Week 4 – Think Melodies To Start Improvising
During an exceptionally long small combo rehearsal in college one day, my professor said something to all of us that will stick with me forever. This unfortunate day, none of us were playing well and he said “All of you are just rambling on your instruments! I should be able to sing back any line you play, like repeating a sentence back to you.” This was a glorious day. He was right! Most of the time when people are improvising in jazz, they’re trying to play the new coolest lick, or some pattern that they haven’t practiced well enough. All that ends up coming out is jumbled up garbage. When you first begin to improvise or even if you have been improvising for a while you must always remember to play melodically, with intention, and sing your lines through the piano. Especially with us pianist, its so easy to just let our fingers do the work instead of our inner self. My fingers could play all day long with an ounce of true expression attached to the notes. This is what we must avoid.
In order to work on this we must start by thinking about melodies. Always try to create melodies when improvising, even if they’re very short and simple. By doing this you are creating something that you truly intended and is part of your self expression. Focus on what my teacher said to me by always attempting to play a line that you could sing back to yourself. If you get done playing a phrase and you have no idea what you played….you are rambling.
I’m going to play the notated example below so you can follow along with a simple improvised melody. I will also improvise something new after that by trying to create singable melodies on the spot. The improvisation will be over a Cmaj7, A-7, D-7, G7, also known as a I – VI – II – V. I’m only using notes from the C Major Scale.