Looking for good improv learning books

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HI gang,

hope to see you all back here. We have discussed many times how some of us were not taught to play by ear, including yours truly. I believe Julie2 posted about taking lessons a college on improving. I do very little, I was never taught how and would like to teach my students how, I do understand the theory behind it all but to actually do it, is another thing. I was wondering if any of you know any good books who can teach me this. I know having a teacher is the best thing, but right now I am taking private lessons to study towards by teaching certificate. I would like to do this improv thing on the side if possible on my own for now.

Thank you. Cathy

-- Cathy Morabito (cathym@videotron.ca), March 05, 2001


Get Aebersold's books for starters. Vol. 3 (I think) is called "II-V-I Progressions", and is a good basic progression to master if you have any interest in jazz. The books come with C.D's, which are probably the best way to go to learn improv. You can listen to a bass/drum/piano track (both L & R speakers) to work on soloing & developing melodies, or just play the bass/drum track (one speaker) and work on comping and learning your chords.

A more basic starter for "intermediate" students is Ann Collin's "Jazz Works" (Alfred Publ.). It starts with learning your Major chord triads through the "Cycle of 4ths", which essentially prepares you for the root movements of the II-V-I progression.

I'm sure there are other new products out there. In general, get a book WITH A CD! Improvising is SO MUCH EASIER when you don't have to carry the burden of melody, harmony, and basic rhythmic flow all at once. The CD allows you to focus on ONE AREA, and SIMPLY IS MORE FUN!

One last thing -- start a notebook of your favorite "riffs" & motives. A lot of improv is just reshuffling the many riffs in your musical vocabulary, and hopefully they take you into new territories of creativity once in a while! Practice DEVELOPING your motives, using sequence, inversion, retrograde, variation, etc. You could put on a CD trach which takes you through all 12 keys and work on transposing your one motive with variations.

REMEMBER, THERE ARE NO "WRONG NOTES", JUST "BETTER CHOICES"!!!! Resolve those dissonances up or down a step!

-- John Bisceglia (Bisceglia2000@yahoo.com), March 20, 2001.

Hi Cathy,

Everything mentioned above is absolutely true. It is so much easier to improvise when you are playing with someone else, whether it be live, on a CD, or even with a rhythm track from an electronic keyboard. I suggest using some kind of electronic keyboard (digital piano, etc.) when playing with a CD because there's nothing more frustrating than trying to play along in different pitches. Another great progression to learn is 3-6-2-5-1. You can play around with making the chords major or minor for different songs. Start by making 3-6-2 minor and 5-1 major; then play around to hear the different sounds. Hope this helps. (Also, I got your email, and will reply in the morning about my workbook. I think you will like it because it covers all chords and what to do in between.) Deedra

-- Deedra (dlinder@musician.org), March 21, 2001.

Take a jazz improv course at your local Jr. college. It would be the most direct path to your desired goal. Once you've got the basics down with some direction, then the Aerbersole cd's are great to practice with. Jazz improv. is based on II, V I progressions, but there are some definite scales and interval useage that will give you better choices in improv than just hitting any key in the scale.

-- Smith (noname_poster@yahoo.com), July 27, 2001.

The one that I have found to be very helpful for me was
"The JAZZ PIANOBook", by Mark Levine as published by
Sher Music Co.,ISBN 0-9614701-5-1

Afterwards I started into Frank Mantooth's "Voicingsfor Jazz Keyboard"
Published by The Hal Leonard Publishing Corporation
ISBN 0-7935-3485-2

Hope this helps out Bryon
music site
Piano Teacher.org

-- Bryon Tosoff (webmaster@pianoinstructors.com), July 30, 2001.

Cathy, congratulations for trying to break out of the reading-only rut; music doesn't come to us through our eyes, but through our ears. I agree with the suggestion to use a tuneable (electric) keyboard and, here's the key: put it right next to your CD- or tape-player (you'll be rewinding a lot). If you like popular music, put on your favorite song, or one you'd like to learn. The first thing to do is listen to the bass and try to find the bass notes with your left hand. I 'm assuming you have a musician's ear and, through trial and error and lots of rewinding, can sketch out the chord progression (4 measures of C, then 2 measures of F, etc.) Write it down if you must. Now, the bass notes are usually the root of the chord, so next determine whether the chord is major or minor -- you know your chords, right? If not, here's where you start: major, minor and diminished triads in all 12 keys, all 3 inversions, both hands. Sorry, but these are the building blocks of our beloved Western music, and hey, at least there aren't 64 keys! Then you can play a song from a lead sheet, by selecting (instantly) the chord inversion that puts the melody note on top, filling in the harmony underneath. As for improvising, the Aebersold CDs are great for practicing changing the scale from which you choose your notes according to the chord changes. But start off by yourself, without a steady pulse to pressure you, and discover the joy of just playing music. Let go of all your lessons and be a beginner again. Your hands have been trained to play chords and melodic passages, so play them. Step on the damper pedal and play random black notes; they're harmonious because you're playing the F# pentatonic scale (1-2-3-5-6). Learn this scale in all keys because it's the basis of popular music. Here's a progression of left-hand triads: A minor-G-F-E. (Don't forget to sharp the G in the last chord). Make up a melody with the right hand by choosing notes that follow the left hand down its chord path. It may be simple, but your making music out of thin air. Listen to Keith Jarrett's "Koln Concert" and "Staircase" for liberating stream-of-consciousness improvising. George Winston gets a lot of mileage out of simple left-hand figures and 2-chord progressions; learn them by listening and imitating, like we learn any language. I didn't know I could play by ear

-- Scott Fleming (flemusic@home.com), August 07, 2001.

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