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Improvisation and jazz are of course best learned by listening, practicing, and participating in groups.  A web site probably will not teach you to improvise.  But, this page can offer the following tips that may spark ideas.

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At the heart of much jazz improvisation is the rhythm.  It is still true that it don’t mean a thing if you ain’t got that swing!  Improvisation generally requires that the player maintains a steady groove, or keeps perfectly in line with the rhythm.  If you are just learning, you could simply practice running over whatever keys, notes, and harmonies you want—just as long as you keep a rhythm going!  That would definitely be considered jazz, just really unsophisticated jazz!


So how do you gain more sophistication?  For one, think about where you begin and end your phrases.  This is often key in improvisation, listening to even or especially the early Charlie Parker.  Ending a phrase on the third has one feel, the fifth another, the seventh yet another.  Or ending on an off-key such as the sharp four produces a different sound.  Listen to where players begin and end their notes, and use those starting and ending points as tools for saying what you want to say.


Think about what scales go with what harmonies.  To start out, a root major scale can be played over a ii-V-I.  That is one of the most basic situations.  However, experimentation and listening reveal infinitely more possibilities.  For example, you could use a blues scale over minor chords and dominant chords.  You could try a whole tone scale over a dominant chord.  You could use a major scale on the b-iii of a i chord.  Put together your knowledge of scales with different possibilities for voicings and harmonies, and you will discover on your own a lot of ways to use theory in creating improvisations.


Also, try learning patterns or licks.  Examples include intervals—play major thirds or major sixths.  Or use trills and turns.  Or copy licks you like off of recordings.  Then learn to transpose them and play them on the root, the third, the seventh, or anywhere that sounds good in any key.


These are just a few ideas for picking up your improvisation.  But the best idea is always to listen to other players and practice yourself.





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