Jazz Improvisation 10: Time and Space II

Beginning improvisers rarely use too much space in their solos.  More often than not, their phrases sound like commuters crowding onto a subway train.

It’s perfectly understandable.  Even if you are about to play a single chorus in some piece or other, that time needs filling with something, and from the perspective of the novice improviser, that time can look like an eternity.  In fact, the whole business can feel like an exercise in survival, and that’s no way to create real music. 

So here are a few suggestions to help with that:

Concentrate on playing music, not notes.  The thought itself will bring up the idea of framing your phrases with the right space.  And the right space automatically gives you the breathing room to create a related following phrase.

Give notes the full value they deserve.  Don’t be jumping off one note just so you can get on with playing the next.

Don’t always hit on beat one.  Make ‘em wait.  Or catch them by surprise by anticipating your entry, by pushing the note, or leading into the note with a pickup. 

Dig in.  Listen to good Blues players.  A good Blues player can grind more meaning out of one or two notes than any flurry of cleverness will ever do.  Listen to the entries and exits and where they are spaced.  

Review the section on dynamics and articulation.  Then remember to USE them.  Nothing becomes real until it is brought into the world.  It is tempting to say to yourself, ‘I’ll practice those ideas a little more before I try them,’ but in that scenario the moment never comes.

In reality, you are NEVER ready.  You have to jump off that high diving board at some point even though you’re NOT READY.  You can walk up the damn steps, wander to the end of the board, and stand staring down at the water but it takes faith to finally jump off.  Or fear maybe – fear of that big hairy dude behind you yelling that you’re a chicken, and get on with it or he’ll toss you off himself!

Oh, and one last thing:  Listen to Miles … a lot.