The Complete Guide To Improvisation
by Ed Saindon
The Complete Guide To Improvisation codifies and explains the principal concepts and techniques used by leading improvisors past and present.
Volume One (162 pages)
Chapter 1 - Chord Tone Soloing
This is an important and fundamental approach to improvisation. The technique involves only using chord tones as a means of note selection. The challenge lies in the fact that chord tones are stable notes. Topics addressed in this chapter include: use of motives, editing, phrasing, suggested exercises, guide tone lines, chord tone solos with designated intervals and chord tone solos on well-known standards.
Chapter 2 - Tension Resolution
Tension Resolution (TR) allows the improvisor to utilize any twelve notes over a chord. TR prevents stagnation in the melodic line as the constant back and forth of tension and release keeps the line moving.
The Tension Resolution Principle: Chord tones are stable notes that outline and sound the harmony. Any notes other than chord tones create tension, which can be resolved up or down to an adjacent chord tone. Along with chord tones, any non-chord tone may be sounded during a measure and resolved to an adjacent chord tone at some point in the measure. Non-chord tones fall in the categories of Passing, Approach and/or Tensions.
The following TR techniques are addressed in this chapter:
Also addressed in this chapter: step by step method for creating solos based upon Tension Resolution and written out solos (using TR) on well-known standards.
Chapter 3 - Chord Scale Theory
The application of chord scales in improvisation is an important topic since many improvisational techniques such as the use of Upper Structure Triads and 7th chords, Four Note Groupings, Intervallic Playing and Pentatonics are chord scale based.
The chapter begins by listing available chord scales based upon every chord type. The chapter addresses the many options of chord scales along with the criteria for choosing a specific scale over a chord. Criteria addresses chord scale selection in the both the context of conventional and non-conventional harmony.
The Advanced Chord Theory Section addresses more advanced scale options such as cross-referenced scales, synthetic scales (including Double Harmonic Major, Double Harmonic Minor and Symmetrical Tritonic), Hexatonic and Ethnic/Exotic scales.
Chapter 4 - Chord Scale Application and Practices
Ways of practicing chord scales as well as various application techniques in using chord scales will be addressed in this chapter. While it is important to have knowledge of chord scales, the techniques of how chord scales are applied are crucial in effective improvisation. Too often, improvised solos sound like the soloist is randomly running up and down scales. The chapter addresses ways of practicing scales that will enable the improviser to better handle various application techniques of chord scales.
Additional topics addressing the application of chord scales include Note Deletion, Adding Chromatic Notes, Note Deletion/Adding Chromatic Passing Notes, Change in Direction of the Line, Use of Space and Use of Syncopation.
Additional topics covered in this chapter include: Practice Routines, Scalar Patterns, Use of Motives/Patterns and Breaking Down the Scale into Two Groups.
Chapter 5 - Harmonic Practices
A comprehensive and in depth knowledge of jazz harmony is indispensable to the improvisor. Many improvisational concepts are based on harmonic principles that allow the improvisor to deviate from the original underlying harmony of a standard tune progression. The application of these harmonic concepts as a means of creating lines results in chromatic lines that have a strong sense of logic and direction. Such players as innovator John Coltrane and pianists such as Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea have utilized advanced harmonic techniques in their lines. With Coltrane, we get his “sheets of sound” and advanced superimposed harmony. With players like Hancock and Corea, the harmony is altered, reharmonized and superimposed thereby creating lines that are intriguing as a result of the harmonic deviations.
The utilization of these harmonic techniques are not relegated to the players of today. Sax players like Coleman Hawkins and Don Byas were using reharmonization and substitution in their solos. Pianist Art Tatum was a master with harmony, substitutions and reharmonization. Within the language of Be Bop, players like Charlie Parker and Sonny Stitt were using a variety of these harmonic devices on a consistent basis in their solos. Contemporary sax players such as Dave Liebman, Michael Brecker and Bob Berg have incorporated many harmonic techniques that have resulted in unique and interesting chromatic lines that weave in and out of the underlying changes.
There are many concepts, techniques and topics on the subject of jazz harmony as well as many books that address jazz harmony. However, in this chapter we will limit our scope of jazz harmony to specific approaches and concepts that can be applied to improvisation.
Volume Two (249 pages)
Chapter 1 - Upper Structure Triads
Upper Structure Triads (USTs) are those triads which contain at least one tension in relation to the underlying chord structure. They are derived from a chosen scale. USTs enable the lines to sound unresolved tensions over the chord while at the same time providing a sense of logic and structure. The makeup of the triad allows the improvisor to use more unconventional scale choices and tensions as well as offering the opportunity to deviate from the underlying harmony. Topics in this chapter include: UST chart for all chord types, incorporating passing and approach notes with USTs, adding one note to USTs, creating lines with multiple USTs, USTs derived from the Symmetrical Diminished scale, UST patterns, USTs with unconventional tensions, Out of Scale USTs, sample UST solos on standards.
Chapter 2 - Four Note Groupings
Four Note Groupings (FNGs) is an improvisational technique based on the application of major and minor triads along with a specific passing note. These groupings function as lower, middle and upper structures and provide a means of generating melodic lines. Due to its triadic structural integrity the concept of FNGs can expand the availablity of notes over a chord, allowing the lines to sound more "out" if desired. An additional benefit of the FNGs concept is that the improvisor can work its system and characteristic sound without falling into the trap of playing licks and repetitive phrases. With many possible FNG choices, this broad concept creates a deep well for the improvisor to draw from. Topics in this chapter include: FNGs chart for all chord types, concepts in selecting FNGs, Approach notes in FNGS, Out of Scale FNGs, FNGs solos on many standards including Stella by Starlight, On Green Dolphin Street, Giant Steps and Rhythm Changes.
Chapter 3 - Motivic Playing
Motivic Playing is one of the most important and fundamental aspects of improvisation. Since the Baroque period, classical composers were/are adept in the application and development of motives used in creating themes and melodies. A motive can also be thought of as a particular melodic idea, shape, structure or pattern. With Motivic Playing, the initial idea can be repeated, developed and manipulated in a multitude of ways over a chord or progression.
The use of motives along with their repetition, manipulation and development, lends a compositional approach to the improvisation creating lines which emerge and evolve out of the music in a natural way. Any melodic phrase that we play, whether it is two or ten notes, can be the basis of a motive.
Other improvisational techniques such as Pentatonic scales, Four Note Groupings, Symmetrical Diminished Patterns, Upper Structure Triads and 7th Chords have the potential for generating strong motivic lines. As with the aforementioned techniques, Motivic Playing similarly offers the improvisor the opportunity to stretch in terms of sounding unusual notes and unconventional tensions. Additionally, a strong, identifiable motive allows the improvisor to select unusual chord scales. It also provides an opportunity to “play outside the changes” by moving the motive in and out of the chord scales of the underlying harmony. Topics in this chapter include: Motivic Categories, Motivic Manipulation, Two and Three Note Motives, Motivic Techniques and Concepts, Combining Cells to Create a Long Motive, Variations with a Motive.
Chapter 4 - Cyclic Patterns
“Playing outside the changes” refers to improvising with lines that deviate from the underlying chord structure and corresponding chord scale. This can be an effective approach in the creation of melodies that sound extended durations of dissonance tempered with resolution. The improvisational concept of Cyclic Patterns provides various ways for the lines to venture outside the tonality of the underlying harmony while retaining a sense of focus and logic. The concepts discussed in this section should be used carefully and with restraint since playing outside the changes excessively and without clear resolution can make the lines seem random and directionless.
With the concept of Cyclic Patterns, a specific interval, scale fragment, motive, pattern, structure (triad, 7th chord, intervallic structure) or system (Pentatonic scale fragment, Four Note Grouping) can me shifted outside of the underlying chord structure via a specific repeating intervallic configuration. The improvisor has a large amount of freedom with regard to moving the aforementioned musical elements through a cycle. As will be demonstrated in some of the following examples, a chosen element does not have to be exactly replicated during such process. Applying subtle variations in rhythm and order of notes in the transposition of a motive can render the melodic line less contrived and more organic. However, it is important for the improvisor to use caution when applying these variations, since excessive use can lead to a vague motive.
The examples in this chapter will illustrate some of the available options for moving an element out of the chord’s tonal center via a specific repeating interval. Topics in this chapter include: Ascending Three Note Motives, Pentatonic Scale Fragments, Triadic Exercise, Ascending Perfect Fourths, Symmetrical Diminished Four Note Motives, Ascending Major 3rd Motives, Cyclic Combinations, Extended Cyclic Patterns
Chapter 5 - Major 7th #5 Superimposition
The Major 7 #5 chord is a distinctive sounding chord structure that can be used as a means of generating unique melodic ideas. The superimposition of the structure is not limited to its harmonic relationship with the underlying harmony. In certain cases the application of the structure is chosen liberally, on the basis of sounding unconventional tensions and unusual notes. Some usages of the Maj 7 #5 structure offer the improvisor the option of utilizing related scales, such as the Symmetrical Augmented scale. This chord scale based application can help generate symmetrical lines containing a variety of chord types and patterns that are major 3rds apart. Topics in this chapter include: Major 7th #5 Superimposition Chart, Considerations in the Selection of Maj 7th 35 Chords, Chord Alteration, Techniques in using Maj 7th #5 Chords, Sample Solo on Stella By Starlight, Related Maj 7th #5 Scales, Passing and Diatonic/Chromatic Approach Notes, Superimposition Techniques with the Augmented Triad.
Exploration in Rhythm, Volume 1
Rhythmic Phrasing in Improvisation
Exploration in Rhythm, Volume 1, Rhythmic Phrasing in Improvisation is written for all instruments. Exploration in Rhythm was written to help develop and expand the rhythmic palette and vocabulary of the improviser and composer. The book focuses on playing “over the bar line” rhythms and long melodic phrases based upon rhythmic cycles that stretch over multiple measures. The material in the book has been used for Ed Saindon’s improvisation course at Berklee College of Music in Boston where he has been a professor since 1976.
The book specifically addresses the concept of over-the-bar line phrasing via rhythmic groupings of 8ths, triplets, 16ths and polyrhythms in 3/4, 4/4, and 5/4. Working on these concepts, players should begin to “hear” rhythms that “float over the barline” as well as develop the ability to execute phrases over longer periods of time. The end result will be a sonic erasing of the bar line and an enhanced sense of freedom with regard to rhythm and phrasing.
Berklee Practice Method Vibraphone
This is a new book that I authored and was recently published by Berklee Press. It is being distributed by Hal Leonard. The book features a cd that contains some of my vibe solos which have been transcribed and are included in the book. The book is part of a series which was designed by Berklee College of Music faculty along with Dean of the Performance Division, Matt Marvuglio.
This is the first-ever method that teaches you how to play in a rock band. Learn what all the great musicians seem to know intuitively—how to listen, interact and respond, improvise, and become part of the groove. The book and play-along CD will help improve your timing, technique, and reading ability. Become the great player that everyone wants to have in their band. Lessons throughout this book guide you through technique that is specific to playing vibraphone in a contemporary ensemble. When you play in a band, your primary concern is chords—how to read and play them, how to progress from one to the next, and how they interact with other instruments, melodically and rhythmically. Daily practice routines are designed for practicing by yourself or with other musicians. The accompanying CD features outstanding Berklee players and covers a variety of styles including rock, funk, jazz, blues, swing, and bossa nova.
This series coordinates methods for many different instruments, and all are based on the same tunes, in the same keys. If you know a guitarist, bassist, drummer, keyboardist, sax player, etc., have them pick up the Berklee Practice Method for their own instrument, and jam together!