Dan Bennett's Philosophical Approach to Jazz Piano
  An improvisation practice method

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An improvisation practice methodsubmitted:
2014/05/18 04:23:22
2014/05/18 04:23:22

Sometimes, students ask me how I can improvise without having prepared anything at all, wondering how I know which notes to play and when, and in which way. After a while, I created a method which has worked for dozens of students and I thought it would be useful to share here with you.

This method can be used with random chords, or chords from a particular jazz number you would like to improvise to. I recommend the latter. 10 notes for your improvisation will cover 2 or 3 chords, or a 2-5-1 turnaround.

An example is outlined after the text.

On a piece of paper, write the numbers 1-10. This number can be as big as you want it to be, but I recommend 10 for easier introductory memorisation. Then, because jazz 'numbers' go up to 13, at random, write 10 numbers alongside your 1-10 list between 1 and 13, without repeats.

To the right, list the 2, 3 or 4 chords over which you would like to improvise, and randomly connect the 10 (or however many) numbers, by a line, to the chords.

Once complete, write the actual 'note value' of the random numbers between 1 and 13 than you wrote alongside the 1-10 list, so that they are appropriate to the key of the chord you connected them with.

Now, play them on the piano against the chord as noted on your paper. Play them in any style you wish, at any speed. Sometimes, you will find a note sounds horrible: recognise why. For example, a 4th interval against a major chord sounds awful (Devil's Fourth), so raise it a semitone and consider it a #11 (F in the key of C is the 4/11th, so raising it would be a #11, not a b5 (since the 5th is already being played in the chord somewhere). As you progress and repeat this exercise, you will come to acknowledge which numbers sound good against which kinds of chords.

You now have a 'prepared' yet at its core, improvised melody over some chords. The more you do this, the more confident you will become at doing it in your head, at the piano, without the need for paper and a pen. You will also become more excellent at recognising numbers, since 'note value awareness', NVA, as I have coined it in my eBook, is the DNA of Jazz Piano.

Below is an example using a very common VI, II, V turnaround. The chords are:

Am7, Dm7, G7... so the primary key is C. The NVA column below will relate to the three aforementioned chords at random.

(List) - (Random) - (key of A)
1 - 3 - C
2 - 7 - G
3 - 6 - F#
(key of D)
4 - 2 - E
5 - 7 - C
6 - 11 - G
(key of G)
7 - 5 - D
8 - 3 - B
9 - 13 - E
10 - 5 - D

Now play those notes how you wish, against the chords. I have not done it myself, but I will later. You try, and see what you would change, if anything.

Once you can do this without writing it, your improvisational ability will begin to improve rapidly since you will be correctly conditioning your mind to think 'random notes but melodically valid'.

Good luck.


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