Tag Archives: motivic development jazz

Is Your Improvisation Practice a Waste of Time? (And How to Fix That)

When it comes to practicing then it we often have a very clear idea about scales and exercises which you can easily turn into a practice routine or schedule. Habits like that help you measure your progress and make things efficient. When it comes to actually getting better at soloing thex that is often a lot less clear, and you actually have to watch out that you are not just noodling the same stuff without getting any where.

In this video, I am going to work to show you my process while actually learning a song, how I think when I am playing and to demonstrate some of the things that will help you get better at soloing and make your solos more melodic, because just focusing on playing better licks isn’t really enough.

The Song and the Story

I was playing a gig a few weeks ago mostly with people I hadn’t met before, and during the gig the saxophone player called a song that I didn’t know. When you get asked to play a song you don’t know on a gig that can be really difficult, depending on the band and the situation. Sometimes people don’t understand or even accept that you may or may not know a certain song. But while I am building up to a lot of drama then that was not the case. It was a very relaxed gig and we were just calling standards to play. We ended up playing the the song which is pretty easy to learn, and while I never played it (I think), it is a fairly common jazz standard The only hurdle is that it is mostly played quite fast.

The song that I am talking about is the standard “I want to be happy” which I think is mostly famous from the Stan Getz/Oscar Peterson version, but there is also a Rollins version that I had already heard.

Because the song is so simple then the saxophone player actually just explained the harmony so I didn’t have to read it off iReal, which is also nice because the way he explained it then it was easier to play than the iReal harmony which has a few more chords.

VS the usual iReal version:

That’s the song, as you can tell it isn’t super difficult, and hopefully your solo practice can become more effective, and actually more fun by taking some ideas from how I practice, what works and what doesn’t .  This is mostly about being more melodic but that is of course also a subjective term, I find good Jazz lines melodic, other people think jazz lines are abstract theory constructions, you can let me know if it is something else. The important thing is that you find a way to practice soloing that is not random.

#1 The Basics

With any song you, of course, need to have your basics down, this is stuff that I don’t usually work on for all songs that I practice, but if you are new to learning Jazz standards then you want to know the scales and arpeggios needed for the song, and it is practical to know them in one position because it is easier to be melodic if you don’t have F major at one end of the neck and  F#dim at the other.

Later it will be clear that some melodic techniques are a lot easier if you know everything in more positions if not all over the neck.

Since this video is about  soloing over the song,  I am not going to get into how to learn the song, listen to recordings,  play the melody and the chords.

#2 Some Lines

When it comes to practicing instead of the song getting called on a gig , then you can  can choose a comfortable tempo and get used to improvising over the song, not too fast, but certainly also not too slow.

Let’s first just play a simple solo through the progression,   play some lines that connect with the harmony and (hopefully) make sense, maybe stumbling on some difficult stuff or some good things?

In the first solo,  I am staying around the same area, branching out a bit. Really trying to spell out the changes and still get the lines to make sense.

This is mostly about hitting the right target notes that really spell out the chords, so F to F# and E to Eb:

And I do that in the solo here:

This is still mostly playing lines that are zoomed in, I am not really trying to have very long ideas that much, just spelling out the harmony. But I like to have longer ideas in my solos, so let’s try to look at how to develop that, because you want to be able to do this but you also do need to go further

#3 Becoming Melodic

The place I usually start with creating longer lines in my solos is using motivic development, simply because that is one of the strongest ways to connect phrases, Like Autumn Leaves: PLAY or a longer arc like All The Things You Are. Repeating things and changing them is really strong for melody.

The easiest way to do that is actually voice-leading, but I’ll show you that in a bit.

Usually this becomes going back and forth between figuring stuff out without playing in time and putting that to use in time.

Let’s first try a bit in time:

When do the motifs continue, when does something new start, is there a conclusion.

Then you play something and try to hear what follows it, and mostly it will be some sort of echo of the original phrase, but it can also have the character of call-response where one phrase is a question and the next is an answer.

And this part of the practice where you play something and then listen to what you played and play something off that is super important for getting your solos to make sense. It has to be so that even if you start a new melodic idea then it should be a choice, not because you can’t continue the one you were just playing.

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You Need To Practice Developing Phrases in Your Solos

If you listen to great jazz musicians, and it doesn’t matter if it is Joe Pass, Barney Kessel, Pat Metheny or Kurt Rosenwinkel. They play jazz phrases and connect them, making their solo one long piece of music not a bunch of licks.

So you should probably ask yourself if your solos are just you playing something on this chord and then something else on the next chord.

That is what makes it a solo and what makes it really great, and you really don’t want to sound like your solo is you throwing licks on a chord progression.

Let’s fix that!

The Song and the raw materials

The Song I am using is Strayhorn’s Satin Doll. Mainly because it has a lot of II V progressions which makes it easy to move things around on and you can use the same arpeggio shapes often while soloing.

I have made other very useful lessons on Satin Doll with chords and soloing that you should consider checking out:

Drop 2 Magic On Satin Doll – This Is How To Use Jazz Chords

Satin Doll – Easy Jazz Chords (and a little beyond)

Standard with Pentatonics – Satin Doll

Barney Kessel – How To Make A Bebop Solo Catchy

Arpeggios! (Just ask Mr Metheny)

The Material I am using in this lesson is almost exclusively arpeggios.

To practice the arpeggios in an easy way you can check out this exercise:

Developing phrases #1 – Reduction

The example below uses reduction in groups of two bars, so the main statement is the first bar of Dm7 G7, Em7 A7 and on Am7 D7. For each of those statements the following phrase is a reduced development, so a variation on the original phrase with fewer notes.

Developing phrases #2 – Change Direction

Another way to develop phrases is to by reversing the direction of a part of the phrase.

This is seen below between the first bar of Dm7 G7 and the inverted ending of the first bar of Em7 A7.

Another similar relationship is found between the Dm7 G7 bars (one is descending the other ascending) this is the other way around between the two bars of Em7 A7.

Developing phrases #3 – Displace the Rhythm

Example 3 is based around one motif that is then developed through out the example. The basic idea is using the 5th and 7th of the m7 chord to encircle the 3rd of the dominant.

I play the basic motif in the first bar and from there on is mover around and developed in the following bars.

Developing phrases #4 – Inverting a melody

The example below is using a zig-zag shape in the melodies. All the melodies are changing direction in each phrase. The first one is up-down, the mirror of this is very clear 2 bars later. I use the same type of development in the Am7 D7, Abm7 Db7 bars.

Motif exercises

You can develop your ability to work with motivic development by taking a simple motif through the changes. In many ways, Satin Doll is a great song to practice this on.

You can move a motif through the song like this:

Experiment with constructing arpeggio melodies

I have often found it extremely useful to work on just making variations of basic arpeggio melodies.

The exercise here below is a transcription of some melodies only using Dm7 and G7 arpeggio notes.

Getting more out of Arpeggios on a Jazz Standard

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If you have any questions, comments or suggestions for topics then please let me know. Leave a comment on the video or send me an e-mail. That is the best way for me to improve my lessons and make them fit what you are searching for.

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