How to stop mentally "spacing out" when improvising and really follow the changes?



  • flacoflaco Shelley Park #151, AJL Quiet and Portable
    Posts: 98

    @Chiefbigeasy - what I was really referring to in the original post was staying engaged in the chord progression and not defaulting back to pentatonic noodling.

    While this thread has been going on I was also googling the concept, and came across this thread on The Gear Page:

    In particular there is reference to a Chick Corea article where he suggests essentially composing solos, and then improvising off of those. I think this is really the best thing for me as it mirrors the way I learned to play blues an bluegrass solos.

  • edited March 2020 Posts: 4,811

    I don't have Gonzalo's books, How I Learned, but my take is that was exactly his process, very similar to C Corea. Composing etudes learning from those and extracting bits and pieces to further reuse. Not that much different from a basic Van Hemert template: compose a lick for every chord quality, learn how to play it in different positions on the fretboard and connecting them so it's coherent musical statement. Create variety by phrasing differently, using different timing, take out a note, add chromatics, enclousers and such. Then expand similar with phrases you hear and like from different players and different instruments. Not that much different from Django really. That's what they call building a language, a vocabulary. To me, I understand it intellectually but it never truly clicked. I like Pat Martino metaphor about improvisation much better, something like you have this huge house with a bunch of rooms and you're going from room to room discovering all these different, interesting and unexpected ways that connect different rooms.

    Every note wants to go somewhere-Kurt Rosenwinkel
  • Posts: 75

    Gonzalo especially makes a big point to point out how often he’ll use the same shape for different chords in the tune. Which is a great way to work on developing motifs throughout the progression

  • MichaelHorowitzMichaelHorowitz SeattleAdministrator
    Posts: 6,155

    Django did much the same, in fact most of what he played came out of two dozen or so positions on the guitar. It's just where and when he placed things that made them sound good.

    My general philosophy with fingerings is to play things that are physically simple but musically sophisticated.

    So many times I've been inspired to transcribe a Django line that sounds so elegant only to find that he's just raking a basic chord shape or something similarly rudimentary, but just placing it in such a way harmonically or rhythmically that makes it sound super hip.

  • JonJon melbourne, australiaProdigy Dupont MD50B, '79 Favino
    Posts: 391

    Some advice I got from ex-US, the AUS trumpeter John Hoffman once: play the melody (1 chorus) the play it again with slight improvised embellishments, then again with a few more, then with a few more. Keep going for as long as you can maintain focus, each time getting a little further away, but always staying rooted in the tune. Incredible exercise from a master melodist. Give it a go.

    Another one that may help that's more changes focussed - only allowing yourself to play 1 arpeggio, or 1 lick the whole solo, adjusting it to whatever chord you're on or leaving it out if it doesn't fit, then try it again with another. Maintain focus by imposing focus and making rules to follow so you're never just "going through the motions". This doesn't/probably shouldn't be the way you actually play, but as an exercise, works really well.

    Also, slow practice and no baking tracks :)

    Hope that helps - best of luck, Jon

  • stuologystuology New
    Posts: 196

    I find this a lot with Django and Louis, somehow they find new ideas in such simple forms. Miles is good at this too - his classic first solo on So What and it's all on a Dm arpeggio ...

    I use the backing tracks on DC music school a lot because they can be slowed down and they have the chord charts on screen (and if you need it a running line so you can see what chord you're on, although you should be able to hear the changes). I know a lot of people play straight arpeggios but that sounds kind of stiff to me so I work on creating musical ideas out of arpeggios, often very simple ones. When learning a new song, especially one with a lot of changes, I start with just playing the notes of the chords as they go by without worrying about whether it makes sense overall and then I slowly start to find connections between the chords, lines being to emerge, sometimes I'll stumble on a familiar lick. If, like me, you only have an hour or so a day to practice, this takes a long time - months, even years. I never play like this in the wild - the aim for me is to internalise the song enough to be able to 'mentally space out' in performance and engage with the moment.

  • QuadropentaQuadropenta New England USANew
    Posts: 116

    Create exercises for a tune to play on each chord using only chord tones: 135 357 573 753 531 etc. [Then add 1/2 step approach notes.The 5 isn't that strong a chord tone. It could be left out.] This should fix the progression in your mind pretty well. Hum the 3rds or 7ths of each chord when listening to a recording, when playing the exercises, and then when improvising.

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