Implementing new ideas into your soloing

The age-old question for improvisers is how to best introduce new material in your soloing in a concerted, organized way. When I think of the great jazz soloists I realize that the wonderful shapes they come up with in their soloing, in a seemingly spontaneous fashion, are in fact worked out in a deliberate way, in the shed well ahead of getting on the band stand.

Here, then, is my approach to going about this task.

1. Think of a melodic device or shape. These ideas can come in the form of a pattern devised from a scale corresponding to a specific chord quality.  For example, you can, and should be able to play any scale in a thirds configuration (13243546 etc., both ascending and descending). You can also make a pattern out of the scale (1342, 3564, 5786, 79108, 7986,5764,3542, 1)  Finally, you can play the scale in diatonic 7ths (1357, 8642, 3579, 10864) Do this with all the modes, dimished scales, and pentatonic scales as well!

You can also take any pattern and play it starting a minor third up each time.

A cool shape to do this with is 1,4,5. So it would be  C,F,G, Eflat, Aflat, Bflat, F#,B,C#, A,D,E.

These “shapes” can come from just about anywhere: someone else’s solo, a classical etude book (check out the Bozza Caprices and Karg Ehlert saxophone studies), or something you inadvertently improvise while practicing. Play them a whole step apart, a minor third apart, a major third apart. Change them slightly by trying to add one or more connective notes. Typically one pattern or shape will lead you to another.

2. Get the shape under your fingers Practice the device for a good long while so you can play it  in a variety of keys, various intervals apart, and at different tempos. Play it with different articulations and at different dynamic levels. Try accentuating different notes or starting on +1 or on 2 rather than on 1.

3.  Figure out where you might use this device Playing an interesting pattern or shape is all well and good. But you also need to find out where specifically you can use this shape. Find a specific place in a standard or blues progression and practice interjecting the pattern by starting a few bars earlier, and connecting your ideas with the new pattern in the appropriate place. For example, you can play an altered scale pattern any time you have a dominant 5 chord going to the tonic.  Practice getting into and out of the pattern in any places where it might work.

One other way to get comfortable with playing the shape in real time is to sequence a piano comp that you can play along with. Using the altered scale as an example again, have a piano part that includes quarter notes playing the bass note, and the altered dominant chord on one and +2.  Play along and play your altered pattern in a variety of ways (mentioned above).


One Comment

  1. -88-
    Posted October 2, 2012 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    Bob, thanks for writing your thoughts. Don’t ever think you’re not being read and appreciated. You’ve given me some new ideas. Thanks for being on planet earth.


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