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burno70

Books on improvising?

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I'm having to be a bit thrifty with my money so have cancelled by online tutor subsciription.

So what books are out there? Any recommendations?

There was Volume 1: how to play jazz and improvise, which was a recent recommendation from another thread. I may go for this but wouldn't mind considering other options - doesn't have to be Jazz related.

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If it is Jazz then the Jazz theory book contains tons of info on the mechanics of improvising. On YT I’ve been enjoying a couple of channels recently - Jazz on the ranch (Kent Hewitt) and Aimee Nolte - both piano but great for understanding more about both chord progressions and improvising. Generally other instruments are much better at improvising than bass from a melody perspective so I’d seek out sax, trumpet or piano works. The Aebersold playalongs are relatively inexpensive and cover common standards.

If talking about bass part improvising then start from James Jamerson (standing in the shadows of motown). Then get some Chuck Rainey transcriptions online (or work them out yourself!) - he’s a master of pocket playing.

In the Theory and technique section there are plenty of threads with links to a ton of charts. Useful if you can read or want to learn to.

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Funny you should ask because I was going through my collection of books and printouts I have collected since the early 90s when I was studying just that. Books I have bought some years later I thought was great was the Ed Friedland and specifically Bass Improvisation and Gary Willis books, Fingerboard Harmony for bass. 

Of course a fantastic way to learn is to transcribe solos from different instruments or find transcriptions of solos. 

I would also suggest books going over different styles such as Latin grooves and even classical music. I did a lot of both and cello music was really good. Bach is brilliant for technique. 

I would also echo Standing in the shadows of Motown, I have gone back to it and taught from it over the years. Teaches reading, rhythm and phrasing in abundance. Sorry for the rant 

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It’s all about connecting what you see when you’re playing to how it sounds. The more complete that connection, the better you will improvise. It’s not a book recommendation but here’s my tips from (now past 30 years, playing, that came as a shock when I counted!)

  • You need something to improvise over. Jamey Aebersold play-alongside, loops from something like GarageBand, (I was going to say other musicians but that’s out!) because when you start it’s vital to hear how the notes you’re playing sound over the chord.
  • Start building a library of licks. Many musicians turn their nose up at licks but these are the building blocks of improvising and are valuable pointers to melodic ideas.
  • Develop your ear. A wise person once said “you’re paid to think fast, not play fast!”. This ties in with the first point of relating what you’re hearing to what you’re playing
  • Be specific and structured when practising. It’s all to easy when you start improvising just to noodle, which may sound good in isolation but over a proper piece of music it rarely works well. Take a basic standard or a blues and improvise using only two notes. Get as much mileage as you can out of those two notes. The move onto just chord tones (and be disciplined to stay only with chord tones, it really forces you to know what the chordal harmony looks like on the bass
  • If you hit a note that sounds bad, stop. This seems counterintuitive as when performing you’d never stop playing if you hit a bum note. This is practising and you need to explore why that note didn’t work in that context. Then work out how you can make it fit (every note can fit somehow!)
  • Take melodic idea you like and work them out. Transcribe if you can read/write, or just do it by ear. The most important thing is to learn how to play the idea freely. Then see if you can adapt that idea to a different chord or progression - the beauty of improvising is that often just changing one or two notes in a line will make it fit over a completely different chord.
  • Avoid starting ideas on the first beat of the bar and the root note of the chord, at least when staring out. Bass players are hard-wired for root-5th so you need to break out of that mindset as most melodic content is nothing like a bass line - unless it is a bass line, of course! As you get better, try playing ideas that go through chord changes. A sign of a less accomplished improviser is someone who stops each time the chord changes. A good exercise to develop this skill is the continuous scale exercise: start at the lowest note that first the first chord, then play 4 notes per bar/chord. When you get to the second chord, keep ascending and go to the next available note from where you are (it’ll be one fret or two frets). Keep going until you run out of notes, and go back down again. It forces you out of the root on the one mindset, too.
  • Conversely, develop ideas that have wider intervals. Many bass players tend to play very scalar lines, one note aft the other, whereas more interesting ideas have larger intervals. Practising exercises using thirds, fourths, fifths, sixths and sevenths, especially if you start inverting pairs of notes e.g. in C, play a descending major 3rd on (E, C) followed by an ascending third in the next scale tone up (D, F) and repeat: E, C, D, F, G, E, F, A, B, G, A, C, D, B, C, E and then back down again starting from the same high E.
  • Develop phrasing. This means singing an idea and playing it. Try taking a breath between phrases - if your struggling to breathe then the phrase is too long. Think of it as a conversation rather than a monologue! 
  • Learn some Charlie Parker lines. You can take an 8 bar solo from a standard and it’s like study in its own right - he came up with so many great melodic lines, and you’ll get a thorough grounding on chord tone playing plus bebop scales and chromaticism (again, it doesn’t matter whether you have any theory knowledge; it helps but it all about the sound of a line)
  • If you really don’t like a style or genre, don’t bother with it - use your valuable practice time on stuff you do like. Quite a bit above references Jazz but much of it applies regardless of style. Remember however there are little gold nuggets to be had in any style
  • Finally, start slowly and precisely, don’t rush playing or fudge the timing. You can play a wonderful solo with just a few notes and impeccable timing and feel; but it’s all to easy to be too busy or vague rhythmically, and even good melodic ideas will fall flat. Less is more!

Hope this helps!

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