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> Thought Process During Improvising
Jonas Tamas
post Jan 31 2013, 09:30 AM
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Greetings to the Professor, it's great to see that you are here and sharing your knowledge in the Theory segment of the board! I really like your posts and looking forward to see more!

I have a question for you - and for the fellow GMC members too, who are reading this: what is your thought process during improvising? In other words, how do you combine the two 'worlds'? Hearing a melody in our own head has something to do with inspiration, it is a very right-brain oriented thing. On the other hand, you always have to know the key, and the actual chord changes. So how do you combine these different thought sources to be more effective? Do you always read the name of the note that you are playing? Or do you see patterns? Or do you just go with the flow and play the sound that you are hearing inside?


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The Professor
post Jan 31 2013, 11:02 AM
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Hello man, great question!

What I try and do is think as much as possible during my practice routine. So I think about scale choice, arpeggios, substitutions, chromatic notes, licks etc. Trying them all out over a tune or progression in my practice routine.

Then when performing I try not to think of the material side of things and concentrate more on the musical. So I think about direction of my lines, dynamics, will I add bends or slides or slurs? Do I want to play in the low range or high range? What is the drummer and bass player doing and should I react to that or play between it?

So I over think in the practice room but then think less about the "what" will I play and more about the "how and where' will I play when jamming.


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Jonas Tamas
post Jan 31 2013, 12:58 PM
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QUOTE (The Professor @ Jan 31 2013, 10:02 AM) *
Hello man, great question!

What I try and do is think as much as possible during my practice routine. So I think about scale choice, arpeggios, substitutions, chromatic notes, licks etc. Trying them all out over a tune or progression in my practice routine.

Then when performing I try not to think of the material side of things and concentrate more on the musical. So I think about direction of my lines, dynamics, will I add bends or slides or slurs? Do I want to play in the low range or high range? What is the drummer and bass player doing and should I react to that or play between it?

So I over think in the practice room but then think less about the "what" will I play and more about the "how and where' will I play when jamming.


I like your approach of distinguishing the way of thinking, depending of the actual purpose of playing. That's really cool, and I've never looked at it that way, so I'm going to try this out consciously. Thanks! smile.gif


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The Professor
post Jan 31 2013, 01:14 PM
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Yeah, it helps me get my head around the changes, but not overthink on the stage. Which is important for me to be in the moment and be more emotional than theoretical when I jam.


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zoom
post Jan 31 2013, 01:53 PM
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What if you where to play where you don't know the changes. Like for example I had to play in church Sunday and I got up and all I knew was
we're playing in G. My ear is not super great yet but I can play enough to get by. A friend told me it's better to play diads or chords rather than single notes cause they don't stick out as much in rhythm playing. I tend to agree.
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The Professor
post Jan 31 2013, 02:04 PM
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Yeah, if I was sight reading something, or someone said "It's in G," then I would rely on my ear and theory knowledge a bit more to guide my playing.

As far as rhythm playing, I agree. I would actually not play for the first 8-12 bars probably just to hear how the rest of the band sounds. If they are busy then I would start with octaves or diads, but if they were playing more sparsely I could bring in bigger chords.

So I think just laying out and listening can really help you decide on a direction in your playing in this type of situation


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klasaine
post Jan 31 2013, 05:19 PM
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Same here.
'Practice time' is for the theoretical, 'Gig/Jam time' is for just playing though I do think about where I am in the piece. I generally know what chords I'm playing and more importantly - where I'm going.

When I'm in a new or unfamiliar situation I try to feel out and actually learn (memorize if possible) the overall form of whatever I'm playing as quickly as possible. *This where learning a lot of songs comes in handy. At this point in my guitar playing life there's very little in the way of 'chord progressions' that I haven't seen/heard before. By 'form' I mean: key, chord prog (or main tonal centers), overall feel and most importantly what I can do to add to the moment. Sometimes I fail miserably but if I stick with just trying to simple and musical usually everything works out.

EXCELLENT QUESTION!


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Jonas Tamas
post Jan 31 2013, 05:32 PM
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QUOTE (klasaine @ Jan 31 2013, 04:19 PM) *
Same here.
'Practice time' is for the theoretical, 'Gig/Jam time' is for just playing though I do think about where I am in the piece. I generally know what chords I'm playing and more importantly - where I'm going.

When I'm in a new or unfamiliar situation I try to feel out and actually learn (memorize if possible) the overall form of whatever I'm playing as quickly as possible. *This where learning a lot of songs comes in handy. At this point in my guitar playing life there's very little in the way of 'chord progressions' that I haven't seen/heard before. By 'form' I mean: key, chord prog (or main tonal centers), overall feel and most importantly what I can do to add to the moment. Sometimes I fail miserably but if I stick with just trying to simple and musical usually everything works out.

EXCELLENT QUESTION!


Thanks, I'm glad you like the question!:)

I think that unconsciously I have followed this way too (i.e. practice mindset vs. jam/gig mindset), and now after reading both your and the Professor's answers, it is more clear and conscious for me, so the answers were really useful and practical.


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klasaine
post Jan 31 2013, 05:41 PM
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I play a lot of 'pick-up' gigs i.e., some tunes I know and some I don't. Most of the time the band/leader has a book of at least chord charts. You're expected to solo even on the songs you don't know. I these cases, because I know a lot of 'other' songs, I'll read the changes but most of the time I'm reading through familiar territory. I can look ahead at large chunks and have a general idea of what's going on. Like "OK, here's a ii-V-I in D then it goes to the IV" etc.
*If I don't have to solo 'first' that helps to give me more time to find my bearings so to speak.

This post has been edited by klasaine: Jan 31 2013, 05:41 PM


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Jonas Tamas
post Feb 1 2013, 06:42 PM
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QUOTE (klasaine @ Jan 31 2013, 04:41 PM) *
I play a lot of 'pick-up' gigs i.e., some tunes I know and some I don't. Most of the time the band/leader has a book of at least chord charts. You're expected to solo even on the songs you don't know. I these cases, because I know a lot of 'other' songs, I'll read the changes but most of the time I'm reading through familiar territory. I can look ahead at large chunks and have a general idea of what's going on. Like "OK, here's a ii-V-I in D then it goes to the IV" etc.
*If I don't have to solo 'first' that helps to give me more time to find my bearings so to speak.


It is always a big challenge for playing a song you didn't know before. In these cases, what is your internal self-talk before/during playing that song? How do you keep your cool under pressure? I'm sure it's quite a bit of a concentration that's required!


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jeffmatz
post Feb 1 2013, 10:10 PM
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QUOTE (Jonas Tamas @ Feb 1 2013, 11:42 AM) *
It is always a big challenge for playing a song you didn't know before. In these cases, what is your internal self-talk before/during playing that song? How do you keep your cool under pressure? I'm sure it's quite a bit of a concentration that's required!


To echo what's been said by others, for me, the amount of thinking is very different in practice situations than it is in performance...when actually making music, I need to keep thinking to a bare minimum, and the best way to do that is to be well practiced. Actually, that's the only way.

It doesn't just mean you have to be practiced on THAT tune, mind you...music is remarkable repetitive...there's not that many original ideas...I think I've heard Ken say before that there's about 5 different bridges in jazz history...I like to practice musical situations and divorce them from the tune sometimes...understand things as movements and not as "chord progressions."

When playing an unfamiliar tune, I always listen for that "oddball chord," the one that's not in the key or comes out of left field, or seems to defy musical logic (or where I thought things were going...)

Then, I keep it simple...but I do try to hit that oddball chord hard if I can figure it out. So there, I might be thinking more than I usually like...which is why keeping it simple is so important...I always tell myself--I'll have my chance to stretch out and relax on something I have down cold--for now, shut up and play the pretty notes.


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klasaine
post Feb 2 2013, 01:23 AM
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QUOTE (Jonas Tamas @ Feb 1 2013, 05:42 PM) *
It is always a big challenge for playing a song you didn't know before. In these cases, what is your internal self-talk before/during playing that song? How do you keep your cool under pressure? I'm sure it's quite a bit of a concentration that's required!


1) If it's really that un-familiar, before the tune starts and/or while guys are chit chatting - I'm checking out the changes.
During the melody or head or whatever you wanna call it, besides actually playing the chords (or melody if I'm supposed to be doing that), I'm making a note of the MAIN KEY CENTERS. I may even play a little 'fill' to check out what works. I use a volume pedal a lot to sneak notes in and out. If there's another guitar player or a keyboard player I just hang back for the first verse and chorus. Better to not play anything than to urinate all over it.

2) I've been doing this a long time. Rarely do I encounter a set of chords that aren't at least somewhat familiar.

3) Because of number 2 above, I'm not afraid to play ... which helps me not freak out when I do encounter the unexpected.

4) Personally, I respond well to pressure.
*Slightly off topic but if I don't have new music to learn and a 'project' - I may not pick up a guitar for days or even a couple of weeks.

This post has been edited by klasaine: Feb 2 2013, 01:36 AM


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Jonas Tamas
post Feb 3 2013, 02:11 PM
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QUOTE (klasaine @ Feb 2 2013, 12:23 AM) *
1) If it's really that un-familiar, before the tune starts and/or while guys are chit chatting - I'm checking out the changes.
During the melody or head or whatever you wanna call it, besides actually playing the chords (or melody if I'm supposed to be doing that), I'm making a note of the MAIN KEY CENTERS. I may even play a little 'fill' to check out what works. I use a volume pedal a lot to sneak notes in and out. If there's another guitar player or a keyboard player I just hang back for the first verse and chorus. Better to not play anything than to urinate all over it.

2) I've been doing this a long time. Rarely do I encounter a set of chords that aren't at least somewhat familiar.

3) Because of number 2 above, I'm not afraid to play ... which helps me not freak out when I do encounter the unexpected.

4) Personally, I respond well to pressure.
*Slightly off topic but if I don't have new music to learn and a 'project' - I may not pick up a guitar for days or even a couple of weeks.



Thanks for your detailed answer, you wrote really useful tips in your 1) segment!

Regarding your last sentence about not playing the guitar for days or for 1-2 weeks: that sounds very interesting because you've been playing for well over a decade now, I'd guess, and you must be really good at it. So what are the reasons for not playing the guitar for longer periods? Is it first and foremost time management constraints (i.e. job and family), or is it another reason behind it?


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klasaine
post Feb 3 2013, 05:54 PM
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QUOTE (Jonas Tamas @ Feb 3 2013, 01:11 PM) *
Thanks for your detailed answer, you wrote really useful tips in your 1) segment!

Regarding your last sentence about not playing the guitar for days or for 1-2 weeks: that sounds very interesting because you've been playing for well over a decade now, I'd guess, and you must be really good at it. So what are the reasons for not playing the guitar for longer periods? Is it first and foremost time management constraints (i.e. job and family), or is it another reason behind it?


I got my first guitar in 1970 - I was 8 years old. Just strummed on Em, G, D, C and A for probably five years. Started to get serious at age 13 or 14. So yes, I've been playing over a decade - lol!
The main reason I may not play for days at a time is that I don't trip out if I'm not inspired to play or don't have a solid reason to play. I used to get really concerned that I'd lose my chops if I didn't play even for two or three days. I will get a bit 'rusty' but I can get it all back in a couple of hours. I usually take a solid two weeks off a year, sometimes three weeks. It all comes back within 3 or 4 days of regimented technique practice. During those 'off' times I'm definitely thinking about music and even playing it in my head. And when I do get back to it, especially after a week or two, I'm very excited and inspired to play.
*I remember reading an interview with Zappa and he said that after a tour ended and before he started writing/rehearsing for a new record or tour that he sometimes wouldn't touch a guitar for weeks or even months.

I am fortunate and eternally grateful to the powers that be that I'm allowed to do this (guitar playing) for a living. If I don't have a specific 'project' upcoming or a ton of gigs on the calendar then sometimes I just leave her in the case ... and go on a vacation. I do have a family and my wife is from Italy. All her family still live there - they need to see their grandson. We go for at least two weeks a year.

Conversely there are periods when I can't put it down. You can't force the muse. She comes when she wants.

This post has been edited by klasaine: Feb 3 2013, 05:59 PM


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Jonas Tamas
post Feb 3 2013, 11:53 PM
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QUOTE (klasaine @ Feb 3 2013, 04:54 PM) *
I got my first guitar in 1970 - I was 8 years old. Just strummed on Em, G, D, C and A for probably five years. Started to get serious at age 13 or 14. So yes, I've been playing over a decade - lol!
The main reason I may not play for days at a time is that I don't trip out if I'm not inspired to play or don't have a solid reason to play. I used to get really concerned that I'd lose my chops if I didn't play even for two or three days. I will get a bit 'rusty' but I can get it all back in a couple of hours. I usually take a solid two weeks off a year, sometimes three weeks. It all comes back within 3 or 4 days of regimented technique practice. During those 'off' times I'm definitely thinking about music and even playing it in my head. And when I do get back to it, especially after a week or two, I'm very excited and inspired to play.
*I remember reading an interview with Zappa and he said that after a tour ended and before he started writing/rehearsing for a new record or tour that he sometimes wouldn't touch a guitar for weeks or even months.

I am fortunate and eternally grateful to the powers that be that I'm allowed to do this (guitar playing) for a living. If I don't have a specific 'project' upcoming or a ton of gigs on the calendar then sometimes I just leave her in the case ... and go on a vacation. I do have a family and my wife is from Italy. All her family still live there - they need to see their grandson. We go for at least two weeks a year.

Conversely there are periods when I can't put it down. You can't force the muse. She comes when she wants.


Yes, I can relate to that. According to your description, you've found the balance and the peace of mind with it, and you view the whole phenomenon in a positive way. And thus, you can live fully your passion as a musician, and it's a great thing.

Off-topic: Italy is simply beautiful, and I love the openness and the musicality lurking everywhere in this country.


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klasaine
post Feb 4 2013, 07:01 AM
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And just to take it back to the OP, improvisation ... Wayne Shorter sums it up best:

"The six years I was with Miles, we never talked about music. We never had a rehearsal",
Shorter says. "Jazz shouldn't have any mandates. Jazz is not supposed to be something that's required to sound like jazz. For me, the word 'jazz' means, 'I dare you'. The effort to break out of something is worth more than getting an A in syncopation.
"This music, it's dealing with the unexpected," he adds. "No one really knows how to deal with the unexpected. How do you rehearse the unknown?"



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Jonas Tamas
post Feb 4 2013, 01:22 PM
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QUOTE (klasaine @ Feb 4 2013, 06:01 AM) *
And just to take it back to the OP, improvisation ... Wayne Shorter sums it up best:

"The six years I was with Miles, we never talked about music. We never had a rehearsal",
Shorter says. "Jazz shouldn't have any mandates. Jazz is not supposed to be something that's required to sound like jazz. For me, the word 'jazz' means, 'I dare you'. The effort to break out of something is worth more than getting an A in syncopation.
"This music, it's dealing with the unexpected," he adds. "No one really knows how to deal with the unexpected. How do you rehearse the unknown?"




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David.C.Bond
post Feb 4 2013, 03:59 PM
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Its strange how the improvisation thought process develops. For me it was kind of like 'what the hell do I do?' for a few years, then it was like 'oh I can do this, oh crap the chord has been and gone' for a few more years, then it gradually became more intuitive and free. It fascinates me smile.gif


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Jonas Tamas
post Feb 4 2013, 05:06 PM
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QUOTE (David.C.Bond @ Feb 4 2013, 02:59 PM) *
Its strange how the improvisation thought process develops. For me it was kind of like 'what the hell do I do?' for a few years, then it was like 'oh I can do this, oh crap the chord has been and gone' for a few more years, then it gradually became more intuitive and free. It fascinates me smile.gif


Yes, I remember going through similar stages myself!


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David.C.Bond
post Feb 7 2013, 12:20 PM
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I think we all do!


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