#1
Guys, I'm having trouble and this is getting me moody in terms of playing, I'm losing all my motivation

I recently started to play in a jazz band, and while I consider myself really good at composing melodies (I'm not that good when coming up with rhythm parts), I'm starting to learn that I COMPLETELY SUCK at improvising. I know all my theory, arpeggios, inversions, modes, harmonic/melodic scales, pentatonics, major positions all over the fretboard, and when I sit with my guitar to come up with a good melody for a song, the last product is considerably good, because I take my time to think about walking lines, coloring chords with 9ths, 11ths, 13th, etc. etc.

But when it comes to improvising, I might come up with a good line sometimes, but I'm NEVER THINKING about what I'm playing! My brain can't recall my theory that fast, and I'm always lost at what I'm doing. I listen to the chords of the song but I'm not thinking "okay, an augmented 11th sounds awesome here because this chord is representing a lydian mode", it just seems IMPOSSIBLE. It gets even more frustrating when I want to think about bebop scales at the same time I'm playing.

I watched a couple of videos of my favorite jazz players while improvising, and they all seem to be thinking what they are doing because after analyzing their melodies, almost all the notes are right on the spot. Charles Mingus, Wes Montgomery, Pat Martino, Charlie Parker, they all get into it.

I need your help guys, I feel really bad about it. How do you do it? Tell me your experiences.

Thanks! I'll share a nice song with you so you can enjoy it while you read my long and boring post

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QATIHWbN-sM
Fender Jaguar -> Polytune -> Diamond Compressor -> Timmy -> OCD -> Big Muff -> Line 6 M9 -> Sonomatic Cheddar -> Spark boost -> Fender BDRI
Last edited by Svennz at Dec 7, 2011,
#3
You practice playing over these progressions a ton. That's all I can say. A lot of the great improvisations aren't really improvisations though. Find certain places where you can have an interesting lick ready, especially like over a diminished, half diminished, (b9) chord, or something similar. Where there are funky chords that require you to solo in a different mode, prepare a few things that you can use. A great tenor saxophonist who used to play with Maynard Ferguson told me that in soloing, you just learn and build a gigantic repertory of ideas over the years, and when you're 'improvising', you are just applying licks and ideas you already know, and making up the connecting notes in between.
#4
Start slow. Begin improvising simple major/minor stuff and branch out. They didn't become legends overnight.

EDIT: Also what guitarsolo_17 said.
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#5
Also, starting with Charlie Parker can be daunting. Sloooow the tracks down if at all possible. And a lot of the charts you'll see will have very specific chords that may not be the only applicable chord, so you may not necessarily have to delve into each chord's mode unless the b9, #11, Maj7#13 is really really exposed.
#7
I dont think they ARE thinking about the notes. I think they just have the pitch collections down where they can think it in their head, it works, and they play it. Its familiarity and lots of exposure to playing. Years...a lifetime. It's like when I type, Im aware of the letters to spell, but Im not thinking of spelling, Im thinking of what to write, what Im saying. Its language.

Same with these guys, they aren't playing, they are saying something.

Best,

Sean
#8
The diagnosis and prescription for your exact problem:

https://www.ultimate-guitar.com/forum/showpost.php?p=28549841&postcount=3

...modes and scales are still useless.


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#10
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Nah, that makes too much sense.

...modes and scales are still useless.


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#11
I agree with Xiaoxi.

I know once with my old guitar teacher..improvisation lol..

He would play random combinations of minor and major chords randomly across the fretboard, and told me to improvise over it..

..I struggled so hard and I thought he was mad and that I needed to be autistic, but after 15 minutes or so, my ears opened up and I became very focused.

ie. He could play a C and I would be on an F#, my ear somehow knew that 1 semitone higher would fit the chord. It became almost instinct and felled almost the same as when you are tuning your guitar.

Off course you can't exclusively hit the right tone on the first beat of the chord, but that is not what this exercise was meant for.

Now after a few lessons of doing this he said I had to hit the 3rd, and he would point out which other interval it was when I was wrong. And so I learned to hit chord tones with my ear, and to improvise to stuff that even "does not make sense"

This is just a part of a series of lessons that helped develop my ear, and helped me more then almost any lesson.

Now when writing music I can also hear what a lot of things sound like without hearing it. Especially handy when I write compositional stuff by hand with no orchestra in my pocket.

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Last edited by xxdarrenxx at Dec 7, 2011,
#12
I can answer the original question in a bunch of ways.

The shortest is just to say "practice". It's true but a little imprecise and you seem to be a little lost, so I'll help what I can. I'll try and focus on your issue - speed of application.

First of all, you need to look into developing your ears. Darren's post is a great testimonial. I can't emphasise this enough. If theory feels abstract it's probably because your ears aren't good enough. If you're having trouble reacting quickly enough to changes it's probably because you can't hear em clearly. When I hear the IV chord in a blues, it's not a "what chord is IV in this key?" moment, it's an unmistakeable harmonic shift with learned melodic implications. I don't have any problems with doubt regarding what I should be playing. With better perception, appropriate reaction can be made with less deliberation.

Second, you have to develop the connection between your ear (both in terms of what you're listening to and what you project over it internally) and the eventual sound - your technique. You have to develop your ability to find sounds on the guitar - these are called intervals, scales and chords. You need to have efficient fingers that know where to go for the sounds you want or you will not have time to say what you want to say.

Third, you have to develop your sense of time. A lot of problems with "speed" of improvisation are due to a lack of control over time, and a lack of direction. If you know (unconsciously!) where you want to be at important points, then improvisation gets a lot simpler. If you know you want to be on the 3rd of that chord at the start of the next bar, great. If you know what beat you're going to land on, then you aim for it! The further ahead you can accurately hear, the better you will improvise. Hal Galpers book "Forward Motion" is essentially all about developing this ability.

I'll give you two exercises to practise. (they should be fun or they're crap exercises )

1. Stick on your media player library on shuffle, or the radio. Now jam to it. Don't worry if you get lost. You're trying to get used to getting lost and bluffing your way out of it.

2. Take a chord change that's giving you trouble at tempo. Find all the good voice leading connections between them and then try and improvise over the changes aiming towards those connections on each beat one.
#13
Yay, thanks for all the advice guys! I just read all the responses and the article from Xiaoxi. Any more exercises I can add to my practice time like the ones mentioned in the last post? Thanks again!
Fender Jaguar -> Polytune -> Diamond Compressor -> Timmy -> OCD -> Big Muff -> Line 6 M9 -> Sonomatic Cheddar -> Spark boost -> Fender BDRI
#14
Quote by Svennz
But when it comes to improvising, I might come up with a good line sometimes, but I'm NEVER THINKING about what I'm playing! My brain can't recall my theory that fast, and I'm always lost at what I'm doing.

Dude, that's the whole idea. what you're achieving in you're improv at the moment is your palette of sounds without thinking.

So you want to get to the next level?

Go back to theory, and use it to develop your palette of sounds that you're not as comfortable with yet. Blitz'em out, exhaust all the possibilities until it's second nature.

Next time you improvise, these new sounds will creep in to your playing without "thinking".

Ever heard of woodshedding? This is what it's for.
#15
Nice term! I've never heard of it but I looked it up on google. Thanks for the advice- I'll try to practice improvisation while being concentrated on theory in my room, and I'll keep checking for the results in my gigs.

Thanks guys!
Fender Jaguar -> Polytune -> Diamond Compressor -> Timmy -> OCD -> Big Muff -> Line 6 M9 -> Sonomatic Cheddar -> Spark boost -> Fender BDRI