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  1. #1
    So I've recently started to apply the principle of going slow in order to go fast to my improvisation practise and I'm starting to see real results in my ability to improvise for the first time in my Jazz struggles. Whilst I've always known this is a great method for building picking speed and other such technique, I'd never applied it to improvisation before.

    So for a bit of background, here's my story when it comes to Jazz. I've been trying to crack this Jazz thing for about 3/4 years now and very early on realised that I was not going to get anywhere as my ears were terrible. And by terrible I meant that, I could not even play happy birthday on the guitar by ear. I know this wasn't unique to me as I've seen/heard similar stories from others before. So in order to fix this I went on a deep dive in ear training. At this point I've probably bought all the apps on the iOS store as well as having made vast amounts of my own exercises which I've put onto my phone to listen to whilst I run/drive. I've tried both the intervallic and functional ear training approach and I can safely say that I whilst my ears aren't yet where I'd like them to be, I can and do play mostly by ear.

    Unfortunately I stupidly thought that improving my ears would magically lead to me becoming at least a half decent improviser and over the past 4 months or so I have realised that this couldn't be further from the truth. I realised I could very quickly transfer what I hear in my head to the guitar, but the problem was I didn't have anything in my head worth playing . I've learnt a few licks/songs over the past few years but if I'm honest I've spent probably abput 70% of my time ear training, 20% of my time mapping out the fretboard in all twelve keys (both positionally and using single strings) and maybe only 10% learning language.

    Looking back now I would probably advise myself to have started down a different path with regards to fretboard mapping vs language acquisition, though i don't regret the approach I took as I'm enjoying the fretboard flexibility this has given me. But it's definitely better to focus on language first. Anyway for the past 4 months or so my practise is now about 60% ear training and 40% language & repertoire (the only reason the bulk of it is still ear training is that I am able to do this away from the guitar using phone apps & recordings). Whilst I'm seeing an improvement in terms of actually having stuff in my head worth playing I then hit another hurdle. The ideas in my head don't come fast enough if I'm playing at anything faster than about 90 bpm and I resort to using my theory knowledge to construct lines as opposed to my ear.

    I've been trying to fix this problem and singing helps, but only up to a point as I still am not able to generate ideas fast enough and as we all know those changes come thick and fast in Jazz.

    Luckily I came across this video by Jens Larsen:



    And this approach has done WONDERS for my playing in the past few weeks. Don't get me wrong I'm no Wes Montgomery or Joe Pass, but I find that I'm finally able to work on constructing ideas and melodies as opposed to just trying to keep up with the changes and play something that "fits" but isn't coming from my soul.

    Anyway sorry for my ramblings. I'm just a noob hoping to encourage other noobs with one of the realisations I've made recently.

    EDIT: I forgot to ask, for the more experience heads on the forum, is this a method you use/have used in the past? Would you or wouldn't you recommend and why?

  2.  

    The Jazz Guitar Chord Dictionary
     
  3. #2

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    Are you familiar with this book?

    A Jazz Life, a book by John Klopotowski | Jazz Guitar | Warne Marsh

    discusses slow improv at length... it’s a real Tristano school thing

    it’s a sort of two way thing - learn to sing solos, do slow improv - back and forth

    Would be fun to get back into that. Taught me a lot. Singing solos can be fun and frustrating.

  4. #3

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    Good post, BG.

    I've always wondered if improvisers - proper ones, that is - do really hear something in their heads moments before the band plays the chords that those imagined lines will fit perfectly (or even imperfectly) over? I hope that's the case, but as someone who's never experienced that, I find it hard to believe. I guess it must happen to a certain degree, but does it happen the majority of the time, or do all these wonderful players simply fall back on patterns / ideas / quotes / memorised lines and so on?

    For me, in these early days of my latest attempt to crack jazz improvisation, I've adopted the advice to learn a few licks really well, and use them a lot, rather than to learn loads and use them rarely. Again, is that what the experts do, except they have memorised a huge amount of ideas, and they have the ability to recall them, cut them up, rejoin them, paste them into the moment at such a speed that it gives the impression of "heard inside the head" improvisation?

    I will watch that video. Maybe if I slow down enough then the answers to the above questions will become apparent...

    Cheers
    Derek

  5. #4

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    Funnily enough I went from that to working on Barry Harris stuff which is working in modules that you basically put together at tempo.

    everything is practiced at tempo. Like the exact opposite haha.

    i think both have their place. Sometimes it’s good to practice slow, sometimes it’s good to practice fast. It’s the only way to get used to playing at 360bpm lol.

  6. #5

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    Some describe "hitting the wall", but some reflection will reveal there are multiple walls... how fast you hear and recognize harmony, melody, and rhythm, how fast you formulate ideas comprised of those elements and their relationships, and how fast you apply the execution of those ideas. All these are presented as "how fast" because of the requirements of how jazz is performed and improvised, so there is a natural pressure when practicing. Paradoxically, we learn that resistance to that pressure is critical for enjoying the fastest progress from practice - good for you that you discovered it.

    digger,
    RE: "I've always wondered if improvisers - proper ones, that is - do really hear something in their heads moments before the band plays the chords that those imagined lines will fit perfectly (or even imperfectly) over?"

    Consider if not, how would they exert any quality control over their playing? How would they confirm that what came out of their instrument was what they intended to play?

  7. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by digger
    Good post, BG.

    I've always wondered if improvisers - proper ones, that is - do really hear something in their heads moments before the band plays the chords that those imagined lines will fit perfectly (or even imperfectly) over? I hope that's the case, but as someone who's never experienced that, I find it hard to believe. I guess it must happen to a certain degree, but does it happen the majority of the time, or do all these wonderful players simply fall back on patterns / ideas / quotes / memorised lines and so on?
    There's not one way to do it? I think people sort of think there's a single pathway that has to be followed but there isn't, there's just resources. Some players work with language/licks, others with the melody, others with harmony, many with a combination of approaches.

    I think to work on some form of audiation, as Edwin Gordon calls it, is always important. That's why we practice transcription really. At first it's useful to get licks, but what we are working on long term is our ability to hear, retrain and repeat musical phrases.

    In terms of hearing what you play ahead of time on a gig? Actually some say no. Kenny Werner actually says it's impossible. Peter Bernstein says often he just likes to play things to hear how they sound. But these guys have spent the time listening to and learning solos etc.

    My own experience FWIW is that while I work very hard on hearing phrases in my mind's ear so to speak, I usually hear what I'm playing as I play it when I am playing music. I'm not really conscious of whether the ears or the fingers are leading it. I think I am hearing primarily the rhythm and where the phrase is going to end up maybe ahead of time. I think it's probably best not to get too caught up in analysing that TBH..

    In general I practice so I lead with my ears (well TBH it goes in phases) - so don't noodle - but I have control over practice, I have less control over performance.

    Also I think one of the most important things is rhythm - being able to feel rhythm is more important than note choices. You can sing the rhythms of phrases as much as the pitches.

    For me, in these early days of my latest attempt to crack jazz improvisation, I've adopted the advice to learn a few licks really well, and use them a lot, rather than to learn loads and use them rarely. Again, is that what the experts do, except they have memorised a huge amount of ideas, and they have the ability to recall them, cut them up, rejoin them, paste them into the moment at such a speed that it gives the impression of "heard inside the head" improvisation?
    Yeah, that's gold.

    Purists who say 'don't learn licks' are IMO not helping starting learners. There's nothing wrong with lifting material at that stage. In fact, its IMO better than trying to improvise using scales or something for the beginner. You have to learn how the music sounds. It sounds like you are using the material well, and absorbing it into your playing.

    London BTW is full of lick players, guys who have just listened to every record and lifted licks off them. Some of them are pretty well known.

    They get told off sometimes by the NYC guys haha. In NYC the elders tell you off for that, which is not to say beginners shouldn't learn licks; it's just, when you reach the point of being competent the boot is applied to the rear and you have to find your own thing. This happened to Pat Metheny, Bruce Forman etc.

  8. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77
    Are you familiar with this book?

    A Jazz Life, a book by John Klopotowski | Jazz Guitar | Warne Marsh

    discusses slow improv at length... it’s a real Tristano school thing

    it’s a sort of two way thing - learn to sing solos, do slow improv - back and forth

    Would be fun to get back into that. Taught me a lot. Singing solos can be fun and frustrating.
    No I'm not, will check it out thanks!

  9. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by Brummy_Guitarist
    No I'm not, will check it out thanks!
    Yeah it's a cool book. there's a sort of autobiographical narrative which is quite interesting - something you don't see that often, but I think is terribly important for jazz which is a music of community. Then in the middle there's all the exercises etc.

  10. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by pauln
    Some describe "hitting the wall", but some reflection will reveal there are multiple walls... how fast you hear and recognize harmony, melody, and rhythm, how fast you formulate ideas comprised of those elements and their relationships, and how fast you apply the execution of those ideas. All these are presented as "how fast" because of the requirements of how jazz is performed and improvised, so there is a natural pressure when practicing. Paradoxically, we learn that resistance to that pressure is critical for enjoying the fastest progress from practice - good for you that you discovered it.

    digger,
    RE: "I've always wondered if improvisers - proper ones, that is - do really hear something in their heads moments before the band plays the chords that those imagined lines will fit perfectly (or even imperfectly) over?"

    Consider if not, how would they exert any quality control over their playing? How would they confirm that what came out of their instrument was what they intended to play?
    This is exactly the case, in my short time of playing I can see that when I think x is the problem and focus on that, I quickly find that when I have x up to scratch something else is keeping me from being the player I want to be.

    So in the very beginning it was technique, that early phase of learning the guitar when your fingers seem to take millenia just to get to the right frets, then it was my ear and fretboard knowledge, now I would say it's my imagination/creativity/lack of jazz language if you will. Not that I have the best ears, I don't. I can hear pretty fast phrases and play them right first time, but there's a delay during which I have to replay the phrase in my mind in slow motion before I can play it. It's just that at this moment in time, my ear isn't actually what's preventing me from playing....

    I think the frustrating but also exciting thing to know is that there will always be another level to reach. There will always be new sounds to hear, more realisations and epiphanies to have. I guess that's what led me to Jazz in the first place, despite being warned this was going to be a bottomless hole ahaha

  11. #10

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    My own method is 'go slow to go slow'. I'm a beginner and I play pretty much nothing but ballads.

  12. #11

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    Yes I too do the slow or rubato thing Jens is talking about
    First hear a phrase
    Then sing the phrase
    Then play the phrase on the guitar

    at slow or no tempo , but make sure I only
    play the idea , no filler no wrong notes
    only the actual phrase

    so even if it's slow you're playing what you intend to play
    and only that ,
    like you and Lars , I've found great benefit in doing that
    It's like a "cut the BS" kinda thing .....
    there's too much BS in this world anyway

  13. #12

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    yea common discussion... your need to practice both... SLOW and FAST. You sound like your a beginner so you'll need to adjust time spent on both. The technique for performing at faster tempos is different from slow tempos.

    Almost and technique any technique will work at slow tempos. I sometimes use lousy fingerings and technique to help create different feels... part of the sound and feel is the strain or awkward fingerings.

    The hearing what you play thing.... I can hear what I play easily, and I can shred. Same when I was young, and really had chops. But I can also hear notated music....

    Just for your reference, I can hear what I want to play before , during and can also be aware of what I play the chorus before and make conscious choices as to how I want to develop next time around. Another important part of performing.... I can hear what the rest of the musicians are playing and how they are reacting and interaction to what I'm playing as well as each other... be thinking of where I or we might want to go musically.

    Eventually that's where you'll get, really. Don't take interviews or one line quotes as everything... most pros know what their playing.... in the moment, past and future possibilities all the time. It'd not that big of a deal....

    Another point.... try and not stare at your guitar while your playing, it tends to promote that into yourself aspect of playing. It's really become common the last 20+ years.