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