Jazz Improvisation.

For all Instruments and Levels of Experience

Improvisation is spontaneous composition, and just like great composers, great improvisers really have to understand how music works.  A fundamental and practical knowledge of music theory is essential, as are some basic piano or keyboard skills (not for performance, but to audition the concepts you will be learning about).  The importance of rhythmic developement cannot be overstated, for that is what places everything in time, defines your individual style, and validates your expression.

IAll of this will be explored in the standard Jazz reperoire.  I have my own chapters on music theory that will available to you at no cost, and there are also several articles on my Blog that we will also use for reference (click on the red link for those articles related to Improvisation..  

 

In spite of the vastness of the subject, the joy of spontaneity and creativity can be enjoyed at any level of your development.  We are born natural improvisers, sponataneously composing conversations throughout our days, without the need of practicing canned phrases (or "licks").  Learn the language, and the rest will naturally follow.

It didn't seem that long ago that I used to make cassette tapes  for students, in this case a simple blues tune that they could improvise along with.  Cassettes soon went the way of the dinosaurs, and so they were replaced with CD-Rs (or birds, if you were a dinosaur).  Even more recently those discs have been replaced by thumb drives, and now downloads and streaming.  Now I'm posting a recording of the tune for my students on this website, along with a lead sheet, allowing others to share in the fun.  Just click on the music player below when you're ready to listen or play.

C Blues Tune (Bb Concert) - Bob Gillis
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Some guidelines for playing  the "C Blues Tune" (which is actually in Bb Concert):

  • The two measure count-off begins with a click, followed by a drum fill.

  • Continue with the same kind of articulation first written for the consecutive 8th notes (tonguing and accenting the off-beats, followed by slurring into the following downbeat, with that note getting its full value).  There are many ways to articulate running 8th notes in Jazz, but this is a good way to get started.

  • After playing the head of the tune along with the recorded trumpet, you can either repeat it again by yourself, or begin improvising.  The rhythm section will play through the repeated 12 measures six times, before the trumpet re-enters with the melody.  The last four measures are repeated two more times to finish the tune.

  • I purposely used different kinds of comping styles with the piano, to expose the student to different kinds of harmonies and rhythms.

  • Watch accidentals carrying through the barline (all of the notes in this song are in the C (or Bb Concert) Blues scale.

  • Watch the counting, especially bars 3-4, 7-8, 9 and 11-12.  The tendency is to stop counting when holding notes or resting, then guessing on the next entrance (which usually means entering too early).  Instead, keep feeling the beat and its underlying triplet subdivision.

  • I often have my students improvise with the lyrics of the song, which is a great way of introducing other approaches besides basing things on an applied scale or scales.  They can then try using the same kind of lyric based rhythms with the melodic motifs of the melody.

  • You can print out a copy of the song by clicking here.

Bob Gillis is a teacher giving Trumpet lessons, Jazz Piano lessons, Jazz Improvisation lessons, Composing-Arranging lessons in Denver, Littleton, Lakewood, Centennial, Greenwood Village, Englewood, Highlands Ranch, Cherry Creek, Bow Mar, Sheridan, and Castle Rock Colorado.

Bob Gillis is a teacher giving Trumpet lessons, Jazz Piano lessons, Jazz Improvisation lessons, Composing-Arranging lessons in Denver, Littleton, Lakewood, Centennial, Greenwood Village, Englewood, Highlands Ranch, Cherry Creek, Bow Mar, Sheridan, and Castle Rock Colorado.

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