.

~ improv start ~

~ making it up as we go along ...

... and developing the idea just played ~

C major ~ pentatonic
over the changes I IV V
through the changes i iv v
diatonic 3 and 3

~

In a nutshell. 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 as we'll see throughout, understanding 'the diatonic' becomes the structure of the art.

Some basics? Looking at improv historically, we quickly come up with a couple of basic ways we've all done this all along, surely for the last couple of hundred years.

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.

'A' minor pentatonic. This group of pitches and letters gets us a start point. .

'C' major pentatonic. This group of pitches and letters gets us a start point. .

Over the changes / I IV V. This group of pitches and letters gets us a start point. .

Through the changes / I IV V. This group of pitches and letters gets us a start point. .

 

 

 

Same five pitches a couple of ways.

Watch how this evolves ... 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, we know our pitches will work, using them in making our art is the magic we seek.

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.' And as we'll see throughout, understanding the musical environment that the diatonic realm creates is a key component to understanding the structure of the art.

The perfection of having all good pitches. Total coolness awaits all improvisors by having an awareness of a 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 while there's a few stars that must align for this 'all good' coolness to constellate, creating this might be even easier to understand than the pitches themselves.

For if we can match up the same pentatonic scale with a triad, both major and minor

,

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.' And as we'll see throughout, understanding the musical environment that the diatonic realm creates is a key component to understanding the structure of the art.

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 the chords. That these are the same chords that support the original melody of the song we are improvising on ensures our safety, well being throughout the 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.

First we think from the root pitch of each chord. So our first melody strings the roots in succession, mirroring our bass line melody. Then we pair up the two main 'relative' tonic pitches, One and Six, of each chord expanding our range. Adding another to have three pitches, we then begin defining the major or minor aspects of each chord by finding the '3rd' of each chord in our lines.

 

One pitch at a time. In following our core 'additive numerical basis' for understanding our musics, we can start with one note for each chord. Which note? Well there's only 12 in total, yet some sound better than others. 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 very abbreviated Americana song. Thinking in 'C' major. Example 1.

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

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 a first step for musical improvising and hearing the chord changes in the melody line. Is this the original guide tone line? Original bass line? 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 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, 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. In 'C' major thinking in a 'stately' manner. Example 1b.

Hear anything? Keep trying 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 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 pitch. This second pitch makes for the now ancient pairing, the 'relatives' Yin and Yang. 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 your 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.

Add in a chord. A 'relative' pitch probably wants to have its own can 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. 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.

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
.
.
.

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 chord 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.

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 :)

"Scarborough Fair." Thinking "Scarborough Fair", we have a form that replicates our most common improv journey. Just like most any other, we start our journeys to wherever from the stability of our home, so One. We go off to somewhere and do something, to Five. When we're done, we look to then find the stability and rest of home, so we use the pull of the tonal gravity of it all to get back to One.

So here's the basic melodic shape of "SF" in a sort of quick shorthand, in A minor. One to Five, then Five to One. Example 5.

 

 

n blowing over this tune, chnages and form, simply shape your lines by discovering ways to go between these to endpoits; One and Five. Example 5a.

Improv. In blowing over this tune, chnages and form, simply shape your lines by discovering ways to go between these to endpoits; One and Five. Example 5a.

 
 
 
 

 

Master this. This phrasing is everywhere really. Works near everytime and everywhere. Here's the same idea but in the major tonality. Example 5b.
 
 
 

"Scarborough Fair." Thinking "Scarborough Fair", lock in this next idea as best you can, depending on your own present understanding of your improv and skill set. For this one improv fundamental might very well never stop evolving through your career. As the basis of the more classical leaning sonata allegro form, it's own evolution goes way weay back. So learn this basic here if need be.

For as a true core basis of both form and function, yet pure art too thanks to our own creative, we've two 8 bar phrases to shape. The first starts on One and ends up on Five. The second starts on Five and heads home to One. "Easy peasy" as the ladies once said :) Example 5.

.

"Scarborough Fair"
One
Five
shaping phrases
~ stgc / first motor skill ~

Start / improv / time. This is one of those 'master this lick ~ get help if needed to master', 'learn it here if need be' total game changer for those serious about their music. Goes like this. We're making the 'boom chuck ~ boom chick' riff with an instrument and our foot. In 4/4 time, strum on one, tap foot on 2, strum on three, tap foot on four. Repeat. Example 6.

count into 2 and 4
12 bar blues
sing lines

 

First evolution. Same basic idea but make a 12 bar blues form. Example 6a.

 
 

 

Second evolution. Same basic idea but make a 12 bar blues form. Example 6a.

 
 

 

Third evolution. Same basic idea but make a 12 bar blues form. Example 6a.

 
 

 

 

Originated and passed along here by jazz hard bop guitarist and composer Emily Remeler, bless her soul, we use the along by Emily Remler ster' total game changes for those serious about their music. We need the extra 'serious' here as the task just might take months to master. Goes like this. Count yourself into time, a 2 and 4 being kept by tapping your foot. Then sing lines to make a 12 bar blues form. Example 6.

 

 

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

Grout, Donald Jay. A History of Western Music, p. 10. W.W.Norton and Company Inc. New York, 1960.

 

Aebersold, James and Slone, Ken. Charlie Parker Omnibook. New York: Atlantic Music Corp., 1978. I know this is a troubling stand to take but I felt I had to and as jazz player, I based it on Charlie Parker's compositions in the Omnibook. Find a copy, count the number of tunes, then compare the number of major key to minor key songs. Any real book of popular American song, by a mix of composers, will follow along similar lines for composition in major or minor keys.

~ improvisation / start ~

~ what musical improv can be ~

'relax' / push away / think ahead

~ no bad pitches, no wrong notes ... ever ~

single note lines

jimmy had a nickel lick

subdivision

add in a triplet

add in a 7th

learning improv from recordings

done :)

 

over or through

pentatonic basis / Giant Steps approach

history of cliche by style

chord progressions

 

over and thru 1 chord / major / minor

One to Four to Five / major and minor

12 bar blues / major and minor

 

pitch by pitch we build up our own palette of the pitches to create a beginning melody for any chord that might come along ... '

play it again
develop the idea just played
one idea per chorus

blues bass line / 12 bar

half step idea

do this in time / leave blank spots / your mind will suggest something to play.

 

 

~ improv start ~

~ ... and develop the idea we just played ~

call / response ~ theme and variations

a common evolution of improv

penta over diatonic chords

play through the chords

pentatonic over every chord

 

trading two's into four bars call and response

learn a song everyone knows

call and response

turnaround of form

solo breaks

8 and 8 = 16 bars

8 and 8 and 8 and 8 = 32 bars

rhythm changes

ballad 8 bars

review and onward / over or through the changes

review and onward / over or through the changes

'knowing the balance of form to shape our ideas ...'

'finding the common ground ...'

'phrasing ideas into songs ...'

' ... intro ~ verse ~ chorus ~ bridge ~ outro ~ segue ...'

~ 32 bar song forms / A A B A / A B ~

topics
# of measures
   
   
   
   
   
   
20 :)
   
   
   
   
   

'knowing the balance of form to shape our ideas ...'

.