I have created a package of jazz improvisation exercises, that is meant to get you started on the road to natural improvisation. I'll try to explain what I mean by 'natural'.
Obviously, there are loads of books and lesson materials available. A lot of those materials provide a lot of useful information about theory, harmony, chords etc etc. The package I have created is not meant to replace that, but takes a different approach. It does not focus too much on gaining theoretical knowledge to find the right notes, but rather on converting notes into music! That means, for instance, that:
- 'correct' notes do not automatically sound as music, if you don't play them in a musical way. In other words, if a tune is mostly in C, and you know how to play the C major scale, that still does not lead to a nice jazz solo. You must know how to use the scale in a creative and interesting way. You'll be surprised how good you can sound with just the basics!
- a solo is not necessarily made interesting by complexity. A solo does not have to cover dozens of complicated scales for it to sound good. If you first learn how to sound good, you can start simple, and progress to more advanced soloing naturally.
In other words, knowing all the theory and playing all the scales and even the right notes does not mean that you are able to play interesting music! My approach is based on the idea that knowledge is only as useful as your ability to use it in a musical and natural way. This means that acquiring the knowledge and learning to be creative with that knowledge should go hand in hand: you start with basic knowledge, let's say, a particular scale to use for soloing, and learn to use the scale in creative, musical ways. Then you expand your knowledge, for instance, another scale or moving from one scale to the other, learn when/how, and learn to use that in a creative, musical way. Phrasing is an essential element to make the 'right' notes sound like music. If you already have the knowledge, great, now learn to use it.
Being creative and musical is hard to define, but I think it at least includes being able to literally 'play' with not only notes, but with timing and rhythm, dynamics, tone, phrasing and form. Now, your preferred style may emphasize certain elements, and that's fine, but even so, only all elements together can make great music.
That's why the exercises in the package are set up so as to stimulate you to use these elements, right from the beginning, from the moment you start playing a scale. In stead of bombarding you with tons of scales and modes etc, which can easily make you forget what it's all about, which is making music. It starts with easy exercises, and builds up to more complicated ones, each time giving you tips, and backing tracks to learn and become familiar with the concept the exercise is about. Also, each backing track is provided in several tempos, so you can start slow, and gradually work your way up to the intended tempo.
The solo examples also come in several levels, from basic to quite advanced.
The package contains a guide, audio files, midi files, regular notation and TABS and a special piece of software: it is a fretboard midi visualizer plugin that allows you to see the notes on the fretboard in real time (Windows only). To use it you need a VSTi host program, most audio/midi sequencing software supports VSTi nowadays. There is also a program called Reaper which you can download for free, which supports this plug-in. If you don't want to install any software, buy the CD version with fretboard videos.
The refill packages are meant to provide you with more extensive and advanced solo material to draw ideas from. They are not full tutorials, rather they are real solos. The text that goes with it explains the basic structure of the solos, and talks about elements like phase building, rhythm, form and note choices. Whereas the Jazz Exercises represent the 'bottom-up' approach, that is, starting from scratch and building up your skill and knowledge, the Refills are more of a 'top-down' approach: you start with full and mature solos, and then see how they are constructed (scales, phrasing, dynamics).
It is refreshing to switch once in a while from studying sytematically from the basics up, to playing a real solo to get inspired!
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