The “real” truth about improvisation?

Question by Stefan Radulescu
(Pitesti, Arges, Romania)

Well, the question is simple. What’s the real truth about improvisation?

I’ve learned lots of scales, arpeggios, but I’ve noticed these things aren’t good at all for improvisation, only for technique.

Then I tried to do solos by ear, for example listening to a Wes Montgomery solo, transcribed it note-by-note, the entire solo, but still didn’t helped me so much. Do you have any tips please?

Thank you!

Best regards,

M-A’s Answer :

Wow. That is a big question.

First off, let me disagree with you by saying that scales and arpeggios are not “just” for technique. You could literally take only one scale and make music on it for 50 years. It’s simply a matter of creativity. The “masters” of jazz are using the same scales as everybody else’s!!! It’s the approach (and yes, hearing) that is different. For instance, see this article and lessons on “How Not to Sound Like Scales while Improvising”.

So my main advice is this: keep at it.

Real improvisation happens when the materials you’re studying (scales, arpeggios, songs, chords, etc.) are SO well ingrained that you can really let go of them and make music with them.

It’s analogous to having a conversation in your native language: you know the topic, you know the ideas you want to convey (your opinion, your views, your comments, your laughs, your remarks, etc.) and you’ll simply IMPROVISE what you’ll say next, right?! I’m sure no one prepares speeches for their next conversation in the elevator! So when we get to talking it’s the “training that kicks in” automatically.

Same goes with musical improvisation, you have to become a master of the language you want to speak. This time, the language is music.

So to come back to my tip: keep at it … keep perfectly your scales, chords, arpeggios, reading, transcription, learning tunes, writing your own tunes, learning chord progressions, learning about harmony, playing with other musicians, taking private lessons, listening to great recordings, etc. Take control of your practicing and stir your musicality towards music and players that authentically interest you!

After hours of this, you’ll see that “the training kicks in” automatically when you play.

I hope this helps. Please, let me know if you have any questions, post them as comments below.

Marc-Andre Seguin
“Improve Your Jazz Guitar Playing with a REAL Teacher”

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