You Need To Practice This If You Want To Play Jazz

In this lesson, I am going to show a way you need to practice if you want to learn how to improvise jazz. I think this skill is often underestimated or even left out and which is really holding you back from growing as an improviser. It is essential for Jazz, but also in all other genres.

The final step of learning to improvise

A common problem I see with students or people posting videos of their jazz improvisation online is that they don’t really internalize the things they practice to the point where they can actually improvise. Often we fool ourselves to believe that it is enough to know what to do, as long as we practice the scale, the arpeggio or learn some solos, then we will also be able to play fantastic improvisations.

If you want to be good at improvising then you also need to practice improvising, and if you only do that while playing a song in tempo then you probably are not giving yourself the room to actually learn how to do this and come up with your own lines. Instead, you are wondering why you can’t remember licks or get them to fit into your solos, why this arpeggio doesn’t sound good on this chord.

But you can change the way you practice so that you do get to use the things you practice.

Let’s look at this coming from two angles: first just scales and arpeggios and then how to work with a lick or fragment that you have transcribed or found somewhere else.

1 Scales and Arpeggios

To keep it really simple then I am going to use a Cmaj7 chord, the arpeggio and a C major scale. You want to improvise over the chord using the arpeggio and the scale.

If you have practiced the scale and the arpeggio then you can play those, but for most people, it almost stops there, and that means that you can choose to either play the scale or the arpeggio and you did not practice making licks with the two. When you try to play a solo in time then you probably can’t play anything else than running through one or the other.

What you are missing is that you need to practice using the two together and you want to practice making melodies or licks with the chord and the arpeggio so that you can also do that when you are playing a solo.

The easiest way to start is to just sit down and come up with some melodies out of tempo. So trying to play licks and melodies mixing the two and skipping around, listening and finding ways of making melodies.

So simple lines using the arpeggio but also using scale notes, play them and listen to them and try to get them to sound nice as a melody.

Don’t be afraid to mess around with it a bit and that, especially in the beginning, the licks don’t all work. That is exactly what you are practicing. You are training your ability to make music with the scale and the arpeggio, working on how to play something and how to hear something in your head and get it out of your fingers.

You don’t have to worry too much about remembering the lines, just practice making them and coming up with good lines.

Once you have spent some time doing this then try to play on a static Cmaj7 track or a song with a Cmaj7 that you know really well and that isn’t difficult

If you always try to connect the things you practice with some actual improvising in this way you have a much better chance of using the things you practice and getting them to sound good.
This will also open up for learning more things about solos like connecting several phrases and not just playing a lick on this chord and another on the next.

2 Working from a Jazz Lick

The same goes for learning how to improvise from a great phrase that you have taken from a solo you are transcribing

Make sure that it is a phrase that is short enough to work with. It needs to be something you can put into a phrase and add something to.

Example 5 can be seen as having 3 parts. A Cmaj arpeggio, a chromatic run and the final part which is a melody made with a C major Coltrane pattern

Practice idea #1

One way to work on developing this idea is to practice making variations where you change the ending.

The first variation below is making the ending into a short scale run. The second variation is using a bebop or Charlie Parker cliché. The final variation is ending with an Em pentatonic phrase.

Practice Idea #2

But you can also focus on the beginning. Here below you have two variations. The first using an Em pentatonic and the second one using an Em7 shell-voicing.

Now I am approaching it in a very systematic way, but in reality, you should probably also be open to just getting ideas from a line and then go with that without thinking about it.

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