"If there's no plan,

that's once less thing to go wrong."


~ wiki ~ Joe Redington Sr. ~

In a nutshell. If you're a blues and jazz leaning artist, then historically you improvise too, as part of the skills you bring to the band. For jazz artists it's unofficial but expected too. To 'jazz something up' is a gift, a real skill that applies to all the trades in all the arts.

And same goes nowadays for bluegrass artists, and the rockers too, depending. Pop and folk ? Not too much improvising in the traditional Americana ways whereby improvised music is an integral feature of a style. Listeners leaning in to for what comes next :)

The age old way to begin. For some reading here, getting started with improvising might be a bit of a challenge but all journeys must start with a first step, so here's a way to begin yours. By using the same notes for building up our melody and chords in a song, we know these pitches will work nice creating improvised lines.

In our theories, we can term this sharing of the same pitches for our melody and chords as 'diatonic.' 'Dia is through' and 'tonic is tones'. So, 'through the tones.' Of a scale? Yep, and from the scale pitches we create our lines. And as we'll see throughout, understanding 'the diatonic' becomes the structure of the art.

Clear pathways. Need a way into this? Well, we all did at one point :) Ready to begin? Cool. Please get these four bars under your fingers. Thinking in 'C.' Example 1.

Know the lick ? "Shortnin" goes way way back, learn it here if need be. So got the pitches under your fingers? Cool. Find these next few improvs by ear on the "Shortnin" lick. Example 1a.

Worked out ideas. We call these 'worked out' licks. We decided what to play. We figured how to do it. Rote learned the whole tamale. And might play these fancy 'worked out ideas' when we get a chance wherever.

Building from this basis we transcribe, can learn solos note for note either by ear, voicing the lines, or getting the pitches and rhythms under the fingers. It's usually a combination of ways into developing your own vocabulary for improvisation.

Know the lick ? "Shortnin" goes waaay back. So got the pitches? Cool. Find these next few improvs on the lick.

We call these 'worked out' licks. We decided what to play. We figured how to do it. Rote learned the whole tamale. And will play these worked out ideas when we get a chance to solo wherever.

Building from this basis we transcribe, can learn solos note for note either by ear, voicing the lines, or getting the pitches and rhythms under the fingers. It's usually a combination of ways into developing your own vocabulary for improvisation.

Theme and variations. Learn a song's melody, then just riff on it's magic, its pitches and rhythms. The easy trick here is to rote learn the melody by heart, singing along. Then just find those pitches and rhythms on your instrument of choice.

Call and response. Perhaps the original format. A two sided conversation of listening to and responding back.

Learn from the masters / transcribing. There's an endless supply of this when advancing cats begin to transcribe ideas off of recordings. Termed 'lifting', it's the age old way artists of any discipline really, music, dance painting, poetry, architecture, medicine, mathematics, culinary, learn from the masters of the generations.

12 bar blues and chord substitution. The 12 bar blues and Americana song go a long ways back together. So there's a lot of songs to choose from to learn. Explore. For improv, jazz leaning blues artists like to 'jazzup' the 'three chords and the truth' core of the matter. And in doing so, create a whole new pathway to explore whose form is as familiar to us as the back of our hands.

Over the changes and form of the song. So most any tune we love will have melodies, chords and a form. When we solo 'over the changes' we simply use the parent scale pitches of the melodies to create our ideas over the chords as they journey through the form of the song.

Through the changes and form of the song. Near the same as soloing over the changes, using diatonic pitches but now forming them into arpeggios, which outline or 'spell' the pitches of each chord in a song's chord progression, through its entire form.

Combine 'over' and 'through' the changes. Probably the most common approach once both are familiar, through understanding the theories of the pitches, their evolutions from scale to arpeggio to chord, and form.

~ stgc / super theory game changers ~

The perfection of having all good pitches. Total coolness awaits all improvisors by having an awareness of these five note, pentatonic group of pitches, a 'scale', that form a closed loop, whereby all its pitches sound real good as we improvise our way through our music, and all of our styles included. And while there's a few stars that must align for this 'all good' coolness to constellate, creating improvisation with pentatonic colors has historically been the gist of it, works like a charm.

The diatonic magics of seven pitches. In the relative major / minor scale, with it's seven unique pitches, we can create both melodies and chords to support them. The five note pentatonic groups are included within the seven, we just add two pitches. These added two pitches truly energize the harmony, both in a supportive role for melody its own to bring the thunder. And because they all use the same pitches, they all sound great together in many combinations, so no wonder that they have been used to compose a cool gillion or so songs :)

In our theories, we term this sharing of the same pitches for our melody and chords as 'diatonic.'

'Dia' is 'through' and 'tonic' is 'tones.'

So, 'through the tones', of our chosen key center, usually the key a song is written in. And as we'll see throughout, understanding the musical environments that the diatonic realm creates is a key component to understanding the structure of the musical arts in general, and also a foundational rock to build up our improvisatory skills.

We call this 'thinking diatonically.' So in all of our Americana styles of music, one basis of our improv is about simply making up new melodies from the same exact pitches we use to build up a song's written, original melody and its supporting chords. So using the same pitches for both ensures our musical safety and well being throughout the improvisational process :)

We call this 'thinking diatonically.'

Thus thinking diatonically, we start with one pitch, then add a second then a third, for each of the chords. One by one we add in our pitches, and knowing which ones to add in relation to the supportive chords becomes our evolving understanding of the improv process in making music. For there's a method to madness of course, we simply think from the root of each chord.

One pitch at a time. Following an 'additive numerical basis' for understanding our musics, we can start with one note for each chord. Start with the root pitch? Sure, we're usually thinking from the root pitch anyway. So in this next idea, we 'improvise' using the roots of the One / Four and Five chords in our somewhat abbreviated Americana song. Do these four bars a couple of times and try different rhythms too. Thinking in 'C' major. Ex. 1.

scale degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
C major pitches
C
.
.
F
G
.
.
C

Root to root is often the best start, then we can hear both the chord changes in our improvised melodic lines and learn a song's bass line story.

Jazz the thing up a bit ... ? In this next idea we jazz up our chords by adding in the minor triads, combining to create the 'diatonic 3 and 3.' We then jazz up our melody by adding in their root pitches into our improvised melody. So we're just connecting the root pitches of chords to create an improvised line, a solid first step for musical improvising and hearing the chord changes in the melody line. Is this an original guide tone line? An original bass line story ? Probably. Example 1a.

Once we choose a key center, we get a set formula that creates a select group of pitches that can be strung along in any fashion to create a melody or stack them one atop another and sound them together to make chords for the key center. Their sequencing is a backbone of our song, of our own unique creativity and expressiveness, and the melody our improvisations ? Expressing the emotional character and statement the song in pitches.

Quick review. We can start here by playing one note, soon two, then three and more, over each chord we are presented with. Sound the pitches in any old way really, repeating the phrase a few times and focusing in on our process. And as we sound a pitch in musical time and context, our now excited imaginations will eventually add in another note or two, might begin to vary the rhythms too. As our imagination kicks on in, and we connect it up with what our hands are sounding out, we're improvising :) For we've got ourselves in the groove and our imagination is suggesting pitches that flow forward in the moment as time passes by.

As you hear these added pitches and ways to nuance them, just find them on your ax, figuring out how to sound them out. Just be patient, open and listen to what is being given from within your being. Starting with one pitch, remember that we've only 12 total. Let your imagination, curiosity, and eventual boredom and mistakes help find the rest.

If you end up needing all 12 pitches, your probably a jazz leaning player. Use up to seven or eight with a few bends? That covers most of our other styles. Our own imagination is an amazing thing and eventually loves to do this all on its own, we just need to nourish it, give it a foundation, give it some room, then listen closely to the art in our hearts to be brought forth :)

And back to one pitch. One more idea here before moving along. Here we simply state the tonic pitch over all of the chords and evolve a steady rhythm lick. Sing along and in the simplicity of the line, 'hear' where you want the line wants to go, and Muse will suggest. In 'C' major, thinking in a 'stately' manner. Example 1b.

Hear anything? Keep trying and a pitch will come, then another then a flow of the pitches. Once the 'link' is made you'll have it forevermore and be improvising your way on down the road. Advanced jazz artists use a similar technique often; half timing a line to allow a new idea to bubble up. And surely some 'hit' songs have been written in just the same way as this last idea, one note.

wiki ~ One Note Samba

And one more for the pickers. Use a flat pick in your playing? Here's a Phrygian flavored one note pattern to feed the pick a bit. Look at all the black dots wow :) And over a clear clear clear bass line story. Example 1c.

"Imagination is more important than intellect."
wiki ~ Albert Einstein

The two pitches. To begin our two pitch improvisations, we build by adding in the 'relative' note of each of our chord's root pitches. This second pitch makes for the now ancient pairing, the 'relatives' Yin and Yang balance. Numerically the pitches are the roots One and Six in a major key and One and Three in minor. And these are the tonic pitches of our paired 'relative' key centers? Yep, they sure are. Examine the same letter named pitches that we use to create the relative major / minor pairing for 'C major and A minor.' Example 2.

scale degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
C major pitches
C
D
E
F
G
A
B
C
A minor pitches
A
B
C
D
E
F
G
A
C major pitches
C
.
.
.
.
A
.
C
A minor pitches
A
.
C
.
.
.
.
A

How this works. So let's say your song has just one chord such as a 'C' major chord. Simply sound these two pitches over the chord, any old phrasing way that suits your fancy. Example 2a.

Sounds fine so far yes? We slipped in a new pitch right at the end. Did you hear it coming? Does it sound OK to you? As the line repeats, do any new additional pitches come forth from your imagination? Most times we end up wanting to simply fill in the spaces between the pitches in a scale wise manner. Very cool and common.

Add in a chord. A 'relative' pitch probably wants to have its own chord too yes? Here we balance the major and minor colors together. Example 2b.

Motion to Four. In this next idea we go 'gospel' a bit with the major chords, with a back and forth motion between the One and Four chords. Adding in the root pitch of Four and its relative pitch to our melody line. Examine their letter name pitches and resulting sounds over the One and Four major chords. Example 2c.

scale degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
major scale pitches
C
.
.
F
.
.
.
.
minor scale pitches
A
.
.
D
.
.
.
.

Motion to Four in minor. As above but now in minor, One to Four in our relative minor key, same pitches, different emotional environment. Thinking 'A' minor. Example 2d.

The last idea is the basic magic trick that begins a journey of so much improv theory; swap relative major for minor and vice versa, minor for major.

One / Four / Five in minor. Staying with the minor colors here, now adding in a diatonic Five chord to the progression. We add in Five's root pitch and relative to our melody and jazz it up a bit with 1/8th notes too ! Examine the letter name pitches and their sounds. Example 2e.

scale degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
major scale pitches
C
.
.
F
G
.
.
.
minor scale pitches
A
.
.
D
E
.
.
.

One / Four / Five in major. Same strategy here but back into the major tonality. Example 2f.

scale degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
major scale pitches
C
.
.
F
G
.
.
.
minor scale pitches
A
.
.
D
E
.
.
.

Cool ? One / Four and Five ? Three chords and the truth with some 'jazz it up ?'

With any major chords. So let's say your song has a lot of different major chords, in whatever ordering is necessary to tell your tale. Finding the chords, their root and relative pitches will always give us a couple of pitches to work with to spin up a melody line. Ex. 2g.

With any minor chords. What's good for the major is good for the minor! And vice versa of course :) Ex. 2h.

Both of these last two ideas are a bit of a mashup surely but none the less, arrived back to our starting point. Two different permutations of the two pitches, so more about focus than art probably but totally inside too, and that's a good place to start, generally :)

Find the third of each triad. This last idea in this thread finds us hunting for the 3rd of each triad to create a guide tone line. As the 3rd of each triad / chord determines its major / minor quality, we've got to be on the right note or we're gonna sound off. Here's the diatonic '3 and 3' in 'C', with all the wrong 3rd's. Example 3.

Ouch ! Now corrected. Here's the diatonic '3 and 3' in 'C', with all the correct 3rd's. Example 3.

Wow. Yep, getting into the correct 3rd of the triad sure has a way of setting things just right :)

Review. So have a basis for coming up with a couple of pitches for any chord you come across? Cool. There's all sorts of ways into this improv biz and this 'one pitch at a time' works like a charm. Other improv topics ...?

"These books, and your capacity to understand them, are just the same in all places. Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed, is more important than any other one thing."

wiki ~ Abraham Lincoln

References. References for this page's information comes from school, books and the bandstand and made way easier by the folks along the way.

References academia Alaska. And when you need university level answers to your questions and musings, and especially if you are considering a career in music and looking to continue your formal studies, begin to e-reach out to the Alaska University Music Campus communities and begin a dialogue with some of Alaska's own and finest resident maestros !