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SoundGround >> How do you teach improvising

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3/2/09 8:40 AM
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DasBeaver
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Anybody have any experience with this?

I'm used to teaching beginners, but I've got a little hot-rod who can play every song in the history of humanity. It's all memory work from studying tabs, he's lost if he has to play anything original.
3/2/09 7:29 PM
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T-Man
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jamie aebersold
3/3/09 12:46 AM
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Fite
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is the little hot-rod who can play every song in the history of humanity from studying tabs familiar with Scales?
3/4/09 9:14 AM
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DasBeaver
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Fite, I can't get an angle on this kid. I'll ask him if he knows the pentatonic and he'll say no, but when I show it to him he already knows it and can play it up and down the neck.

I just dug out a copy of 'basic harmony and theory applied to improvisation' by Dick Grove. I remember it was pretty good, and I'm pretty sure I've forgotten everything by now.
3/4/09 5:23 PM
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Fite
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sounds like the kid has learned alot from studying tabs just doesn't know what its called. that is how i am i have been playing for 20 years and have never had a lesson. i played by ear so long that i know what the chords and scales are just don't know how they all fit. i just play what sounds good. I don't know if this is good or bad but i would love to learn theory one day.

perhaps studying chord chemistry, modes, and how to build scales off of different degrees of chord progressions would help keep your student occupied. as for improvising, does your student dig jazz?
3/6/09 5:23 AM
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Thelonious
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I run into two common problems with accomplished players that can't improvise. They either put their instrument into the context of shapes (boxes and patterns), or signs (need to sight read or play strict memorization)


If he can solo with a pentatonic scale, your kid is playing shapes and boxes and in my opinion players developed this way are usually pretty gifted. Over time he's gravitated toward phrases that make a lot of sense theoretically, but really it's just muscle memory stemming from a good ear and all the tunes he's learned.


Obviously I haven't heard the kid, but if it was my student I would probably start him playing over a tune like 'freddie the freeloader' and make him solo using only root notes, then root fifth etc. This will get him playing with intervals, space and mapping the fretboard. More importantly it starts connecting his brain to the developed muscle memory and will prepare him to learn basic theory like key signatures and the major scale in context with the fretboard.


After he starts to play and think more intervallic, then take away everything but the tonic, sub-dom and dom and make him play chromatically. This will hopefully get him out of the box, start connecting theory with playing and you can start teaching expression stuff like modes and scale tone triads because he's built the foundation on the guitar; not on paper.



If that sounds like your hotshot the most difficult thing is going to be getting him to slow down and play like a beginner again. It's like an athlete that got by on natural ability his whole life and hit's a wall in college or first year pro because they haven't really struggled before.
3/6/09 5:32 AM
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Thelonious
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Sorry I'm tired and a little stoned, does that make sense Das? Hard to sum up
3/6/09 9:44 AM
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DasBeaver
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It makes a lot of sense, thanks very much! He does know the pentatonic, but he doesn't really understand how to apply it and is completely lost when trying to improvise. He's got a good ear, and a good memory, and once he grasps this I'm sure he'll be looking for a good teacher too :)

I'm self-taught like you Fite, and thats my biggest weakness. I learned how to play by ear, and painstakingly learned enough theory to keep me on the path, but explaining how to apply it has been really difficult. The trial and error method doesn't work well with kids who seem to be borderline ADD, especially during a 1/2hr lesson.
3/7/09 6:40 AM
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Thelonious
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"He does know the pentatonic, but he doesn't really understand how to apply it and is completely lost when trying to improvise."

That's not a good sign. I was assuming he could blow through the pent scale while soloing but not really improvising at the same time. Sounds like a guy who just memorizes and repeats without any thought. Might need to go back as far as learning the strings. Maybe getting soling in the pent first position only and making him resolve everything to the root.



PS learning by ear and then supplementing theory is the best way imo.
3/12/09 12:08 PM
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DasBeaver
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 Hey Armbreaker, I remember you spoke about that before. I wish I had part of your problem, I've always been really bad at learning things note for note, I like to get the 'feel' or the 'gist' and move on. It's opened more improvisational doors, but at the same time I probably didn't learn a song properly until last year.

It sound like you're just in a rut. If you could find somebody decent to jam with it would probably help out a lot, but I know how hard that can be time and temperament wise. One thing thats always helped me get back is to stop playing for a while and just listen to a lot of different music in different styles. Doesn't have to be old or new, just open a few doors and poke your head in, sooner or later something will turn your ear and inspire you. Even just learning a new scale is sometimes enough to give you a little nudge.

Another thing I've found is that you need to be creative to stay creative. That is, the more you exercise that part of your brain, the more active it becomes. Start with a melody you can sing and go from there, it's a good begininng and it doesn't matter if it's worthy of Satch or the Allmans, you just need some oil in the gears. Play what you like to hear, what sounds good to you or whats fun.

/ 2cents  

3/12/09 3:38 PM
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Extendo
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Armbreaker v2.1 - I have a similiar problem. I can play alot of music...some of it considered very difficult. I do know music theory decently, and I have perfect pitch. I can play guitar, bass, banjo, piano, and drums. But, I have absolutely no creativity running through me. When I was younger, I had an unsatisfiable urge to record music. Sometimes, it was only a few seconds, and other times it would be complete songs. But I had ideas out the ying yang.

Now...not so. I have self esteem issues concerning music anyways. I do all my recordings...every instrument, just because I live in a small town in southern MS where no one else plays. So, I don't have alot of feedback on my skills from other musicians beyond the occasional trip to Guitar Center where a few people will walk up and compliment me.

So...I think of my skills as not being anything to brag about. And when I learn someone else's music, I tend to drag them down to my level, because if I can play it, and I don't think i'm very good, then their music isn't all that difficult or special...which makes me view their skills as not so good, and I move along to the next hard thing i'm learning.

Aside from all of that, every time I start to work on a new song, I end up saying to myself, "_______ already did a song similiar to this. What am I trying to accomplish by going down a path someone already went down?".

I don't know...i'm just really unsatisfied with music right now. I am one of those guys who would be really great in a cover band, or as a replacement guitarist...but I have been a blank slate, creativity wise, for darn near 4 years.

Although I will say this much...the last person who inspired me to really want to try something new was Derek Trucks. His slide playing is phenomenal. Growing up in the 80s, listening to hard rock/heavymetal/hairbands...there wasn't much slide playing, so I never really got into it. First time I sat down to learn Statesboro Blues, I thought to myself, "Woah...it takes a whole different skill set to do this stuff!". I'm in the process of getting my slide skills up to the point where I can do Derek's stuff, and that path has me parked in the Allman Brothers parking lot for the time being.


The middle-eastern inspired stuff should steer you well away from the Allman Brothers Band vibe. I love both.

Derek Trucks has been the most inspirational for me as well, but my slide playing is awful.
3/12/09 6:17 PM
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sreiter
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Edited: 03/12/09 6:26 PM
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Armbreaker v2.1 -just because I live in a small town in southern MS where no one else plays.


arent there SHITLOADS of old black dudes sitting on their porch playing?

http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendid=262309009


granted - it aint shred, but, if you wanna learn slide, fuck, you'er RIGHT IN THE DELTA
3/13/09 8:33 PM
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Thelonious
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'I can play guitar, bass, banjo, piano, and drums. But, I have absolutely no creativity running through me.'

That statement is like an oxymoron, you are definitely creative if you put the time in learning those instruments.

I agree you are probably in a rut. Playing a lot of similar stuff and falling into habits every time you play. When I get like this I switch instruments or stop playing all together and just listen for awhile. When you come back, you have a lot of new idea's, and then it slowly degrades and the creativity dries up.
3/17/09 11:58 AM
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signaljammer
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Do you see a lot of live music? sometimes creativity is like a drum waiting to get hit.


Do you play in for people ever?
4/11/09 2:05 PM
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demandango
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i'll read this thread and get back to it- this is my concentration of study
4/11/09 2:33 PM
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demandango
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firstly, do not to 'try' to play 'better' or 'more creatively'. you want to take a 'zen' perspective and absolutely not judge the aesthetic quality of what you are playing at first (maybe for the first few years- don't do this for a week and then say i've got it and go back to the way you did it before). don't worry though, this will take care of itself.

the goal is to match what you are playing to what you are hearing. that means slowing everything wayyyyy down (less notes). unless you are a real genius, then you must do this (not just 'above average' or 'gifted' "hey, my friend's kid is a guitar genius!" no, he's not, he learns guitar at an above average rate, those 3 year olds you see playing piano concertos are 'geniuses'... anyhow).

the reason is, people get a hold of some scales, noodle around, and it sounds ok... it sounds good... but it is actually going to impede your progress toward really being able to play the sounds you are hearing. they remember "okay, i'll play an E pentatonic here, and hit some of these notes on the bridge and i'm good". this is a problem most students have. people who do not have this problem include these geniuses, great masters, and students who have learned (using a method similar to what i am discussing) by ear first.

i could write a small book on this here, but i'll try to get to some quick practical things to do.

there are a few ways we can look at a tune- melodically, harmonically, rhythmically-in the end these are all inseparable, but we can look at the tune from these perspectives.

the first thing, is to get into singing.

only play what you can sing.

to get started doing this, learn the melody to a twelve bar blues. something simple. 'sonny moon for two' is a great one.

now, sing it over an over again, play it over and over again, and then just play with small extemporizations on the melody. very subtle. but don't force it, only play what comes to you as you sing. go back and forth between singing and playing (or do both at the same time) and attempt to play what you have sung (i have some exercises for this, but you can make up your own, there are many ways to do these things). fortunately with guitar and piano you can sing while playing, so that makes it easier than with a wind instrument.

from the harmonic perspective, simply start with singing whole notes over the form of the tune. make a whole note melody. you can do this for hours. then progress to half notes, and then quarter notes- a walking bass line.

the biggest thing i want to focus on is to not let theory/scales etc etc dictate what you play... or even licks you've learned (unless you're hearing them)... the main thing is to get into that state where you have the tune stuck in your head and your brain is subconsciously producing melodies for you, and you follow those sounds 100% faithfully. don't force yourself to try and sound good, to try and play licks, scales, fast, soulfully... simply follow what you hear. once you have that ability, everything else is easy to address (if you have an aesthetic preference... perhaps you would like to explore playing something more in xxx style... this can more easily be done once you are able to play what you hear).

let me know if there are any questions, i will perhaps expand on this later.
4/13/09 7:12 PM
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DasBeaver
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Interesting perspective, thanks Demandango. It's very important to be able to play what you hear and that sounds like a good way to work towards it.
I learned in a similar method with the melody from Bags Groove over a simple comp. I think learning intervals is really important to training the ear as well.

I gotta be honest with you though, when I'm at this school it's mostly fairly young kids with the attention span of a fruit fly. They've all got 1/2hr lessons, which equals about 22 minutes after and watching them unpack and rifle through notes for last weeks lesson, getting them in tune and listening to their excuses for not practicing. A lot of times they don't even want to play, let alone sing in front of a really cool and handsome teacher.

What do you recommend in this case?

___

In regards to the hotrod, I've made some progress. He's almost got the pentatonic down in all position, and I've been forcing him to harmonize and focus on the melody. He's coming along, it's a constant battle though.
4/13/09 7:56 PM
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demandango
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yes, my method would be more appropriate for a slightly older crowd.

for youths, i would recommend games, games, and more games.

make up games involving something like the 80's game simon, where you can take turns adding a note to a melody.

you can play very short melodies back and forth.

you can have him play a very simple and short melody and make variations of it (for example the first four notes of 'oh when the saints')- things of that nature. anything to keep it fun to keep the player either identifying notes or groups of notes and playing them back, or being creative and coming up with just a few improvised passages. some people have an aversion to improvising and by getting them only to change a few notes at first, you can get them there progressively, and then they will realize it wasn't so bad after all.
4/21/09 7:52 AM
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JCMcGee
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Hey Thelonious, that's some awsome posts there!
What do you play? Any videos?
Do you teach music as a career?
4/28/09 12:19 PM
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demandango
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who's it going dasbeaver? i had another post elaborating on this but i accidentally lost it. i'll try and get back to this thread again.
4/29/09 3:07 PM
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DasBeaver
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Thanks for checking back man. I've been off the hook for the past couple of weeks, adolescence seems to be careening this rising star in strange directions and he's been skipping out.

If you get around to elaborating I'd be grateful to read your treatise.

Theory has always been a thorn in my side, so explaining it can be very difficult for me. It's probably a mixture of semantics and a scattered, roundabout approach to learning the details on my part. I learned fragments and gradually figured out how to piece them together, which is the polar opposite of why somebody would go to a teacher.
4/30/09 11:25 AM
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El_Clap
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"If you get around to elaborating I'd be grateful to read your treatise. "

Yes, elaborate please.
4/30/09 5:05 PM
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Thelonious
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JCMcGee - Hey Thelonious, that's some awsome posts there!
What do you play? Any videos?
Do you teach music as a career?



Sorry mcgee I didn't see this. I took percussion in college, but since then I play a lot of guitar and piano. I have taught privates on my own and through a college but just moved and don't have any students. I make some money licencing my tunes through websites like music for productions and play a little here and there.
5/6/09 8:33 AM
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ArmbarKing
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 I have just started taking guitar lessons.  As far as the improvising is concerned, my instructor has been teaching me a lot of scales, and then different licks based on those scales.  From there at the end of class he will turn on a drum beat, play a 3 chord progression on his guitar then I improvise a solo based on the scale that we were working on.

I don't know if this is the best way, but I have certainly improved using this method.

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