Archive for the ‘Concepts’ Category

10 Modern Improvisation Techniques from Woody Shaw that’ll Rock Your World

Wednesday, October 19th, 2016

modern-improvisation

Every musician wants to sound hip and modern…

To play complex lines that move outside of the harmony and above the time. Solos that’ll make your fellow musicians shake their heads in disbelief and leave the audience speechless.

The only problem is that few players actually get to this point, and even less sound authentic, unique, or even innovative in their efforts.

However there is one musician in the jazz lineage who achieved this and more – Woody Shaw.

And today we’re going to dive into one of his live performances to uncover some of the key devices he used to create a highly innovative approach to improvisation.

For starters, let’s take a listen to Woody Shaw’s solo on the tune Stepping Stone:

 

The solos and ensemble playing sound complex, however the chord progression for the solo sections is deceptively simple:

And by studying how Woody Shaw plays over just two simple chords you can get a glimpse into his larger approach to improvisation.

The way he plays over an extended dominant chord or minor 7 chord is directly connected to the complex lines and harmonies that he uses in every other solo.

Let’s take a closer listen…

Breaking down the solo

At a quarter note equals 400+ bpm it’s hard to hear the individual ideas that Woody is playing.

So let’s slow down the tempo and take a close listen to each line so you can actually hear what’s going on…

Below I’ve transcribed Woody’s two … Read More

How to Play the Blues Like a Pro: A Lesson with Wynton Kelly

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2016

How to play the blues like a pro

Every serious improviser has to deal with the blues…

From the players just starting out in school, to the musicians at local jam sessions, to the biggest names performing on international stages.

Because the blues goes hand in hand with creating music in the moment.

But unlike many players think, it goes beyond the blues scale, memorized licks or even the 12 bar progression.

The blues is about making a musical statement – telling a story through the lines you play. Rather than thinking about notes or theory, it’s the sound, style, and feel of what you’re playing that matters most.

And this is an essential skill that every improviser must develop…

Today we’re going to take a lesson in the blues from one of the most swinging and melodic players out there – the great Wynton Kelly.

Wynton Kelly’s solo on Freddie Freeloader

Wynton Kelly only played one tune on Kind of Blue

But it’s a solo that sticks with you. One that you start singing without even realizing it.

He has a swinging, bluesy, melodic style that can’t be notated on paper. And like all masterful improvisers, something special happens when you turn on the recording.

You don’t think about notes, technique, or music theory when you’re listening to him improvise – you hear music.

 

I’m guessing you’ve listened to this solo before, but if you take a closer listen you’ll discover that he is using some key concepts to create a masterful solo … Read More

The Beginner’s Guide to Jazz Articulation: Coltrane Techniques Demystified

Tuesday, July 12th, 2016

The guide to jazz articulation

It’s the subtleties of articulation that make melodies come alive…

But, being so subtle, articulation is one of those concepts that’s difficult to grasp, or for that matter, even teach.

And it’s personal. Nearly every player has their own distinct method of articulating, which yields a different result.

With all this ambiguity, how can we start to get a concept of articulation and practice it?

As always, finding a clear model gives us a direction and starting place to understand what it is we’re dealing with, and of all the solos I’ve listened to, one sticks out in particular when I think of articulation…

The concept of varied articulation: Learning from Coltrane

John Coltrane has a wide variety of articulation techniques that vary from album to album, but his solo on I Hear a Rhapsody makes use of the primary 3 styles that he and other great players tend to use in a clear and definitive way.

It’s like this solo was made to be a study in articulation. It’s packed with way more information than we need to learn the fundamentals.

Go ahead and take a listen to John Coltrane’s solo on I Hear a Rhapsody:

If you listened closely, you’ll note that he’s not exclusively using one type of articulation. In general, as we’ll delve into shortly, he mixes 3 different styles of articulation, even within one phrase.

The 3 types of articulation are:

  • Hard articulation – an attack (tonguing for horn players) at the beginning
Read More

How to Think Like a Pro Jazz Musician: Michael Brecker and The Power of Simplicity

Wednesday, June 1st, 2016

Think like a pro jazz musician

It sounds so complex. So difficult. So advanced…

Great jazz musicians sound as though they’re implementing highly complex and difficult concepts that mere mortals could never hope to access, but in reality, professionals think simpler than you’d ever imagine.

It’s the beginners and intermediates who study the pros and abstract what they think is going on in a convoluted and complex way.

Jazz improvisation is a real-time activity. This means there’s no time to think.

And even in the practice room where you do have infinite time, simplicity is your best friend because when the heat of the moment comes and you’re on stage, it’s the simple stuff that will be there with you.

Professionals use simple concepts.

They use them effectively and they disguise them…

Michael Brecker and simplicity

When you think Michael Brecker, you probably don’t think simple.

He plays so fast. So effortless. So perfect.

But, when you closely study what he’s playing and take away the lightening speed that he’s known for, you’ll see many simple concepts you’re familiar with.

Listen to his solo on Giant Steps with saxophonist Bob Mintzer, from the album Twin Tenors.

A lot of what he’s playing sounds extremely angular and complex, but it’s actually not at all. He utilizes some very simple techniques, but knows exactly how to get the most mileage out of them.

Complexity = Disguised Simplicity

Studying music theory and analyzing jazz solos defines how we view what we discover. It’s a catch-22. Without knowledge … Read More

10 Diminished Patterns That Will Transform Your Next Jazz Solo…

Friday, April 8th, 2016

diminished_patterns

What comes to mind when you hear the word diminished?

A chord? A scale?

“Wait, is it whole-steps and half-steps…or the other way around?”

If you’re like most players, the diminished sound often creates more questions than answers…

But it’s a sound that the greatest players – from John Coltrane to Michael Brecker and beyond – have used to add harmonic complexity and melodic interest to their solos.

And it’s one that you can use in your solos as well…if you have the know-how.

You see, the premise of a diminished chord or pattern is simple, but when you start applying this sound to your solos, the details can get complex very quickly.

And this is exactly what we’re going to look at today…

Stacking minor thirds…

Before we start digging in to these diminished patterns, you need to start with an understanding the structure of the diminished chord.

And luckily it’s pretty straightforward, a fully diminished chord is simply a stack of minor 3rds…

Diminished structure

Because the construction of these chords is symmetrical, there are only 3 diminished options: a stack of minor 3rds from C, from C#, and from D. That’s it – the pattern just repeats itself.

The most common way you’ll use this sound in your solos is over dominant chords. Applying this diminished structure over a V7 sound is an easy way to access the altered notes of a dominant chord in a logical way.

And again, since the construction of the structure is symmetrical … Read More

5 Steps to Becoming A Lyrical Master With Altered Dominants: A Lesson With Stan Getz

Friday, April 1st, 2016

Playing Lyrically Over ALtered Dominant Chords

Alterations are at the heart of jazz…

In no other genre of music can you freely alter chords in a such a fluid and flexible manner. As chords whiz by, the soloist has the freedom to add all sorts of chord alterations to their melodic lines.

But it requires a sense of how these altered chord tones behave and a certain kind of know-how to use them effectively.

The best place to start experimenting with alterations is over the dominant chord because that’s where you have the most options. But, if you’ve ever tried to alter a dominant chord before, you know that it’s not that easy.

Here’s the situation…

You’re about to play over a dominant chord. You see this on a lead sheet, or you know a tune by heart…

G7

… and your thought process might go something like this…

Which scale should I play

Your initial reaction? Scales. You think to yourself…

“What scale am I going to play if I want to alter the dominant chord?” Clearly not the boring old Mixolydian and after a moment of thought, you now believe you have several options to approach dominant alterations, and then even more scales come to mind…

More scale options

So now that you have your scale choices, you think you’re all good. But then when you go to play, why do things not sound right? Why does it sound mechanical? Why does it sound forced?

What are professionals doing that makes their use of alterations sound so good and how can I do Read More

7 KIller Turnarounds for Your Next Jazz Solo

Monday, February 22nd, 2016

turnaround_post

If you’ve spent any time practicing jazz improvisation, chances are you’ve heard of the turnaround…

Those little two bar chord progressions that pop up at the ends of tunes or in the middle of your solo, leading you back to the top of the form.

But what you might not realize is that these turnarounds can become one of the most important tools in your musical arsenal.

You just need to practice them in the right way…

“[Turnarounds] were a series of chord changes that progressed eloquently back to the main theme of a song. They were important because they let you extend a song without making it sound like you were repeating it. From a listeners’ standpoint, they created anticipation and made you want to hear the main part again.” ~Yusef Lateef

There are places in any chord progression that have the potential to create harmonic motion and melodic interest to your lines. And this is a technique that many great players have spent time developing in the practice room.

Tadd Dameron

The beautiful thing about improvisation is that you don’t have to feel chained to the written chord progression. You don’t have to play the same scale over every chord or the same chord changes in every chorus.

And one way to do this is by implying chords or melodic substitutions within an existing progression – turn backs and turnarounds.

Below we’ll show you 7 killer turnarounds that you can use in your next solo…

1) The standard “jazz”

Read More

10 Surprising Secrets to Jazz Phrasing I Learned From John Coltrane

Friday, January 22nd, 2016

John Coltrane Phrasing

John Coltrane is probably best known for Countdown and Giant Steps, or his earth-shattering intensity on A Love Supreme.

But often overlooked is the depth and beauty of his phrasing and lyricism.

When I first heard the album Kind of Blue, I was blown away.

And I still am to this day.

There is so much there. Every time I listen to it, I hear more.

One solo that has always hit me dead-center between the eyes is Coltrane’s solo on Blue in Green.

Bill Evans Quote Blue In Green

This solo transports me to another world…

But this is not the Trane that we think of. The one that’s pounding down the door, in your face, playing faster than what seems humanely possible!

No. It’s a different side of him, yet the intensity of his playing is still just as present.

And much of this intensity has to do with how he phrases.

What’s the secret behind Coltrane’s beautiful phrasing and how does he sound so lyrical?

Does Coltrane phrase like a pro?

Over five years ago, I wrote an article about how to phrase like a pro.

In that I shared four points about phrasing that pros do and amateurs do not:

  • Avoid starting phrases on beat 1
  • Break up the eighth notes
  • Connect one idea to the next
  • Play into beat 1 and beyond

They seem simple, right?

But, as many things go, the simpler they seem, the more difficult they are to put into practice.

Do pros … Read More

How to Play Outside Like a Pro: 4 Techniques That’ll Make the ‘Wrong’ Notes Sound Right

Thursday, January 7th, 2016

how_to_play_outside

You’ve heard solos with wrong notes…

Unfortunate note choices that make you cringe, questionable scales that clash with the chords, and licks that sound forced and unnatural.

But I’m guessing you’ve also heard players that can make any note sound good over any chord, as if they can simply improvise whatever they want.

Here’s the interesting thing…

Those notes that sound like mistakes in one player are often the same exact notes that another player will use to get cheers from an admiring audience.

So what’s the secret? Why do some soloists sound hip when they play outside while others are stuck landing on wrong notes?

The answer goes back to the way you approach these “outside” notes and the process is simpler than you might think. Let me explain…

It all starts with your definition of wrong…

What exactly is a wrong note?

Theory books and music instructors will tell you that there are certain notes to avoid or treat as passing tones if you want your solos to sound good…

The 4th on Major 7 chords, the #11, the b9, the Major 7 on V7 chords…

However, if you take a quick listen to some of the great compositions and improvisers of our time you’ll hear that these rules were broken over and over again.

For some musicians these wrong notes led to new harmonic possibilities that transformed their musical approach.

“They may be the wrong notes for her, but they are the right notes for me!” ~

Read More

How to Practice: A Diagram Illustrating the 3 Essential Pieces to Practicing Jazz Improvisation [Free Download Inside]

Friday, December 25th, 2015

How To Practice Jazz Diagram

Back in September we released a free presentation walking you through What You Should Practice, and in that presentation, we showed you and discussed the 3 essential pieces to practicing jazz improvisation:

  1. Getting new language
  2. Developing language
  3. Working on tunes

But they’re not the easiest concepts to grasp…

So, we thought it might be helpful to give you a flow diagram of how these 3 essential pieces fit together, allowing you to visualize and understand the information more easily.

The result: A beautiful diagram made specifically for you to print out and hang up in your practice room, after all, that’s where you need to remember this information the most!

Here’s a small preview of what it looks like, but download the PDFs below as they’re higher quality:

How To Practice Jazz Improvisation

You can download the whole large diagram, good for digital viewing, or you can download the printable version, conveniently split into 3 printable size pages which you can simply tape together and put up in your practice room.

Download the Free How To Practice Jazz Improvisation Diagram:

We sincerely hope you enjoy this resource and use it in your practice room.

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