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Improvisation

KBKB Toronto, CanadaNew
edited May 2009 in Gypsy Jazz 101 Posts: 26
Hi guys...just wondering how most of you approach improvisation on the guitar. I've been playing for about 6 years now and my improv is based usually what i hear in my head. The problem i don't have perfect pitch and sometimes i hit some bum notes while improvising.

I know a lot of the GJ players can't read music or even chord charts so i'm guessing they don't really think of chord-scale relationships (altered scale over dom7th etc etc). I've read that they learn the different shapes for each chord on the fretboard and then make it a visual aspect - is this true?

I'm hoping someone can shed some light on their intial approaches towards improvisation on the guitar in the GJ style. Just wondering if there's an approach that is not too technical...my head hurts when i read about tritone subs, advance reharm i just want to leave that for when i play the piano. I know some of the members here already studied jazz and knew the fretboard well but for someone who didn't have theoretical background and just started their journey, how did they get the ball rolling???

My ultimate goal is to be able to improv to Giant Steps on the guitar GJ style!

Any advice/insight is greatly appreciated!

thanks,

KB
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Comments

  • KoratKorat NetherlandsNew
    Posts: 51
    I break down the chords in separate tones to start with an work from there
    If at first you don't succeed, skydiving is not for you.
  • BluesBop HarryBluesBop Harry Mexico city, MexicoVirtuoso
    Posts: 1,379
    Short of going to a gypsy camp and studying with the masters your best bet are Denis Chang's DVDs, it's the closest thing to the gypsy method in 5 DVDs, plus some more modern tips and tricks that make you think Bireli, Wawau, Andreas, Adrien, Sebastien.
    No matter what your level is you'll be playing better in no time, the theory part is kept to a minimum so your head won't explode.
    Don't forget to get you rhythm sorted out first, that's where all the gypsies begin.
  • Posts: 101
    KB wrote:
    I've read that they learn the different shapes for each chord on the fretboard and then make it a visual aspect - is this true?

    Yes ! This is true. That is why the manouches spends years to practice la pompe before improvising. It is very visual.
    They also learn everything by ear so basically they transcribe a lot.
    If you look at Tchavolo's lick in particular you can see that everything is based an a chord shape.

    Also get away from tabs, transcribe instead. Tabs are a lost of time. You will never learn to improvise with tabs. In rare case I use written transcriptions to make sure I am right.
  • CalebFSUCalebFSU Tallahassee, FLModerator Made in USA Dell Arte Hommage
    Posts: 557
    I agree with enrique, if you can't go to europe get with Dennis' DVDs. But I will say this I don't eshew theory too quickly. I think people who come into this music fall into the Jimi Hendrix fallacy a lot of the time. This notion that because Tchavolo or Stochelo don't read music or know theory means I don't have to either, is really a bad one. These guys live and breath this music 24 hours a day 7 days a week. They don't just go to work 8 hours a day get a few hours (if you're lucky) of practice in and go out and play at that level so unless you can commit to the music like that your not likely to get their results. That doesn't mean you have to get a degree in music theory or Jazz performance to play this music but use the resources you have available to you. I agree that your ears are the most valuable of those resources, but this is Jazz if you want to say something you have to know the language and there are a lot of ways to learn it. I could learn French if I just watched a lot of french movies but there are easier ways. Especially if your goal is to play Giant Steps or Trane changes in this style. I agree that is really cool (Andreas with Dennis on Rhythm is the only person in this style I have heard play them) but Trane ain't no joke or no game. Just out of curiosity if you're head hurts when you think of re-harm or subs then why Trane changes? That doesn't seem like a natural fit.
    Anyway sorry for the rant...lol just my two cents (a very long winded I agree with Enrique)
    P.S. If you are into playing Trane changes there is an Aebersold called Countdown to Giant Steps it will get you going on them.
    Hard work beats talent, when talent doesn't work hard.
  • Posts: 101
    I have to disagree with you CableFSU. Even Dennis says in his DVD's that he did not use his music theory background to find out substitutions or re-harmonization but he transcribed instead. I really think that you can save time if you learn by transcribing. I am not against a simple overview a the theory but I think that keep it simple is the key.
    That is funny that you talked about learning French, I am French. I learned English by watching movies and practicing with other people. The grammar books were a waste for me.
    But everybody is different I think you just need to choose the way that you feel comfortable with.
    For me knowing the name of a substitution or scale is absolutely pointless.
  • CalebFSUCalebFSU Tallahassee, FLModerator Made in USA Dell Arte Hommage
    Posts: 557
    I see where you're coming from man and I think you nailed it, Transcribing is maybe the best way to learn the language (of jazz not french or english :lol: ) but I don't see anything wrong with especially if you have been playing for six yeas and you don't live in a place where you can learn from someone; in learning some (at least)rudementary Jazz theory. especialy if you want to get into John Coltrane's music. Learning to play Tranes stuff just by listening and transcribing (transcribing by the way takes a lot of knowledge of theory in my oppinion) then you are going to have a difficult time but if have some frame work to organize that sonic information then you may have an easier time of it. But yes transcribe transcribe transcribe!! But know what you are transcribing and know how to aplply that information in an improvisational context.
    Hard work beats talent, when talent doesn't work hard.
  • Posts: 101
    CalebFSU wrote:
    Learning to play Tranes stuff just by listening and transcribing (transcribing by the way takes a lot of knowledge of theory in my oppinion) then you are going to have a difficult time but if have some frame work to organize that sonic information then you may have an easier time of it.

    I agree with you about Coltrane's music. It is nice to know some theory. Now in GJ I don't think that you need heavy theory knowledge, not because it is less complicated but it is just the nature of it.
    So yes when you transcribe a lick try to transpose it in any key. It is not rocket science just base your thinking on chords shapes. :wink:
  • BluesBop HarryBluesBop Harry Mexico city, MexicoVirtuoso
    Posts: 1,379
    I'm with CalebFSU, learning doesn't hurt.
    If you plan to just stay inside the traditional confines or if you're a genius maybe you can afford not to know anything about theory.
    I did learn it and i'm glad I did, though i don't use it when actually playing, it is when learning that it comes really handy.
    You can be transcribing a Django phrase and suddenly you realize, he's using X arpeggio over a 7th chord, so now you don't have to stay with that particular phrase you know you can use X arpeggio over that chord and doors open.
    That example holds even more truth if you're into the more modern players like Adrien Moignard, he's using modern jazz stuff like diminished and altered scales and chords derived from those.
    Getting into Coltrane... whew!
    Sure you can do it without theory but it sure helps to know a little.
    I understand your point about being too cerebral and thinking too much about music can distract you from actually making some.
    Why not try to get in the middle?
  • Posts: 101
    i don't use it when actually playing

    So ???!!!! If you do not use it when you play what do you use ? Your ear ? So train your ear.
    I am not against some basic theory so you understand what you transcribe. I do not try to understand the theory of what I transcribe but the musicality of it.
    But personally when I started transcribing more and more in no time I was able to play what I sing (kind of :D ). I think this is the objective of every musician - playing what you sing. The theory is nice if you want to compose a tune but if you only want to improvise...
    This is just my opinion :D
  • BluesBop HarryBluesBop Harry Mexico city, MexicoVirtuoso
    Posts: 1,379
    When you're playing you don't have time to think about the "whys", that's what i meant.
    I use theory in preparation for improvising, it's good to know what your options are and I personally like knowing why things work.

    When playing by ear, the question is what to hear?... you'll only hear what you know.

    Of course theory is not essential but it sure helps, a lot.
    You'd have a really hard time using diminished scales and all the thing that lie inside them if you don't understand the theory behind. Or you be blind to a lot of possibilities.
    It's doable as proven by guys like Bireli, but it's much harder especially if you're not a musical genius like him.

    Also, aside from harmony, rhythmic control is really useful too and understanding time better will help you get closer to playing like the pros without having to copy them.
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