Becoming a Confident Improviser (Podcast Episode #20)

Posted by: JAZZEDGE on March 9, 2021

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00:06 Hey guys, Willie Myette, creator of jazz edge and I want to welcome you to episode number 20 of the confident improviser. Today, we're going to talk about how to become a confident improviser. I'm going to share with you four techniques that are going to help you become more confident in creating solos on the spot. Remember this podcast is a kind of a goes along with my confident improviser program, which is found over at jazz edge Comm. You can also get video replays of the podcast and you can learn more at either jazz hedge comm or the confident improviser calm. Okay, so becoming a more confident improviser. So the first question that I normally get from students is, why does my improvisation suffer right? Now, a lot of times students can improvise a little bit, right, they could do something at the instrument, but they're not happy with the improvisation that they're coming up with. Okay. And there's usually three reasons why they're having problems with their improvisation. Now, before I share with you the three reasons, what do you think the reasons are? Now, a lot of times, students might think, oh, I don't know the right notes to play. In my improvisation, I don't know the right scale to play in my improvisation. And quite frankly, that's usually not the reasoning, right? usually most of the improvisations that I listened to, from students and I listened to a lot of them hundreds and hundreds of them, you know, the improvisation sounds good note wise. But these are the three areas that students usually get into trouble with number one is fingering. Number two is rhythm. And number three kind of goes along with rhythm as well. It's flow, right? They just don't have the flow of the improvisation down all that well. So let's go through each of those just real quickly before I discuss the four techniques with you. So obviously, fingering is a problem. Because if you get yourself jammed up in your fingering, and you know you're trying to get down to a certain note, but you ended on your thumb a little bit early, and now you're going to cross over, and you might have difficulty with that crossing over, well, you might get yourself into a jam. And you might find it, the fingering is the thing that jams you want. Now, with the fingering Jamie you want that kind of leads right into the rhythm, because the rhythm and the flow get messed up at that point as well, because the fingering got messed up. Now, also with improvisation. The rhythm is such an important part of your improvisation that if you don't have strong rhythm together, then you're going to find that your improvisation is going to suffer. And what I mean by strong rhythm is that not only can you play quarter notes and eighth notes, but if you're going to do you know any type of altered, maybe alter, it's not the right word to use, but if you're going to do any kind of, you know, upbeat rhythms, you know, an alternating syncopated rhythms of up beats, down beats, then you want to make sure that that rhythm is nice and strong. Now I have some courses on that the rhythm essentials course, will be great to take a look at that. But then also the confident improviser course you go through rhythm as well. And that's why rhythm is such a big part of that. Right? So fingering, rhythm, and flow. So how do we fix those issues? And how do we become a more confident improviser? Alright, well, number one, you need to make sure you get down your voicings, and what I mean by that is your left hand chord voicings, make sure that if you're playing let's say, a blues in the key of C, you know your C seven chord, you know, your F seven chord, if you're going to do rootless chord voicings fine do rootless chord voicings, if you're going to do shells, fine with that either, if you're going to do a baseline five, 03:53 your baseline, but you have to make sure that whatever you're playing in the left hand, that you really have it down well. So even though I say get down your voicings, because oftentimes we're going to be playing chord voicings in the left hand and improv with the right hand. What that what this really means is get down your accompaniment. If you're finding that you're having any difficulty being confident in your improvisation, be sure to take a look at the left hand in your accompaniment and ask yourself the question, Do I really have that accompaniment down, because if you don't have it down, then you're going to probably get yourself into trouble. Now what do I mean by having it down, I mean that if you put on a play along track, you know, you can play that left hand accompaniment by itself without making any mistakes. If you're playing along with a metronome, you could play that left hand accompaniment, you know, just fine without making any mistakes. You don't mess up the form. You don't mess up the quality of the chords. You can play accompaniment by itself. And I encourage you if you haven't tried playing just the accompaniment in the left hand For a tune, start with that first, because you might find that Oh, every now and again, you're hitting the wrong chord, or you got to think about the chord, or the baseline or whatever you're playing for your accompaniment. And guess what, every time you need to think even a split second, about what's going on in the left hand, then that's going to take away the, you know, all of that brain power that you can be utilizing for your right hand. Right. Now, of course, I'm making the assumption right now that we're playing chords in the left hand or accompaniment in the left hand, and improvising the right hand. As smart musicians, we realize that improvisation is not that black and white, right? I mean, sure, you can improvise between two heads, right? 05:50 You know, so I can use my left hand as well as my right hand to start to create lines and then played back and forth between those two hands. But for the most part, we're usually thinking accompagnement, left hand improv right hand, at least at this level. Number two, practice, chromaticism, the chromatic scale is super useful. And I'm going to show you an exercise that you can use in just a second, utilizing that chromatic scale for your chromatic scale is just literally going right up to the next note. And then fingering wise, typically in the right hand, I would go either 12121231212123, okay, or what I also like, and I think it's probably a little bit better 13131231313123. So I'm starting on C, then going up to C sharp, and my middle finger D, D sharp with the middle finger, e with the thumb, F with the second finger, F sharp with the middle finger, G, the thumb G sharp with the middle, a with the thumb, a sharp with the middle, B with a thumb, second finger on C and then middle finger and C sharp, and then back to the film on D, and so on and so forth. And then coming down, it's the same fingering just in the opposite direction. Same thing with the left hand or B 07:19 13131313132. 07:30 Alright, so now when I say practice chromaticism, you should be able to start on any note and go up the chromatic scale, or go down the chromatic scale. So a great way of starting with that is, you know, start on C, go C to C, then just try and starting that on the notes like maybe E flat, one full octave if you want, or you could go up a little bit and then down a little bit, so I'll start an E flat, maybe go up to G flat, come down the B, maybe this time, I'll come up to a flat, I'll go up back again, up to see maybe down the sea, right, so I can, I can play around with that I don't have to constantly go up and down to the same note, that's really an important point. Because a lot of times we get so used to playing our scales and technical things in a very boxed in manner. And what I mean by that is I'm gonna play my C major scale, and I'm gonna go from C, to C, right? And we never really think about getting outside of that octave box that we put ourselves in, right, we kind of shackle ourselves within that octave and try to one octave, two octaves, three octaves. Well, guess what, you don't have to go a full octave. And then when you improvise, you'll never get to play a full octave, probably right. And then if you do, it's not going to be all of the time, you're gonna go up a little bit, you're gonna go down a little bit. So practice that chromatic scale, going up a few notes, then going down a few notes, going up a few more notes, going down a few more notes, okay. And just try try to really focus on keeping that nice and loose and relaxed. Okay, if you want to just do the right hand to start, that's totally fine. If you want to play hands together, you could do that. 09:18 You could do hands together, you can also do it in you know, there I'm doing it in minor thirds, right, in Octave and a minor third. So a minor 10th. So you can do it in different intervals is what actually kind of sounds cool if you do fifth. 09:41 Fifth, like that kind of sounds neat. So you could try playing around with that. There's many different ways in which you can approach those exercises. And quite frankly, if you've been going through the confident improviser and listening to the podcast, you already have a probably a pretty good handle on some different ways in which you can change these exercises or out. And I'm going to give you another exercise in just a second. All right, the number three technique is understand targets. This is probably going to change your improvisation more than any other technique. And I've talked about this before, I've talked about this in other episodes, and definitely at the TCI, you know, in the TCI course, found a jazz edge. But let me just explain to you once again, just real quickly, what is a target? a target is a note of the chord that we're trying to get to an end, our improvisational line. Now remember, think of an improvisational line as being a sentence. Okay, I woke up this morning, a exercise and then I came to work. Alright, so there's the whole sentence right? Or I woke up this morning, got myself a grab a cup of coffee, and then headed right outside to start raking leaves. Okay, there you go. There's a whole sentence right there. beginning middle end. Right? Now, the target is the end part. Okay, so we start the sentence or start the phrase, right, we can really start the phrase on any note, although the starting note is really just about as important as that target note. So typically, we'd like to start on a quarter, at least for right now. Remember, these techniques that I'm giving you are to get you up and running with improvisation. Don't think that you have to do this every single time, right? You don't have to start on a chord tone, every single time you start your improvisation, but right now we're trying to play something that's gonna sound good. So how do we do that? We start on a chord tone, we end on a chord tone. Okay? So what I mean by that is a typical, very simple C minor seven, root three, seven chord shell in the left hand, so C, E flat, B flat. So if I'm gonna start out a note, okay, well, like I said, starting on a chord tone, well, what happens if I don't start at a quarter? Let's say I start on a B natural. Right? Sounds like garbage, right? doesn't sound very good. Now, you might say, well, Willie, that be natural is not found within the Dorian scale, or the natural minor scale or whatever scale, you're going to say should be played there. Okay? We're not going to worry about scales, right? Because right now, if you know, your starting notes, your target notes and the chromatic scale, I'm going to show you in just a second, how you can get a lot of mileage out of those pieces of information. So Alright, the B natural doesn't sound great. And the reason it doesn't sound great that we could simply say is, it's not a chord tone. What are the chord tones for a C minor seven chord, C, E flat, G, and B flat, right? So just pick one of them start on one of them? Yeah, let me start on B flat. And then my target, I ended up C. So I start on B flat, I ended on C. Now what did I do? Well, and just to make sure that that's clear, again, when I say I started on on B flat, and ended on C, meaning I started my line, B flat. 13:20 See, right, and I ended the line on C. So I started on B flat, and then on C. So now the question is, what do I do in between all of that stuff, right? So in between the starting note and the target note, now what am I playing? Well, that's where I'm playing using the chromatic scale. Okay, and so now, point number four, here's practice creating lines to the target. And in parentheses here, if you can't see it, if you're not looking at the video, it says, forget about sounding good. Forget about it. Don't worry about sounding good. What you're trying to do is you're trying to become a more confident improviser. And to be a confident improviser, is very much in some ways being like a salesperson, right? You got to kind of sell it to the audience. So what I do here is let me let me demonstrate or be a little bit easier. I'm going to play with this I real pro backing track and all it is is a C seven altered chord, then it just keeps looping just keeps going on and on. So it's just one single chord in the left hand, I'm going to just play a very simple chord shell in which I'm doing the third, the seventh and the sharp nine. So A, B flat and D sharp, right? So this is a rootless voicing, okay? With the third the seventh and the sharp nine. Okay, so I'm going to play along with that and hit that. I got that that chord going on right there. And now I'm going to start to improvise in the right hand. Now guess what I can improvise using any notes Now I can improvise using any notes and do it strongly. And it will sound like okay, that's what I want it to play. Or I can improvise using all the right notes. But do it with poor rhythm and kind of weak, and then it will sound wrong. So let me start with all the right notes for install and write notes on a C seven ultra port, I could play a C minor pentatonic scale, I can play a C altered scale. So let me just play around with that C altered scale. But I'm going to do it in a way that's not going to sound all that great, but I'm going to use all the notes of that altered scale, and you'll see that all the notes should be fine. But it just doesn't sound all that great. See if you could figure out why. 15:55 Right? I mean, does that sound a little bit familiar sometimes improvisation like that. It's you got all the notes there. But the rhythm, the flow, just just just the whole vibe of it just doesn't sound great. Now listen to this. And now I'm going to be playing wrong notes in here, but take a listen to 16:13 it. Now in there, you might like it, or you might hate it. You might say hey, well, you know what? I hated that improvisation. Okay, fine. Now, I'm not worried about that I'm not worried about whether or not you like it or not, because really the only person I have to worry about if they like it or not, is me in my ears. Now, me personally, I didn't love it either. Okay, if I'm being completely honest, but it at least got the job done. For right now, I at least got something out. And I said something. And I was able to say it in a much stronger way than the first way. Because in the first way, I was just worried about playing all the right notes, right? Whereas the second way, I'm just trying to like play flow, I'm just trying to get to a target, I'm trying to, like, you know, just create that line. So how do we create these lines utilizing targets? Hey, so the first thing you could do is, you could pick the note to start on, right? There's nothing wrong with that. But the main target that we're looking for is the note to end on. Right? Now, I would suggest right now pick the third as the note to end on. So again, on our C seven chord, that would be an E natural. Now whatever note you're going to start on, that's completely up to you. I'm going to start on four right now I'll start on the root C, okay, so I'm going to go from C to E natural, and in between what I'm gonna do is an exercise, I'm going to try and utilize my chromatic scale. Now I'm not going to just go I mean, I could do that and take a listen to what that sounds like. That sounds fine. There's nothing wrong with that. And you could start with that, you know, at first, but really, what we want to start to do is start to create an weave line. So that means like, you might come down, 18:42 right, you might kind of move all over the place with that chromatic scale, kind of skipping down, stepping down, skipping up, leaping up, you don't feel like you're just going up and down the scale, you're moving that scale around. So here I started C, going down to a flat, then come back up to C sharp, and then back to a flat, G, G flat, F go down to D, D sharp, and then I end on E, right, so you see that I'm kind of skipping around there on that chromatic scale. So what I'm gonna do is I'm going to start on the note C, I'm going to fill in between with some chromatic scale, quite frankly, you could go on for as long as you want. Now you're going to realize obviously, the longer you play the scale, and the more the longer you do the chromaticism, it's going to start to sound more and more out. Okay, so you probably just want to keep it to like a measure, right? Maybe even a little bit less than a full measure, you know, maybe a measure and a half, but you don't want to go measures and measures. So I'm going to start on C. I'm going to fill in B in between with my chromatic scale with the with the mindset of Hey, look, I'm gonna end on the note he I gotta get to the note he right so take a listen with that sounds like 20:34 Alright, so now you hear how I keep starting on C, keep ending my line on E. The goal of this exercise is that you start to feel more comfortable bringing that chromaticism into your playing. All right. Now, check this out. Let's say that I change this around. Okay, and I'm just gonna take just some standard here. Let me find a quick standard here. All right, here we go. A foggy day, hey, I'm going to take a foggy day. And I'm literally just going to think about playing my target notes. Okay, I'm gonna take my target notes, and I'm going to utilize chromaticism take a listen to how it sounds. Let's speed this up a little bit, though. I'm gonna bring it up to like more of a medium tempo. Bring it up to 120. Here we go. 22:36 There you heard I brought in a lot of chromaticism, I'm thinking about my target notes. Now, again, that improvisation is not going to win me a Grammy Award. But that's okay. I'm not looking to win a Grammy Award on that improvisation. For many of us, we want to be able to do is be able to play an improvisation and not sound like a fool, right? Like not like play something that sounds halfway decent and be able to get through the set of chord changes. And that's what we're trying to do. And that's what this exercise will help you to start to do. Okay, so think about your target notes. Think about where you start where you end, fill in between with that chromaticism and if there's nothing else that you got out of this podcast episode. Just remember, practice chromatic scale, practice the chromatic scale, utilizing that chromatic scale and your improvisation. You can get a lot of mileage out of that, right. So anyway, so thank you guys very much for joining me for the podcast. If you have questions. Remember every other Thursday at 1pm. Eastern, I do a live q&a session for my TCI members so be sure to come back to jazz edge comm and join me. I'll see you guys in the next podcast episode.

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