Reply to Thread Bookmark Thread
Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast
Posts 1 to 50 of 68
  1. #1

    User Info Menu

    I play guitar, bass, and mandolin, and am currently playing bass at church, and mandolin in a band. I studied jazz guitar with a great instructor and player for many years. All told I have played guitar for over fifty years. I am a good reader in treble clef and I can get by reading in bass clef. Pretty much if it's written I can play it. My lifelong problem is I am poor at improvising on guitar. I can improvise pretty well on mandolin and bass, but on guitar it just doesn't click. It really doesn't matter whether it's jazz, rock, country, blues, or pop; what I play when improvising on the guitar just doesn't get it. I can't seem to come up with any interesting passages, and the flow of the improvisation portion of the song is dull, repetitive, and boring.

    Here;s my question; is the ability to improvise well something you are born with, or can it be learned? Every time I find a new tip on improvising and try it I end up in the same stew; uninteresting, and not a good fit for the song. I hear others improvise and it sounds good and seems to fit the song, but when I analyze what they played it is not something that is complex, but is more often some simple patterns. If this is something that can be learned, and if so, can you suggest a teaching aid I can look for. Or am I just missing some process you can suggest that will turn the light bulb on for me.

    Thanks in advance for your responses,

    One_Dude

  2.  

    The Jazz Guitar Chord Dictionary
     
  3. #2

    User Info Menu

    Last time it clicked for me went like that. I started a solo, thought "boy, this phrase sucked". Then thought "would I think the same way about a person who says "good day" to me?".
    Then decided to "respect" anything that happens with my notes, and yeah. It clicked this time.

    Probably you've heard something like that already though.

  4. #3

    User Info Menu

    Quote Originally Posted by one_dude
    I play guitar, bass, and mandolin, and am currently playing bass at church, and mandolin in a band. I studied jazz guitar with a great instructor and player for many years. All told I have played guitar for over fifty years. I am a good reader in treble clef and I can get by reading in bass clef. Pretty much if it's written I can play it. My lifelong problem is I am poor at improvising on guitar. I can improvise pretty well on mandolin and bass, but on guitar it just doesn't click. It really doesn't matter whether it's jazz, rock, country, blues, or pop; what I play when improvising on the guitar just doesn't get it. I can't seem to come up with any interesting passages, and the flow of the improvisation portion of the song is dull, repetitive, and boring.

    Here;s my question; is the ability to improvise well something you are born with, or can it be learned? Every time I find a new tip on improvising and try it I end up in the same stew; uninteresting, and not a good fit for the song. I hear others improvise and it sounds good and seems to fit the song, but when I analyze what they played it is not something that is complex, but is more often some simple patterns. If this is something that can be learned, and if so, can you suggest a teaching aid I can look for. Or am I just missing some process you can suggest that will turn the light bulb on for me.

    Thanks in advance for your responses,

    One_Dude
    Can you scat sing something you like? If you can, the issue is getting it from your brain to your fingers.

    If you can't scat sing something you like, then it's tougher. Not sure what to suggest other than the usual methods of building vocabulary, reading things, transcribing things, using theoretical devices if that works for you and maybe recognizing that your personal creative spirit is not aligned with some of the jazz you admire. In that case, I'd say, do it your way.

  5. #4

    User Info Menu

    I can improvise pretty well on mandolin and bass, but on guitar it just doesn't click.
    If the above is true, then it must be some physical difference that creates this discrepancy within which guitar fails to rise to the same level as bass and mandolin. What if you played on the bottom 4 strings using the same technique that you use on bass?

  6. #5

    User Info Menu

    Quote Originally Posted by one_dude
    I hear others improvise and it sounds good and seems to fit the song, but when I analyze what they played it is not something that is complex, but is more often some simple patterns.
    Thanks in advance for your responses,

    One_Dude
    Yeah, you just hit on the essence of the art form if not all art forms.

    What you heard is the full impact of the phrase and not pieces of it.
    What you study are ways to create that, but you just keep hearing pieces of it.

    I seriously doubt Picasso ever saw a Picasso or any of the Beatles ever heard a Beatles song.

    But the way is ORGANIC ETUDES I'm convinced.

  7. #6

    User Info Menu

    Is there a style that you would you prefer to improvise in more than others?

  8. #7

    User Info Menu

    always think of beatles recording sessions...they'd bring in a great classical player..and say play something over this part...and the classical guys couldn't improvise..they'd demand charts...which clever george martin could provide!!

    i believe the desire/ability to improvise is innate...born with..or not..but can be somewhat developed with time and thorough rethinking

    a true improvisor is usually an improvisor in more than just guitar playing...life itself!

    Life is a lot like jazz. It's best when you improvise.- George Gershwin

    cheers

  9. #8

    User Info Menu

    Quote Originally Posted by one_dude
    I play guitar, bass, and mandolin, and am currently playing bass at church, and mandolin in a band. I studied jazz guitar with a great instructor and player for many years. All told I have played guitar for over fifty years. I am a good reader in treble clef and I can get by reading in bass clef. Pretty much if it's written I can play it. My lifelong problem is I am poor at improvising on guitar. I can improvise pretty well on mandolin and bass, but on guitar it just doesn't click. It really doesn't matter whether it's jazz, rock, country, blues, or pop; what I play when improvising on the guitar just doesn't get it. I can't seem to come up with any interesting passages, and the flow of the improvisation portion of the song is dull, repetitive, and boring.

    Here;s my question; is the ability to improvise well something you are born with, or can it be learned? Every time I find a new tip on improvising and try it I end up in the same stew; uninteresting, and not a good fit for the song. I hear others improvise and it sounds good and seems to fit the song, but when I analyze what they played it is not something that is complex, but is more often some simple patterns. If this is something that can be learned, and if so, can you suggest a teaching aid I can look for. Or am I just missing some process you can suggest that will turn the light bulb on for me.

    Thanks in advance for your responses,

    One_Dude

  10. #9
    GTRman said "Is there a style that you would you prefer to improvise in more than others?"

    I am primarily a Jazz player, but the structure that puzzles me the most is Blues. I suspect that the rules (if they exist) for most styles of music are very similar, and that seems to be where I don't get it. I am beginning to think that I am just not creative enough to come up with interesting improvised riffs. I know a Bluegrass player who complained of the same kind of problem. She says she just woke up one day and everything clicked. I don't doubt her, but that doesn't seem to be in my future.

    Thanks again,

    One_Dude

  11. #10

    User Info Menu

    Quote Originally Posted by one_dude
    I am primarily a Jazz player, but the structure that puzzles me the most is Blues.
    But can you improvise blues on mandolin or bass?
    I would pick a blues guitarist you like and try copying their lines. Then start changing a note here and there.

    I have problems improvising on guitar, but that is mainly because I just don't know the guitar fretboard the way I do the piano keyboard. In my mind's eye, I can picture right now exactly where the notes would go on a piano keyboard for a tune I might come up with, or the head of a jazz standard. I can't do that on the guitar: I learned the guitar totally by ear and never really learned what or where the notes are. I am paying for that lack of training now that I am trying to learn jazz, a lot of catching up to do. (My other big improvising challenge is that I play on my own and I'm into chord-melody, so I am trying to minimise the amount of single notes and not go too long without a chord or some kind of polyphony)

  12. #11

    User Info Menu

    Have you ever copied some improvised phrases from players that you like? Because this is really the commonest way most people learn to improvise. And they often do it for a long time before they can create anything decent themselves.

    They don’t just suddenly start doing it out of nothing.

  13. #12

    User Info Menu

    Improvisation is dead easy.

    All you need is a complete mastery of the fretboard, a complete and fluent knowledge of all scales, triads and arpeggios in every key, a total understanding of the use of passing notes, substitutions, octaves, leaps and idiomatic lines in every key and in every situation, a full knowledge of all the chords and chord voicings together with their substitutions, variations and usage in every key and in every circumstance, the ability to change your note choices to fit every kind of rhythm and style, a knowledge of every common and not-so-common tune, vast experience, ultimate musical ability, years of study and research, a thorough knowledge and understanding of music theory, especially when applied to jazz, a decent instrument to play it on, the understanding that music can be frustrating and therefore a certain indifference to suffering, dogged determination, confidence without arrogance, willingness to listen to what others say, the ability to differentiate between sound and unsound advice, and some luck.

    Nothing to it.

  14. #13

    User Info Menu

    Quote Originally Posted by one_dude
    GTRman said "Is there a style that you would you prefer to improvise in more than others?"

    I am primarily a Jazz player, but the structure that puzzles me the most is Blues. I suspect that the rules (if they exist) for most styles of music are very similar, and that seems to be where I don't get it. I am beginning to think that I am just not creative enough to come up with interesting improvised riffs. I know a Bluegrass player who complained of the same kind of problem. She says she just woke up one day and everything clicked. I don't doubt her, but that doesn't seem to be in my future.

    Thanks again,

    One_Dude
    I would not count on a sudden epiphany without working at it. There is a method (actually more than one), it's a bit of work but should get you going.

    Can you play anything over a single chord? For example the I7 and IV7 chords in the blues form?

    Instrumental Facility:
    1. Start by confirming that you can play the C mixolydian mode, C dominant bebop scale and C blues scale in one position/fret board area. Ascending/descending, slow to medium tempo, and with relative ease. (7th/8th position for C7).

    2. Same goes for the C7 arpeggio in both one and two octave forms.

    3. Play the arpeggio in steady eigth notes for one measure.

    4. Then do the same for the IV7 chord (F7 in this case). Same fret board area, same chord scales and Dom7 arpeggio based on F as opposed to C.

    Elementary beginnings of jazz language - "chord tone soloing":
    5. EDIT: Made a modification regarding confining the voice leading to only the guide tones. Regarding the above - repeat the two bars - but - "voice lead" the two arpeggios - meaning, when you change between the C7 and F7 chords, play the closest chord tone of the new chord at the change and continue with the arpeggio up and/or down for four beats in that same fret board area. A particulary strong voice led connection between these chords is the use of the guide tones. To use the guide tones voice lead by making certain that the last tone of the I7 chord is the 7th, and the first tone of the IV7 chord is the 3rd. In this key that means end the C7 chord on Bb, while making the first note of the F7 "A". In any case, voice lead by connecting to the nearest chord tone when changing to the new chord.

    6. This is termed "voice leading", makes some use of "guide tones" and "direct approach" (vs. indirect approach notes), but don't worry about all that right now. The main point is that this is the beginning of creating jazz language "chord outlines" made up of smooth flowing melodic lines.

    7. The above covered the first two bars of the Blues, so expand this to play the first four bars of the Blues in C: C7/F7/C7/C7

    Try that and get back to us.
    Last edited by GTRMan; 09-16-2020 at 07:02 PM.

  15. #14

    User Info Menu

    How are you at picking out familiar melodies (Happy Birthday, Christmas carols, Beatles, folk songs) without the sheet music? If you spend some time trying to play interesting melodies that you already know, it might shed some light on how you need to approach improvising interesting melodies of your own.

    Best wishes for your music!

    PK

  16. #15

    User Info Menu

    Quote Originally Posted by ragman1
    Improvisation is dead easy.

    All you need is a complete mastery of the fretboard, a complete and fluent knowledge of all scales, triads and arpeggios in every key, a total understanding of the use of passing notes, substitutions, octaves, leaps and idiomatic lines in every key and in every situation, a full knowledge of all the chords and chord voicings together with their substitutions, variations and usage in every key and in every circumstance, the ability to change your note choices to fit every kind of rhythm and style, a knowledge of every common and not-so-common tune, vast experience, ultimate musical ability, years of study and research, a thorough knowledge and understanding of music theory, especially when applied to jazz, a decent instrument to play it on, the understanding that music can be frustrating and therefore a certain indifference to suffering, dogged determination, confidence without arrogance, willingness to listen to what others say, the ability to differentiate between sound and unsound advice, and some luck.

    Nothing to it.
    All the stuff in red is neither necessary nor sufficient to improvise. The stories of people for whom improvising "just clicked" remind me of the Necker Cube and the Spinning Dancer... the foundation of improvising stems from a similar perceptual flexibility to hear multiple possibilities and the experienced aural will to select one for execution.

  17. #16

    User Info Menu

    It's a joke, Paul, come on.

  18. #17

    User Info Menu

    Quote Originally Posted by ragman1
    It's a joke, Paul, come on.
    And a good one, I might add. I, for one, appreciate whatever moments of levity this forum provides, intentional or not.

  19. #18

    User Info Menu

    I got it as a joke but there is some truth in it also. I went to school with not much knowledge of jazz.. omg. Just overwhelming amount of those requirements.
    But Pauln made a good point also. I mean, should be already good to go (enjoy) when knowing to play a scale in a correct key. And change the keys without any problems.
    This "not good enough" seems to be something psychological. It is a non-productive attitude. In my case, I've tried to learn as much as I can but that also meant that every damn time I try to play a solo, the same "practice-mode" takes over and the real joy just is not gonna be there.
    I've been pondering about that for a year or so now.
    One cool thing that happened thanks to the pondering - occasionally, I can get into this constant flow when soloing on some tune again and again. Last time this happened like 20 years ago. When learning classical guitar, got a piece ready and just played it over and over and couldn't stop. Now I get to experience the same thing with jazz tunes. I didn't even expect this to happen. And had it completely forgotten - that feeling. That's nice

    Scofield said somewhere "don't stop, maybe the thing you're after is just around the corner"

  20. #19

    User Info Menu

    I don’t care about improvisation. I have enough on my plate just trying to make music lol

    Whatever the dictionary says, the real world definition for Improvisation = music that’s not written down, because there’s no way of telling what’s going on if you are just listening to a player for the first time.

    So you might be hearing something worked out or spontaneous....

    theres a lot of unhelpful mystique. The music is the most important thing. Focus on doing stuff that sounds good. The more you do it, the more flexible you’ll get.

  21. #20

    User Info Menu

    Quote Originally Posted by pauln
    All the stuff in red is neither necessary nor sufficient to improvise. The stories of people for whom improvising "just clicked" remind me of the Necker Cube and the Spinning Dancer... the foundation of improvising stems from a similar perceptual flexibility to hear multiple possibilities and the experienced aural will to select one for execution.
    To me it's not a joke. Most good jazz players can do all of those things. I'm even mostly there myself through years of shredding. That doesn't mean one can improvise well or s/he is a great player, but it means they have the basic jazz skill set to build on.

    Without being fluent with the common jazz harmonic and melodic practices on the guitar, I don't know how a player can weave through the changes with interesting ideas and themes, be specific or general with chords when improvising and comp well. Good command of scales and arpeggios as well as phrasal devices are crucial to line building (ask Barry Harris or like pretty much anybody). Knowledge of reharmonizations, voice leading, substitutions come from learning tunes not just theory books and are also crucial to both improvisation and comping (check out any good solo).

    It's possible some players develop different, personal approaches that circumvent having to learn their instruments in a formal way, but every pro jazz player I've met and studied with could do everything highlighted in red and more. I studied with 6 jazz pro's over the years and met many others. The red highlighted stuff are basic trivialities for the experienced jazz players.
    Last edited by Tal_175; 09-16-2020 at 03:19 PM.

  22. #21

    User Info Menu

    Then there is Andres Varady. Cover of GP. In the interview he said that he knows absolutely no theory. He's an ear player and he sounds great.

    He knows everything he needs to know to do what he does -- and he knows it by sound.

    OTOH, there are multiple great players who mastered the Berklee material and more -- and use it to great advantage.

    What do they have in common? Great ears, great musical imagination and the ability to play what is in their minds.

    This suggests an approach to development. Ear training, building vocabulary and working on the mind-hands connection. The first two are typically done together by copying recordings. The third one comes from time on the instrument.

    Theory is optional, but, that said, most people, especially those who aren't as gifted as a player like Mr. Varady, benefit from theory.

  23. #22

    User Info Menu

    Quote Originally Posted by rpjazzguitar
    Then there is Andres Varady. Cover of GP. In the interview he said that he knows absolutely no theory. He's an ear player and he sounds great.
    I don't know what that means when an accomplished jazz player says they don't know any theory.
    Does that mean during their entire musical development their conscious mind was shut off? Their relationship to music was always just a pure aural, inspirational experience? They never developed conceptions that break down and differentiate musical events? They never had a mental approach in conquering musical or instrumental challenges?

    Or does it mean that they developed/discovered an organization based on their individual approach or how people around them thought about music? They just don't know the common names of the concepts they may have independently discovered or may be their mental musical organization is more custom fitted to the style they grew up with and it didn't need to be as general as the broader, formal music theory?
    Last edited by Tal_175; 09-17-2020 at 08:58 AM.

  24. #23

    User Info Menu

    As I recall the interview, he mentioned not knowing anything about scales. In a more recent interview he mentioned not knowing the names of the more complex chords he uses.

    My understanding is that he learned to play by ear. He could hear and remember even sophisticated sounds and find them on the instrument.

    He did not study guitar the way I imagine it is taught in college.

    I won't speculate on how he thought about what he was playing.

  25. #24

    User Info Menu

    Quote Originally Posted by citizenk74
    intentional or not.
    :-)

  26. #25

    User Info Menu

    I do feel it is too easy to build improvisation
    into a BIG SCAREY monster ....

    (and that mindset can actually stop you learning it)

    something i found that opened a big door for me , was some great player
    in an interview who said something like
    "it's not a big deal ....we all improvise all the time , children playing ,
    playing tennis , this conversation we're having now
    is largely improvised ..... same with music"

    (and the more you do it the better you get)

    all the stuff in red will naturally just come along for the ride
    i mean if you're learning How high the moon , you're gonna
    learn how to handle decending 2 5's innit ?

    then you learn Bluesette etc

    I don't think these lists of 'things to learn' are helpful ....
    even as as a joke , (someone might not get that it's a joke)

    unless the list of things to learn are songs ,
    then its fine

    but whatever , do you're own thing , that's just me

  27. #26

    User Info Menu

    Made a couple of edits to post #13 above.

  28. #27

    User Info Menu

    Bug or Feature?

    More and more I think about that. There are some players who can do it all.

    But, if there's something you can't do, it doesn't have to be a bug, you might make it a feature.

    Wes said he couldn't get a satisfactory sound with a pick. He didn't use his left pinkie for single note lines. Bugs or features?

    Charlie Christian played all downstrokes.

    Jim Hall isn't a speed demon.

    BB King didn't play much rhythm guitar, so he found other things to do.

    Jimmy Bruno (who can probably do anything) played a great solo on a video when limiting himself only to the notes of a major scale, or maybe it was a major seventh chord.

    I wonder if a lot of us are so focused on what we can't do -- and so focused on overcoming weaknesses, that we gloss over what we can do and don't focus on extending our existing abilities. Not that there isn't a place for new abilities, of course.

    That is, we focus on filling holes rather than building mountains.

  29. #28

    User Info Menu

    I think the art of improvising started with musicians playing the written melody. Maybe they couldn't read or maybe after memorizing the melody they would slightly change it with a few notes here or there.

    You have to follow your ear when improvising. You have to intentionally play a "wrong" note and spontaneously hear a way to follow up with something that sounds good. How far one can get from diatonic to chromatic and make it sound good varies.

    Improvising can be learned to a point but it can be difficult and awkward for those that have always read everything they play. There are many tricks and devices that can be used that I find similar to the elements of art. Those devices are pretty much covered in other threads on this site.

  30. #29

    User Info Menu


  31. #30

    User Info Menu

    Are you trying to play ideas but are not happy with the results? Or are you failing to come up with ideas? I think of it (oversimplified I’m sure) as a three-part process: (1) Your musical imagination comes up with ideas (2) your “ear” maps the notes to your instrument and (3) your well-trained fingers play the notes served up from your imagination via your ear.

    There can be bottlenecks on any step, and I think they need to be dealt with in order: with scant ideas you are reduced to playing patterns and thinking about scales, with weak ears you are frustrated because you can’t “find” the notes you are imagining, and with weak chops (my particular issue) you can’t keep up with your ideas.

    Thinking about it his way may help you identify where the blockage is.

  32. #31

    User Info Menu

    People have improvised since the beginning of time. The first music must have been an improvisation.

    It probably doesn’t occur to most people in the world who do this to have a name for it. We don’t think of having a name for making up sentences as opposed to reading from a script. And that realisation may help us with regard to working out how we might learn it. Or how Andreas Varady learned it.

    (certainly we don’t give babies a grammar lesson and expect them to construct sentences. Even adult language classes teach sentences, vocabulary, pronunciation and aural alongside grammar. Although everyone agrees the only way to really learn a language is immersion.)

    Classical musicians are highly skilled artisans trained to only ever play with the reference to a score. The cultural dominance of classical music in education even today may blind us as to how weird this is. Unlike EVERY other musical tradition in the world classical training discourages it’s students from inventing music (unless they compose, in which case they are Special and Different), so when they see normal music making and can’t do it, they have to have a word for it - Improvisation - which is both needlessly technical and tells us nothing.

    I suggest we use the term ‘conversational music’. Say you want to be conversational in jazz. Well no one expects a French student to be able to converse day one. You may start by ordering a coffee. Something where you have stock phrases and responses.

    So - listen to phrases, copy, learn the meaning or context (such as what chord progression the line goes over, the song), work on ‘pronunciation’ and start to put them together.

    Focus on doing music well. Don’t sweat the process. Too many doing that on JGO. That can always wait until you can actually play.

  33. #32

    User Info Menu

    Remember - the human brain wants to improvise. All you have to do is feed it raw materials and ensure those materials are properly internalised.

  34. #33

    User Info Menu

    Quote Originally Posted by rpjazzguitar

    I wonder if a lot of us are so focused on what we can't do -- and so focused on overcoming weaknesses, that we gloss over what we can do and don't focus on extending our existing abilities. Not that there isn't a place for new abilities, of course.

    That is, we focus on filling holes rather than building mountains.
    This exactly what I think about the whole situation.
    I remember having a blast improvising on some D chord when I was 14. Then the same thing happened with a simple pentatonic over blues. No experience or "vocabulary" - great fun.
    But most of the time the ambitions ruin everything.

    For me, ranking the most joy from music is 5.listening something extremely good 4.playing something good at home 3. playing with my band with happy audience 2. finding something neat when composing 1.improvising when having some inspiration.
    That last one is so rare but is the ultimate feeling. Best thing ever. Completely worth the obsession and trouble.. when it finally happens. But so rare that I often forget about why even bother

  35. #34

    User Info Menu

    I've read through this thread a couple of times, and keep coming back to the OP saying he can improvise on other instruments but not on guitar (at least not to his satisfaction). This actually seems like a pretty unusual problem to me. This speaks to there being something specific to the way he plays guitar getting in the way, rather than it being a problem with improvisation per se. Or maybe not even that -- maybe it's more that what he can do on the mandolin just sounds displeasing to him when he executes it on the guitar. The only thing I can imagine that would help this would be spending more time on the guitar and less on the other instruments (or none at all) for an extended period of time until some sort guitar improvisation fluency kicks in (or it just starts sounding better). I mean if he is as strong technically as he indicates on the guitar, and as good an improvisor on the other instruments as he indicates, then should be able to somehow map what he does on the one to the other, and then maybe work on articulation and tone to get it sounding more satisfyingly guitar-y.

    John

  36. #35

    User Info Menu

    Yes I didn’t understand that either. My son has got a cheap mandolin and I had a go on it for a couple of weeks or so, just for fun. Despite the different tuning and the tiny frets, I was able to figure out some basic bebop lines on it after a few days, and play them (admittedly rather slowly and awkwardly). But there didn’t seem to be any reason why at least some of my improvising ability on one instrument couldn’t be transferred to the other, given enough time and effort.

  37. #36
    Thanks for all the responses and suggestions; there are definitely some good ideas here that I will try out. With regard to why I can improvise on the mandolin and bass but not on the guitar, well that is the central issue. I have a couple of ideas as to why this is the case, but they're just a guess. With the bass, I don't really do any complicated improvisation; I play a bass line and don't try to turn that into what should be played on the guitar. I believe that the bass should be the foundation for the rest of the instruments, and it's up to me to keep it strong and well defined. With bass I feel that "less is more". So let's talk about the comparison of the guitar and the mandolin.

    1) The tuning is different; the mandolin is tuned like a violin, which if I am correct is tuned in 5ths. The guitar (except for the B string) is tuned in 4ths. While I have been playing the guitar a lot longer than the mandolin, the mandolin just makes sense to me. When I am looking for a melody line it just sort of naturally falls under my fingers. The same is true when I improvise, it's just there without thinking about it too much.

    2) Most of my mandolin playing has been in Bluegrass music. Bluegrass songs do have some sheet music available, but I find that most of the songs are greatly affected by individual feel and few players use sheet music. As a result, I have been forced to learn many of the songs by following the chord progression, and finding the melody line within that structure. Theoretically this same process will work on the guitar, and I can usually find the melody by fumbling around, but it's just so much easier to read the sheet music. For some reason however, the improvisation part on the guitar just doesn't click for me. Believe me when I say this has been a significant frustration for me over the years.

    The instructor I studied with for many years believed strongly that a good reader is a good musician who, because of their reading skills, can play anything. He stressed the ability to read as a major part of his teaching. And I agree with that, however I think there are times when being a strong reader inhibits your creative juices. Many of the people I play with do not read music, but are still excellent players. If I can find the sheet music for solo improvisations I can play them with no trouble, and maybe that's part of what I should do.

    Thanks again for all of your responses, and keep them coming.

    One_Dude

  38. #37

    User Info Menu

    Improvisation can improve a lot with study and practice. There are no shortcuts to being good.

    I know a lot of great sight readers who can’t do anything else on an instrument. Depends on your definition of “good musician”.

  39. #38

    User Info Menu

    Quote Originally Posted by one_dude
    1) The tuning is different; the mandolin is tuned like a violin, which if I am correct is tuned in 5ths. The guitar (except for the B string) is tuned in 4ths. While I have been playing the guitar a lot longer than the mandolin, the mandolin just makes sense to me. When I am looking for a melody line it just sort of naturally falls under my fingers. The same is true when I improvise, it's just there without thinking about it too much.
    I had violin and piano lessons forced on me at an early age. While I resented it at the time I'm glad now, cos it essentially 'gave' me two instruments that I wouldn't have voluntarily chosen to learn.

    I totally hear you about mandolin/violin tuning. The fact that the guitar is unevenly tuned does make playing scales on it and improvising on it more of a challenge than a mandolin or violin or any other evenly-tuned instrument. If, as I have, evenly tuned 5ths is how your brain is used to thinking, then you have that extra hump to get over. But more than that - I started Suzuki method violin age 6 and piano age 8, so I know the piano keyboard and violin fingerboard in a way I probably never will with the guitar's fretboard. There's just loads of hours of playing and lessons at a really formative age when your brain is absorbing stuff: I don't have the same understanding when it comes to guitar.

    That said, I can cope with single-note guitar improvising and I think if I stuck to just single-note I could make some much faster progress. But I'm more interested in chord-melody improvising, as I'm a solo player at heart. It's going to take a while...

  40. #39

    User Info Menu

    Sounds like you need to put away the sheet music for a long time and force yourself to find where the melodies are on the guitar, by ear, despite the tuning difference. Sort of the same process I was doing when fumbling around on the mandolin. For me the Mando tuning was weird, not the guitar tuning!

    It should get easier eventually, as I said above, I was beginning to get more familiar with the note positions on the mandolin after a week or two. I guess I was starting to build up a ‘mental map’ of the fingerboard, like I already have on the guitar.

    I think you just need to keep at it however long it takes and however little progress you seem to be making. Like a lot of things in jazz!

  41. #40

    User Info Menu

    Quote Originally Posted by one_dude
    T
    The instructor I studied with for many years believed strongly that a good reader is a good musician who, because of their reading skills, can play anything. He stressed the ability to read as a major part of his teaching. And I agree with that, however I think there are times when being a strong reader inhibits your creative juices. Many of the people I play with do not read music, but are still excellent players. If I can find the sheet music for solo improvisations I can play them with no trouble, and maybe that's part of what I should do.
    I can certainly see that having good reading skills can provide a very effective way of visualizing musical information. That unlocks a whole another part of the brain to contribute to the musical abilities and practice techniques.

    I think we all visualize music one way or another. Most of us, for whom reading isn't second nature, visualize pitches on our instruments or as numbers. We can visualize rhythmic information in a variety of different ways. Music notation might be more elegant but not the only way.

    Other than that, I don't see a very satisfying link between reading skills and improvisation skills.
    Last edited by Tal_175; 09-18-2020 at 09:16 AM.

  42. #41

    User Info Menu

    Quote Originally Posted by one_dude
    Thanks for all the responses and suggestions; there are definitely some good ideas here that I will try out. With regard to why I can improvise on the mandolin and bass but not on the guitar, well that is the central issue. I have a couple of ideas as to why this is the case, but they're just a guess. With the bass, I don't really do any complicated improvisation; I play a bass line and don't try to turn that into what should be played on the guitar. I believe that the bass should be the foundation for the rest of the instruments, and it's up to me to keep it strong and well defined. With bass I feel that "less is more". So let's talk about the comparison of the guitar and the mandolin.

    1) The tuning is different; the mandolin is tuned like a violin, which if I am correct is tuned in 5ths. The guitar (except for the B string) is tuned in 4ths. While I have been playing the guitar a lot longer than the mandolin, the mandolin just makes sense to me. When I am looking for a melody line it just sort of naturally falls under my fingers. The same is true when I improvise, it's just there without thinking about it too much.

    2) Most of my mandolin playing has been in Bluegrass music. Bluegrass songs do have some sheet music available, but I find that most of the songs are greatly affected by individual feel and few players use sheet music. As a result, I have been forced to learn many of the songs by following the chord progression, and finding the melody line within that structure. Theoretically this same process will work on the guitar, and I can usually find the melody by fumbling around, but it's just so much easier to read the sheet music. For some reason however, the improvisation part on the guitar just doesn't click for me. Believe me when I say this has been a significant frustration for me over the years.

    The instructor I studied with for many years believed strongly that a good reader is a good musician who, because of their reading skills, can play anything. He stressed the ability to read as a major part of his teaching. And I agree with that, however I think there are times when being a strong reader inhibits your creative juices. Many of the people I play with do not read music, but are still excellent players. If I can find the sheet music for solo improvisations I can play them with no trouble, and maybe that's part of what I should do.

    Thanks again for all of your responses, and keep them coming.

    One_Dude
    It's a useful skill to be able to read to get work, but playing by ear is more important for most improvised traditions. Great working musicians often have great ears and improvisational ability and great reading; it's not a zero sum game. But you do have to spend time on different skills.

    Beware technical methods for improvisation - I honestly think you need to work on the aural side of your musicianship, and while that might be intimidating at first, it will get easier. Listen to players you like and learn lines you hear. Pay attention to what chords they play certain things over, and go from there.

  43. #42

    User Info Menu

    Dude -

    Look, we all have trouble with improvising, that's what it's all about. You have to work it out, that's all.

    I did write a fairly long thing early on but didn't post it. Obviously the main thing is that the mandolin is tuned differently to the guitar. Really, the guitar is a whole different ball game. Mandolin isn't really a jazz instrument. I know Grisman gave it a good shot but it's not really jazz as jazzers understand it. The technique for mandolin isn't the same.

    Bluegrass bass is pretty simple usually, one and five and the odd connecting run. Jazz bass is, again, a wholly different world. Listening to, say, Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, Mingus, Ray Brown, or many excellent others would show that.

    So, whereas all music is music, jazz guitar probably has to be understood for itself. I don't claim to have mastered it and I don't know many who have. I can only recommend much listening to good players.

  44. #43

    User Info Menu

    While we're philosophizing about improvisation instead of working on it I will just say that I couldn't disagree more with those who would tell you to beware of "technical" methods for improvisation.

    Some people will tell you the same thing about learning music theory, going to music school, etc., etc. It is apparent that some people simply have an aversion to organized disciplined study when it comes to music. Furthermore, the guitar is traditionally a casual, informal, folk, gypsy instrument, so it's no surprise when guitarists in particular eschew formal study.


    Here are a few thoughts regarding learning the art of jazz improvisation:

    1. If you want to jam on one chord at a time, playing any diatonic stuff that comes out and sounds half decent, knock yourself out. But don't count on learning or effectively expressing the jazz language that way.

    2. If you want to do likewise over more rapidly changing harmonies? Same thing - except you will likely be much less successful.

    3. If you want to play by ear and copy jazz solos one at a time while waiting for that magic day when suddenly "poof!" you can do it too without having any idea how or why, knock yourself out. But don't count on that happening in any kind of satisfying time frame - if ever. If one wanted to invent a jazz improvisation "method" that would maximize the probablity of most people quitting, this would probably be it. One has to be "all in" for this path. (A few are, of course).

    Historically speaking, the biggest shortcomings in jazz improv studies - in my opionion - are that (1) there are huge gaps in the educational material, and (2) effective methods for beginning improvisors are lacking. Those who are just learning to tread water suddenly find themselves thrown into a rip tide with great white sharks. These gaps need to be filled in, and with stepwise increases in difficulty.

    Traditional "methods" for learning jazz improvisation were pretty spotty, and still are to a large extent. But - a lot of progress has been made in the teaching of this art/skill over the past few decades, just as is the case for many other human endeavors. For example - this website has material. The study group thread working on Garrison Fewell's book has material. And there is other insightful and useful material (Bert Ligon's "Connecting Chords with Linear Harmony", etc., etc.)
    It's just that almost all of the material out there is subject-oriented - like a seminar - and not connected to anything resembling a comprehenive, stepwise, learning path. So the student (and teachers) are left to cobble it all together.

    Even the widely accepted/established notion of "Imitate, Assimilate, Innovate" is a bit old by now, and the Assimilate step involves analysis so that one can understand the details and content of the jazz language. Is that "technical"? Maybe. But so what?

    I remember an interview with John McLaughlin some years ago where he was discussing his self-studies and the herculean level of work that it involved, and so on. He then said something to the effect of "I suppose you could learn it faster if you went to some school". He was right.

    It's a hurry up world we live in now. Productivity and efficiency are very important. There is no reason to make something take much longer than needed, be very difficult to work with, and produce less effective results than could otherwise be the case.

    But it's a free country as they say, one can choose to ignore all that.
    Last edited by GTRMan; 09-18-2020 at 04:04 PM.

  45. #44

    User Info Menu

    I think you're absolutely right but it seems you have no real answer either. Or do you?

  46. #45

    User Info Menu

    oh yeah, i have an idea. its just my personal take on some well known methods out there, nothing surprising about it. the focus is on beginning to low-intermediate improvisors.

  47. #46
    Quote Originally Posted by ragman1
    Dude -

    Look, we all have trouble with improvising, that's what it's all about. You have to work it out, that's all.

    I did write a fairly long thing early on but didn't post it. Obviously the main thing is that the mandolin is tuned differently to the guitar. Really, the guitar is a whole different ball game. Mandolin isn't really a jazz instrument. I know Grisman gave it a good shot but it's not really jazz as jazzers understand it. The technique for mandolin isn't the same.

    Bluegrass bass is pretty simple usually, one and five and the odd connecting run. Jazz bass is, again, a wholly different world. Listening to, say, Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, Mingus, Ray Brown, or many excellent others would show that.

    So, whereas all music is music, jazz guitar probably has to be understood for itself. I don't claim to have mastered it and I don't know many who have. I can only recommend much listening to good players.




    I absolutely agree with your statements: When I am playing in the Bluegrass bands, I am the mandolin player. I also play guitar on a few songs, and only play bass when our regular bass player is either not there, or is playing another instrument. My primary bass playing is in Folk Rock, and Rock music, rather than in Jazz. I play a couple of Jazz tunes that are part of our "dinner set", but in general do not play Jazz bass.

    As for guitar playing; my main focus is Jazz, with some Country when playing an acoustic guitar. Part of the problem is where I live; this is a rural community, and there is just no Jazz scene at all. You can find an occasional Jazz or Blues club or jam about 60 miles away (120 miles round trip), but I don't want to spend more time on the road than I do playing. I have done some solo playing at a local venue that has an open stage (before the lock down) once a month, and that was either Country or Bluegrass. Since the folks that run that venue are pretty nice, I may try one or two Jazz solos there if things ever open up again. For now I have been concentrating on vintage Jazz tunes that most folks who have nothing to do with Jazz will still recognize.

    Several of the suggestions from those responding are interesting and I will give those a try. Lately I have been taking the approach of concentrating on what I do best. Of course on guitar, that is not improvising, but rather playing the written melody. So the plan is to "press on" and keep trying to learn something new each day.

    Thanks again,

    One_Dude

  48. #47

    User Info Menu

    Here's my $.02,

    In my 30+ years of teaching guitar the most common issues I find with adult students is:
    • They try to do too much at once and don't stick to simple concepts
    • They don't stay with a topic long enough so that it becomes part of their playing

    Quote Originally Posted by one_dude
    I studied jazz guitar with a great instructor and player for many years.
    Hmm, need more information. To me, there's something wrong if you study with someone that long and don't progress, especially if he was a 'great instructor'.

    Quote Originally Posted by one_dude
    I can't seem to come up with any interesting passages, and the flow of the improvisation portion of the song is dull, repetitive, and boring.
    I think sometimes we need to suspend the inner critique and just focus on learning. I suggest you try to separate these two concepts. When initially learning a new skill, say for example playing only chord tones, spend some of your time just grinding it out. Later you can record yourself improvising using only chord tones and listen back and critique it.

    Quote Originally Posted by one_dude
    Here's my question; is the ability to improvise well something you are born with, or can it be learned?
    Personally I think it can be learned. It may not be as easy to learn as an adult as it might have been as a kid, but it is possible. I think one has to decide they want to and then do the work. What's the old saying; "Whether you believe you can or you can't, you're right."

    Quote Originally Posted by one_dude
    Every time I find a new tip on improvising and try it I end up in the same stew; uninteresting, and not a good fit for the song. I hear others improvise and it sounds good and seems to fit the song, but when I analyze what they played it is not something that is complex, but is more often some simple patterns. If this is something that can be learned, and if so, can you suggest a teaching aid I can look for. Or am I just missing some process you can suggest that will turn the light bulb on for me.
    Again I'll repeat what I said in the beginning. Stick to simple concepts and work on them for a long time (aka, every day for at least 30 days, and probably more like 60-90).

    That's my opinion.

  49. #48
    I think Wes played with his thumb totally by EAR!

  50. #49

    User Info Menu

    Quote Originally Posted by Dana View Post
    Here's my $.02,

    In my 30+ years of teaching guitar the most common issues I find with adult students is:
    • They try to do too much at once and don't stick to simple concepts
    • They don't stay with a topic long enough so that it becomes part of their playing


    Hmm, need more information. To me, there's something wrong if you study with someone that long and don't progress, especially if he was a 'great instructor'.


    I think sometimes we need to suspend the inner critique and just focus on learning. I suggest you try to separate these two concepts. When initially learning a new skill, say for example playing only chord tones, spend some of your time just grinding it out. Later you can record yourself improvising using only chord tones and listen back and critique it.



    Personally I think it can be learned. It may not be as easy to learn as an adult as it might have been as a kid, but it is possible. I think one has to decide they want to and then do the work. What's the old saying; "Whether you believe you can or you can't, you're right."



    Again I'll repeat what I said in the beginning. Stick to simple concepts and work on them for a long time (aka, every day for at least 30 days, and probably more like 60-90).

    That's my opinion.
    Nice post. And of course it can be “learned”.

    People need to get past any romantic notions that the greats were/are some kind of idiot savants who had music playing through them like they were some kind of mindless vessels.

    And once we are disabused of those fantasies we likewise can acknowledge that if something can be learned, it can also be taught.

    So, it’s up to teachers to do it right, it’s up to students to dig in and work, and of course talent doesn’t hurt.

  51. #50

    User Info Menu

    Quote Originally Posted by one_dude View Post



    I absolutely agree with your statements: When I am playing in the Bluegrass bands, I am the mandolin player. I also play guitar on a few songs, and only play bass when our regular bass player is either not there, or is playing another instrument. My primary bass playing is in Folk Rock, and Rock music, rather than in Jazz. I play a couple of Jazz tunes that are part of our "dinner set", but in general do not play Jazz bass.

    As for guitar playing; my main focus is Jazz, with some Country when playing an acoustic guitar. Part of the problem is where I live; this is a rural community, and there is just no Jazz scene at all. You can find an occasional Jazz or Blues club or jam about 60 miles away (120 miles round trip), but I don't want to spend more time on the road than I do playing. I have done some solo playing at a local venue that has an open stage (before the lock down) once a month, and that was either Country or Bluegrass. Since the folks that run that venue are pretty nice, I may try one or two Jazz solos there if things ever open up again. For now I have been concentrating on vintage Jazz tunes that most folks who have nothing to do with Jazz will still recognize.

    Several of the suggestions from those responding are interesting and I will give those a try. Lately I have been taking the approach of concentrating on what I do best. Of course on guitar, that is not improvising, but rather playing the written melody. So the plan is to "press on" and keep trying to learn something new each day.

    Thanks again,

    One_Dude

    I used to do a lot of bluegrass so I get it. Playing fiddle tunes on the guitar isn't jazz, of course. It's a pity there's nowhere for you to go jazz-wise locally but that might apply to a lot of people, and more so in the lockdown situation.

    But there's a ton of stuff if you've got the internet, which obviously you have. Start simple, start easy, pick from a recognised source that resonates with you, and off you go. There's always here to post your stuff and get feedback.

    Dive in!