Hello guys!

So i have just started studying again, after taking a year off since high school. I am currently studying at a jazz school that is kind of "preparing for music college" school.

Anyhow, even though i've been a fan of jazz for long and love playing it, i am the worst when it comes to improvising. I have had a couple of ensemble lessons already and i always feel like i'm worthless when it is my time to solo on the tunes we are working on.

So i wanted to ask you all a few questions.

1. How do you practice scales/arpeggios over tunes so you will be comfortable improvising over them later on?

2. How do i take ideas from things i've transcribed and use them in my soloing naturally, and not just shoe-horning them in? Also, how do i get the most benefit from transcribed language? (In regards to concepts and such, what should i look for?)

3. Any kind of improvisational exercises i should know about?

4. Other advice?

I really love jazz, and i wish i could play it as well as some of my classmates. I am ready to put in the hours (i live at the school, so practice time is not an issue) i am just unsure what to practice, because some people say you have to practice certain things, others say you have to practice other things and i've just got a mountain of information to dig through and don't know where to start.

1. Exactly that way! Pick out a certain idea, and force yourself to use it every time that chord comes up, improvising the rest of the solo.

Ex. "Okay every time we're on a Maj7 chord, I'm gonna play X". Keep going around the tune like that.

2. Use the thought process, not the lick. Instead of trying to insert a Coltrane lick over certain parts, find out WHY the lick works, and work THAT into your playing. If that lick works because it's a Bm pentatonic over an Am7, use that idea (pent. up a 9th) over the other m7 chords on the chart.

2a. The other big thing is development, use logic to take smaller ideas and expand them into larger ones. Alter a certain melody to make it work over a variety of contexts, sequence, etc. the possibilities are endless.

3. The idea is to identify specific things and train them. Don't just practice soloing by soloing over and over again. You want to identify certain ideas you want to bring out and train them specifically, then integrate them into your playing.

4. Jazz is awesome, the people who swear by it aren't. Don't let the other "hardcore" musicians you wind up jazzing with dictate your voice on the instrument with their own ideas about improv.

Now I'm not saying be a jerk and don't listen to or play WITH your bandmates. But I am saying that if you really want to throw in a sweet Van Halen-esque thingy on that rhythm changes, don't let the sax player and his "No dude thats not jazz we have to make it jazz" stop you.

To elaborate a bit more, here's a GREAT little read on how to get tons of mileage out of only a few ideas.


And it goes without saying, hit me up if you want to talk specific ideas and specific tunes, whether it be playing a convincing fusion solo or just figuring out what the hell you do with 7(b9sus4)
"There are two styles of music. Good music and bad music." -Duke Ellington

"If you really think about it, the guitar is a pointless instrument." - Robert Fripp
I'm not a jazz player but I ran in jazz circles for a while.

Here is some advice:

1) listen to a version of the standard with vocals ( older the better) and learn the lyrics. You need to know the melody inside and out.

2) learn the melody on your instrument. Learn to play it in several positions on the neck. Also, learn to play the chords in several positions on the neck as well.

3) learn some solos for that tune - find older versions as they tend to play slower and are easier to pick out ( i.e. Louis Armstrong, Charlie Christian, Grant Green etc.) - these will help you get some basic lines under your belt that help you understand how to navigate the changes.

4) do everything Jet penguin posted above.

5) Watch every master class video of Kurt Rosenwinkel on you tube and take notes - he's the master right now and the information he provides is invaluable.
chord tones are your bffl

if you can figure out chord shapes and such for rhythm jazz playing on the fly, you should have no problem seeing your chord intervals and knowing what notes are in, out, dissonant and consonant over any given harmony

scales and licks and arpeggios can go from there, but if you know where your R, 3, 5, 7, etc is at any given time - and the intervals for the next chord in the progression - you can know what you need to move towards and what you wanna do to get there.
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Last edited by Hail at Aug 26, 2015,
I'm probably going to repeat a lot of the above advice, but what the hell, it's my turn to solo....
Quote by MrDjango
Hello guys!
1. How do you practice scales/arpeggios over tunes so you will be comfortable improvising over them later on?
Well, I know my scales and arpeggios well enough already... (ahem...)
But, if you don't, I would definitely suggest working through the arpeggios of each chord first - over as much of the instrument as you can.
Scales are less of an issue. They underlie the chords, in a sense, but it's "low level information" - better to think at the higher level of chord tones and arpeggios.
(If you want a language analogy, it's like the difference between the alphabet and words. Work with the words; the alphabet takes care of itself.)
Try linking one arpeggio with the next - via a half or whole step (you should never need to skip more than that). I.e, from the last note on one chord, go to the nearest one on the next chord. This "voice-leading" is the main thing you should focus on, to help understand how the chord sequence works.
Even though I do know where all my arpeggios are, I would still practice through a song in this way, to see if there is any neat voice-leading that isn't immediately obvious.

Naturally, that's all AFTER I've played the MELODY enough times (all over the neck) that I know it by heart....
Quote by MrDjango

2. How do i take ideas from things i've transcribed and use them in my soloing naturally, and not just shoe-horning them in?
Don't think about it. The more you to try to consciously apply a prepared lick, the less likely it is to work. You just have to practice as many licks as you can - for any given chord sequence or chord change - until they become subconscious.
Until you're at that point, work really simple. A minimal solo, using very few notes well placed, sounds a lot better than a fancy one full of random filler. (Think Miles, not Coltrane. No offence to 'Trane fans....)
Think rhythm first. Rhythmic phrases are often easier to feel and imagine than pitched ones. And rhythm is often more interesting anyway.
Quote by MrDjango

Also, how do i get the most benefit from transcribed language? (In regards to concepts and such, what should i look for?)
You should make sure you only lift licks you really enjoy, and run them in all 12 keys. Obviously making sure you understand why they work. Is it just the notes (harmony with the chords)? Or is it some rhythmic accent pattern? (Most likely both.)
Quote by MrDjango

3. Any kind of improvisational exercises i should know about?
Start with the melody and gradually embellish it; open it out via the chord tones.
Quote by MrDjango

4. Other advice?
Just learn to play as many melodies (head tunes) as you can. You need to develop a melodic vocabulary, and the best melodies are usually those written by bona fide composers (which is not to say you won't find great licks in solos by great improvisers). The more you learn (and understand the links with the chords) the more you'll be able to pull out fragments spontaneously as you play.
The bigger you vocabulary, the less you'll repeat yourself, and the more individual you will sound.
Steal everything. That's how you build your "original voice" (because no one else is going to steal the exact same stuff).

And it may not need saying (if you love jazz enough), but keep listening to good jazz and absorb the vibe and attitude - especially the rhythm, swing, groove, phrasing, accents, articulations. In the language analogy again, it ain't what you say, it's how you say it.

Sorry, too many words in this solo. I'm now takin' the horn outa my f***** mouth....
Last edited by jongtr at Aug 26, 2015,
^++...good advice jon..I would only add..learn the tune in more than one key..the goal of this discipline is to feel comfortable in ANY key/ANY position..yes its work..but once you "get it" the rewards are..well..priceless
play well