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Music Question: Improvisors?

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Peter T. 27 Apr 01 - 09:39 AM
Mary in Kentucky 27 Apr 01 - 09:45 AM
Lady McMoo 27 Apr 01 - 10:00 AM
Justa Picker 27 Apr 01 - 10:39 AM
GUEST,Tom 27 Apr 01 - 01:05 PM
Grab 27 Apr 01 - 01:28 PM
jeffp 27 Apr 01 - 01:46 PM
Jim Krause 27 Apr 01 - 01:47 PM
Chicken Charlie 27 Apr 01 - 01:47 PM
Justa Picker 27 Apr 01 - 01:49 PM
Bernard 27 Apr 01 - 01:53 PM
Whistle Stop 27 Apr 01 - 01:54 PM
Rick Fielding 27 Apr 01 - 01:56 PM
M.Ted 27 Apr 01 - 02:22 PM
M.Ted 27 Apr 01 - 02:30 PM
Peter T. 27 Apr 01 - 02:33 PM
Rick Fielding 27 Apr 01 - 02:34 PM
Rick Fielding 27 Apr 01 - 02:39 PM
M.Ted 27 Apr 01 - 03:54 PM
Peter T. 27 Apr 01 - 06:22 PM
Rick Fielding 27 Apr 01 - 07:08 PM
John Hardly 27 Apr 01 - 09:28 PM
Justa Picker 27 Apr 01 - 09:49 PM
John P 28 Apr 01 - 08:32 AM
Marion 24 May 01 - 01:11 AM
Callie at work 24 May 01 - 03:03 AM
John P 24 May 01 - 09:08 AM
hesperis 24 May 01 - 10:32 AM
Rick Fielding 24 May 01 - 11:20 AM
Ebbie 24 May 01 - 11:24 AM
Willie-O 24 May 01 - 11:47 AM
Marion 24 May 01 - 12:20 PM
hesperis 24 May 01 - 12:29 PM
Willie-O 24 May 01 - 12:31 PM
Jim Krause 24 May 01 - 01:10 PM
Grab 24 May 01 - 01:39 PM
M.Ted 24 May 01 - 02:47 PM
Justa Picker 24 May 01 - 04:50 PM
death by whisky 24 May 01 - 05:52 PM
dr soul 25 May 01 - 12:02 AM
Justa Picker 25 May 01 - 12:52 AM
dr soul 28 May 01 - 02:45 AM
Peter T. 28 May 01 - 11:12 AM
death by whisky 03 Jun 01 - 04:16 PM
Marion 30 Sep 01 - 01:23 AM
GUEST,Frank 30 Sep 01 - 03:48 PM
John Hardly 30 Sep 01 - 05:46 PM
Marion 30 Sep 01 - 11:15 PM
Steve in Idaho 01 Oct 01 - 03:18 PM
Amos 01 Oct 01 - 11:56 PM
dr soul 02 Oct 01 - 03:43 AM
dr soul 02 Oct 01 - 03:43 AM
dr soul 02 Oct 01 - 03:53 AM
M.Ted 02 Oct 01 - 01:32 PM
GUEST,Frank 02 Oct 01 - 08:56 PM
M.Ted 03 Oct 01 - 12:47 AM
Marion 09 Oct 01 - 03:16 PM
Jerry Rasmussen 09 Oct 01 - 04:49 PM
M.Ted 09 Oct 01 - 05:31 PM
GUEST,Frank 09 Oct 01 - 06:01 PM
GUEST,Frank 09 Oct 01 - 06:16 PM
Marion 09 Oct 01 - 06:43 PM
Justa Picker 09 Oct 01 - 08:23 PM
M.Ted 09 Oct 01 - 08:24 PM
Marion 05 Apr 02 - 01:12 AM
Marion 05 Jan 03 - 01:37 AM
Thomas the Rhymer 05 Jan 03 - 02:45 AM
Jerry Rasmussen 05 Jan 03 - 09:28 AM
Marion 09 Jan 03 - 11:37 AM
Marion 13 Jan 03 - 03:06 PM
GUEST,Frank Hamilton 13 Jan 03 - 04:23 PM
M.Ted 13 Jan 03 - 08:44 PM
Thomas the Rhymer 13 Jan 03 - 09:23 PM
Marion 15 Jan 03 - 11:06 AM
Marion 15 Jan 03 - 12:22 PM
Mark Clark 15 Jan 03 - 02:43 PM
Amos 15 Jan 03 - 03:09 PM
Thomas the Rhymer 15 Jan 03 - 05:20 PM
McGrath of Harlow 16 Jan 03 - 05:36 PM
Marion 19 Jan 03 - 01:33 AM
GUEST,Frank Hamilton 19 Jan 03 - 05:29 PM
M.Ted 29 Jan 03 - 04:27 PM
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Subject: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: Peter T.
Date: 27 Apr 01 - 09:39 AM

I am edging into improvisation (guitar), and wonder if any improvisors out there have any tips. For instance, Rick Fielding swears by (and occasionally at) the use of the major pentatonic scale as a fail-safe method for most improv (e.g. in the key of C: C, D, E, G, A, C, avoiding the 4th and 7th) where you can't really make anything sound too terrible. I would also be interested in how people envisage improvising: do you see the various lines that you and others are playing spread out visually, do you do it all by pure instinct, or occasionally have to go into chord structure theory as you play, junk around with the melody and hope for the best, or what?

yours, Peter T.


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: Mary in Kentucky
Date: 27 Apr 01 - 09:45 AM

Young piano students that I've taught seem to do best with playing duets and hitting arpeggios of the underlying chords and then letting them evolve into a melody.

One fella now does a blues scale (his guitar teacher taught him that one and I really don't know what it is...maybe the same as Rick's.) He's writing his "own" blues song using one of the 12 chord blues chord progressions and throwing in stuff from the blues scale, some he's heard and just imitates, others seem quite spontaneous.


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: Lady McMoo
Date: 27 Apr 01 - 10:00 AM

I personally do it by pure instinct and find the best results come from "bouncing off" other musicians. I have no formal ideas on improvising, it tends to be spur of the moment with me and therefore different on every occasion.

mcmoo


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: Justa Picker
Date: 27 Apr 01 - 10:39 AM

Mr. Fielding's advice is wise, and I agree with it. You need to have some sort of working knowledge of scales, both diatonic and chromatic, in order to be able to improvise using "pure instinct". Course it all depends on the level and simplicity/complexity of how and what you want to improvise.


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: GUEST,Tom
Date: 27 Apr 01 - 01:05 PM

I tend improvise mostly from ear, meaning I don't really know what scales I'm working off of (not that I'm proud of it)but if you can play the melody line and then improvise around that it gives you a base to return to and I think is pleasurable for the listener. Many jazz players I know use that approach. But definetly, the more fluent you are with scales and being able to play them anywhere on the neck will be very valuable to you. Good Luck. Tom


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: Grab
Date: 27 Apr 01 - 01:28 PM

Pentatonic major/minor is a good basis, but extra stuff to add variety also works - the "nuts in the brownie" syndrome, if you like. It's a good idea to get a jam track tape/CD to play along to, then you can find what works and what doesn't - training your "pure instinct", in other words. But pentatonic is the "bread-and-butter" of blues playing.

Pentatonic A minor/C major scale is { A, C, D, E, G, A }. Blues A minor scale adds D#, often used as a "passing note" between D and E. Blues C major scale adds F#. If you're playing in a major key you can use the D#/Eb as well to get the major/minor switching thing going that blues uses a lot of, and adding the F# to minor keys works pretty good as well (but don't overuse it). You can also add in lots of minor sevenths when playing in a major key (in C, get your Bb finger working!) - you don't often use major sevenths though, except as a passing note between Bb and C.

In other words, think pentatonic as a basis, but add in whatever you damn well feel like! And if you ever drop a real bum note, just keep going in that direction and ppl will think it was intentional! :-) If you really can't think how to get out of it, convert it into a chromatic run up or down to somewhere safe and pentatonic - that always sounds good so long as you use it sparingly. Graham.


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: jeffp
Date: 27 Apr 01 - 01:46 PM

A wise man once told me, "There are no wrong notes; just correct ones and passing tones."

jeffp


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: Jim Krause
Date: 27 Apr 01 - 01:47 PM

What imporvising I do is usually worked out, sorta, in advance. Sounds like a contradiction in terms, but it isn't, really. I tend to use the blues scale quite a bit. In the key of C for instance that would be C,Eb, F, F#, G, Bb, C.

I say "worked out,sorta, in advance" because I find that I don't play the imporvised passage exactly the same way twice, cause I can't remember sometimes how I played it the first time around. At other times, I just slip in a little hot lick that I worked out a long time ago in place of the melody. That I can play the same way time, after time.

For me, the key to imporvisation strange as it may sound is based on my familiarity with the piece. There's all sorts of stuff I can do on Forked Deer or the old hymn What a Friend We Have in Jesus because the melodies and chord progressions are so familiar.
Jim


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: Chicken Charlie
Date: 27 Apr 01 - 01:47 PM

Not having a really developed "ear" yet, I have to have a safety net in place if I'm going to try anything but what's on the page. A long time ago, somebody showed me where a blues-type scale is on the guitar, and if you stay on that you're safe. I take it you are already doing that. A second safe technique I'm finding is with an open tuning--I've been fiddling with G and a bit with D on the guitar, and with 'single,' 'double' and 'triple C' on the banjo. That way all I have to worry about is my melody line, so I can concentrate on it. Last trick is to play my mandolin along with records and see what baselines and fills I can come up with. Warning--some guys do weird things in the studio like tweak everything a tad faster, therefore higher in pitch. But "normal" folks I can play along with. For those of us to whom this does not really come naturally, there seems to be hope because the more I do this, the more I CAN do it. At least I can hear things in my head & it just takes time to learn to get them from brain to fingers--less time for some of us, more for others.

CC


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: Justa Picker
Date: 27 Apr 01 - 01:49 PM

As Guest-Tom says, you can most definitely improvise without necessarily knowing what you're doing. Chances are though you'd be using some derivative of some sort of scale in doing so. Nothing, wrong with that. Hell some of what are considered the world's greatest guitarists can't read a note of music, and might even take a few seconds to figure out and tell you what chord(s) they're playing.

Anything you can do to add some sort of spin or variety to the songs you are playing, is improvising. Don't get too caught up in the semantics and the search for the greater understanding of it all. (That'll just get in the way of making music.) Just go for it. There's nothing to lose and everything to gain.


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: Bernard
Date: 27 Apr 01 - 01:53 PM

The art of improvisation evolves in a hit and miss way - the secret is to keep all the misses to yourself!

Your technique - scales and/or chords to base your improvisations on - depends on the style and flavour of the music you are trying to produce.

You also need a good memory... when you make a complete Albert Halls of it, you then have to repeat it exactly so that people think that you meant to do it that way!! ;o)


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: Whistle Stop
Date: 27 Apr 01 - 01:54 PM

I'm an improvisor of long standing. One thing you might want to try is starting with the melody, and then making small incursions outside of it until you get comfortable enough to be more adventurous. This gives you a familiar point of reference that you can always return to if you end up too far out on a limb. It also helps plant the harmonic structure in your head, so that you have the intuitive kjnowledge of it to go along with the "book learnin'" that Rick suggests. Have fun -- improvising is one of life's great pleasures.


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 27 Apr 01 - 01:56 PM

Might be worthwhile to mention that the scale Peter mentioned, is at the absolute beginner level on the "improvisational roller coaster" (or else you'd have some very boring and predictable improvisations) but you have to start somewhere.

A great deal of improvisation is actually NOT. It means having licks, scales, alternative chord forms, timing variations, and a range of dynamics secured away IN YOUR HEAD. These are things that you've learned through the structured process of:

A. steal (or invent), and then ammend to your own style.

B. Practice, practice, practice.

At that point, a good (and inventive) improvisor can instantly drop one or more of these entities into any song at any given time, simply because they FIT the chord structure of the moment. With experience, the player can start to ammend (add or subtract a note etc.) WHILE they are using the entity.

And don't forget, that if you make a mistake...you can always just tell the critic "Hey man, it's JAZZ, you wouldn't understand". Just don't furrow your brow and grimace when you hit a "clam"!

Rick


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: M.Ted
Date: 27 Apr 01 - 02:22 PM

Far be it from me to disagree with Mr. Fielding on anything, so I'll let that pentatonic thing stand--I will add to it something though, and that is: if you find a simple, short rhythmic phrase, and fool around with it in your pentatonic scale, you'll be surprised at how much more "improvising" you can do--

Another thing to remember, most "improvisation" is not totally spontaneous--the player has some ideas that they have worked out in advance,(meaning that they know how to play a lick or a riff or even just a scale, and know what sort of places that it will fit) and also knows what parts of a song or arrangement that they will have to work with--

There are a few famous rock guitar players out there that have created amazing careers by just sticking the same phrase in every song that the play, so it is probably OK for you to do it too--


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: M.Ted
Date: 27 Apr 01 - 02:30 PM

When I opened the thread, Rick's post wasn't there--I posted my post and when I went back, I discovered that he brought up most of the things that I did--just call me:

A day late and a dollar short


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: Peter T.
Date: 27 Apr 01 - 02:33 PM

Thank you improvisatoreadors. Any other hints? I would love it if someone could just talk about how they moved from absolute beginner up -- was it just letting go, learning more scales, doing it a ton, copying someone? It would also be interesting to know how improvisers feel about other improvisers, including strugglers -- do they give people a lot of leeway, tell them to get out of the way, take what someone else did and show off with it, or what? Oh yes, and what is the etiquette? Is someone to signal when it is your turn, and do you make it easy for the next person to come in or just do your own thing? And so on.

yours, Peter T.


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 27 Apr 01 - 02:34 PM

I should perhaps add that ANTICIPATING the next chord in any song that your improvising is crucial. This skill can be learned, but training your ear can be frustrating to the beginner.

A good way to start is to listen to Hank Williams recordings. Most of his songs use a 1,4,5. chord structure, with the chords in random order. Sit down with a recording and see if you can "hear where he's going next" Don't be frustrated if you're wrong 50% of the time. It'll get better.

Of course you HAVE to know what the "1,4,5." ARE, in any of the keys you play in. That's just memorization.

For example: Take the key of "F" and memorize that F is "one", Bb is four", and C is "five". Now play to a simple recording in the key of F. Do it again....and again....and aga........well you get the picture.

When your ear intantly HEARS the 1,4,5, carry on to the "2" chord (G, in the key of F). Pretty soon (maybe three or four months) you'll be able to "hear" the whole range of major chords. Start on "minors", then "diminisheds", augenteds, minor sixes, major sevenths etc.

You're right, it can take a lifetime, and you still won't know it all....but that's the fun of it.

A little sidebar.

A tremendously accomplished jazz improvisor I know tried to play along with "The Wild Colonial Boy" and simply "couldn't hear the changes". (She said "they're TOO simple!!?") Yahh, right! So don't be intimidated because you play "folky" music, and think it's really unsophistocated next to jazz. It's just "different".

Rick


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 27 Apr 01 - 02:39 PM

Ted. I LOVE you!! Will you bear my children!!!?

Let's take Peter to a deserted shack on Route sixty six and improvise at him IN STEREO, til he's ready to play along with Train!

Rick

Damn. She who is glady obeyed has decreed we need toilet paper...so I'm outta here!


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: M.Ted
Date: 27 Apr 01 - 03:54 PM

Back in Philly, we would just get him a bit drunk, stuff him in the back of somebody's Tercel(with instruments) and take him to Ortlieb's. where half of the audience were trombone players, waiting all nite, horn in hand, for a chance to play a couple of choruses of Satin Doll--

Anyway, I get a feeling that PeterT (and most people, for that matter) get "improvising" confused with "following". Following simply being a situation where you don't know how to play the song, but get through by ear, using whatever cheap tricks you might have learned--"improvising" is creating a part or a solo extemporaneously--

The key here is that you can and should know how to play the songs that you plan to "improvise" on "inside-out". I have in fact, had people (real jazz musicians--some of whom actually knew Bill Cosby) sit out tunes that they did not know--

As to ettiquette--improvisation is a group effort--the ground rules are generally layed out at the beginning (choice of tune, key, tempo, what the vamp for soloing will be--how the soloing will end, and what the end will be, and can extend to what the riff that the players work with will be and what kind of scales they use--on into the nite)--depends on the personalities, tastes, and skill of the players. The better the player, the easier they are to play with (if they want to be!) The thing is, when you play, communication is the key--it should be a group effort--when it isn't, its a mess!

Also keep this in mind--it is way harder to play the melody than to create a solo that fits over the chords-


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: Peter T.
Date: 27 Apr 01 - 06:22 PM

Is this Trane to whom you are referring, O MASTER OF THE TEN DIRECTIONS, THE SEVEN SEALS, THE EIGHT WALRUSES, THE CORRECT FINGERED G CHORD, AND OTHER MASONIC MYSTERIES?
yours, Peter T. (P.S. continuing thanks) P.P.S. Gee, I got lots of Hank Williams! Time to go to work....


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 27 Apr 01 - 07:08 PM

Yes Peter. But we music instructors are allowed to call him "train". Or actually "Train Sir". I understand you "book larnin" types call the Bard of Avon, "Shakey".

Rick


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: John Hardly
Date: 27 Apr 01 - 09:28 PM

There is a Stephan Grossman produced video called "75 hot licks". The premise behind which is learning just as Rick suggests,

"A great deal of improvisation is actually NOT. It means having licks, scales, alternative chord forms, timing variations, and a range of dynamics secured away IN YOUR HEAD. These are things that you've learned through the structured process of:


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: Justa Picker
Date: 27 Apr 01 - 09:49 PM

These too. Scroll down to the 2nd and 3rd from the bottom. (per John's post.)


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: John P
Date: 28 Apr 01 - 08:32 AM

Like any other skill, you get better at improvisation by doing it a lot. The most important thing is that you can do it at all. Many muscians can't.

I have a lot of different techniques for improvising, depending on the type of music that's being played, the other musicans present, my mood, the instrument I'm playing, and my current state of mental clarity. Often, I am pretty much in the scales. If you know the scale for the chord that is being played and can imagine a melody, you can just go with that. It requires you to be mentally present so you can keep track of the chord changes, although a lot of songs/genres of music don't really go outside of one scale even when they change chords.

Simple chord patterns can use the pentatonic scales and require less paying attention to the details. For me at least, that means I can give more attention to coming up with nice melodic phrases. It also means I can be fairly mindless with it if I want (or need) to be. I often seem to find myself in an Em pentatonic scale -- E, G, A, B, D, E. This will work well over any song with the chords of Em, D, G, A, Am, or Bm -- in short, half the rock songs in the world. Switch the G to a G# in the scale if you need to be in a major key.

I suppose I have the tool bag of tricks that Rick was talking about, although I don't really think about it that way. That part of it happens on an unconscious level now, but I seem to remember in my deep dark past sitting and working out things that sound good and then practicing them over and over.

Getting the feel of the music you are improvising to is as important as getting the right notes. The nuances of timing and "feel" are different for different genres of music and wil probably take you farther toward sounding good than knowing exactly what scale to play. You can improvise off of three notes if you have to, as long a they fit the rhythm and style of the music.

Although I play jazz a bit, and have been playing the blues since I was a kid, and spent many years playing in rock bands, I am really a player of tradtional folk music and as such am more turned on by a beautiful melody than by anything else. When I improvise, one of my goals is to make melody, not just a bunch of notes that happen to fit the song harmonically and rhythmically. There is a room in hell all prepared for me with saxophones playing atonal jazz improvisations.

John Peekstok


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: Marion
Date: 24 May 01 - 01:11 AM

Thinking out loud here, so to speak...

Suppose I have a song in G, and the only chords it contains are G, C, and D. One way to improv on it would be to play around in the G major scale in those bars where the chord is G, play around in the C major scale when the chord is C, and use the D major scale when the chord is D.

Or, if I take the G major scale and leave out the C because it would contradict the C# in the D scale, and leave out the F# because it would contradict the F in the C scale, what I'm left with is G A B D E G - a pentatonic scale. So presumably I can play around in this scale during the whole song with contradicting any of the chords?

Is that the idea of using a pentatonic scale for improvising - the notes it contains are the ones that are common to the song's basic chords?

If so, then maybe a major pentatonic scale is in order for a I-IV-V song, and other kinds of pentatonic scales are predictably associated with other predictable chord patterns?

Or have I got this all wrong - did you mean that I'm supposed to play in G pentatonic during the G chord bars, in C pentatonic during the C chord bars etc.?

Thanks, Marion


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: Callie at work
Date: 24 May 01 - 03:03 AM

I beg to differ with those who reckon that it is ok to learn licks and use them in an impro. You can see that kind of premeditated stuff a mile away. It goes against the philosophy of improvising. Sure the chords mights be same, but a good improvisor will play a different kind of solo depending on their mood, the audience's mood, the other musicians, the venue, etc etc.

The way I have approached it is:

1. know what chord you are playing and what key you're in. Even if you don't read music, it's not hard to figure out what notes sound good with a D chord and what notes don't.

You'll start to notice things like if you're playing a 12 bar blues in C, an "Eb" will only fit the F7 chord (the second chord in the sequence).

2. Play with someone else. get them to play the chord sequence, and you just run scales up and down that fit with those chords. Once that's second nature, think of ways of varying those scales (rhythm, articulation, leaving some notes out.

3. Don't play anything you can't hear first! Hit and miss doesn't work. Singing scales and chords is a good way of finding out whether you know them as well as you think you do.

4. Eventually, you can start to play around with different kinds of sounds and modes.

That's my story anyway!

Good luck!


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: John P
Date: 24 May 01 - 09:08 AM

Marion,
Yes, that's the idea. As you get more practiced at it, you can start adding in the other notes where they are appropriate. Always remember that deciding what to do according to theoretical strictures isn't always best. The best thing is what sounds good, and that doesn't always make perfect sense from a music theory point of view. Be willing to try other things -- but not on stage, please . . . I agree with Callie that hunt and miss doesn't work.

John


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: hesperis
Date: 24 May 01 - 10:32 AM

Since you guys all have so much technical information on how to improvise, let me write about the attitude.

When you are improvising, there is NO SUCH THING AS A MISTAKE!!! The gol-durn things just don't exist for as long as you are improvising. What there is, is an interplay between dissonance and resonance... (Otherwise known as "clangers" and "harmony notes".)

Any so-called "clanger" adds tension. Some notes add more tension than you would like, but that happens. Any "harmony note" is a release of tension...

This happens in life, too. You go along, minding your own business, and sometimes you're happy (harmony note), and sometimes you're not (not-quite good note), and sometimes you get in an argument (clanger), but then maybe you resolve it (harmony note) until the next time (not-so harmony note), or maybe you agree to disagree (not-so-harmony note).

There is a philosophy I use when I improvise, that everything is in the right moment... it's almost religious. (But don't tell anybody... shhhh!)

Improvisiong is just creating a flow of tension and release over the duration of the song. That's all.

After that, you can learn the scales, and add them into the philosophy, so that you can craft the amounts of tension and release that you want to put into it. But if you have that philosophy, then you will love improvising, and it will be a lot easier for you.

(If anybody can understand what I'm saying?)


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 24 May 01 - 11:20 AM

You bet I understand what you're saying. Whether in the music or life, the "clams" make it interesting! My friend Tony Quarrington, after hitting a "clam" would just mumble "it's a jazz thing, you wouldn't understand"! (he'd smile, though)

Rick


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: Ebbie
Date: 24 May 01 - 11:24 AM

Is it too simplistic to admonish: Be sure your improvisation fits the chord structure? You'll send your backup into a disbelieving spin if you don't.


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: Willie-O
Date: 24 May 01 - 11:47 AM

What Marion said. The first part, anyway, saved me the trouble of writing it out. To facilitate learning to play over particular chords in an interesting and jazzy manner, learn major scales in all possible inversions so you have the whole fingerboard covered.

I'd have to say that I feel there can be mistakes made when improvising. My definition of a mistake is based on the premise that you can play absolutely any note in any key, but your phrase has to have a beginning and and most important, an ending in context of the chord structure. So the weird notes can be great and make you look highly advanced, but that can't be the end of the phrase, and usually shouldn't be held for more than a half-beat or so. Also, it can be a mistake if it is not timed correctly to mesh with the rest of what's being played...

The phrase you are playing should end on a note (or notes) that is part of the chord being played or implied, and within that there is a choice of notes to set different moods--the 1st to resolve, the 5th to leave it set up to return to the 1st (as in, end of break, sing next verse) and things like the 7th to make it bluesy or one of my favorites, the diminished progression--which has a peculiar alchemy whereby it breaks most of the rules about righ and wrong notes, but you still need to know where you're going...

W-O


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: Marion
Date: 24 May 01 - 12:20 PM

Willie-o, you agreed with the "first part" of my post; where did the first part end? :)

Marion


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: hesperis
Date: 24 May 01 - 12:29 PM

The first part ended in the middle, with this: "Is that the idea of using a pentatonic scale for improvising - the notes it contains are the ones that are common to the song's basic chords?"

And - yep!


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: Willie-O
Date: 24 May 01 - 12:31 PM

The part I don't go with is using the pentatonic scale on different chords. Maybe it would work, I just haven't tried it. It tends to be one that I want to play the same scale throughout a song, switching it sounds weird.

Check your PM's, I just sent you my phone number after I tried to call you. Are you at the library or something?

Bill
Not A Stalker


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: Jim Krause
Date: 24 May 01 - 01:10 PM

Peter, When improvising, I find it is very helpful to be very familiar with the melody and its chord progression. I tend to use either major diatonis scales, or blues scales when improvising. An example of each is: Major Diatonic Scale in C: C,D,E,F,G,A,B,C.
Blues Scale in C: C, Eb, F, F# A, Bb, C.

Quite often one can use a blues scale as a substitute for a pentatonic scale. I say quite often, but perhaps not always. Your own sense of aesthetics will tell you when it will work, and when it won't. Use of the blues scale often creates a jazzy element to what you are playing. This is how those Texas fiddlers create Western Swing out of traditional fiddle tunes like Forked Deer, for example, or Billy In The Lowgrownd.

If instead you are playing straight ahead Old-time music, then you may want to limit your use of the blues scale to those country rags, like Natural Bridge Blues, or Hawkins Rag, etc. In the final analysis you need to be familiar with the kind of music you are playing. Trying to be jazzy in a stringband is going to raise some eyebrows, to say the least, but will work fairly well in a bluegrass setting for instance.
Jim


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: Grab
Date: 24 May 01 - 01:39 PM

Marion, somewhat, but not all the way otherwise it sounds a bit odd.

I'm having to relearn improvising since we've got a piano and I'm learning how to boogie-woogie. It uses the same baseline as guitar blues, but to take that across needs me to work out exactly what it was I'd learnt to do on the guitar! :-)

One thing for sure is chord changes. Marion's point on totally changing keys works OK, but it gets a bit mechanical. Try phasing your melody into the new chord _before_ it happens, then you don't have a sudden "jump". Or to build tension and work up to a real screaming solo, it's easy to play the same thing with slight variations. For a truly world-class example of this, listen to the end of Sultans of Swing on the Alchemy (live) recording - starting from a very basic backbeat, MK plays a Dm arpeggio over Dm, Bb and C chords with just slight alterations to fit the new chord, and he keeps this going for bloody ages as the band ramps up behind him until the solo just explodes out with the tension. That tactic works rather well for emphasising a passage when you're working up to really going for it.

Graham.


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: M.Ted
Date: 24 May 01 - 02:47 PM

I just want to second Jim's comment about being familiar with the kind of music you are playing--in some music, you can be really out there (meaning playing notes and rhythmic phrases that create a lot of tension against the original chords and melody) and in other music, you cannot--

A fairly common trick in jazz is to play the same melodic phrase over each of the chords in a progression to get a variety of harmonies--this could get you killed if you tried it with tradtional music--

For those of you who are curious about this effect, try playing the bass notes or chords to Frere Jaques in C, and play the melody in a couple of other keys, like D, or G, and end up trying it in F#(easy on piano, but slightly more diverting on guitar)


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: Justa Picker
Date: 24 May 01 - 04:50 PM

Hesperis said :Improvisiong is just creating a flow of tension and release over the duration of the song.

I agree, but would equate this definition more akin to jazz, but the concept is relative. I believe it was Tony Quarrington who had one of the best definitions of "jazz music" I've ever heard. Jazz is "creating problems, and then solving them."

This can be applied to all forms of improvisation methinks. It's just a question of the simplicity or the complexity of the created problem.


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: death by whisky
Date: 24 May 01 - 05:52 PM

Free yourself from the shackles and chains of chords ,scales and modes. Ther are two exercises I use to help me "relax",which is important if your going to improvise: 1.Scribble....play as fast as you can.No scales,modes or tempo...play soft,play,loud.Give your scribble dynamic but dont restrict it. 2.Ghost...copy the sounds around you.As soon as you hear it.Again try not to structure your interpretaion of the sound.

Eyes closed please,lets not get distracted with visuals. Have fun.


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: dr soul
Date: 25 May 01 - 12:02 AM

Peter T. I think of improvising, in the most general sense, as playing single note phrases during a solo. The pentatonic scale is a great basis for blues/folk improvisation. Here's a couple of tricks I've picked up to help make it easier.

First, I'm very visual, and early on someone showed me the PATTERN of the pentatonic notes on the neck. I've heard this called "playing the box". If you figure out the pattern for E (i.e. where the notes of the pentatonic scale are in relation to to the E string) you'll be able to transpose the same pattern for any key.

Second, for those good bluesy notes, the best note to bend is the 4 of the scale. Just push that string up listen to her moan.

(Forgive me (a) if I'm repeating something someone's already suggested - I tend to skim over the long threads, and (b) for being so doggoned inarticulate about music theory)


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: Justa Picker
Date: 25 May 01 - 12:52 AM

For me, the most basic form of improvising and usually where I start is to take any song play it through once and then start syncoping it in a different way, than how it should "normally" be played. From there, the ideas seem to spawn.


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: dr soul
Date: 28 May 01 - 02:45 AM

Peter T, I was just over at your thread on G sharp minor in an open tuning, and realized how far, far beyond "play the box" you are. Please accept my apologies for the lame post a couple above this. So . . . here's some slightly deeper thoughts on soloing:

1. When you solo, or improvise, you're telling a story.

Every song, every audience, is a different story.

Your job, as an improviser, is to find the story that best fits the song, the audience, the band at that moment.

2. The most basic story IS the melody - think of the original musical instrument as being the human voice. Playing the vocal part, with every note in _just_ the right place, can be an incredible "improvisation".

3. If it fits the song, a really fun thing that many r&b sax players do is play a nursery rhyme at the head of their solo, and vary that in the second phrase. Nursery rhymes are melody that is (a) familiar to the audience, so you hook them, and (b) familiar to you, so you can play it easily.

4. Two great inspirations are Miles Davis and Lester Young. They have many lessons to teach, but first among them is: Take your time. When it's time to solo, don't jump in right away. Think about the feel of the song, where you'd like to go, how you might get there, and where you're going to start. When you're ready, go get it.

5. It does help to practice patterns. Having "canned" riffs that you can build on is useful, and very basic to many solos. DANGER: speaking from personal experience, you can get to the point where, because it doesn't require thinking, you end up playing solos composed entirely of set riffs.

6. It's all about what you want to say. The most important things are to swing (so the audience digs it) and to have fun (so you enjoy it).


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: Peter T.
Date: 28 May 01 - 11:12 AM

Thank you all for the continuing high quality of your thoughts and advice. It is a true pleasure.
yours, Peter T.


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: death by whisky
Date: 03 Jun 01 - 04:16 PM

1. Yes.If your playing to a set piece. 2.What about the rythm/percussion.3.holding back ?4.jOHN sTEVENS.5.Practice is a good use of time.Patterns in themselves can be restrictive.6.Yes.


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: Marion
Date: 30 Sep 01 - 01:23 AM

A question about the effective practice of scales:

I've been devoting half an hour a day to scale practice, with four goals: building dexterity, building familiarity with the fretboard, laying the groundwork for improvisation, and being able to claim that I'm keeping up with Doc Watson in at least one respect.

What I'm doing is practicing seven major scales, each in several boxes up the neck, and in several patterns other than the straight scale.

On my keener days, I try to name the notes in my head as I go, in the interests of learning better where the notes are on the fretboard. But on my lazier days, I drop this mental part of the exercise. And I've found that I can play the scales and exercises much better if I'm not thinking about the note names, and even better if I'm thinking about the geometric pattern of the scale and intervals.

(By geometric pattern I mean things like: the major third above a given note is one string up, one fret back, and the octave above a given note is two strings up, two frets up...)

So my question is: what is the most useful thing to be doing with your brain while practicing scales, with the object of learning to improvise? Think about the note names? Think about the spatial patterns? Or not think about it at all?

Thanks, Marion


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: GUEST,Frank
Date: 30 Sep 01 - 03:48 PM

Here's an idea. Take a tune, learn to play it. Next, play the first phrase as is. Then, take the second phrase and make something up. Then take the third phrase back on the melody again. Fourth phrase, make something up. You can hang on the tune to tell you where you are.

The best improvisors know the changes. If you know the chords of a song by memory, then you can relate to them in two ways. 1. Scalar or horizontal. 2. Chord arpgeggios or vertical.

To be able to hear the harmonies of a song, take the chords and change them to roman numerals. Then transpose them to as many keys as you can stand. Eventually, you will be able to hear the chord relationships independent of any specific key and express them numerically.

Once you hear the harmonic line independent of the melody of a tune, you are better able to fit your improvisation to it and you will always know where you are in the song without depending on the melody.

Frank


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: John Hardly
Date: 30 Sep 01 - 05:46 PM

Marion<
Boy, do I admire your discipline!

I'm sure there will be lots of advice to your question but let me step in and say that I think that there is some value in not thinking about anything (or thinking about other things--TV, other distractions)for at least as some of your practice time. You're already doing the discipline end of things--actually learning the scales, notes and all.

It seems I have to train both sides of my brain---what I'm learning through conscious effort, and what I learn by mindless doing. Ever get into a performance situation and can't go forward because, as dead as you knew the material on one side of your brain, the other side just forgot it?

What I'm getting at is making it so that the movement becomes second nature. Some of my most productive "muscle memory" training time has been while watching basketball games on TV. I can go on forever---ONE WARNING

Don't practice with a baseball game on-----nobody can stand THAT much practice!


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: Marion
Date: 30 Sep 01 - 11:15 PM

Joh: not discipline, opportunism! I'm working as a babysitter at the moment, which means that I'm in the rare and enviable position of getting paid to practice my guitar. And the job only lasts three more days, so soon I'll be a professional practicer and can play even more.

But baseball games? Basketball games? If I put those things on, I wouldn't be able to stand any practice.

Cheers, Marion


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: Steve in Idaho
Date: 01 Oct 01 - 03:18 PM

When I first started I was taught a couple of tunes by a good friend. After that it was a matter of playing with people, watching (and hearing) what they were doing, and then finding my own space. I try to follow the melody line - sometimes just playing in a Carter style until I figure out the line, and then filling in between those major notes with what I call filler notes. Sometimes crosspicking does that, hammer ons, pull offs, stumming the chord (quickly or slowly), and finding a high and low line to follow.

I can't read music but have found tablature to be a viable alternative for fiddle tunes. I don't always get the timing right but after I listen to someone else do the tune I can correct for those minor errors. I have a good sense of timing and have found that metronomes can help if you don't have one.

My philosophy on people just learning is simply this - if you want to try it I'm game to help you out. I have very grateful memories of someone standing behind me calling out the chords to "Blackberry Blossom" while others played it. I have found that the more I learn about this fretted instrument the less I know. So playing is a virtual learning experience for me.

Someone earlier posted the two rules for them as 1)Pleasing yourself and 2)pleasing your audience. I go for rule one and find that I am my own worst critic - Two rarely applies as I don't normally perform. The notable performing exceptions are an occasional supporting role with a couple of friends at local Farm Bureau, Cattle Assn., 80th Birthday celebration, type events. Always free - so there are no critics. At least none that I have noticed and everyone says it was good.

Music is fun - I Love to play and sing. I can't say that I am all that good but I can manage to entertain myself and family/friends with a lot of what we call "good clean fun." So if it isn't fun I don't participate - at least not for long. I've been blessed with a pile of good friends that also happen to love music and it has made for an adventuresome time. We all take turns at a tune with everyone given an opportunity to give it a try. Endings have always been much debated, amid roars of laughter at odd endings, for the most part when the originator of the tune decides it is time to end it - that person sticks their foot out towards the center of the group and we know the end is coming.

I don't know if this has answered your question but I certainly have enjoyed this posting - Peace - Steve


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: Amos
Date: 01 Oct 01 - 11:56 PM

Two bits more:

The apparent complexity of good improv is built, like all complexity, on simpler elements with growing numbers of interactions; when the interactions reach a critical number, a whole new order of complexity emerges.

You learn how different strings interact with each other in couplets, for example, and how that interacts with major and minor chords in a given key; you accumulate a lot of these little observations, and all of a sudden, shazaam -- the order crystallizes, and you are improvising complex chord sequences or runs or slides.

You never know when some little three-note relationship you noticed two years ago is going to suddenly line up with six other things and make a whole new song!

A


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: dr soul
Date: 02 Oct 01 - 03:43 AM

Marion, on 30-Sep-01 - 01:23 AM you asked:

" . . . So my question is: what is the most useful thing to be doing with your brain while practicing scales, with the object of learning to improvise? [a] Think about the note names? [b] Think about the spatial patterns? [c]Or not think about it at all?"

[c] is the deal, [b] is second best, you only need [a] if you're jamming with someone and they tell you how the tune goes.

Practicing scales is not improvising. Improvising is, by definition, making it up as you go. When you're practicing scales, you're at the other end of the spectrum - doing rote.

Practicing is not, of course, wasted. When you're running scales, you're getting your body and mind together. Thus, the best use of your mind when doing scales is associating the physical means of manipulating the instrument (fingers for guitar and sax, breath for horns and harps) with the music in your mind so you can get your body to reproduce the stuff in your mind when you want.

When improvising at that point, the ideal is Zen thing - not thinking, just doing. Or at least pausing to think about where you want to go next, and being able to get there, thanks to all of that practice. Of course, you need to get outside of that strict scale pattern as well . . .


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: dr soul
Date: 02 Oct 01 - 03:43 AM

Marion, on 30-Sep-01 - 01:23 AM you asked:

" . . . So my question is: what is the most useful thing to be doing with your brain while practicing scales, with the object of learning to improvise? [a] Think about the note names? [b] Think about the spatial patterns? [c]Or not think about it at all?"

[c] is the deal, [b] is second best, you only need [a] if you're jamming with someone and they tell you how the tune goes.

Practicing scales is not improvising. Improvising is, by definition, making it up as you go. When you're practicing scales, you're at the other end of the spectrum - doing rote.

Practicing is not, of course, wasted. When you're running scales, you're getting your body and mind together. Thus, the best use of your mind when doing scales is associating the physical means of manipulating the instrument (fingers for guitar and sax, breath for horns and harps) with the music in your mind so you can get your body to reproduce the stuff in your mind when you want.

When improvising at that point, the ideal is Zen thing - not thinking, just doing. Or at least pausing to think about where you want to go next, and being able to get there, thanks to all of that practice. Of course, you need to get outside of that strict scale pattern as well . . . Hope this helps!


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: dr soul
Date: 02 Oct 01 - 03:53 AM

and of course, if something works once, blow it again!


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: M.Ted
Date: 02 Oct 01 - 01:32 PM

From what I understand about Zen. the point is to move beyond simply acting out of habit or impulse, which is also the thing when you play music--A lot of people simple go around in circles when they "improvise", in the same way that people talk without saying much of anything--Music is made up of ideas, learning to improvise really means learning to express your ideas musically--You use scales, and spatial relationships are certainly part of playing, but to rephrase Dr Soul, they are only important because you use them to express ideas--


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: GUEST,Frank
Date: 02 Oct 01 - 08:56 PM

If you want to be able to improvise with musical intelligence, scales help. They are the ABC's of musical theory. They're the basis of learning to spell out chords and identify chords in a progression. Don't take my word for it. Ask any good jazz musician. They are examples of the best of improvisors. They know their scales on their "horn".

Anyone can improvise poorly. Just as anyone can write drivel without being able to construct a sentence. Babbling on paper doesn't make you a writer. Grammar is not too much fun but it does help you write better. In the same way, scales and note identification helps you improvise better.

A lot of musicians may not experts in musical theory such as counterpoint, four part harmony, or sophisticated composers but the best ones including Louis Armstrong, knew how to play scales on their horn. They could play chords also on their horn. They knew what the chords were. Some could identify them by notes and some by the sound of it. But they knew scales and chords somehow.

Chords: vertical Scales: linear ..the basis of jazz improvisation and works for anything else too. Indian ragas are based on scales which must be studied before you can improvise in that style.

Micheal Coleman played so many variations of the Sligo tunes that he could play (improvise) without repeating himself. I bet he could play scales on his violin as well.

Doc Watson could play scales on his guitar too. Just ask him. He also knew his chords and could probably spell quite a few out for you.

This is an appeal to those who would claim some mystical approach is necessary to learn to improvise without knowing the language of the music they want to play.

Name the best improvisors on any instrument and they probably had a working knowledge of scales and chords.

End of diatribe. Thanks.

Frank


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: M.Ted
Date: 03 Oct 01 - 12:47 AM

If you keep dissing Zen, Frank, some one will through a pot at your head(not a threat, it is a droll Zen reference)--But I think you did not read carefully, no one said anything against scales, Marion wanted to know what she should be thinking about while playing her scalesin order to better prepare for improvising, of course, no one really gave an answer, but--at any rate, scales are not the basis of jazz improvisation--

I used to live in Philly where there were many great Jazz players, and also, many music school educated Jazz wannabees--they would show up with their "Real Book" , having learned every modal scale, and would proceed to scale their way through the circle of fifths like little riveters--As Shirley Scott once said,"If you can't feel it, you might as well forget it."


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: Marion
Date: 09 Oct 01 - 03:16 PM

I know that doing scales isn't improvising. But I thought the rationale for practicing scales was that it gets you to know where the notes are in a certain key - not just an intellectual knowledge that D major, for example, has two sharps, but a hands-on knowledge of where you can find Ds and F#s and so on on the fretboard. And as I understood it, the rationale for practicing patterns is to give your hands knowledge of the typical interval leaps that occur within a given key.

M.Ted, you say that scales aren't the basis of jazz improvisation. Fine with me, since I'm not into jazz; would you say that scales are the basis of folk/bluegrass/country improv?

Marion


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 09 Oct 01 - 04:49 PM

For starters, I am not musically sophisticated enough to improvise on guitar, and use it primarily for accompani- ment, anway. In singing black gospel, some songs are built on improvisation... improvising phrases, rather than melody lines. Whether you're improvising a melody or words, there are some basic similarities. Back in the 60's, Tal Farlow was my favorite jazz guitarist and was recognized by Downbeat magazine every year as the best. With no explanation, he suddenly stopped recording, for more than twenty years. When he came out with a new album, I bought it with great excitement. When I listened to a song I'd never heard him do, I was shocked to hear him play the exact "improvisation" he'd used on another song with a different melody, more than twenty years earlier. When I asked Sal Salvador, another guitar favorite of mine about it, he wasn't surprised at all. He made the wise observation that "a musician's style is the summation of his limitations." How true. In improvising lyrics, as in improvising on guitar, it's often a matter of stringing together lines that are a part of our vocabulary. As in jazz, gospel singers will "improvise" the same lines, time and time again, making them sound off-the-cuff. I felt a lot better, when I realized that. The difference between improvising on an instrument is that it takes a solid foundation in at least basic music theory. Singing gospel lines just requires a good memory.


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: M.Ted
Date: 09 Oct 01 - 05:31 PM

Not to seem to flippant here, Marion, but the point of practicing anything is so that you can play it--Practice your scales, and practice your "patterns"(I am not exactly sure what you mean by a pattern, but...) but don' think that that is all there is to it-- Hate to tell you this, but folk/bluegrass/country improvisation works the same way jazz improvisation does--in fact, may of the best licks can be moved from one style to the other--

Big thing to understand here is that "improvising" is not the same as playing a solo. as Jerry discovered, much to his shock, when listening to our dearly beloved and much missed Tal Farlow--Improvising means making something up as you go along-- but you can workout a solo completely, note for note ahead of time(this is called "composing)--The good news is that you don't even really have to compose anything, just take the scales and patterns that you like, and stick them inplaces that they fit--

Good jazz solos are heavily based on material that has been carefully worked up before hand--


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: GUEST,Frank
Date: 09 Oct 01 - 06:01 PM

M Ted, I respectfully disagree. I think that most jazz musicians do not work their solos out in advance. This is why many of these great solos are inspired. They happen on the spot.

Also, I believe that learning scales can help the creative process and is not intended to be in place of it. Those that rely on playing scales out of the Real Book are missing the point. Actually, the best thing is to practice using the Real Book to learn the tunes and chords and then throw it away.

I do agree however that feeling is important and this would be true of music regardless of what one plays.

Zen without discipline is meaningless in my opinion.

Frank


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: GUEST,Frank
Date: 09 Oct 01 - 06:16 PM

M Ted, I respectfully disagree. I think that most jazz musicians do not work their solos out in advance. This is why many of these great solos are inspired. They happen on the spot.

Also, I believe that learning scales can help the creative process and is not intended to be in place of it. Those that rely on playing scales out of the Real Book are missing the point. Actually, the best thing is to practice using the Real Book to learn the tunes and chords and then throw it away.

I do agree however that feeling is important and this would be true of music regardless of what one plays.

Zen without discipline is meaningless in my opinion.

Frank


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: Marion
Date: 09 Oct 01 - 06:43 PM

By pattern I mean instead of playing a scale straight in seconds (C D E F etc. ) you have a repeating sequence that goes up the scale, like:

CDEC, DEFD, EFGE, FGAF etc. or

CEGE, DFAF, EGBG, FACA etc.


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: Justa Picker
Date: 09 Oct 01 - 08:23 PM

Guest Frank and M. Ted,
I believe you are both right with the respective approaches. But you have to have a basis of reference in order to "compose" or "improvise" a solo, regardless of whether that basis is studied, with all the pertinent semantics understood or, self taught. Scales ARE an integral part of that basis, as are other elements of music theory as well.

The end result is more or less the same, depending on the simplicity or complexity of the knowledge gained.


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: M.Ted
Date: 09 Oct 01 - 08:24 PM

Frank,

Read what I said,"Good jazz solos are heavily based on material that has been carefully worked up before hand"-I teach music, and have taught Jazz improvisation, and that is what I teach--we're talking scale material, arpeggios, various sort of rhythmic phrases and melodic ideas, and working out ideas for patterns of the sort that Marion has provided--and Marion, with a little thought, you can use those patterns to create solos==


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: Marion
Date: 05 Apr 02 - 01:12 AM

In my ventures into improvising I've found two equal and opposite ways of approaching it:

The first is to be constantly thinking theory while improvising - keeping on top of what the chord progression is, and picturing where all the triad notes for the current chord are, and emphasizing those triad notes in the improvised melody. This works pretty well for the easier keys and results in a fairly predictable level of quality. But it's not a lot of fun having to think fast the whole time while playing music, and I'm not able to think fast enough to keep up with the harder keys.

The second way is to not think at all - to just relax and listen to the other musicians and let your fingers pick out notes on their own. And if a note sounds bad, you just get off it quickly. Again, this works better in keys I'm more familiar with, so that my fingers go automatically to the scale notes. This is more fun and feels more musical. But I've found that sometimes I'll be able to improvise well to a song right away, and other songs I just never get into - even if they're in the same key.

I don't know which way is better. But I think the dichotomoy is interesting - probably a right vs. left brain thing - so I deliberately go back and forth between them.

Marion


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: Marion
Date: 05 Jan 03 - 01:37 AM

I'd like to hear more about major pentatonic vs minor pentatonic (or blues) scales; I'm not asking how they're played but rather when they're played.

Does anyone have any rules of thumb about when they choose to base a solo on a major pentatonic scale, and when they would choose the blues scale? Jim Krause said a little on this topic in his post above (May 24 2001).

Thanks, Marion


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: Thomas the Rhymer
Date: 05 Jan 03 - 02:45 AM

I would tend to go with the key of the song you're playing. The scales generally "hang out" in the key of the song, and passing (or grace) notes sort of tie 'em all together. Many songs shift modes and your scales and patterns shift right along with 'em... If you get lost, just work your way back to the tonic... It will help to know the song well, and you've got to be listening to both the group, and yourself simultaniously... Oh, and you definitely must have fun! ;^) ttr


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 05 Jan 03 - 09:28 AM

Guest:Frank:

I could go back and dig out my old Tal Farlow records and pick out a long line of an "improvisation" that is note for note identical to a line he used twenty five years later.

I did get a chance to hear and talk with Tal several years ago when he split an evening with George Shearing at the Blue Note in New York City. Tal came out early to set up his amplifier and run through some things, and I was sitting at the table right at the foot of the stage next to his amplifier. He was very friendly and modest, and seemed pleased to talk with me. When he did his set, it was obvious that his fingers no longer could keep up with his ideas, and he'd have to let the bass guitar or piano take little breaks while he shook his right hand to get the stiffness out of it. Even though he couldn't take those lighting fast breaks cleanly, I thoroughly enjoyed hearing him because I've never been a "notes per minute" man.
I'm more impressed with melodic ideas than speed.

When George Shearing did his set, I was really surprised. I loved his music in the fifties, but when I've gone back to listen to it, it seemed too tight and too worked out and I didn't enjoy it. But, in his eighties, George had really loosened up and was clearly enjoying the interplay with the young musicians in his group. There was very little of that Shearing "sound." that was so tightly worked out... just a lot fo joyful, free swinging jazz. I thought he was far, far better than he was in the fifties... a real testament and encouragement to all of us as we segue into old Fogeydom.

Jerry


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: Marion
Date: 09 Jan 03 - 11:37 AM

Rhymer, when you say "I tend to go with the key of the song...", are you saying that you would use a major pentatonic scale for a major key song, and blues scale for a minor key song? That doesn't seem right, as many (most?) blues songs are in major keys, but I assume that the blues scale goes well with them.

Marion


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: Marion
Date: 13 Jan 03 - 03:06 PM

Did my last question (Jan 5, 2003) not make any sense?

Marion


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: GUEST,Frank Hamilton
Date: 13 Jan 03 - 04:23 PM

M Ted,

I did read what you said. I agree only to a point. The best way to learn to improvise is to just do it. How? Listen what's in your head and put in down on your instrument. Find it.

Now, what's in your head? If you have had training, then a lot is there. Call on it.

Scales, chordal lines (memorize these...it's crucial), arpeggios, riffs..steal 'em or make 'em up....

But working out jazz choruses in advance does not always help you think on your feet. More to the point is not to think on your feet but to play without letting your thoughts get in the way.

You can always tell a "lick" player. They've got a pat set of phrases in their head. The great jazz players, bluegrass musicians, or whatever are not "lick" players. They play what they hear. These are not always "thought" out in advance.

The only thing a teacher can do is act as a guide. They can't teach you to play jazz or improvise. They can send the student in that direction but the real deal is hearing the idea and playing it.

The best passages of literature is often written on the spot without editing. The same is true for the great jazz choruses which are rarely "written out" in advance.

So, Marion, learn all you can about the music you love by practicing licks, breaks, arpeggios etc. but when sit down to improvise, throw it all away and play what's in your head and heart. The more you jam the more you will jam.

Jamie Abersold approaches it in the manner of learning patterns and stringing them together. This is a good exercise but it is not intended to take the place of improvisation.

Wanna' be a good public speaker? Get out in front of crowds, "think" on your feet. Don't read from the script.

Wanna' be a good improviser? Practice playing ideas on the spot.

Take a small idea in your head (ie: Mary Had A Little Lamb" upside down and backwards and find it on your instrument. Better yet, sing it! Sing the idea first so that it's clear and then find it on your instrument. But make it up. That's jazz....or improvising.

Frank


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: M.Ted
Date: 13 Jan 03 - 08:44 PM

Frank,

I think that Charlie Parker may have said, "Learn everything that you can, then forget all that shit, and just play". I do agree with you, as a teacher, I can really only help with the first part of that--at least intellectually--on the other hand, when I am playing really well, it brings out surprising things in the people that I am playing with--

At any rate, there are very few musicians who are truly great improvisors--but there are many people who can find a great idea through improvisation, with a little polishing and dscreet editing, work it into something great--


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: Thomas the Rhymer
Date: 13 Jan 03 - 09:23 PM

Sorry Marion, I got a little side tracked... and I just plain forgot that I had posted here. Each song has a key, and a predominant mode... start with this, and then shift as the song shifts... I think of pentatonic scales as skeletons... that needs to be fleshed out... and that are structurally necessary... I wouldn't play a minor scale in a major keyed song... a 'blues scale' is a pretty vague term for me... could you be more specific? thanks, ttr


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: Marion
Date: 15 Jan 03 - 11:06 AM

Hi Rhymer. I didn't mean to sound impatient about my follow-up question addressed to you; I was wondering why there weren't more responses to my question above that - was I asking the wrong thing?

My understanding is that "blues scale" and "minor pentatonic scale" are synonyms and that they include the following notes for a given key: 1, flatted 3, 4, 5, and flatted 7. For example, in E (major) the scale would be E, G, A, B, and D.

The major pentatonic scale is 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6: for example, E, F#, G#, B, C#.

I know that the blues scale can be used on a blues song in a major key despite the flatted third; I guess my question is, how do you decide if you're playing a blues song, other than looking to see if it has blues in the title? Is it strictly a creative decision which scale to base a solo on, or are there rules of thumb I should know about?

Cheers, Marion


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: Marion
Date: 15 Jan 03 - 12:22 PM

A correction: what's known as the blues scale is slightly different from the minor pentatonic scale in that it includes the flatted fifth note (in addition to the natural fifth, not instead of it).

So a blues scale in E would be E, G, A, Bb, B, and D; not pentatonic, and not diatonic either.

And upon rereading I realize that my question "how do you decide if you're playing a blues song" probably won't make sense to anybody. So never mind. I'll come back if I can put my finger on what exactly it is that I'm not getting.

Marion


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: Mark Clark
Date: 15 Jan 03 - 02:43 PM

This is a great thread. I've had it bookmarked for a long time but it's been a while since I've seen it. Good to have it back.

Several people in this thread have mentioned Charlie Parker as an outstanding example of jazz improvisation. One of my very favorite books on a musician is “Bird: The Legend of Charlie Parker” edited by Rober Reisner and first published in 1962. The book is a collection of personal rememberences by friends, family and associates of Bird throughout his life. There is a great deal to be learned in this book about musicianship as well as about Bird's life.

Germane to this thread is the following quotation taken from the thoughts of Earl Hines in whose band Bird and Dizzy both played.

…Charlie used to take his alto in the theater between shows—and have an exercise book, that's all he did—sit down; between he and Dizzy, they ran over these exercises in these books they're studying up. One day they'd have the trumpet book, and one day they'd have the alto book. They'd change around. And I think that was where actually Charilie got his particular style from, was from the different inversions and phrases in these exercises he had. They'd insert these passages that they would play in tunes that would come up. Whenever a chord would strike them, with the memories both of them had, why they'd just take one of these passages from one of these exercises and insert them in one of these tunes. And I think that is the reason for them to create the style that they got.

And they seemed to be in a little claque all to themselves. They got a kick out of themselves—not to set a style—they just played like that because they enjoyed it, and they continued to do it.

Well, I think by hitting prominent spots, and than playing in jam sessions as much as they did, I think is the cause of that style catching hold. And then all the musicians wanted to find out how fast they could get over that horn, listening to Charles. But you see, many of them made so many mistakes, because so many reed players didn't realize this was music he was playing! They thought it was just out of his mind, and whatever they did was all the same as Charlie. And if there's any mistake made, why they blamed in on the style they called bop. “Why that was bop!” But Charlie knew what he was playing, and when he made these flatted fifths and what have you, it was written in those exercises, and Charlie was playing actually what he remembered from those exercises. So many mucicians make a mistake by thinking Charlie was picking it up out of the air, and I think that’s one of the things that hurt so-called bop—I’m sorry they even named it that. They should have named it something else, because that name added a little extra salty taste, that name. But one of the things that hurt that kind of music was the fact that musicians, instead of goin’ to Charlie and askin’ Charlie how he did those things, or tryin’ to sit around home long enough to know he actually studied these things, they went home and picked it out of the air and played what they thought sounded good. And they were so wrong until it was obnoxious to the average ear, until the people begain blaming it all on the particular style. It wasn’t actually the style; it was just they didn’t know what they were playing. And they werre too big at the time—some of the musicians were—to come and ask the man…

I hope this speaks to you as much as it does me.

      - Mark


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: Amos
Date: 15 Jan 03 - 03:09 PM

The storage idea from Rick's earlier post is important. If you have a head full of known songs that work, you have a vocabulary, just as you acquire a vocabulary from immersing yourself in good poems and novels. The vocabulary has the nmechanics of the structural parts (words, phonemes and morphemes) and more important has the cognitive elements that go with those structural parts. Some sense of the vocabulary in which you want to improvise is essential.

For me, the answer has been soaking up hundreds of songs, most of which have fewer than five chords in them, but that is not the point. The point is that new creatiojs in music and language draw on and extend vocabulary. If you go too far off that line, you become John Cage...teddibly interesting, but not about to capture many hearts. If you don't go far enough, you won't be improving at all, just regurgitating, which gets kind of old kind of soon.

A


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: Thomas the Rhymer
Date: 15 Jan 03 - 05:20 PM

Improvising is how new songs get written, and how old songs can be freshened... Improvising gives voice to fresh feelings, and new voice to old feelings... Some people need to know the song already, some do better without... Most people wouldn't improvise without a lengthy list of instructions...;^) ttr


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 16 Jan 03 - 05:36 PM

My feeling is that in Irish music anyway, it's not so much a question of improvising on the tunes and that, as of being able to keep in company with each other moving from tune to tune, including tuine they've never played before and from key to key. When a bunch of srangers who a haven't played together are able to do that with ease and imagination, it's magic.


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: Marion
Date: 19 Jan 03 - 01:33 AM

In the thread called "What is Blues?" I found a couple of really interesting posts relevant to recent discussion here:

Rhymer pointed out that it's counterintuitive to play a minor scale in a major key song; in this post Whistle Stop explains that this major/minor ambiguity is a central thing in blues.

Also, in this post M.Ted explains what happens when you use the minor pentatonic or blues scale over a blues chord progression.

Marion


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: GUEST,Frank Hamilton
Date: 19 Jan 03 - 05:29 PM

M.Ted,

I've been thinking about what you said and you certainly have made a good point. But wouldn't the process of polishing an improvisation be more like composing than improvising?

Also, I'm thinking that there may be different forms of improvisation. There can be a solo form as in jazz or a collective form as in traditional ensemble jazz or even a good song session where instrumentalists contribute a good accompaniment.

There can be accompaniment improvisation such as reharmonization of tunes. Haven't you at times come up with a set of chords by "accident" that sound really good while jamming with others?

The essential focus on how to do this has to do I believe with a knowledge of the harmonic line, what it is and how to work with it. I like to encourage students to work with the harmonic line (as opposed to the melody line) and take the chords...use the Nashville numbering system or the traditional roman numeral designations and transpose it to as many keys as possible and play it in them. Being able to hear "the changes" (harmonic line) is to my way of thinking essential to being able to improvise over them.
A knowledge of scales may help in this but just counting letter names on the fingers without regard to sharps and flats would work also.

In short, to improvise ya' gotta' know the "changes" which means not just memorizing random chords but seeing their connection as a progression in the "harmonic line".

Once you have the changes, then a vertical (spelling out the chord) in the single line improv or a linear (spelling a scale in the single line that relates to the chords) approach sets a foundation for improvising.

In bluegrass or much of American folk music, the harmonic line is simple enough so that it's not as hard to relate the improv to the chords as it would be in jazz where the harmony gets sophisticated.
IE: it's easier to run a line against a C major triad then a Db7aug11.

Sometimes improvising can be as basic as changing an accompaniment pattern on a guitar or banjo on the spot because it "feels right".

You bring up a valid point, getting inspiration from the music of other musicians that you're playing with. It would seem to me that this is an essential part of improvisation.

The idea of "style" is an element. Playing jazz changes over a bluegrass accompaniment might not work. I believe that some improvisation can consist of simple ideas. In jazz, Miles Davis economized his lines which veered from the complexity of be-bop.
Some of the best simple instrumental "hooks" we find in pop music sometimes comes from ideas on the spot. That's why many session musicians used to be paid enormous sums for the contributions on a hit records.

Frank


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Subject: RE: Music Question: Improvisors?
From: M.Ted
Date: 29 Jan 03 - 04:27 PM

Frank--

Sorry to have taken so long to get back to you, but recent cold snap, coupled with the flu have kept me away from the computer--I found your thoughts to be very interesting--here are some thoughts of my own--

The subject of improvisation is big, as you point out,there are so many different ways that it can be approached--Melodic, rhthmic, harmonic, as well as by way of the different types of counterpoint.

The differences between styles of jazz is, at least in part, in the approach to improvisation, and there are many, many, non-jazz based styles of improvisation as well.

In a way, composition is really basically improvisation, and the great classical masters tended to be great improvisors, and the great jazz players have tended to be great composers, as well.

Improvisation was a weak point in my playing for many years, and as a result, I've spent a lot of time trying to figure out what the spontaneous players were doing that I wasn't, and how to approximate it--

One of the things that I discovered from reading what players had written, and musicians who were both willing and able to talk, is that
a player has to have a handle on three elements--the rhythmic phrases that are appropriate, melodic material (such as the melody itself, and the scale that it uses), and structure of the tune that is the backdrop for improvisation--

My approach to improvisation is to begin with rhythmic phrases and cadences, then to impose the appropriate scales over them. The trick, at least for me, to teaching blues, is simply to teach the way that call and response works within the blues progression, and then to help them to find a rhythmic phrase that they "feel'"--

I am talking about soloing here, though, and I just realized it--much of the real improvising in folk/blues/jazz/pop is really in creating the accompaniment, it works with the same elements, though--


By the way, I think it is, at least from a creative point of view, easier to improvise over that Db7Aug11 chord than over a Bluegrass C triad, since there are many more things that you can play over the Db7Aug11 and still stay within the harmonic style.


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