What is musical improvisation?
Improvisation is the act of inventing a melody, over a chord chart being played, on the spur of the moment.
It differs from composition, which is a musical invention written and reworked several times. You do not need – as is too often assumed – to have been playing an instrument for ten years in order to begin. Writing solos and improvisation are simply a particular, playful and creative way of playing music, in the same way as a written score. It is not a “magical exercise” reserved for those few endowed with extraordinary powers. Everybody (talented or not) can learn, using principles based on chords and scales. These principles combine as you progress and consolidate one another, step by step.
SOS IMPRO method
This book can be used for all instruments. Wind instruments (saxophone, trumpet, clarinet etc.) should look at the treble clef score. The accompaniment (left hand, bass clef) is also given for pianists (and guitarists).
All of the exercises in this method are conceived in a gradual, “step-by-step” manner. Whether dealing with melody or rhythm, they contain a single “instruction” at a time to allow the student to concentrate exclusively on the concept to be learned. Only at the final stage is the student able to combine several of these concepts to create their own jazz solo.
We recommend that all musicians work on the ideas in this book at the piano. The piano provides a horizontal vision of the harmony and makes it possible to understand the connection between melody and harmony by playing both parts at once.
As already mentioned, the concepts of improvisation set out in this book apply to any style of music (classical, pop, rock, popular music and jazz). We approach them, however, within the more specific framework of the jazz style, which intrinsically places the emphasis on improvisation with a specific language, developed through oral transmission over the course of its history. For this reason, it is essential to listen to jazz regularly and, at the same time, to transcribe solos played by jazz musicians. This book is an attempt to rationalize, as much as possible, what is in reality a very instinctive language.
basis of all chords
Chapter 1 deals with what we call the “primordial atoms”. Our journey towards the construction of a real phrase begins here. It is not yet a question of the jazz language but, since triads are the common basis (the “first stage”) of all chords, they can already be used to improvise on circles of 5ths (progressions of intervals of descending 5ths or ascending 4ths). Make sure to master these and sufficiently practice the associated exercises before going any further. Otherwise, the foundations of the “house” will be unsound.
Chapter 2, the “brain”, concerns the rational part of music: harmonic analysis. This is the indispensable theoretical knowledge needed to be able to detect the principal key, cadences, passing chords and modulations and to simplify your thinking by grouping chords together in “families”. This makes it possible to associate several different chords with the same scale of origin, or to associate each chord with one or several scales.
Chapter 3 (the “heart”) is, together with Chapter 4, at the center of this method – it teaches how to build a melody. It first looks at “vertical” techniques of thinking based on the notes of the tetrad (4-note chord), which simply require the visualization of the chords rather than any knowledge of harmonic analysis, and then examines the creation of melodies based on “horizontal” thinking techniques and scales which necessarily require knowledge of harmonic analysis.
rhythm and phrases
Chapter 4 enables us to approach the notions of rhythm and typical phrases of the jazz idiom. In essence, this makes it possible to distinguish a solo in the jazz “language” from any other type of solo. For this chapter in particular, notwithstanding a very structured methodology, the knowledge to be acquired must be cultivated by listening to jazz and through the crucial task of transcribing solos by the great musicians of jazz.
The pleasure of improvising with your instrument
Throughout the method, our advice is above all to take pleasure in the practice of improvisation. Your ear should be your best guide: between two playing possibilities, it is up to each individual to choose according to their taste. When writing or improvising, the logic and rules learned give structure to melodic thinking, but this should be directed by the ear and enjoyment.
And finally, our greatest wish is that this method, conceived and elaborated with love and passion after years of work with students, will be able to bring you the great joy of playing, creating and… improvising!