~ golden rules of improvisation ~

~ jazz mantras ~ musican fines ~

'... performance and bandstand edicate ...'

In a nutshell. The interval of a perfect fourth is said to be 'perfect' in that its musical sound has a degree of aural purity not found in our other intervals. This aural perfection of sound is the core basis and foundation of our entire system of music theory. We trace this aural purity / theory foundation all the way back to antiquity, for its simple ratio of numbers and relationship to the natural overtone series have long long been with us.

golden rules of improvisation / jazz mantras

Well, oftentimes musical rules are made to be stretched yes? And with "tongue in cheek" implied, lest we lose sight of the art because of rules? Even golden ones ... ? Either way, each of the styles of American music has it's rules, some written, some not. They create in one sense the vocabulary of sounds, which are internalized, developed and preserved by the composers and players, who in their creative ideas bring forth these rules thus a style of music. Cool?

The following ideas are simply a few of the guidelines used in creating our various American styles that have come to be common practice among the players. Mixing in some general ideas about creating improvised musical dialogue. i.e., performance, hopefully the following ideas will be of some benefit. The "mantra" part of the title is concerned with ways of approaching the resources from the perspective of the emerging jazz artist, who stylistically by far and away has the longest row to hoe so to speak in learning the jazz language, and usually receives in exchange for their efforts the broadest sense of perspective of our musical resources.

So with this in mind, here are a few "golden" rules.

When all else fails, play the melody. When we run out of ideas when soloing, our artistic interpretation of the melody will always work. Always? Well, some advanced players might view this as being overly simplistic, but they probably got to where they are by using this idea at some point in their development. For the majority of us, especially emerging soloists, it's nice to have something solid to fall back on when "the well" goes dry, and the melody of the tune we are playing is usually a sure bet.

That one idea per chorus just might be enough ... This simple idea can be applied to nearly all the styles. It's probably not an idea for the burnin 8 bar players, the players that get 8 bars between the vocals, or split 16 with the fiddle player. Oftentimes these players just try to jam in all the coolness they to keep the thing a crankin etc. For those that play "standards" and get plenty of blowing time, this one idea per chorus goes along way, especially if your on a longer gig, say 4 / 45 minutes shows. Making the most of each of our ideas often creates a nice interactive format for players and listeners alike. And the dancers ...? Don't worry, they're just too busy havin fun! As Duke Ellington had been known to remark ... "if it feels good ... it is good." One idea per chorus/sequence.

When creating sequences and permutations of an idea, phrase the idea three times then perhaps look to evolve the idea into something different. This idea of repeating an idea three times has been around for a while, we hear it in all of the American styles and from the Euro cats as well. With so much cool music in four and eight bar phrases, the song form A / A / B / A, the common practice among players of repeating the last line of a song three times to take it out etc., no wonder eh? Three's a charm right? Exceptions? Always, this is American music. One important exception is when climaxing a solo, often times the repetition of one idea gets the energy level up over the top so to speak. Keeping things simple at this crucial point in the ride makes it easier for the other members of the group to join in the fun and energy. Once there, cycling a rhythm 3 times and then evolving to a new rhythmic pattern with the same pitches ( or not ) can make things go way kaboom. Try it, the trick is getting the group to that point I guess.

Strive to always get underneath a soloist in the mix when playing a supporting role in the group. Is there anything more distracting when presenting ideas than to be interrupted? Well, probably. Anyway, the simple idea here is to try and stay supportive to what the soloist is doing. The "underneath" part is mostly in terms of volume, although other factors are of course involved. Hear a bit of whole tone color in the line? Perhaps slip in an appropriate colortone to enhance the phrase etc. When playing with a group of varying abilities, the tendency might be to overblow an emerging talent, especially in live performance situations. Strive to be compassionate and follow this basic rule, for all of us at whatever level of ability have something important to say. The idea is to simply help folks say it. Leaving the rest of whatever to be dealt with off the bandstand. So, perhaps the real golden rule of "do unto others ..." is the idea here. For folks who can follow these ideas, there is a ton of satisfying work out there, for even some of the best of the best were sidemen at some point in their careers.

Anything from anywhere. Perhaps the long term goal for the jazz artist. Any melodic idea, any chord color, from any of the pitches of the chromatic scale. Perhaps it's more like, "everything from everywhere?" To simply attempt to exhaust our musical resources? A way tall order? Totally. For some of us it's a lifetime of devoted study. Perhaps among the coolest thing an artist can find eh? A lifetime of devoted study.

Accurately arpeggiating the changes clearly outlines the harmony. So, am I being master of the obvious again? Oh well, just that in this case running arpeggios is a "go to" thing when the " improv well" starts to run dry. The Bebop cats where masters of this. In the Charlie Parker "Omnibook", we find Bird's lines chock full of arpeggios, which Mr. Parker used as a "launching pad" to get into the upper parts of the chords, releasing the degree, weight and direction of tonal gravity. Once free of the gravity, the improvisational hang time increases exponentially. So, if your heading towards anywhere near Bopville, learn those arpeggios.

If possible, practice with a metronome. In the scheme of things, it's all really about time anyway right?

Play just the roots of the chords in exploring a new song. This can give a startlingly clear picture as to the emotional character of the composition. Hearing the bass lines somehow "reveals" the heart and soul of the piece. Try it. I first heard this idea from jazz legend Clark Terry.

Sing the line, play the line. Perhaps the single most important aspect of internalizing the vocabulary and projecting one's ideas.

Teach it. As we as players develop over the years, so many times do we come into contact with players of different abilities than our own. These meetings become opportunities for growth and enrichment in the sharing of ideas. For one of the ways in which a person may solidly internalize a concept is when trying to explain these ideas to another artist. So, although not a golden rule of improvisation, the idea here is perhaps more of a golden rule of learning. That if we really want to learn something, a good way to internalize our own knowledge is to try and teach it to another. And lest we ever forget all of the times when older, more experienced folks helped us along on our way ...

If you come up with an idea you like, run it through the other 11 keys.

If you come up with an idea you really like, try to write it into a song.

Cool so far?

musician fines

If there are the proverbial "golden rules" are there also one's made of lead? But of course, we have it all here yes? The following "leaden rules" came over the "wire" a few years ago from Paul Asbell, a rather advanced jazz / blues cat from the east coast. So, are they more rumor than rules? Could be, I just include them here for the fun of it. For those of you that go on to become the pro players, there just might be some truth in a few of the "leaden rules."

Subject: Musician Fines

NAME OF OFFENDER - __________________________

INFRACTION DATE - ___________



Playing loudly during warm up $10

Sound-checking amp with Funk slapping $25

Loud cursing after mistake $10

Playing high and fast after mistake $20

Practicing 2-handed tapping between tunes $20

Asking for "E" tuning note $25

Playing E anyway when horns tune to Bb $50

Playing written-out walking line $50

Failure to play written walking line $75

Writing note names over ledger-line notes $50

Writing beat numbers under dotted figures $50

Playing eighth notes $5 each

Playing sixteenth notes $10 each

Playing above 1st octave immediate dismissal

Dragging fast tempo $75

Dragging ballad tempo $100

Blacking out during ballad $200

Ignoring drummer's tempo $100

Following drummer's tempo $250

Asking to borrow Real Book for All Of Me $1000


Showing up just before first downbeat $25

Playing audibly $25

Faking changes $25

Slapping $150

Missing tutti lick, then mentioning vintage of bass $25

Excessive sweating $25

Pedal point double-stops during horn solo $50

Asking leader for a solo $30

Accepting solo when offered $50

Taking second chorus $100

Playing solo arco $400

Pretending to check tuning after playing out of tune $100

Playing "A Train" ending on every tune $200

Playing extended "A Train" ending on every tune $500


Checking hair between tunes $15

Experimenting with odd meters $25

Missing root at end of blistering fill $25

Playing with a pick $50

Tuning during ballad $30

Playing Jaco groove on samba $75

Playing Jaco samba groove on ballad $150

Attempting last word on final chord $50

Achieving last word on final chord $100

Long gliss down to final note $200


Forgetting strap $10

Changing strings after every set $15

Using electric tuner $15

Setting up mic "just in case" $75

Forgetting to turn amp on $40

Bringing amp larger than 1 person can carry in 1 trip $50

Asking horn player for help moving amp $25

Bringing custom-made bass $100 per string above 4

Bringing more than 1 bass $100 per extra bass

Skull decals on bass $150

Bringing fretless bass $500


Telling bone player about all the gigs you get $10

Asking bone player about their day gig $10

Sitting behind drums on break $10

Quoting "Birdland" $25

Practicing scales during break $25

Practicing scales during drum solo $50

Practicing $150

Beginning a sentence with "When I was a guitar player..." $50

Casually mentioning to Musical Director of cheap theater that you are "into sequencing" $100


Wearing old Buddy Rich tour shirt $10

Wearing new Whitesnake tour shirt $20

Asking when the rock set starts $20

Continually asking "where are we?" $25

Continually shouting "Yeah!" $25

Asking bone player where "1" is $50

Taking cellphone call during 4's $100

Female Singer Infractions

Doesn't know keys to songs, $10

Doesn't know when to come in, $15

Leaves stage when not singing lead vocal, $20

Late for gig, $30

Walks off stage to use cellphone on gig, $15

Uses cellphone on stage during gig, $30

Modulates without informing band, $20

Lays mic down on stage and walks off stage, $15

Lays mic down facing kick drum, $20

Lays mic down facing guitar amp, $25

Lays mic down facing monitor, $50

Points mic towards monitor causing feedback during song, $75

Doesn't have set list, $10

Doesn't have keys on set list, $15

Doesn't have original songs charted, $20

Takes up to over one hour getting EQ setting on monitors, still not happy, $75

Wants to sing Crazy by Patsy Cline more than once a night, $100

Gets off key singing acapella, $25

Argues with band members onstage, $150

Argues offstage with boyfriend musician, $175

Argues onstage with boyfriend musician, $200

Drops mic, $10

Can't figure out how to connect cable to mic, $15

Holds guitar but doesn't play, $15

Plays guitar but plays wrong chords, not plugged in, $25

Plays guitar, wrong chords, plugged in, $250

Stands onstage but doesn't sing harmonies, $30

Sings bad harmonies, $35

Sings harmonies already contributed by band member in song, $40

Plays tambourine, $10

Plays tambourine out of time, $50

Straight-arms mic when singing, $15

Sings too softly, $5

Forgets original singer of song, $10

Dances great, but sings off key and out of time, $30

Makes up 4th verse to 3 verse song, $100

Gripes at band onstage, $20

Gripes at band onstage over mic, $75

Uses fictitious last name, $50

Stops song halfway through and starts over, $25

Continues singing in old key after song modulates, $30

Forgets words, $20

Sings verses out of order in song, $15

Forgets to sing bridge, $25

Holds words to song while singing onstage, $20

Doesn't know how to adjust mic stand, $15

Looks at pager while singing song, $15

Sings consistently flat, $25

Sings consistently sharp, $25

Plays bad harmonica solo during song, $50

Just plain ol' can NOT sing, buys band a round of sodas

Thousand dollar outfit, ten dollars worth of singing lessons, $60

Leaves lipstick all over mic, $100

Telling jokes over mic, $5

Telling BAD jokes over mic, $50

Telling bad joke and then laughing hysterically about it over mic, $500

Stepping foot on Karaoke stage, $20

Singing on Karaoke stage, $50

Singing "Stand By Your Man" in the key of A, $30

Thinking that "Poor Pitiful Me" is a new Terri Clark song, rather than an old Warren Zevon song, $50

Thinking that "I Will Always Love You" is a new Whitney Houston song, rather than an old Dolly Parton song, $100

Dolly who? $50

Patsy who? $100

Dumps management, band etc. after making the big time, $10,000

And on and on and on ... If anyone out there legally owns this material, please write to me, prove what cha need to prove and if need be I will make them go away. Very easy.

Where to next?
review new ideas

I have generally found that a person who is good at excuses, is usually good at nothing else.

Benjamin Franklin