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  1. #1

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    I would like to know how others think. When you are playing say any standard or tune that you know pretty well do what keeps time for you? Take the tune Out of Nowhere. Now it is your turn to solo. Do you think and feel the time by counting in your head the measures? Do you simply hear the change and know where you are in the turn? Do you simply know where you are in the tune based on some other concept? Maybe the melody is going on in your head and you know? Do you count consciously in your head or not? Do you mentally just have the chord running in your head without the need to SEE it on a chart. I find if I look at the chord chart the visual aspect makes this much much easier for me.

    I ask this because sometimes there is no comping and therefore you have a baseline or possible only the drums. The changes can be heard in a baseline but still easier when a chord instrument is going along. For myself I find the perfect and easiest way for me is to have another rhythm guitarist. A piano can be good too but it depends on the player. The best possible solution for me is that I know the tune so good that it just happens. I can hear the changes and keep track of the bars much easier and I manage to outline changes an yet hear bits of the melody. This type of playing for me is not something that happens without a lot of work and practice. Seems the greats of course just did it without too much difficulty because is was easy for them and came much faster than mere mortals like me.

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  3. #2

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    I try to think movements and form. Trying to feel bigger groups of time, 4 and 8 bars. And really knowing the form...how long is the A? How long is the bridge?

    Then there is the absolutely NASTY exercise of starting a tune from a random bar (especially one that's not divisible by 4) and trying to finish it. It is absolutely painful, but it works. I should do it more often...

  4. #3
    Any time I get to know a tune, I try to get to know it by ear, because each section, each phrase, each key area has its own "weight" and "time". If possible, listening to recordings and then after some familiarizing, to try to perhaps play bass lines or chord root movements in time, solidifies the shape of the piece.
    For instance, your piece Out Of Nowhere, has an area of hard tonal stability that starts you off and lets you know where you're returning home to. Pretty quickly though there's another place you are going to find yourself. By knowing the piece, how long the sections are and when they're coming up, it's a living thing that you can meet, sort of learn the dance steps to and not over think.

    This "learning by ear" just re-enforces as you get to know the piece better.
    Get OFF BOOK AS SOON AS YOU CAN. Or even try to get to know it without a page in front of you, just by ear.
    And certainly try not to use a chart as crutch as you're actually playing.
    The other player you refer to is your reminder of what is going on with the piece by sound, and that's great. But you'll find that same sound comes internally when you know the piece; when you've passed the invisible line between a "tune you're learning" and a flowing piece of music you can freely play with.

    You can do it. You can sing a christmas carol without a chart right? You can hear that Silent Night is coming up by an introduction, right?
    Get it in your ear, use the chart go give your ear's map some form but don't strive to use a chart as your guide; it's way too distracting.
    Listen to a recording, and sing a solo along with it. Get it in your head, go for a walk and hear the song running through your head, and hear lines you can work with. Get to know your harmony by ear. Know the diatonic chords by ear. All these things make you solid.

    I used to go to old school jams. At times the rhythm section would be bass and drums. Even if I didn't know the tune, the old cats would encourage me. They'd say "Oh you know it. Nothing new under the sun, just listen." Sometimes I'd hear the changes right and sometimes not, but I got better from getting to know the tune that way. Sometimes I'd get to know the tune before I even knew the changes. That process of internalization is part of acquiring the craft.

    One person's opinion anyway...
    Good luck
    Last edited by Jimmy blue note; 05-05-2021 at 03:12 PM.

  5. #4

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    Quote Originally Posted by mr. beaumont
    Then there is the absolutely NASTY exercise of starting a tune from a random bar (especially one that's not divisible by 4) and trying to finish it. It is absolutely painful, but it works. I should do it more often...
    That doesn't sound like fun at all. It sounds like... EXERCISE.

  6. #5

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    I rely on knowing the form, hearing the harmony, and being able to count single digits.

  7. #6

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    I'm not likely to get lost on Out of Nowhere, and I don't know exactly why not. I've played the tune for 56 years, I know the words, I can sing the melody and find the chords in any key. I'd guess that I'm not going to get lost because I know the tune really well, and, also, because it isn't tricky in any way.

    I'm more likely to get lost on a tune that's less familiar and/or more tricky. So, for example, if there is a 14 bar phrase stuck somewhere inside a tune that otherwise has 4 or 8 bar phrases. Or, there's a tricky hemiola (this is a common difficulty in a lot of the music I usually play, Brazilian and big band). Or some wild changes that go by very quickly, with unusual hits.

    But, tricks aside, I think the solution to getting lost, at least for some players/situations is to accept that you really have to work on the tune to the point where it's completely familiar. Learn the melody, be able to sing it, with lyric, if there is one. Learn the sound of the chords to the point where you can find them on the fly in any key. I think this is really important and there's no substitute for repetition.

    Where the tune is tricky, sometimes a device is needed to stay on track. I play a 2/4 tune, which I arranged in 7/4, that has big hits on 1 2+ 4 and 7 at one spot. It's hard because I'm used to hearing the same hits on 1 2+ and 4 in 2/4, not 7/4. My solution is that I say "four!" to myself on that hit. Then count "five six" followed by the last hit on the next quarter note. If I don't do that and, instead, relax and enjoy listening to the chord on 4 ring, well, I'll miss the hit on 7.

    For tunes with odd phrase lengths, it's familiarity. When that's impossible, I keep my eyes glued to the chart. If there is no chart and I'm supposed to play odd phrase lengths in unfamiliar tunes, well, the leader called the wrong guitarist.

  8. #7

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    This is a really good question, and probably more people have this problem than admit it.
    I wish I had a good answer, I'm afflicted with it, too, and it sometimes makes me doubt my ability to play jazz, even after trying for decades.

    I'll admit, in a group setting, I've had times where I was playing lines, lost track of the changes in the process- and listening for it, couldn't figure out where I was. That actually kind of reflects on the rhythm section, too, because with a sensitive piano/drummer, you should be able to hear where a turnaround or a bridge is.

    Anyway, I tend to have a harder time playing solo, hearing the changes in my head, keeping the beat, and improvising all at once can be tough. The better I know a tune, the easier it is. Honestly there are some tunes I just can't seem to commit (the changes) to memory well, and the lead sheet is a crutch.

  9. #8

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    Here is the important question I think. At any point during your solo, if you don't know at least one of the following three:

    - What chord you're on?
    - Where you are in the original melody (even if you aren't playing the melody)?
    - Where you are in the form?

    Then what are you even playing? One of the teachers I used to study with would actually tell me to stop playing until I figure out where the band is. Because there is nothing to play if you don't know where you are.

    If I know the tune well, I can usually at least hear when the chorus goes back on top, even if it's just the bass player. But I think that's still not the point. The point is to never lose the tune in the first place.

    So how do you practice so you don't get lost? I can definitely improve in this area. But what I found out about my own playing is, if I cannot play a solo over the tune just by myself without any accompaniment (except maybe a metronome), then I cannot play it with others with any assurance that I won't get lost at some point. The reason is simple, if I can't keep track of the form without leaning on an external cue, I'm just playing with fire on the band stand.

  10. #9

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    I practise by playing solos on tunes without any accompaniment or backing, I’ve been doing it for years. Probably it started because I just couldn’t be bothered to activate/find whichever accompanying device I could have used.

    Eventually I realised it helped me develop a sort of ‘internal backing track’, i.e. I just know where I am in the tune.

    Obviously harder on a tune I am less familiar with, but I think I can pick up the form of a new tune pretty quickly these days, maybe because I am so used to doing it this way.

  11. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by grahambop
    I practise by playing solos on tunes without any accompaniment or backing, I’ve been doing it for years. Probably it started because I just couldn’t be bothered to activate/find whichever accompanying device I could have used.

    Eventually I realised it helped me develop a sort of ‘internal backing track’, i.e. I just know where I am in the tune.

    Obviously harder on a tune I am less familiar with, but I think I can pick up the form of a new tune pretty quickly these days, maybe because I am so used to doing it this way.
    This sounds like damn good advice, and I think it shows in your playing.

  12. #11

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    Do you think and feel the time by counting in your head the measures?
    Never. I don't count anything, ever, never have

    Do you simply hear the change and know where you are in the turn?
    No, I always know where I am in the tune. Hearing the changes confirms what I already know.

    Do you simply know where you are in the tune based on some other concept?
    No, it is not conceptual. I simply know, don't know why or how I know (or don't need to know)

    Maybe the melody is going on in your head and you know?
    No, I hear the sound of the tune, "how it goes"

    Do you count consciously in your head or not?
    Never. Counting while playing would be a destructive interference

    Do you mentally just have the chord running in your head without the need to SEE it on a chart.
    I have never played using a chart. The visual aspect would be a destructive interference. I know a tune by "how it goes", meaning how it sounds.

    ===========

    Knowing a tune by "how it goes" is just like asking a child if they know how a song goes. Their response will be to sing it. For me that includes the sounds of the harmonies, rhythms, and lines. I know the form of tunes kind of like being able to hear the whole song at once. That is as right of a wrong explanation as I can describe. One thing is that I don't think of it as "where I am in the tune" but rather "where the tune is". I maintain a continuous contact with the tune rather than a period contact. I never "let go" of the tune.

    There is something that might help when you play with others. I have noticed that most people get lost with the anticipation of and direction through section changes. That is, as the end of an A section approaches, they aren't sure quite where it ends, or they aren't sure whether this is the first approach that goes back to repeating the A section or if it's the second one that leads into the B section (or if it is time for the bridge, or interlude, or the modified or extended A section, etc.). Those kinds of things can be addressed.

    One way is to distinguish the first pass through the A section from the second pass through it. You can use chord substitution so that one harmony indicates first time through and the other harmony means second time through, so leading into the B section. A lot of tunes already go like this.

    Another way is to work with the drummer to develop some navigational habits (or pay more attention if he already does this). For example, at the approach to the end of the first pass through the A section, the drummer's fills or accents indicate first pass through A. Second pass he uses other fills or accents to indicate second time through. These don't have to be set things; they just need to be things that "sound like" going back to repeat or "sound like" now moving into the next section. Drummers can inform everyone of where the tune is and where the tune is going using these subtle "navigation sounds" on the kit. Done right, you don't even notice and just feel confident you know where you are... by the way, that is the very definition of a good drummer.

  13. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by Peter C
    This sounds like damn good advice, and I think it shows in your playing.
    Thanks, it was more by accident (or laziness!) than design, but I would certainly recommend it.

  14. #13
    So great stuff here and I would like to see more. In my case I happened to use the tune Out of Nowhere but like Roger I know the tune so getting lost is not such a problem. I could space out on it but then find my way quick. One reason I ask is that I am a fairly strong reader and I started playing the guitar not by ear but by reading music. I did things backwards but I always say I got jobs because I can read. I am not a gigging pro as such but of course played out off and on depending. I was a big band guitarist in my heaviest playing live days.

    I bring this up because for myself as a reader I tend not to memorize tunes. I simply can read them and even when doing chord-melody I can play on the fly reading it. I have different options and so I tend to simply read charts. My bad in that it does not force me to internalize the tune like I should. That said for most common standards like ATTYA I don't have to think much at all I just play. I hear the bars as groups of 2-4-8 and can hear the movement without anything. Also when practicing I try to outline the chords and arps to focus on the changes. So of course for standards like this I that is my take. I don't necessarily count but just know where I am in the tune. However when improvising for me the chord is in the back of my mind. At some point it can leave me but I don't get lost because I simply know............hard to explain. However don't ask met solo on Round Midnight that would be hard yet a standard at least even with the chart.

    My reason for asking is to brain pick to see how others approach it and differences. For myself i am most aware that to play a tune and improvise it is all about knowing the tune and the SOUND. It means while I know modes, scales, and arps, I am past that I just play with all these going on in the back of my mind but not so conscious. I am a work in progress and I playing 48 years.

  15. #14

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    you know pretty well
    That's the answer. You won't have a problem if you know it well. It's an internal pulse thing.

  16. #15

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    An interesting question, to which I would give a hierarchical answer from my personal point of view.

    1. The basis is the pulse, the four beats per measure that a 4/4 groove simply has. That has to be present in you without you having to think about it, is just there, even if no one is playing at the moment, or the drummer is doing an 8 bar fill. (practicing with metronome helps)

    2. Develop a feeling for the typical 4-8-16 bar shapes. When in "So What" two times 8 bars of D minor come after each other, you need to know (feel) - not count.... (achieved by doing and doing again and again).

    3. Develop relative hearing, listen to the harmonies, it takes time (years), but when you get there, you just know where you are.

    That's it... just practice intensively for 10 years and you'll get it!

    Was easy, wasn't it?




    PS. Some people stop listening when they start to play, don't do that. While playing keep on listening to the rest of the band, that's key!
    Last edited by DonEsteban; 05-06-2021 at 08:46 AM.

  17. #16

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    The posters who mentioned the drummer are onto something important. At the risk of just being repetitive...

    A good drummer will clearly signal the section changes in a tune. Same for other rhythm section players.

    Pro players, in my experience, make it easier for a soloist to know where he is. Apparently, they make knowing where they are and letting everybody else know too as part of the job.

    When they don't the soloist (who is supposed to take chances, because it's jazz) can get confused.

    Warren Nunes told a story about Ray Brown. The band is clearly lost and struggling. Suddenly there is this gigantic bass sound playing a line like q q q ttt q q ttt ttt BOOM. And, everybody now know where they are, exactly.

    And a related pet peeve -- my least favorite thing in a jam is when a drummer takes a solo and starts twisting the time. When he's convinced that nobody else in the band knows where he is in the tune, he ends the solo. I prefer a drum solo that doesn't do that or even lets you hear the melody within the solo.

  18. #17

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    I don't give any advice or such but this is what I do.
    I play impro by ear and ignore all else. Can do this when watching a movie or even reading a book the same time.
    So there is embarrassing amount of hours spent on some tunes just improvising "mindlessly". And it's surely not the wisest way to do it but I like it. No rush here.
    Whenever I have to switch a page or whatever, then continue from a random point of the backtrack loop, it takes a few chords to know where it is at. Unless its a bloody AABA or something like that. Then there might be a 1-bar hiccup.
    If the tune is unique like Stella or Bluesette, this doesnt happen.

  19. #18

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    I've been pushing Form for over a decade.... Yea, it's the Form. Whether you play by ear, actually understand music or sight read etc....

    The bottom line... most of the time you'll be part or all of the rhythm section, and that's what you'll be doing.

    The Form or just "space" if your just vamping etc... needs to be right.

    After time your able to feel or count larger sections of time.... I mean most can feel a 12 bar blues.

    And just as important... others need to be able to feel your time, how you set up time, sections of Form also. If your advanced enough to start playing with Form, and rhythmic space... soloing or accompanying, you need skills.

    If your just playing for fun... no audience etc.. Try and actually work on sections of Forms. Teach yourself to be able to count internally... or feel collections of Bars of music. Start with 2, 4, 8 & 12. They become like licks, a preconceived rhythmic melodic line or phrase.... that fits within a preset space. If your a melody person... you need to have rhythmical organization of that line...that repeats. Generally when working on Form... you'll use rhythmic patterns that repeat. So your counting, (which just becomes feeling), larger sections of space.

    It's like having Targets that organize longer section of time. ( A A B A ) So your not always going 1 2 3 4 or counting bars.

  20. #19

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    If there is a melody that you are improvising over then you can lean really heavily on it. Time is not a problem if you know the melody well. It guides you. You can choose when to weave in and out of it.

    If there isn't a melody, like in a blues or something, the chords are usually simple so you don't have to worry about messing up. When people are playing just 1 3 5 for you, who cares if the 9 you play is flat or natural? The problem in this situation is playing things that sound like licks and falling into comfortable habits.

    Like others have said, as long as you aren't thinking while improving you should be fine. The best we can do is sound natural. But you won't sound good until you really know the chords and melody of a song.

  21. #20

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    Quote Originally Posted by ragman1
    That's the answer. You won't have a problem if you know it well. It's an internal pulse thing.
    This has been my experience as well, proven out by knowing music I grew up listening to, even now, far better than stuff I learned recently. And that goes double for the songs I've been playing since I was 17. For example, regardless of my technical proficiency on the instrument, or my ability to learn, I could step into an 80's tribute band right now with very little problem. But to learn all new songs for a blues or jazz band? That would take a some work, even if blues and jazz is what I play currently. It's not just familiarity (how many times you've run it down), but it's also how long you've lived with it, I think. Another example, if I was to take the guitar gig in a 30s-40s swing tribute band, while I fully admit I don't play that kind of music, I have listened to it (and loved it) since birth (literally, thanks to my parents), and there's NO WAY I could get lost in "In The Mood" or "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square", or "It Had To Be You", etc... I know every note of those songs, by every instrument, I can play them in my head like it's a jukebox.

  22. #21

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    All great comments... but the way you approach playing is usually about what you can do. If your a memorize or play what you know .... type of player. Your stuck playing that way. Nothing wrong with that approach. But generally that's why you get lost.

    There are many musicians that can also not get lost playing.... whatever.... because they understand music, and we're on a jazz forum, so I think we're talking about playing in jazz styles. Jazz usually isn't memorize and perform.

    I think SF misunderstood my use of the term lick, or more likely my usage. My point was... using lick concept, like a melody, which is also a lick.... is a way to have control of time or space. They can be a preset section of time, like a phrase. And if you don't want Form to be an approach for controlling Time or Space... using all forms of licks with variations can also teach one how to have internal control of time and not getting lost while playing.

    Generally to play jazz at some point you need to be able to play what you don't have memorized yada yada.

  23. #22

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    Quote Originally Posted by ruger9
    how long you've lived with it.
    Exactly, that's the clincher. Mind you, as you say, learning songs for a gig is different unless one's playing them every night over a period. They don't really get a chance to go in and settle.

    On the other hand, there are tunes that one internalises fairly quickly but it probably depends on personal taste to some extent.

  24. #23

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    Quote Originally Posted by deacon Mark
    I would like to know how others think. When you are playing say any standard or tune that you know pretty well do what keeps time for you? Take the tune Out of Nowhere. Now it is your turn to solo. Do you think and feel the time by counting in your head the measures? Do you simply hear the change and know where you are in the turn? Do you simply know where you are in the tune based on some other concept? Maybe the melody is going on in your head and you know? Do you count consciously in your head or not? Do you mentally just have the chord running in your head without the need to SEE it on a chart. I find if I look at the chord chart the visual aspect makes this much much easier for me..
    When I know a tune well I do not think anything at all. I just play over the changes and kind of feel them. It's like running a trail you have run often.You don't have to think if you are turning right or left. You just do what has to be done. Playing becomes behavior and you leave out the cognitive aspect completely.

    DB

  25. #24

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    I find I only get lost on tunes that have lots of repetition of a short form, like Nardis or so what. It’s easy to forget how many bars went by when you really dig into a solo.

    I don’t get lost on songs like Out of Nowhere because I wouldn’t play it at a sessions if I didn’t know it. So what does it mean to know the song? The form, number one. I make sure to learn how to comp before I solo on it. Comping will guarantee that you know the song and will allow you to stay with it during the jam session. You will have to comp regardless, it’s not like you show up and just start burning single lines. It’s good to “not comp/comp” to really feel the form.

    I go to jam sessions in the suburbs of Philadelphia and there are some excellent players out here. The piano players are at such a great level that if you can’t comp, or layoff completely, you will not feel comfortable about going back to that jam. So feeling the form, and sparse comping will really drill the songs into your head. If I need to comp very sparsely, I always use the tension cords or the minor 2-5-1 they stick toward end just before tonic 2-5-1 to add color without completely clashing and set an anchor for me and the rest of the players.

    in the case of out of nowhere, a perfect place to drop a comping chord would be on bar 8 (E7b9) if you were “trying not to comp”. You just laid an anchor at the halfway point of the first A. That chord will come around again on the second half. To cap off bar 12 of first A you can think of a D7alt, and that chord will roll around again. The ending 2-5-1 is super easy to hear and feel so now you’ve got all these anchors everywhere to keep you lined up with the tune. The stuff in the middle is negotiable from tune to tune but all these tunes have similar forms to map anchors.

  26. #25

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    Quote Originally Posted by Triple_Jazz
    I find I only get lost on tunes that have lots of repetition of a short form, like Nardis or so what. It’s easy to forget how many bars went by when you really dig into a solo.
    Absolutely, I forgot that one. Very difficult.