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The rhetorics of improvisation..?

(23 posts)
  1. Sandemose
    Member

    Hi gang (no film qoute this time).

    How do you guys think about the overall structre when it comes to improvisation? I realize all to often that my sense of direction is disactivated when I improvise, at least when I play alone (90 % of my playing is alone which I know is a problem). What "mental tricks" can you guys think of to help this? I thought of these:

    1. rhytmic motifs
    2. intervallic motif
    3. motif from head/melody
    4. register (from low to high etc)

    I want to plan in my head for longer periods when I play. I cant get my mind free from whats going on the moment and think ahead. All tips, thoughts, advice are most welcome.

    Best, Sandemose

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  2. Kapteinar
    Member

    I'm having the same problems with my playing. I also play a lot alone, and it often seems like I hit a wall when I play.
    But, It seems that playing with other people loosen me up a bit, because I pick up motifs and contour from the dynamics of the other players.

    Looking forward to see the posts in this thread, advice and thoughts on the subject would be really helpfull! :)

    /Einar

  3. Matt
    Member

    When i am playing alone, i usually pick specific ideas (triad pentatonics, scales) i want to assimilate into my playing, and try to work those in, which helps my focus and thinking ahead. I also notice that if i sing what i am playing, my phrasing, and motif recurrence improves a lot.

    Transcription is a great way to analyze this, too. You'll notice how many reoccurring themes pros put in their solo.

    Those being said, i have the same problem a lot of times. I end up 'spacing out' and it's just me noodling around. Or I get bored with the chord progressions. I don't know.

  4. jazznan
    Member

    there is no substitute for playing with others and playing live (took me a while to learn this... but i couldn't stress it enough).

    This is old news, but I think the "telling a story" thing is still the way to go, whether it's melodic (which i think will always win hearts) or rhythmic (winning the feet) or both (hearts and toes tappin'), try to tell a story....meaning, make it make musical sense

    I also think that you have to play and let it all hang out, leave it on the bandstand and get back up there and keep trying again..I have the tendency to be hyper-critical, but I force myself to just keep getting back up there (maybe I'm hitting my head against a wall-but I keep believing I'll break through it!)

    All the best!

  5. I think a very common reason for noodling is deficient knowledge of the particular piece you're playing, which is why you want to keep up with the changes and – noodle.
    This problem has way less to do with your instrumental abilities than you may think. Actually you have to practise NOT to play a piece as much as playing it; that doesn't mean sitting in one's chair doing nothing, but THINKING through the piece and follow the melody, the chords etc. mentally, while your hands are doing nothing. Doing that, you're on your way to actual control over the music, keeping your mind free for its real tasks: listening and contributing to the music, telling the story.

  6. shawnuff
    Member

    Many useful posts to consider here! i also play mostly alone and also have bad ruts. I think alot of my ruts stem from not being engaged, not creating a conversation, telling a story, as was previously stated. Not creating art, just playing guitar.

    A little thing i use to engage myself is to try to fret more intensely, literally pressing harder on the strings (but of course while staying in control with the picking hand), trying to get sustain on my notes, using vibrato. (even a sort of 'chording vibrato', if that makes sense)
    Although it is sort of an ass-backwards artificial 'mind trick', it seems to help with phrasing, and intensity, and seems to eliminate more of the superfluous notes. Also using more chord fragments, triads, doublestops to get me out of one note noodling and more engaged in the piece. basically the 'make every note count idea'. (alot of monk lately). I suppose it is sort of a warm up trick, sets my mind in the right place.

  7. Colonel Trane
    Member

    Playing with others obviously helps but I want to reiterate what matt said and that is SING. I can't emphasize enough how much better my playing/phrasing gets when I do this compared to when I don't.

  8. Matt
    Member

    Shawnuff-I think pressing on the strings too hard can cause tendinitis. I'd try to stay as relaxed as possible when playing.

  9. shawnuff
    Member

    You're probably right, and i'm certainly not suggesting pressing as hard as you possibly can all the time. Its more a matter of getting the full dynamic out of the string, and really being engaged by that full sound. That being said, i should clarify i do play quite a bit of acoustic guitar, which is obviously a different animal than the electric (but i think it does translate in some cases).

  10. Matt
    Member

    Oh, okay. I just wasn't sure if that's what you meant.
    I'm sure the gauge of string and action affects finger pressure and tension as well.

  11. silverwater
    Member

    I haven't known myself to consciously think about the structure of a solo until now, but now that you mention it I seem to be the most satisfied when things start sparse and patient, then build up intensity before coming back down with something that sounds like a logical ending.

    Starting with a motive helps. Leaving lots of space helps things keep things down. Intensity can be built by playing more notes, ascending into higher registers, using double stops or 4ths, or even banging away on a higher range pedal tone.

    One thing that can help with an ending is to leave a bar or so of space between you and the next soloist. (this is especially helpful in guitar-duet settings. When your solo is over start comping on the last measure, that way you'll avoid having a hole in the groove.)

  12. JorgeRubiales
    Member

    @Dude: That definitely is a thing to keep in mind. When you have made a full analysis of a piece, you know it all he way and you really don't need to think about it, then suddenly you have in your subconscious mind not only a pool of available notes, but EVERY one of the twelve notes at your disposal. The thing is that, when you can hear in advance what's coming next, its easier to play with conviction a "wrong" note, making it sound right.

  13. Barry Mando
    Member

    Guys this will sound weird but...have you ever transcribed yourself. I know, I know what your thinking but trust me and try it sometime. What you do is record yourself and dont listen to it for at least a month. A live performance would be best because when you are in the moment you dont always know exactly what your doing because its easy to get lost in the music. Then go back and transcribe the whole thing. Im telling you it is very "eye opening" Its like a little window into yourself and what you will typically play harmonically, melodically and the most surprising rhythmically. Obviously, you will have a great understanding already but if you do it you will be surprised and definitely have something to think about and work on your next practice session.

    Cordially,
    Danny

  14. Sandemose
    Member

    Barry Mando: that IS an excelent idea. I found an year old tape recording (a small analouge pocket device I used to use for recording practice sessions) and I actually liked what I heard. Often I hate it, and disgusted with myself I throw it away. But with enaugh time distance you get more objective. I read that Kurt listened to recordings of himself and realized he always started all phrases on the same beat (probably "one"). Just being aware of that will make a huge difference. Transcribing yourself could be seen as a total ego trip, but it isnt by far. Its a way to honour your own playing as well as learning alot about yourself. Great post,

    best, Sandemose

  15. Quintricacy
    Member

    I've done the self transcription thing before. I did it because a lot of the time what I hear in my head isn't what comes out on the guitar, so I recorded myself singing over a play along and then tried to transcribe what I sung. I'm not the best singer so I had to approximate some notes but it was definitely worth it. I know some people might say, why not just sing and play at the same time? Well firstly, I don't really want to do that because that's kind of kurt's thing not mine and secondly when I did try that out I felt more like my fingers were leading my voice than the other way around.

  16. mrzzajjazz
    Member

    Interesting post Quintricacy, I have often wondered about the same thing. The thing that the fingers are leading the voice, I think is very common, at least I experience it. You may have one note in your head, but as soon as you hear the actual note coming from your amp you intonate to that note.. Trying to sing an entire phrase, and then play it exactly, is a totally different game. But I still find it very usefull to sing the lines as I play, because my phrases seem to get much more organic.

    Of course the goal should be to hear everything and to always know what you play in advance, (like hearing a be-bop-solo and then just close your eyes and picturing the guitarneck and just see where every note is on the neck as they fly by...)but for most of us that will maybe remain a goal for the rest of our lives. I find the connection between the "inner ear" and the physical instrument really interesting, and trying to unite the two in a common improvisational language is not an easy task. So for me, singing the lines while I practice is a way to get away from the autopilot-playing of patterns that is so easy to do on the guitar (but sometimes the patterns can be cool too if you conciously think about where to place them..)

    All the best

    Mrzzajjazz

  17. Joel
    Member

    Going back to the first post, I also find myself continually disappointed with the structure of my improvisations. Although sometimes you can feel that it's going to a certain place and can ride it along with the other players. Though I'm not sure if that has a lot to do with how you set it up. There's a lot to be said for the strength of the initial statement and how you set the direction.

    Though the present moment I still think is the most important, as whilst improvising things can change in an instant.. which is why it's so alive right?

    A great London guitarist, Mike Outram had a great way of putting it:

    'The ideal for the improviser is to place themselves, as much as possible, in the present moment. You may have diminishing awareness of the past and growing awareness of the future.' (paraphrased)

  18. Joel
    Member

    Oh and also thinking of contrivances for improvisation (motifs etc.); why not some less concrete ideas, like use of space, density, articulation, degree of interaction with certain players. So the last one, for instance, could work as the further into your improvisation you go, the closer you follow/ignore them.

    I think these ideas require you to 'hear' concepts such as density and group relationships. All improvisation contrivances revolve around having one thing fixed, but that 'fixed' or set thing can be anything, from the tunes melody to that one semiquaver you always hit every 7 bars or always finishing your phrases with a certain articulation.

    J

  19. Joel
    Member

    Mike just blogged about the very subject... Check it out here:

    http://www.mikeoutram.com/2010/09/what-do-you-think-about-when-you-play/

    J

  20. mrzzajjazz
    Member

    Hey Joel!

    I think this article is brilliant, thanks for sharing!

    All the best

    Mrzzajjazz

  21. JorgeRubiales
    Member

    I've read Outram's blog, and I don't agree with his description of the proccess (which means that there isn't a universal proccess of thought).

    For me, I experience several levels of awareness. At the same time, I think about (in no particular order):

    - The note that I'm playing in that precise moment, if any. Its timbre, how it feels with the music, and any other consideration (if I should vibrate it, how much, or should I mute it, make it stacatto....)

    - What's coming next, in terms of feel, melodic direction, dynamics....(if I don't feel stuck, normally this proccess is just about planning a line, maybe one or two bars ahead). Here I would put also what came before, to give cohesion to the line.

    - Awareness of the theoretical underlying harmonic structure (i.e: what the &%$ changes are and what bar I'm in?)

    - Awareness of one (or more) accompanying instruments rythm and/or harmony, dynamics, etc. This depends really, but I don't know on what. Sometimes I'm able to hear clearly two or three instruments and in some way assimilate what they're doing, and respond accordingly. Some other times, I'm just able to feel the overall sound, but can concentrate on one instrument at a time.

    - Melodic content. Here I think about what scale choices would sound "right" based on the harmony. In the former category "what's coming next", the melodic content is based purely on what feels right just by ear, without any analytical proccess.

    - If I have some spare neurons, my brain would start to wander any kind of weird things, but that doesn't happen much often lol,

    just my 2 cents

  22. I'm really interested in this topic, so I recently sat down and wrote a "paper" to "structure my thinking" about "how to improvise." The blog is here:

    http://tweimerjazz.blogspot.com/2010/10/theory-of-jazz-improvisation.html

    I'm excited to see this topic on this forum, and I'm interested in different thoughts and experiences in improvising than my own. The "paper" form of the blog above has "attributions" to the players that were quoted and some other sources. The Breakstone interview referred to in the "Playing Out Your Ideas" section is here; I recommend reading it:

    http://www.jazzguitarlife.com/Jazz‐Guitar‐Life‐Interviews‐Joshua‐Breakstone.htm. 

    Breakstone's comments really resonated with me more than the "Tell a story" advice, which is great advice but I somehow challenging (for me) to put into action, whereas "play a simple idea and develop it ..." seems like a prescription for eventually .. telling a story. :-)

    This advice got me to drop copying big fancy licks (mostly), which are nearly impossible to do anything with, in favor of really pretty simple ideas that you can practice in several keys and a couple of tempos and actually put to use.

  23. Matt
    Member

    my bookmarks are getting to be absurdly long lists. great info in those links, tw!


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