The Top 5 Myths about Jazz Improvisation

Discussion in 'Playing and Technique' started by Lucidology, Jan 23, 2012.

  1. Lucidology

    Lucidology Member

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    http://jazzadvice.com/mythbusting-the-top-5-myths-about-jazz-improvisation/ :mob

    In no particular order, here are five myths we’re going to dispel for you right now:

    Myth #1 When it comes to improvising, you either got it or you don’t

    This is complete bullsh*t, yet I’ve heard countless people claim this fallacy. The ability to improvise is a skill, just like anything else you want to excel at. It takes focus, passion, and understanding of how to improve.
    Don’t buy into the idea that being great at improvising is a skill only permissible by a lucky and privileged few. The people that sound great put in years of focused practice every day, striving to improve. Sure, some people have more natural talent to begin with than others, but as one progresses, talent subsides and pure perspiration takes over. There’s no substitute for perseverance.

    Myth #2 You need to know 1000 tunes

    Check out a dozen recordings by the same performer and you’ll soon realize they have their favorite jazz standards that they’ve recorded time and time again. Miles Davis recorded many of the same standards over and over throughout his career, including: In Your Own Sweet Way, Tune Up, Bye Bye Blackbird, and Four.

    It’s better to be able to sound exquisite on 10 standards than to simply know and get through 100 tunes. What’s the point of “knowing” a bunch of tunes if you can’t sound how you want to sound on them? Aim to Know 10 tunes to the point where you would feel comfortable recording them and releasing them on your new album.

    One fear many people have on a gig is someone will call a tune they don’t know. Rather than carry a real book around (you threw away your real book, right?), jot down the tunes you know really well on a sheet of paper and have the group select from those. I’ve seen many professional players do this. They simply carry around a little sheet of paper with 20-30 tunes written on it and the rest of the group can then confidently select a tune they know.

    Myth #3 You need to transcribe 100 solos

    Over tacos and margaritas, I once asked an extremely famous tenor saxophonist how many solos he had transcribed. His reply: “Not that many. Around 30.” At the time I thought that wasn’t a lot, however, I now realize that transcribing 30 carefully selected solos in the thorough manner we commonly describe on this site (milking every detail in the solo: language, technique, sound, harmonic concepts etc…and learning them in all key & applying them to tunes) would elevate your ear, your jazz language, and your general musicianship to incredible heights.

    Transcribe one solo in this manner over the next 3 months and you’ll learn more from it than you have from all the books and lessons you’ve ever had. Not to say you can’t learn immense amounts of knowledge from books and teachers, but inherently, that knowledge will be provided to you through others’ interpretations.

    By doing your own homework, so to speak, you’ll create your own interpretation, contributing to your own style and voice. Let me share a little story with you from when I had just moved to Colorado to attend college.
    This encounter occurred 10 years ago, just after Joshua Redman played a show at the Gothic Theater in Denver. He stood on the stage answering any questions people had. Of course, some asked what kind of mouthpiece he used, and others wanted to know where he was from. I asked him what advice he would give to young people like myself who wished to improve. He said, “All your answers are on the records.” He was right.

    Myth #4 Great improvisers create everything in the moment

    Listento Coltrane’s group play Blue Train in the video below. (go to link above) Then listen to the alternate take below that. Notice how much of each soloist’s vocabulary carries over between the two versions? Sometimes whole choruses are practically identical! A very obvious example in these two versions is Lee Morgan’s second chorus in the first version, compared to his first chorus in the alternate take. Notice anything? He uses the same idea.
    If they were truly creating everything in the moment, then wouldn’t you think a lot less would carry over between the two versions? The truth is, they have a solid understanding of what they’re going to draw from before they play.
    Sure, they don’t know the precise way things will come out or in what order, but they do have lots of ideas and concepts they’ve worked out over the chord changes that they can use as springboards for creativity at any moment.

    Improvisation is not creating something from nothing. As John Scofield says in this masterclass: “Improvisation is sped up composition and putting together things you already know in an artistic way.”-John Scofield

    Myth #5 You have to practice 14 hours a day

    Everybody’s heard the myths of Bird practicing 14 hours a day, but who knows what’s really true. Don’t base your practice time amounts upon some lore about a man you truly don’t know much about.

    It’s not how much time you put in, but what you do during that time. There were periods when I religiously spent 4 to 6 hours practicing everyday, but did not improve much because I focused my efforts on the wrong things. I learned tunes out of real books. I played aimlessly with play-along records. I made every mistake, including these 6 disastrous mistakes you’re probably still making.

    These mistakes took me further in the wrong direction than if I had done nothing. It’s similar to golf. If you learn correct techniques right off the bat, then you can become decent in a few years and fairly respectable in another few after that. However, if you acquire any bad habits, you’ll be held back eternally because of them, or you’ll spend years attempting to correct them.
    Start off right. Learn from the records. Use and develop your ear.

    In terms of time, it’s better to play every single day for an hour, than one or two times a week for many hours. Set a daily minimum. It could be 30 minutes, or it could be 4 hours. Maybe it gradually increases as you feel more connected to your instrument and the music. Meet your daily minimum it everyday. When you’re feeling productive and excited, practice more than your daily minimum. When you’re struggling to even get your horn out, meet your daily minimum and then go do something athletic to get your mind re-focused.

    Jazz Myths and Lore

    Jazz is surrounded by myth and lore. Jazz legends are not Gods. Coltrane, Bird, Monk…they’re just people. And improvisation is not magic, it’s a skill. A skill acquired through dedication, passion, and perseverance. Enjoy the ride.
     
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2012
  2. YOGA64

    YOGA64 Member

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    Thanks, :agree, absolutely!!!
     
  3. markbosko

    markbosko Member

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    I like the jazz advice website. Lot's of great articles.
     
  4. Jon C

    Jon C Silver Supporting Member

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    great stuff, thanks!
     
  5. Sensible Musician

    Sensible Musician Member

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    Jazz is a put-on-formal-clothes, sit-and-listen music [or any music is, for that matter], rather than an earthy, down-and-dirty, street music for people who want to move.

    First you learn scales and patterns, then you do something with them.

    You need to focus on instrumental technique.

    Gear matters.

    Ear training is that thing where you name intervals.

    You need to play Giant Steps.

    Giants Steps is a good tune.

    Reading from a fake book is a good way to learn a tune.

    The players anointed by John Hammond, Downbeat Magazine, and other elite non-musicians are the best.

    ______________________________

    I'm not worried about all the BS in music. Nowadays bad ideas have to compete with good ones on a much more level playing field, and lots of "common knowledge" is finally getting swept into the trash where it belongs.
     
  6. lhallam

    lhallam Member

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    Good point about playing the same lines on an improvisation.

    This works for rock as well.

    I had this "discussion" with a TGP member before. A lot of guys have a blue print of a solo. Garcia often played the melody of the tune as part of his solo. Monk insisted that a solo should be based off the melody much like a classical composer writing theme and variations.

    I've heard Allman Brothers do this as well.
     
  7. dlguitar64

    dlguitar64 Member

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  8. gomez1856

    gomez1856 Member

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  9. sixesandsevens

    sixesandsevens Member

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    These are additions to the "myths" list, right? :)

    I think the math-club analogy comes from the idea that jazz is a realm for folks who've gotten bored with what's "good enough" (or intricate enough) for the masses.

    Thanks Lucidology for the original post. Great stuff and plenty of mis-steps I've made myself. :)
     
  10. Aaron Mayo

    Aaron Mayo Member

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    Werd! I discovered #4 when I listened to Hank Mobley play alternate takes of Moanin' with Art Blakey. It was amazing how similar the takes were, even though there were different ideas. Thanks for this.
     
  11. dhdfoster

    dhdfoster Silver Supporting Member

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  12. guitarjazz

    guitarjazz Member

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    The industry could use someone with Hammond's taste.
     
  13. Ethn Hayabusa

    Ethn Hayabusa Member

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    Giant Steps IS a good tune. No myth there.
     
  14. GovernorSilver

    GovernorSilver Member

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    That's not the myth. It's the other statement. :p
     
  15. Elektrik_SIxx

    Elektrik_SIxx Member

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    It's only after 25 years of struggling that I'm starting to get rid of Myth #4.
     
  16. guitarjazz

    guitarjazz Member

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    Chick Corea wrote a column called "The Myth of Improvisation" specifically about #4 in Keyboard Magazine.
     
  17. Ethn Hayabusa

    Ethn Hayabusa Member

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    I agree that it's a myth that you have to learn it. I personally enjoy working on Giant Steps and Countdown, but it's not required.
     
  18. JonR

    JonR Member

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    Matter of opinion. IMO, it's not a great example of a "good tune", even if one likes it as a piece of music (and I don't).
    If one wanted to list some examples of "great melodies" I suspect few people (even jazz musicians) would put Giant Steps high in the list.

    It does have melodic content, of course, but I regard it as an exercise in interesting modulation, in which the melodic phrasing is there to serve the changes, rather than vice versa.

    The "myth" element of Giant Steps is that it's regarded as a central challenge for jazz musicians, something one needs to master if one is to call oneself a "jazz musician". It's just a little game Coltrane invented, for his own purposes. Certainly a challenge for any improviser, but not a great example of anything much, IMO.
    It's like the ultimate assault course for trainee improvisers. But music (even jazz) is not an assault course, and it is a common attitude among jazz students that a solo is like an assault course, something to "get through unscathed". As if "success" means "making no mistakes".

    Giant Steps is to jazz what shredding is to rock music.

    Just my $0.02, naturally. ;)
     
  19. clothwiring

    clothwiring Supporting Member

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    I love Giant Steps as well as any other, who made Giant Steps come around for me was Pat Metheny. Example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1nSXTMCZ3ac

    For me it's bringing it to a tempo that "normal" people can hear as well as giving it some breathing space. Beautiful.
     
  20. GovernorSilver

    GovernorSilver Member

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    Nice rendition by Pat.

    I prefer his own tune "Lakes" to "Giant Steps", because he incorporates the Giant Steps changes into the tune while bookending them with a nice melody. Here's a vid by a drummer obsessed with the tune - you can hear the original track underneath his drumming:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1DXi9nK28P0
     

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