This is a common sense approach to internalising songs and forms, based on approaches to practice employed by Lennie Tristano, Bill Evans, Sonny Rollins (apparently!) and many other players. Significantly, this approach emphasises the use of melody.
Drill the skill – then manipulate
- practice routine
- play-along context,
- practice with friends
- Always approach “exercises” with commitment and feeling.
- Memorise/transcribe examples (solos) that model your objectives.
- Reinforce, reinforce, reinforce.
First things first… The song.
The first time we hear music we hear the tune and feel the beat, so as improvisers we must begin with these most tangible and audible parts of the form.
Tip: Lennie Tristano advised that we improvise with total commitment and expression. Make the melody a convincing statement, without embellishment.
Step 1 Memorise and improvise with the melody.
1.1 Know the tune first – don’t skimp on this stage… then, improvise with the melody – melody notes alone. The discipline of focussing exclusively on the melody notes causes you to develop powers of concentration
1.2 Manipulate – stretch the rhythm of the melody – accelerate, delay, alter the rhythm.
1.3 Embellish the melody, a) Rhythmically – repeat notes, b) melodically – sing neighbour notes
Tip: Learn the lyric, then sing the song with the lyric and simply manipulate the rhythm.
Step 2 Memorise the “root movement”.
2.1 Learn the root movement as a melody
2.2 Improvise rhythmically with roots only (as in 1.2)
2.3 Embellish the roots with neighbour notes (as in 1.3 above).
Tip: Think of the root movement as a tune!
Step 3 Improvise with – roots and 3rds.
3.1 Learn the roots and 3rds as a melody
3.2 Improvise rhythmically with roots and 3rds only (as in 1.2)
3.3 Embellish the roots and 3rds with neighbour notes (as in 1.3 above).
Step 4 Improvise with roots, 3rds and 5ths (triadic improvisation).
4.1 Learn triads as a melody
4.2 Improvise rhythmically with triads only (as in 1.2)
4.3 Embellish triads with neighbour notes (as in 1.3 above).
Tip: “Enclose” the first note of each phrase.
Step 5 Improvise with roots, 3rds and 5ths and 7ths – the “chord tones”.
5.1 Learn triads as a melody
5.2 Improvise rhythmically with triads only (as in 1.2)
5.3 Embellish triads with neighbour notes (as in 1.3 above).
Tip: You don’t have to sing/play all notes in the triad. Don’t attempt more than you can manage!
Step 6 Establish resolutions with “guide-tones” (advanced).
6.1 Learn guide-tone lines as melodies.
6.2 Improvise rhythmically with guide-tone lines.
6.3 Embellish guide-tone lines with neighbour notes (as in 1.3 above).
6.4 Embellish guide-tone lines with chord tones.
Tip: Target the guide tone at the beginning and end of each bar – “make the join.”
Step 7 “Join the dots”. Chord-tone improvisation again, this time joined-up with parent scales. Maintain the “chord frame” by emphasising/featuring the chord tones.
Tip: Be sure to start and end each phrase on a chord-tone (1,3,5,7).
Step 8 Comprehensive guide-tone improvisation.
8.1 Charting 3rds and 7ths
8.2 Locate 5th and 9ths, 9ths and 13ths.
8.3 Chromaticise guide tone lines: 5 – 9 – 5 becomes b5 – b9 – 5
Step 9 Improvise in the general spirit of the work above.
Tip: Have a short break then return to the song. Improvise with the “echo” of the exercises you practiced earlier – sensing instead of thinking.