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So this has been an important session because we’ve tried to chase down more precisely what we mean by improvisation namely, making up your own tune as you go along that fits the chord sequence, where a tune consists of musical phrases which are generally singable.
Well there’s the good news: the good news is that if you’ve kept up with the sessions to date, then you can already play some jazz piano. In a sense, there is only one thing left, which is to get better. What does better mean? Well one element - a key element of better - is to strengthen the line, to strengthen the line of improvisation, to strengthen your melodic line so that it fits more with our definition of what improvisation is about. We saw a route to this was hot licks.
We’ve just had a look at that in the context of one chord - the blues chord C7 - where we’ve played simple blues-inflected phrases, and then the idea is that when we get to improvising over the blues we can employ those phrases as a starting point for our own improvisation. The first thing that I want you to do as an exercise, as I have already said, is to look at the hot licks section and repeat the phrases that I play. If you find it difficult then you’ll just have to do it multiple times until you get to the point when you can play the phrases.
Then we’ve had a look at the standard blues sequence - that most important bar - bar 6 which singles out modern jazz from traditional jazz, where the root goes down to the sixth. It’s a kind of elongated turnaround, the difference being that the improvisation can be, and generally is, on the blues scale associated with the home chord. In fact, we’ve seen that you can get away with really just 2 blues scales most of the time. We had a look at our very first blues in that regard “Things Ain’t What They Used To Be”.
Then we had a look at the slightly altered standard blues chord sequence where the sixth bar is diminished - diminished seventh - and that applies to the tunes “Now’s The Time” and “Blue Monk”. I’d mostly like you to have a go at improvising over those 3 major blues.
When you improvise - using the hot licks kind of approach - I’d like you to sing at the same time as you play so that you’re “singing the line”. But remember what we are aiming for, which is much more challenging, is to “play the sing”, that is to, in some sense, have the tune in your head first and then articulate on your instrument second.
We could actually apply this principle to all the tunes we’ve met to date. I think we’ve met about 12 tunes and the same definition of improvisation applies namely playing phrases which, in some sense, are singable.
But I think it would be enough at this stage to concentrate on major blues - if you want, you can extend it to minor blues - because in the next few sessions we’re going to concentrate on standards and improvising over standards. So we could delay our consideration of that until a bit later. I think you have enough to do on this session.
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Learn jazz piano: Improvising on Jazz Standards

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