Saturday, 17 April 2010

Ideas On Melodic Improvisation

I find it more useful to think about chord tones plus extensions plus chromatics - modes are useful but can get in the way of instant composition.

Once you realize that there are only really 3 types of chord major,minor and dominant you can begin to work out all the options for extensions and notes you can play with the conventional tonal system.

I agree you should know them and listen/study Miles Davis modal stuff and how it evolved into the Mahavishnu and the way they have parallels with Indian raga improvisations. Just don't let modes limit your note choices.

Really the trick is to internalize all this information then forget it when you are playing and just flow. Easier said than done!

8 comments:

moinsound said...

This has the potential to develop into a long series of blogs posts (or into a book)...I'll only comment on one statement (and not quoting verbatim):

"There are only three types of chords: major, minor and dominant".

So a dominant in your theory is neither major nor minor? And a diminished or augmented chord always has to be a dominant (because it's neither major nor minor) - or is the diminished just a minor and the augmented just a major chord?

What disturbs me here is that you mix up tonal harmony (e.g. "the chord is an Ab7", which means Ab, C, Eb and Gb) and functional harmony (e.g."the chord is the double dominant or a substitution to the CM tonic").

In classical (i.e. late Romantic) view, chords are always layered minor or major thirds. This describes the tonal harmony - what you do with it functionally is a completely different matter - and this also allows you as a melodic improviser to play tricks, so to speak.

Take one example: say you have the tonal progression of B07 - C6. Now you can see the notes that the B07 is comprised of - B, D, F and Ab - as a G7b9 without its root note, which beautifully leads into the C6 tonic.
Now as an improviser, you could also take the B07 as a Dm6 first - which could be the subdominant to A, and then while the chord lasts, reinterpret it as an Esus47b9 (missing its root again), and you have a turnaround ending into you...C6, which you also can see as an Am7 chord.

Too lazy right now to get into more details, just some thoughts...

Matt Stevens said...

I'm talking about a functional dominant - apologies for any confusion there.

Good points there mate, Aug/Dimished chords depend on context and how you substitute as is relevant.

Context is the key. Harmonic function does depend on cultural and historic context.

Its not a mix up simply an attempt to clarify a difficult subject.

Matt Stevens said...

This may help http://www.jazzguitar.com/features/jimmyvid.html

Matt Stevens said...

"He proves consistent here, beginning the video by stating his view that the major, minor7 and dominant chord forms are the only basic forms that exist in Jazz. (Joe Pass echoed this view many times.)" Jimmy Bruno

Darryl Gregory said...

I'm not a big improviser - I was always happy being trombone 2 in orchestra and trombone 3 in the jazz band - But when I started to play more guitar in rock bands and such I found myself having to step up to the plate. I thought about chords and such for a bit, but then let it go.

Here's my take on improvising and from a teacher's POV.

1. Know what key you're in (duh)
2. Be aware of any modulations progression, but no need to freak out. Practice scales and arpeggios, but forget them...
3. SING your improv (if you get a chance to rehearse) It's a lot easier to improv when you're not attached to the instrument
4. Be able to play what you sing

After doing this a lot you kind of sing and play at the same time and the improv start to sound very melodic. Also if you listen a lot to the great improvers you get that style in your ear and you singing.

At least this is what I tell my kids at school and they imrov pretty well.

Matt Stevens said...

BRILLIANT Darryl - I totally agree on the sing it - follow the melodic idea not your fingers! All good ways to head toward instant composition.

Will said...

Learn melodic lines. Get them under your fingers. This is the Robert Conti approach. Then learn how to connect them, twist them once you can play them. I've been studying jazz for years and intellectual understanding does not mean you can play. Many people in forums can analyze a tune to death and still not improvise.
Many jazz tunes have lots of chord and key changes that fly by very fast. You can work on exercises that target chord tones but at high speeds this won't sound like music.
However you do it, you need to create or learn melodic lines. This is the imitation phase like we do with language (which arguably music is as well).

Matt Stevens said...

I don't really copy other people lines - i think its more important to come up with your own stuff so you sound more like you - as long as you know the theory you can come up with your own. What about learning the relevant arpeggios and creating your own melodic cells? If you know theory the options are all there.

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