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"What do I do when I get lost in my solo?"

Lango-DjangoLango-Django Niagara-On-The-Lake, ONModerator
edited January 25 in Technique Posts: 1,428

An excellent posting by Jon Powl in another thread inspired me to start this one...

Jon helpfully suggested "... don't forget to mention "start a chromatic run"."

My religion is, I worship Lang the Father, Django the Son, and Oscar the Holy Ghost...

While converts are always welcome, I get to be the Pope because I thought of this religion before you did...


  • Posts: 2,853

    Not quite regarding getting lost but Stephan Wrembel said in a workshop when you're feeling completely out of ideas then go back to the basics and play in the simplest terms possible. What I do when I get lost is partially that and partially trusting my ears, picking one note at the time combining with my signature quote from Kurt Rosenwinkel that every note wants to go somewhere, just kinda hearing the next interval, whole or half note then as I start to get more confident, major or minor 3 note phrase or a triad which might lead into hearing ahead of a time that a dominant chord is coming up where I'll play an arpeggio which sometimes I get the chord wrong but as pointed elsewhere as long as I stick to the groove and don't exclaim "oh sh!!tt" can gloss over just fine...eventually you come back to the familiar territory. Bad or good news may be that, that was the original part of my improv. As a matter of fact back when I was just starting with improvising I was struggling and playing like that pretty much the whole time, always felt terrible about most things I played. Then one time this pretty awesome clarinet player told me "man you always come up with interesting things to play" haha...

    billyshakesJoseJosechikyBill Da Costa Williamsmac63000rudolfo.christ
    Every note wants to go somewhere-Kurt Rosenwinkel
  • ChiefbigeasyChiefbigeasy New Orleans, LA✭✭✭ Alves de Puga DR670; Dupont MDC 50; The Loar LH600
    Posts: 273

    I don't get lost much in solos anymore, at least my own. I feel confident enough to know what Buco mentions: that I'm basically a half step away from where I can find my way back. I use one other trick, though.

    I've come to realize that swinging rhythm is critical in this music. So when I get a little lost in my own solo, or I'm short on ideas for the next phrase, I'll lean hard on rhythm, even if it means just leaning in hard on the swinging rhythm with just some short simple 2-3 note phrases. Wremble described an exercise like that where he demonstrated using simple 2-4 note phrase statement in the opening minor chord for "Minor Swing," then, staying in the exact same place on the neck to change one note to make a phrase for the next minor chord of the song. He switches back to the original, and then changes only a note or two to play a similar phrase for the third chord, and then back to the head minor chord. He's making a simple statement that fits each chord, but its a recognizable melody and it swings in time with the rhythm. And you know what? It sounds good to the listener.

    I found that I carried the skill for this technique from my blues and rock soloing days. Expression in a good blues solo is much more dependent on simpler phrasing, in time with feeling, instead of a long string of arpeggios up and down the neck.

    Where I get in trouble is where I'm trying to duplicate a Django solo at full speed, with feeling and finesse. Getting lost and finding my way back during the "I'll See You In My Dreams" solo takes a lot of experience and confidence. I did once when my rhythm section lost its way backing me on the song. That was fun.

    Ramp it up even more with set pieces like "Indifference" or "Bistro Fada," for example. If I lose my way in those tunes, I've got to really be calm to find my way back. It happened just like that a couple of weeks ago. I "forgot" a signature passage in "Bistro Fada" and had to salvage the solo and tune without losing my mind. It all worked out, but I was pissed after the show. I've played that tune a hundred times, but there I was forgetting a particular passage. Luckily, after the first time it happened long ago. I started incorporating "getting lost" on purpose during practicing so I could know what to do if it happened again. That was pretty helpful in general, and for set pieces in particular.

    To summarize, I'd say this: keep it simple, keep it swinging.

    Bill Da Costa Williamsrudolfo.christ
  • Posts: 29

    Go back to chords. So long as you know the changes, a few nice triads on the highest three strings with some tasteful rhythm/slides/embellishments can go a very long way and buy you some time to think of what you’d like to do next. I also find since we tend to get so focused on single note playing when we improvise, adding chords to the mix can really and some good texture to your solo.

    Bill Da Costa Williams
  • Lango-DjangoLango-Django Niagara-On-The-Lake, ONModerator
    edited January 25 Posts: 1,428

    Following on King_Cardboard’s comment about chords...since I play in a sax-bass-guitar trio without a rhythm guitar, I tend to use melody-chords a lot... usually on the higher strings, just as he said.

    And since our bass player records every gig we play via a USB stick in our mixer, I have had a lot of chances to listen to my own solos... the good, the bad, and the truly cringe-worthy...

    So here’s what I’ve found over the years.... call it “Wilson’s First Law of Chords”...

    “Chords in motion will never sound ‘wrong’. But when the chord motion stops—- you really, really wanna land on a ‘good one’.”

    Bill Da Costa Williams
    My religion is, I worship Lang the Father, Django the Son, and Oscar the Holy Ghost...

    While converts are always welcome, I get to be the Pope because I thought of this religion before you did...
  • stuologystuology New
    edited January 25 Posts: 73

    The best advice I can give is to adopt the strategy I also use when lost in a strange city - stride forward with confidence and on no account look like someone who is lost. You will find your way back eventually. But never let on to the audience.

  • Russell LetsonRussell Letson Prodigy
    Posts: 257

    Listen to Bucky Pizzarelli. Also, never forget the melody, and remember the words, if any. The pinky is a wonderful digit.

    This advice from a player whose idea of a solo is eight bars of the chords, only louder.

  • dennisdennis Montreal, QuebecModerator
    Posts: 2,116

    I think it depends what one means by “getting lost”. Getting lost in the form because you don’t know where you are? In which case, I see two potential problems

    1) inability to hear what the accompanists (assuming that they’re any good)

    2) inability to feel the pulse which is what a lot of people have trouble with . Like when you have a song like Sweet Georgia Brown, where the chords last 4 bars and you have trouble knowing when it’s gonna change. Or songs like Fleche D’OR , Appel Indirect that are modal.


    problem number 1 means that your ears need to develop. I think the best wy to develop one’s ears to hear chords is to learn a lot of songs and spend a lot of time playing rhythm. As you learn songs, you try to really pay attention to the chord progressions and understand the logic behind them (ie : recongize the structure of the song, common chord progressions, etc...).

    problem number 2 is much harder because it’s more complicated. Different people have different strategies for this one. Even some super pros get lost in songs like Fleche D’or, i’ve seen it happen :-) . It’s easier said than done but my strategy is to always listen to the pulse as I improvise. In 4/4 i feel the pulse in half , so instead of every quarter note, i feel half notes (sometimes i even feel whole notes). On slowerr tunes i feel quarter notes. That means that i’m multitasking : I’m playing whatever it is that i’m playing but at the same time keeping count : usually by listening to the rhythm player or somewhere in my body . In fact I like to subtly move my body to keep the pulse. Most people wouldn’t notice it but i’m doing something . I know sax players that have invented complex foot steps to never get lost in the pulse.

    I highly recommend playing with a playalong and doing this exercise. Start with simple playing but somehow find a way to feel the pulse at the same time... then as you get better and better , you can play more intricate stuff but never lose track of the pulse

    mac63000rudolfo.christBill Da Costa Williams
  • mac63000mac63000 Tacoma, WANew Geronimo Mateos Jazz B
    Posts: 162

    Lots of good comments in this thread. I've been working through a few of these issues with a trio lately. Usually when one of the guitarists (myself or my friend) gets lost in a song it's because we weren't listening to what was going on. Knowing the chords is important, as is keeping count and being aware of the changes. We're often focused too much on our own playing and that leads to music that doesn't sound cohesive at all. Hard skill to practice, but I try to keep things simple and listen to the others playing, especially until I know a song like the back of my hand.

    I feel like not knowing the melody very well can also lead to solos that lack direction. You don't always need to know where you're going but you should at least know where the song goes...

  • Russell LetsonRussell Letson Prodigy
    Posts: 257

    A kind of complement to Dennis's post: As a rhythm player, I've noticed that not all lead players are equally easy to support. I sit in with a group of bop-centric guys, which means that I find some of the tunes less familar than the swing standards (and their patterns) I've heard all my life. During the solos on one of these less-famliar tunes, I can generally tell right where I am during the sax player's solos, but during the keyboard solos (even though he is quite skilled technically) I sometimes have trouble hearing the changes and have to fake-chord until the top of the form or the bridge is recognizable.

    I have had similar experiences playing in less boppish settings, except that the experience was more like hitting a stretch of bumpy road behind Soloist A and then a stretch of brand-new pavement behind Soloist B.

    I realize that some of my problem in the bop band is that my counting is not what it should be, and in some tunes only the fact that blues structure is deeply embedded in my nervous system gets me through some of the more out-there solo flights.

    mac63000rudolfo.christBucoBill Da Costa Williams
  • Lango-DjangoLango-Django Niagara-On-The-Lake, ONModerator
    edited January 26 Posts: 1,428

    Yes, Russell, i very much agree with your perception of playing behind different soloists.

    I play in a trio with a powerhouse clarinet/sax guy who just pulls his fellow musicians along in his wake.

    Which reminds me of what clarinetist Pee Wee Russell, once said about playing alongside Bix ... "He more or less made you play, whether you wanted to or not,"

    Does anyone doubt for a second that Django had the same power?

    rudolfo.christjonpowlBill Da Costa Williams
    My religion is, I worship Lang the Father, Django the Son, and Oscar the Holy Ghost...

    While converts are always welcome, I get to be the Pope because I thought of this religion before you did...
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