How to contrive(Improvise) on the saxophone by Marvy sax
Marvy sax is here again to teach young saxophonist how they can improvise on their musical instruments. Remember that in his previous lesson he taught us How to improvise jazz scales on the saxophone.
This time around He is goinng to teach us how we can generally improvise great solo’s of all time on the saxophone.
This tutorial is brought to you by Marvy Sax aka Fadipe Marvellous Ayooluwa. He is one of the finest saxophonist you can find in Nigeria.
The saxophone has one of the most distinctive solo sounds of any instrument. When you hear “sax solo” you might first think of jazz music but sax solos also have their place in rock (think Dire Straits’ Your Latest Trick ), blues (maybe Coltrane Plays the Blues), pop (how about Lady Gaga’s Edge Of Glory) or even hip-hop (with Beastie Boys’
Brass Monkey ).
Playing a great saxophone solo is not just about the sound of the sax. Like any great improvisation it requires a combination of imagination, musical intuition and well-trained ears.
In this tutorial we’ll take a step-by-step approach to learning to improvise well on sax. It’ll cover you whether you play a B♭ or E♭ sax i.e. soprano, alto, tenor or baritone . We’ll assume you know the basics of the instrument and some music theory fundamentals like chords and chord progressions and build from there to fully-fledged jazz solo techniques.
Saxophone Improvisation Basics
Before we dive into the specifics of sax, you should take a brief introduction about improvising to understand how improvising works.
How To Start Improvising Music in 6 Steps
In my last article I talked about the basics of musical improvisation, the three foundational blocks you need to put in place before you start improvising. So now that you are informed on some music theory basics, you’re exploring a variety of musical styles and you have a solid mindset to give you motivation to start improvising… It’s time to get started!
Here are six simple steps you can take to start improvising today:
1. Sing Along with Recorded Music
A great way to build confidence and gain personal experience in improvising is to sing along with your favorite recorded song. This can be on the radio, a CD or MP3 player, or YouTube videos online.
Find space where you are all alone and put on some music you know and like. Don’t worry about a polished performance, especially if you don’t consider yourself a singer or worry about how to sing in tune .
Just start making sounds that fit well with the song you are listening to. If you’re happy to sing, sing! If not, you can whistle or hum.
This will help release some fresh musical ideas because staying non-verbal restricts you from the song lyrics, leaving your mind free to create your own compositions as you express yourself. Singing along can be a great way to improvise music because you are creating a connection between thinking and practicing.
2. Play Along on a Musical Instrument
To improvise music using a musical instrument, put on some instrumental music and play your instrument along with the music.
You might worry that you don’t know what to play – don’t worry! You’re going to find out by trusting your ears: if it sounds right, it is right. Want a shortcut? Use some of that music theory we talked about earlier.
Playing along on your instrument like this will help you learn to improvise imaginatively. It will also help you break past that barrier of worrying that you can’t do it. Remember that everybody’s first improvisations sound bad, that even good improvisers occasionally play a “wrong” note, and that there is nobody around to hear you as you learn by doing!
If you play more than one musical instrument, you can creatively use each of them and listen to the different results. The differences in speed, tone, flexibility and their muscle memory and visual thinking will give you varied inspiration for your improvising.
Or grab your instrument, find a single note which seems to fit the key, and start playing along. You might be surprised how far you can go with a single note!
3. Get Creative With Melody
When you are learning to improvise, often the melody can provide a good starting point. You can actually play a melody and then create your own interpretation of the melody.
The secret of improvisation is creativity. Try changing a note or a phrase by adding your own ornamentations. You will be surprised at how much you can personalize the music with a single adjustment to the melody.
Make a game of it: Play the melody repeatedly, but each time you play it, make one more change. Soon you will have created something unrecognisable! If you apply those music theory basics as you choose your notes (e.g. sticking in the scale can be a good idea at first) then your creation will be a new alternative melody which still fits the song. Pretty cool!
4. Get Creative With Rhythm
Rhythm is considered by some to be the key to improvisation. Becoming creative with your rhythm requires a strong rhythmic foundation (learn rhythm here) so that you are free to make changes and still sound in time.
Try experimenting with rhythm the way you experimented with notes: start by playing the melody and make a shift in the rhythm by hitting a note earlier than expected, or a bit later. Listen for the impact this has. This shifting of the beat is technically referred to as syncopation .
It’s a simple but powerful way to add your own flair to a performance. Take it a step further and start really changing the rhythm and again, before long you’ll have created something distinctive and new.
Of course, mixing these two aspects is where the true creativity starts to come in, as you choose notes and timing purely from your own imaginative, using the standard melody only as a spark of initial inspiration.
5. Embrace Musical Accidents
When you want to start improvising music, you will need to come out of your comfort zone and allow yourself to explore something risky and different. When you learn pieces to perform you are taught not to make mistakes. To avoid playing notes which aren’t on the sheet music, or playing them at the “wrong” time.
With improvisation, there are no rules and no “right” or “wrong” notes to play. There are notes that sound good and notes that don’t.
But here’s the real secret to mastering improvisation: when you play a note which sounds bad you can fix it! The wonderful thing about music is that every unexpected twist and turn can become the start of a great new journey for the listener.
Unlike performing prepared music, where playing a wrong note is a momentary mistake, with improvisation it is an opportunity: it’s a chance for you to use your creativity on the spot to find a way to turn that “wrong” note into a “right” one, and bring the music back together in a satisfying way.
So when you mess up and accidentally hit a note that sounds off-key during a performance or practice, don’t panic! Just keep going in the new key and find your way back. This will help you know how far you can go with creativity and you will be surprised at the very positive effect it can have on your audience. They might not even know it wasn’t intentional!
6. Record Yourself – and Listen Back
At the start of improvisation, it can be difficult to remember things you played and the tiny lessons you learn with each choice of notes you make. Recording your improvisations will help you remember your previous experiences and build on them. Remember you must listen back to your recording to get the benefit though! Listening to your recording will help you understand your strengthens and weaknesses. When you listen you can also pick up a cool idea from your recording and use it again to improve your improvisation next time.
This can be a challenge at first because it will really put you to the test: your attitude must stay positive (don’t get disheartened if you don’t sound great at first) and your ability to embrace mistakes (try to be objective about how well you recovered from any “bad” notes). Be willing to experience the discomfort of listening to yourself improvise badly at first, as it is the key to sounding better and better in time. Before you know it you’ll be able to return to those original recordings and say “Wow, look how far I’ve come!”.
Start Improvising Today!
One of the utmost joys of being capable of playing a musical instrument is the ability to spontaneously create music on the spot. Improvising is essentially a form of composing and many musicians would say it’s the ultimate display of composition skill.
Whether you are an amateur, an experienced musician or a music guru, you can’t argue against the fact that improvising music skillfully is a powerful thing. It calls for creativity, commitment, willingness and readiness to always learn something new. It is a perfect way to create new music and improve existing pieces. Above all, remember that it is a skill that everyone can learn and perfect with practice.
Now here’s the first big tip which you shouldn’t rush past: don’t try to improvise in every key! At least not to begin with.
Pick just a few keys you’re going to use in your practice. Or even just one key to focus on at first. You can choose ones with a simple key signature for simplicity or choose them based on the tunes you want to learn to improvise on.
Now learn the scale for those keys. Scales are an improvisor’s bread and butter, you need to practice them up and down, back and forth, fast and slow, legato and staccato. Play them until they’re second nature and you don’t need to think about sharps or flats, your fingers just fly.
Practice jumping from the root of the scale to each note in turn, playing each of the intervals from the tonic. Then do the same from the second note of the scale to each note above it. And so on.
Next learn the arpeggio of the root chord – this is easy, it’s the first, third and fifth notes of the scale you’ve been practising. But then do the same for the IV chord and the V chord.
Use the Circle of Fifths to practice with arpeggios, running through a sequence of fifths, starting with the keys you’re focusing on and then playing all around the circle.
With these arpeggio exercises you can start with a simple single-octave version: just jump down an octave when you need to, to stay in a playable range. Then move on to playing a “full range” version of the exercise by always jumping down to the lowest version of the note you can reach, and arpeggiating up as high as possible.
Now you’re ready to start improvising!