Improvisation 101

As an improviser, one of my main goals is to be able to play what I hear immediately. This is the basis of my improvisation education.

An improviser is a type of composer. One of the most important things a composer/improviser can do is to listen to as much music as possible and learn how to translate what he or she hears into a performance or composition. This will help immensely when one attempts to translate one’s own ideas into a performance or composition.

You can start to develop your translating abilities by mimicking recorded sounds that are easy to recognize, such as major scales or blues scales.

With that in mind, I recommend that you train to perform as little as two or as many as all choruses of Miles Davis’ solo on “Trane’s Blues” by listening to the recording, on the CD Workin’. If you do not have this recording, please purchase it here (or download the mp3).

Miles uses notes from the C major scale and the C blues scale throughout.

C Major: C D E F G A B C
C Blues: C Eb F F# G Bb C

Rather than attempt to learn the whole solo or one note at a time, try breaking the solo down in phrases. Listen carefully to each phrase as many times as needed. Practice each phrase on your instrument and then play along with Miles. Try to mimic everything exactly as Miles plays it -the rhythm, articulation, style, dynamics, everything. Do not worry about writing anything down. It is more important to listen and play back at this point.

If this solo is too difficult for you, please try learning the melody “Sonnymoon for Two” by Sonny Rollins. The CD, “The Best of Sonny Rollins” on Blue Note has a good recording of this as well as others. The melody is mostly a descending blues scale (minus one note) and repeats itself three times. Please do not use written music (you must rely upon your ears).

This should be a somewhat challenging yet fun and satisfyingly rewarding exercise. Please share your comments below.



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