How to Get More Ideas while Improvising Jazz by Mark Mercury by Mark Mercury - Read Online

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How to Get More Ideas while Improvising Jazz - Mark Mercury

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Introduction

Do you ever run out of ideas while improvising? Are you sometimes unable to solo as freely and spontaneously as you would like? Do you want to find a better way to access and express your natural creativity through jazz?

If you answered yes to any of these questions and if you are somewhere in the intermediate range as a jazz player, this book is for you.

How to Get More Ideas while Improvising Jazz focuses on the purely creative aspects of improvisation. Fifty techniques are presented which improve your ability to get ideas by directly exercising your improvisational creativity and your capacity to receive inspiration. Each technique comes with step-by-step instructions on how to put it into action and make it produce results for you.

This book is not about teaching the various harmonic, melodic, rhythmic, and related basics which the jazz musician must know well. Those subjects are adequately covered in other publications, and the material in this book is intended as a complement to them. Although many of this book's chapters ask you to do musical exercises with melodies, riffs, chords, and rhythms, the focus is always on developing your creative expression and improving your ability to come up with new ideas.

To get the most out of this book, you should meet the following prerequisites:

1. Technical skill: You must already know how to play your instrument well. To improvise, you have to be able to execute the musical ideas that occur to you, and for that you need technical skill. With improved technical skill, you will be able to execute more complex ideas, but without sufficient technical skill now, improving your creativity in soloing is possible only in a limited way.

2. A knowledge of music theory: You need to know about all the fundamental elements of music and how they fit and work together. In particular, you should be very familiar with scales, harmony, and jazz chords.

3. A good familiarity with jazz and its musical language: You have to know what jazz is all about, and you have to have already listened to lots of it. If not, your creativity will have little to work with. Think of it this way: You could be a very gifted writer, but if you set out to write a novel in a foreign language, you would spend most of your time learning the new language—not creating your novel. So, first learn the language of jazz, and then create your improvisations.

4. A way to practice improvising while listening to chords and chord changes: To do many of this book's exercises, you will need to work with a soundtrack containing chord changes—a practice track, in other words. Piano players, of course, might not have a need for this as they can play chords and solo at the same time, but players of other instruments will definitely need a way to listen to chords and chord changes as they practice the improvisations called for. A computer with the right software and audio-playback system is probably the best solution because you can set up any rhythm, tempo, or series of chord changes that you please.

The suggested method for using this book is to take one chapter at a time and work on applying the technique presented until you've made some good improvement with it. Some chapters build on earlier chapters, so it is a good idea to do the chapters in order. However, if you like, you may skip chapters or jump around, as you may find that some chapters appeal strongly to you at first glance.

I have tried to provide a broad range of idea-generating techniques gleaned from many years of study and experience with improvising, composing, and creativity. Some techniques you will readily recognize, as they are part of the standard toolbox of any improvising musician. I have included them because they are timeless in their value and importance, and without them this book would not be complete. Where possible, I have offered new ways of applying them. The other techniques provided are either those that I have come across over the years or those which I have personally developed, though other musicians and artists may also have developed methods along the same or similar lines.

Sometimes, when working with a technique for the first time, ideas can take a while to develop and arrive. As you become more adept at using the technique, that time frame shrinks considerably, so be prepared to give each technique enough time to work.

Some of the techniques presented are simple and easy. Others may require some work on your part. Some techniques may seem to vary only slightly from others. Sometimes there are two techniques that appear at first to be opposites of each other. I have treated each technique as deserving of individual attention, and I suggest that you do, too. The more strategies you can employ to access, understand, and express your creativity—and thus get more ideas, the better.

All of the techniques in How to Get More Ideas while Improvising Jazz have worked well for me. I hope you find them as useful as I did.

1

Take Small Steps

If you ever run out of ideas while soloing, here's a simple yet effective technique that can help. By taking small steps and mastering them thoroughly, then larger and larger steps, you can gradually build up your ability to do an extended solo whenever you want. With this technique, the small step is to solo for a very short period of time.

How to Apply this Technique

Let's say that the maximum length of time you can solo before you start running out of ideas is four measures. As an exercise, solo for four complete measures, take a short break, then solo again for another four measures. Keep doing this (soloing and taking a short break), coming up with many different ideas for a four-bar solo, until you are confident that you can play, anytime you want, a four-bar solo that you are happy with.

Next, repeat the exercise using six measures as your length. Do it until you are confident you can go for six measures anytime you want. Then, add two more measures to your solo length, and gradually build it up to sixteen measures, and so on, until you can play long solos.

You can do this exercise