How High The Moon -- simple improv approaches?

boo radley

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I've been content to just chunk chords on the 2 & 4 of this song but was looking at the chart and a little intrigued wondering how one would even start improvising on this tune. For one thing it moves fairly quickly (for me), and second, while it's in G major, immediately -- actually, for almost the whole song -- the chords aren't diatonic.

So the first 8 bars:

Gmaj7 Gmaj7 Gm7 C7
Fmaj7 Fmaj7 Fm7 Bb7

What do you do for the major / minor bit with the same tonic (if I'm saying that correctly?) Thx!
 

gennation

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Melody melody melody

You improvise based on the melody. Play the melody/head once, then play it again more relaxed (like your starting the solo from scratch) finding the most important tones and in turn leaving less trying to still keep the melody strong, then build your improv based on those tones, and keep creating and experimenting...but try to never lose the strength of the melody.
 

guitarjazz

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At that point the Gminor is a part of a ii-V7-I to F major so that's how you treat it. The seventh bar is a tonic G minor which is treated (approached and at point of arrival) differently.
I have an awesome bootleg of Chuck Berry playing HHTM.
 

JonR

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I've been content to just chunk chords on the 2 & 4 of this song but was looking at the chart and a little intrigued wondering how one would even start improvising on this tune. For one thing it moves fairly quickly (for me), and second, while it's in G major, immediately -- actually, for almost the whole song -- the chords aren't diatonic.

So the first 8 bars:

Gmaj7 Gmaj7 Gm7 C7
Fmaj7 Fmaj7 Fm7 Bb7

What do you do for the major / minor bit with the same tonic (if I'm saying that correctly?) Thx!
Melody first, as mentioned. (Hopefully you can play that by heart already... ;))
Secondly, as guitarjazz is saying, it's modulating to F major there. So F major scale all the way through the Gm7-C7-Fmaj7.
Then the Fm7-Bb7 is a ii-V into Eb major (see what they're doing there...;))

After the Eb comes a ii-V-i in G minor (Am7b5-D7-Gm), another G minor ii-V back into G major.

In general, with tunes like this, don't try to think of different scales for each chord, and try and see the links: shared tones between chords, half-step voice leading.
Eg, from Eb to Am7b5: 2 shared tones (G, Eb); one half-step fall (Bb-A); one potential shared tone (C, 6th of Eb). IOW, Eb is basically the same as Cm (the triads are interchangeable, Eb6=Cm7), and Am7b5 is just Cm with an A bass. That's how close they are.
Am7b5-D7? 2 shared tones (A-C); G falls a half-step to F#; Eb either falls to D, or could stay as b9 on the D7.
So what you need to do is find all the possible shapes for each chord, so play the whole sequence in the same position, following the shared tones and the voice-leading (maybe just a fret either way for some shapes). That way, you can see routes all the way through the changes (with the melody as a guide) - and you hardly need to think about scales at all (essentially only when you have a couple of bars on one chord).
 

1992guitars

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Playing jazz is really no different than any other kind of music, though it gets the reputation for being inaccessible to the average person and overly-complex. I don't buy it (and have been playing 25 years; over a decade of which for a living, free lancing)....

There are virtuosos in any kind of music and those who transcend all boundaries but the same that is said of Coltrane could be said of Hendrix.

Yes, it's a 2-5-1 in F, so for that part of the tune, you would be thinking out of an F major scale (or you could think G dorian to C mixolydian), but that will only help to a certain degree...

No music exists in a vacuum and the best thing you can do in addition to the melody is to listen to other players you admire on that particular tune, and to begin to incorporate their ideas into your own playing. We emulate in order to innovate, but no one picks up the guitar and just blows over the changes to any tune right at the beginning. Listen to Les Paul; if you share the fondness for Chet, listen to Chet; ditto Joe Pass, Wes Montgomery, et. al

This really deserves a more in depth discussion and answer but in short, the whole process can be simplified by learning a few licks and internalizing how to use them. If you stay there your entire musical life it might not be fulfilling. But you go through that copycat phase in order to ultimately become yourself
 

guitarjazz

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I'm not thinking any scales in particular though I know where they are. I'm hearing and playing 'lines' that I've swiped from somebody who probably swiped them from Bird or Coltrane. If Bird or Coltrane played a scale at some point in a line then I'll play it. After 40 some years it works most of the time but sometimes it sounds like shi ts of sound.
 

Clifford-D

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If you used minor pentatonics, this is what is available as "inside" pents go,

Gmaj7 - use E, A, and B minor pents

Gm C7 Fmaj7 - use D, G, and A minor pents

Fm Bb7 (Ebmaj7) use C, F and G minor pents

See the descending pattern?

This is a simple or better yet, basic way to navigate those changes. Very effective.
 

guitarjazz

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Last year I stopped by a neighborhood estate sale and walked away with a perfect condition Les Paul/Mary Ford sheet music copy of HHTM complete with a picture of them w Les holding one of his experimental guitars. Paid the original price: 50 cents.
Did you ever hear Jeff Beck play it?
 

vintagelove

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Study ii v I

More importantly, look into cyclical movement. Many jazz tunes are just the cycle. Once you can see it, it's soooooo easy.
 

JonR

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Last year I stopped by a neighborhood estate sale and walked away with a perfect condition Les Paul/Mary Ford sheet music copy of HHTM complete with a picture of them w Les holding one of his experimental guitars. Paid the original price: 50 cents.
For years I've been waiting for an excuse to use this smilie:
:worthless
 

boo radley

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2,158
Thx - and appreciate everyone's input. It's interesting because it's really helpful identifying things to work on, which is a fairly extensive list, but I realized that, with this song.... :)

I realize - I need a collection of ii-V licks internalized. I just do, much as I have a rough collection of minor/major pentatonic licks for rock/etc...I'm embarrassed I didn't immediately recognize the ii V I in F (or the ii V's all over the place), after the initial GMaj7 but even so what was I going to do with it?

At this point, I'd probably play something in the G major scale initially, then play a G minor arpeggio and land on the C, or C and E together....then repeat two frets lower.

Also need to spend some time listening to other versions besides 'ours' - but it's really tough translating Parker's version, or even the Ford/Les Paul (which freakin' *flies*) recording back into something approachable.

JonR -- I'm not too sure I understand your approach. You're suggesting building the solo from the motion in the chord changes?
 

fenderlead

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4,406
(G tonal centre) Gmaj7 Gmaj7

(F tonal centre) Gm7 C7 Fmaj7 Fmaj7

(Eb tonal centre) Fm7 Bb7 (whatever the rest is)

Play chord notes on the stronger beats and scale steps and chromatic passing notes that lead into chord tones (on the stronger beats) on the weaker beats.

Try to get some melody ideas going and some sort of musical flow.

Take note of musical contours (how the notes rise or fall or sequence etc), or in other words the note contour directions that the notes make ie going up, going down, going up/down in a sequence etc etc.

Just say someone starts off with some descending line over G major (G tonal centre), then that might change to an ascending line leading into Gm (F tonal centre) and then that might start descending at some point say over the C7 and then it might sequence a bit over the Fm7 (Eb tonal centre) etc etc.

A lot of these note contour directions are changed on the weaker beats but can also be changed on the stronger beats.

Toss it up and vary it and look for things that sound good when connected up together.

Rhythm is a huge part of it, and it's not all about the notes.

What chromatic passing notes can join G major to Gm7 etc etc.

Usually someone would want to hit a Gm7 chord tone on the first beat (stronger beat) of the Gm7 (and other changes as well), so lead into he Gm7 chord tone with some chormatic notes ie G, F#, F

G, F# is played at the end of the Gmaj7 and F is the target note on the first beat of the Gm7.

The chromatic passing notes tend to join the Gma7 to the Gm7 in a musically pleasing way.

It's pretty standard ii V I line stuff that just about anyone that has had a go at a Jazz standard has used at some point.

Someone should be able to hear and pick up on the tonal centre changes in a tune and just feel where the tonal centre changes are and then playing the actual chords and soloing is just doing it and being in sync with the tonal centre changes and rhythm and the whole musical context.

Like for example, (G tonal centre) la, la, la whatever (change to F tonal centre and feel the change that's occurred and track it), la la whatever (change to Eb tonal centre and feel the change that's occurred and track it) etc etc.

Tracking it, means tracking it with your ears and also the pools of possible notes for that particular tonal centre ie chord tones, chromatic passing notes, scale steps etc etc.

Note contours, chromatic passing notes, chord tones on stronger beats, rhythmic variation, sense of melody etc they are used in licks and it's a good idea to separate licks that tend to work in some context at a particular time in a piece of music/song from licks that sound bland and that needs to be done by ear and using taste/preference/instinct etc.

And a lot of practice as well.

It might all sound a bit complicated but after a while it becomes more instinctive (hopefully).
 
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JonR

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JonR -- I'm not too sure I understand your approach. You're suggesting building the solo from the motion in the chord changes?
Yes.
The idea is that everything you need to solo with is there in the song. It's just a question of being able to find it all in various places on the fretboard, to give you maximum flexibility. IOW, knowing your fretboard thoroughly - not just notes, but chord shapes - is a prerequisite.
Not necessarily scale patterns, btw. That is, scale patterns are not a lot of use unless you know the chord shapes (arpeggios) within them - and if you know the arpeggios (of several chords in the same position) then the scale patterns become redundant.

My view is that the (over)emphasis on scales in jazz comes partly from technical practice in classically-structured lessons, but also from jazz's soloing's origin with horn players. They have to work with scales, because they can't play chords! ;)
For guitarists, our chord shapes are ready made arpeggios, and we can easily slot 2 or 3 together to make meaningful scale patterns (because its the chord tones that give them meaning). We can see where our target notes are, just by looking at our shapes on the fretboard. Visualising chord sequences is easy for us (or should be)
Take the transition from Gmaj7 to Gm7-C7-Fmaj7. Here's one way (among several) I might see it:
--7--6--6--5-------------------
--7--6--5--5-------------------
--7--7--5--5-------------------
--5--5--5--7-------------------
------------8---------------
---------------------------

Of course that's just chord voicings. You can see the voice-leading, but how does that help for soloing?

In this case, of course, we can separate the Gmaj7 - there's enough time on that to explore the whole G major scale if we want (while bearing in mind the chord tones are targets, stepping stones).
The other 3 form a (partial) scale pattern in their own right:
|-5-|-6-|---|---|
|-5-|-6-|---|---|
|-5-|---|-7-|---|
|-5-|---|-7-|---|
|---|---|---|-8-|
|---|---|---|---|
Now, you don't need to know what the name of that scale is! (any more than you need to know the note names.) You don't need to ask "which scale do all these chords come from?" You've already got the scale! OK, it's not a complete scale pattern, but there's enough notes there - already under your fingers - to play plenty of interesting solo phrases on those chords. And of course, you know (chord by chord) which your target notes are - you can plan a phrase to land on a chord tone on the next chord, or the one after that.

As you can guess, the more shape options you know for those chords, the more variety of positions and phrases are available to you. (A little more chord knowledge would enable you to complete that scale pattern.)

No theory knowledge is required here - just chord knowledge! (To be fair, knowing the note names does help, so you know when two different shapes are giving you the same chord - obviously your ear should tell you that, but the names help.)
OK, it can take time to really internalise that chord knowledge, but the point is it's easy, it's there on the fretboard in finger patterns. No abstract concepts are needed. For any song you care to play, the chords will map out your route on the fretboard. That's both your territory and your material.

I spent quite a long time (sporadically, admittedly) studying jazz and jazz theory, but I eventually came full circle back to the approach I had right from when I was a beginner: To solo on any one chord, start with the notes in that chord, and for passing notes use notes from the next chord and/or the one before. How easy is that? ;) It was a no-brainer for me, it seemed obvious, nobody had to tell me. (And it worked even when I was improvising on fancy jazz tunes.)
To start with of course I only knew the cowboy chords, but the principle worked fine down in open position. (There's over two octaves of notes down there, 2/3 of the entire range of the guitar. Not really very limiting ;))
Naturally I also listened to records, but not (at first) to transcribe solos exactly, just to get a feel for the kinds of phrases that were typical - more rhythmic things than notes, essentially.

The obvious objection to this method is : how would I approach a long vamp on one chord, with no scale knowledge, and no chords either side to give me the other notes? Then I would fill in with anything that sounded good. You soon learn which in-between notes work and which don't - or rather how all the possible notes work in different ways, so you know the different effects and can choose. Yes, it takes a little longer than just looking up a scale. But you don't forget the lessons you learn that way.

Melody too, of course. You MUST have a feel for melody, which comes simply from playing loads of them. (I was lucky I could read notation, so I could play melodies out of books. I played melodies before I played chords.)
It teaches you how single notes work with chords, the power of certain extensions, and of certain melodic intervals. It helps you begin with meaning (before technique), rather than seeing meaning and expression as something to graft on later. A few well chosen notes (with good rhythmic feel) have much impact than whole strings of notes, especially anything played out of a scale rather than out of the chords.
I.e, it's not just about learning the melody of the song you're going to improvise on (check how the melody of HHTM makes sense of all those changes). It's about learning all kinds of melody, so you absorb the language, the vocabulary.
 
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fenderlead

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Yes.
but also from jazz's soloing's origin with horn players. They have to work with scales, because they can't play chords! ;)
There is probably something in that.

It's hard to play a chord on a Sax (not including limited multiphonics) and Sax players do tend to be a bit scale crazy especially more modern players, but then players like Parker and Rollins and Coltrane definitely knew their chord tones and they are in their solos a lot.
 
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fenderlead

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Parker used to run into chord tones on stronger beats using chromatic passing notes (ala bebop scales) and by upper/lower neighbour chord tone targeting and other ways as well.

Country/Bluegrass is basically chord tones on the stronger beats as well.

The Blues is and isn't.

Minor pentatonic (blues scale) is not really chord tone like soloing, but major pentatonic soloing is usually chord tones on stronger beats.

Mixing minor pentonic blues things into chord tone based Jazz is great because it's a great contrast option and all of them did it, Burrell, Kessel, Ellis etc, and it's also done in Country/Bluegrass.

Modal stuff can be chord tones or maybe not so much (more scale/mode like) and they get combined quite a lot for variety and also get combined with minor pentatonic blues things especially for minor scales/modes and some outside playing as well.

Just take the Gmaj7 of How High The Moon, well someone could play a G minor pentatonic blues lick over the G major and then sync to chord tones on the Gm7 (C7, Fmaj7).

Seeing that the G minor pentatonic is very close to the Gm world, then it can fit in pretty well with a Gmaj7 Gm7 change depending on how it's all done.
 
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boo radley

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JonR - I think I understand what you're talking about. I have a book "Introduction To Jazz Guitar Soloing" by Joe Elliott (which I've made shamefully little progress with) but it starts with a similar premise, I think: from a single position play the arpeggios for each of the diatonic chords....

The difference being I'd shift into an F major scale position, once the progression went to the ii (Gm7), vs. your approach which presumes 'seeing' all the chords in mind's eye sort of immediately. Although I guess the only real difference, is you put the GMaj7 in the same position.

Interesting stuff -- thx guys.
 

fenderlead

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The Gm7 is part of the F major tonal centre because of where it's going via the V7 (C7) to I (Fmaj7), but while the Gm7 is happening the focus isn't on the I (F major), the focus is on Gm7 that happens to be part of the F major tonal centre, so Gm7 is the focus even though the notes from the F major scale would be the default note pool, so picking out and emphasising the Gm7 chord tones from the F major scale notes is the main focus while the Gm7 is played.

Gm7 by itself could belong to other tonal centres such as Eb, but in this case it's F major, so the focus is on Gm7 derived from the F major scale pool notes.

So, if someone wants to play a run over this Gm7 then the notes come from the F major scale notes by default but while the Gm7 is happening there are strong and weaker beats happening as well and generally someone would want the chord tones of Gm7 on the stronger beats and associated scale notes derived from the F major scale notes to be on the weaker beats.

Or, outlining a Gm7 using it's chord tones on the stronger beats and filling it out with scale notes derived from the F major scale notes.

If someone just runs a F major scale over the Gm7, then it will probably lack structure and form and could easily sound more like noodling.

This is really the difference between noodling and wandering all over the place and having form and structure that tends to sound like it's not noodling and wandering all over the place.

Theoretically the Gm7 is G dorian and the C7 is C mixolydian and the F major is F ionian and they all happen to have the same notes but the root and other chord tones get emphasised on each chord.

The root, 3rd, 5th, 7th of Gm7 is not the same as the root, 3rd, 5th, 7th of C7 or the root, 3rd, 5th, 7th of Fmaj7.

As the progression goes from Gm7->C7->Fmaj7 the chord tones change and this usually gets outlined in a solo to give it form and structure.

The root, 3rd, 5th, 7th of any basic chord are the strongest sounding notes and if they are placed on stronger beats then it gives the listener something to hook onto, rather than scale wandering.

Scale wandering can also be useful especially as a contrast to chord tones on stronger beats and that's what music is, having options for this and that but basics like chord tones on stronger beats are one of the basics.
 
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fenderlead

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If someone learns the basics of reading music and then looks at song melodies from Cole Porter to the Beatles or whatever, then they will probably realise that there are a lot of chord tones in the melody that occur on stronger beats and the chord tones are in sync with the harmony (chords) used in the song.

Extend that out for soloing by adding more notes between the chord tones on the stronger beats and then it becomes a stock standard Jazz type line, but there is more to it because the soloist needs to make up their own melodies using different arrangements of chord tones on the stronger beats and line contours etc and that is done by ear and not done in a robotic way and all of the great Jazz players are masters of it such as Sonny Rollins etc and Sonny swings it in a great way as well.

I'd say all of those great Jazz players started out with the original melody and then filled it out and varied it into their own lines keeping form and structure.
 
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