Improvisation Frameworks

Discussion in 'Playing and Technique' started by wire-n-wood, Apr 15, 2015.

  1. wire-n-wood

    wire-n-wood Member

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    Playing in a band and jamming with others, when it comes to improvising, I start with the minor pentatonic scale. I know the five box positions pretty well. I have some licks in each, and can feel my way around. That's my grounding. I think that this is probably the "elementary school" of improvisation - which is not to denigrate its value as there's great music to be made from it. But surely it is not the be-all and end-all of improvisation. I also dabble with the major pentatonic and the major scale (by adding back in the two missing notes from the major pentatonic). But I'm hoping to find something that breaks me out of my current "go-to" licks.

    What is your framework of thinking when you improvise or find new riffs and licks and sounds?
     
  2. ShawnH

    ShawnH Member

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    Lately I have really been focused on the melody of the song as the framework for improvising. Personally I think this is really the key - at least to the kind of improvisation that I like to hear. So here is what I have been doing:

    Step 1 - figure out the melody by ear and know it cold

    Step 2 - compose a few (2 maybe 3) different ways of arranging and/or embellishing the melody and master them

    Step 3 - at this point I think you will be really surprised in the things that will just come out when you are improvising.

    Step 4 - from there if I am looking to alter the melody or take it further I think about chord tones and passing tones etc.

    So yeah this is just one way and there are others. I have found that I really enjoy this style as I've learned it a lot more than just playing out of a scale over the changes. It is an investment of time for sure and you really do have to know the tune and the melody inside and out. Try it out.



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  3. guitarjazz

    guitarjazz Member

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    The musicians that inspire me. I don't try to reinvent the wheel.
     
  4. JonR

    JonR Member

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    I'd agree, point for point, with ShawnH.

    Certainly "melody" and "chord tones" are the two main things to consider. You don't need to worry about key or scales if you know all your chords well enough.
    Problem with working from a key scale - assuming you can identify one - is that many songs move out of key, or change key, or use a few chromatic notes or chords here and there. Start from a basic scale, you'll always be having to amend it, alter notes or add notes, struggling to understand why it keeps changing. If you follow the chords, however, you can't go wrong. The chords (their tones and arpeggios) are your stepping stones through the song, and the melody shows you the prime path through. (You can still add or alter notes if you like, but you'll always be doing it creatively, relative to the chords.)
    Obviously this mean you MUST know all your chords, thoroughly! How to play any chord, anywhere on the neck. (Basic fretboard knowledge, really.)

    Beyond that, it's about knowing how to construct interesting melodic and rhythmic phrases. Rhythm being at least as important. Solos can be very simple, note-wise, if they're rhythmically interesting.

    Sometimes - like guitarjazz - I'll try and think like one of my heroes, but I don't do that often. What I will do is try and enter into the spirit of the genre. I'll play blues solos in a blues (duh!), country solos in a country song, jazz solos in a jazz tune (and hot jazz would be different from bebop or modal). Up to a point, anyway. I'm sure anyone listening would spot that all of them are in "my" style, regardless ;). And sometimes it's fun to play the "wrong" genre...
     
  5. Multicellular

    Multicellular Supporting Member

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    That is what I do. I learned some of these box approaches in lessons long ago, but I've never played with people that used normal keys or progressions enough for it to be useful. :p
     
  6. MGT

    MGT Member

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    A pentatonic scale is usually the framework (and fill in other notes) for me but I don't start with minor pent unless I am looking for a minor tonality. Most of all, though I think of the melody or a rhythm motif & go from there.
     
  7. splatt

    splatt david torn / splattercell Gold Supporting Member

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    OP:
    if you're seeking to break out, you certainly can't be harmed by studying harmony well (which includes-for which scales or note-sets might work for you with specific harmonies & specific harmonic movements), while simultaneously learning your instrument thoroughly in those very regards:
    really know your instrument, i mean..... if that's what you want.

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    for me:
    the framework is both me & the pre-existing music, if there is pre-existing music:
    what i can hear, what i can imagine & what i can play with intention, effectively.

    if the music is pre-existing, i should know enough about its idiom, style, feel & structure in order to suitably (or unsuitably, if that's my thing) say something within that pre-existing framework, while communicating with the other musicians in real-time.

    harmony, rhythm, melody --- expression, inflection & meaning;
    when i want more connectors for my improvisational capabilities, those are the regions of study & practise.

    the study of & focus-on those first 3 elements --- with the instrument in hand--- helps me evolve, instrumentally;
    the better i know my instruments (in the ways i choose to learn to know them), the more spontaneous & exploratory & revealing my improvisations might become..... with and without pre-existing musical forms or frameworks, and regardless of style.

    the study of & focus-on those last 3 elements is almost unspeakably important to me, regardless of the current state of my knowledge & skills.

    i find that it's often a good idea to work with a teacher who actually lives, musically, what we're looking for..... in real-time, in the same room, face to face & guitar to guitar & on a somewhat regular basis, for a while.
    they're around, and are very likely to live within our own locales; sometimes, we simply need to make an effort to look for them..... the same type of effort that seems to go into working to learn & absorb, afaict.
     
  8. ShawnH

    ShawnH Member

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    Really great post - start to finish. The last 3 elements are so elusive for me - at least being able to practice them with intention.

    Finding a teacher in the flesh is also proving to be really elusive. If there is one around, I can't seem to find him/her.


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  9. splatt

    splatt david torn / splattercell Gold Supporting Member

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    i'm very glad to see you may've got something from that, SH.

    but, don't you know people who can help you meet suitable teachers, presuming that you have a general direction for what you feel you must need to study?
    you're near pittsburgh, so.....
    cleveland is less than 3-hrs drive/bus, philly is about 4-hrs..... and, trains are often faster.

    if you can articulate what you're looking-for from a teacher, maybe ask folks like chrome dinette, here on the gear page?
    or, maybe jack zucker (of cleveland OH)?

    i had a few great teachers in my hometown, but i had to travel 6-7 hrs by car to get to my mentors' lessons in NYC.
    i'd have huge lessons, sometimes a couple/few hours long, other times longer with my most important teacher; then, i'd work for 3 or 4 months on the material before seeing him, again.

    etc.
     
  10. gennation

    gennation Member

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    There is lot going in music, the melody, the harmonic functions, the scales, the scales within the scale, the cadences, the root movements, the voice leading, etc...as well as what changes between all of these and the (non-scale) chromatic connections an approaches between them.

    And don't forget the rhythm in front of you, the style, and then your experience with rhythm as well as incorporating other styles into what you're playing. And be aware when you want to drive some straight up the hill in one style.

    Being familiar with more melodies, progressions, and styles can help with quotes you can do and lifting something as a musical "surprise" or making the listen hear something they can relate to.

    The length of the solo can be a big determiner for what you play.

    This list could go on forever so, just play and play and give yourself a chance to step out of the stuff you know and expand your confidence to do so.
     
  11. wire-n-wood

    wire-n-wood Member

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    Yeah, some fantastic stuff here. I find that following the chord progression while soloing is very hard to keep up with mentally. I can sort of do it if it's a slow progression with a long time on each chord, or if it's the predictable 12 bar, or two chord progression.

    What I'm working on right now is:
    Phrasing (rather that stream of notes)
    Repetition with variation
    Knowing where the I and IV notes are, and hitting them meaningfully within the chord progression.
    Using variations on the rhythmic and melodic motifs from the song.

    Splatt, when you say studying harmony, my mind boggles as to how a person could be thinking about that while improvising! I feel like my best approximation would be - if I know what chord the progression is on, then I know that the other notes of that chord will be harmonies for the melody. I feel like there are some musical geniuses around here capable of musical thinking that is beyond me. This stuff does challenge me, that's for sure.
     
  12. guitarjazz

    guitarjazz Member

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    Chord progressions are melodies. Strip it down to Fux.
     
  13. fenderlead

    fenderlead Member

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    My thinking is whatever seems to work I use.

    Playing around with the blues scale and introducing diminished stuff into it, mixing up chord tones and scales and mixing up modes, but that's just words and it's really in the "how", how some players can have ideas that work in a certain time and place, and music is a lot about the time and place where something might happen.

    I don't want to keep referring to EVH and he's not my great guitar hero or anything like that, but what sticks out about him is that he's got the time and place thing.

    The crap EVH is using in "Spanish Fly" is classic because it's just so basic but he's able to get stuff out of it.

    He's got a stock standard same frets triplets across the strings that is one of the things he uses and he uses it for the fast fusion like run at the end of Jump and the fast Flamenco bits in Spanish Fly just after the intro section and it's the same lick in both cases but he's extracting different things from it in both cases and there is a time and place to do things but those things are driven by being creative.

    Some players on any instrument can extract ideas from the blues scale that others wouldn't think of.

    EVH uses the blues scale and pentatonics but because of how he uses them they often sound less pentatonic than other players.

    Michael Brecker would have been using the blues scale and pentatonics in a different way again.

    I've got no answer for being creative or how to do something, and I don't think anyone else has, and creative people that have appeal gather a following if they put themselves out there and that's all I know.

    Followers hook onto the ideas and maybe also the images and he overall thing etc etc and they didn't think of those ideas and that's probably a big reason of why they like those ideas.

    Creative people with some appeal (a minority) are looking for ideas and doing the "how" it's all put together.

    I think Paul McCartney is a great songwriter and I would never have thought of those ideas that he did, and I'm a follower of Paul McCartney because of it.

    It's ok to analyse a Paul McCartney song and say that he's using this chord here and that chord there and then the melody is doing this or that but that's after the fact and it was only Paul McCartney putting certain things in certain times and places that created the thing in the first place, It's all in the "how it's done".

    Just take a player noodling on Youtube or in a guitar store, and it's mostly going to be just rambling unconnected nonsense with nothing standing out except for maybe some riffs and licks they have copied and that's the "how it's done" thing again because nothing much is being done and that's why it's called noodling.
     
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2015
  14. wilto

    wilto Member

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    I just basicaly follow the chromatic scale.
     
  15. JonR

    JonR Member

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    Exactly.
    I never read Fux myself, but I realised long ago that voice-leading is the key to it all. Chords as stages in interlocking melodies, 3 or 4 separate horizontal voices that just happen to follow the same rhythm (and don't even always do that, given suspensions and anticipations).
    Diatonic and chromatic changes alike work via voice-leading, and it's the secret to comping as well as a basis for improvisation. Scales be damned! :)

    (Of course, I'm talking old-fashioned functional harmony here, pre-60s jazz, and a lot of pop/rock. Modal harmony is a different beast altogether; chords really are separate vertical entities there, each with its own scale; voice-leading can occur, but is less fundamental.)
     
  16. Paul Bateman

    Paul Bateman Member

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    Playing to the chords can be made a lot easier if you learn your arpeggios like you did the pentatonic shapes. Arpeggios have a 5 piece CAGED system too so you can learn the minor 7 CAGED System, dominant 7 CAGED system and major 7 CAGED system.

    Once you get those down you just remember what shape is designated to each chord in the progression
     
  17. cubistguitar

    cubistguitar Member

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    if you don't do arps, i would def recommend that for a break in the pents

    you are just outlining the chords, but thats very good, the melody is in there too

    many good ways to learn these arps, i'm a Joe Elliott Intro to Improv man
     
  18. frdagaa

    frdagaa Supporting Member

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    My framework is always related to the underlying chord. IOW I visualize what I'm playing as "9th-1st- 9th-5th-#4" or whatever. Only possible after you know the fingerboard really well and many chord inversions.
     

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