Form for soloing? (and what scales to use)

Question by George
(London, England)

Hi, I’ve been learning some of the jazz standards on the website and looking at some of the improvisation lessons but I am a bit confused. I’m a beginner at jazz and am confused as to what scales I should use, and how i should use them.

Do most jazz musicians improvise through the standards, altering the melodies, or is improvising something that is done in the middle of a jazz piece in the same the way other songs have ‘middle 8s’?

Basically my question is, what scales or arpeggios should I use, when should I use them, and how can I use them effectively. Thanks, from George.

M-A’s Answer:

Hello George,

To make a long story short, traditional jazz is played “with the solos in the middle” as you are saying. The musicians play the melody (aka theme) to a song first, and then improvise, and then play the them again at the end.

The solos take place on the form, the amount of bars of that given tune. If the theme is 32-bar long, the improvisations will take place on the same recurring form as the theme. A soloist may decide to solo on 32 bars, or on 64 bars (twice the form), as many choruses as he pleases.

For example, on a 12-bar blues, the soloists will take as many 12-bar length solos as he wants to finish his ideas (tell his story), and then let the music proceed to the next section.

Usually, there’s more than one solo so, musicians proceed like this :

Theme – Solo 1 – Solo 2 – Solo 3 —– etc. Solo X — Theme Out.

To complicate things furthers, sometimes pieces (or arrangements of songs) add extra sections. For example, it’s common to have an 8-bar interlude between each soloists. Jazz standards also have common intros and endings (that everyone should know).

Of course, all of this is done in the moment without discussions with experienced jazzmen. If someone calls “Autumn Leaves” and starts the intro, the rest of the knowledgeable musicians will simple follow.

… now : for the scales and arpeggios part of it, please see these pages on :

Thank you,
Marc-Andre Seguin

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