Intro to Improvisation - Fundamentals for Creating Music on the Spot | Charles Cornell | Skillshare

Intro to Improvisation - Fundamentals for Creating Music on the Spot

Charles Cornell, Music and stuff

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15 Lessons (2h 13m)
    • 1. Intro

      1:59
    • 2. What Is Improvisation?

      7:25
    • 3. Course Resources

      0:25
    • 4. Getting Started - Part 1

      6:51
    • 5. Getting Started - Part 2

      3:16
    • 6. Review and Try Again

      4:25
    • 7. Learning To Speak In Music - Singing Exercise

      6:17
    • 8. How We Practice Improvisation

      5:26
    • 9. Copy Your Way To Success

      12:49
    • 10. The Case For Theory

      4:40
    • 11. The Importance of Listening

      6:31
    • 12. Putting It All Together - Part 1

      3:01
    • 13. Putting It All Together - Part 2

      8:25
    • 14. Outro

      4:10
    • 15. BONUS - A Lesson With Thomas Frank

      57:04
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About This Class

Have you ever wanted to able to play anything on your instrument on demand? Ever listen to the greats and wonder how they manage to create incredible music off the top of their heads?

This course is designed to get you playing along and to give you a head start in your improvisational journey regardless of what instrument you play.

No music theory required!

All you need is basic proficiency on your instrument and some musical inspiration. You'll play along with me and learn how to get better! Together, we'll break through the barriers that may have kept you from trying to improvise before now. Sometimes it can feel awkward or strange to try playing with nothing in front of us and no particular direction to follow. We're often afraid to sound bad!

In this course, you'll overcome many of the fears and questions you've had surrounding the art of improvisation and we'll tackle a variety of ways you can get better including:

  • Speaking the "Language" of music
  • How to practice improvising
  • Transcribing the work of others
  • Listening to music with intention
  • Much more!!

Course Resources can be found in the "Project & Resource" tab, as well as on my website: http://charlescornellstudios.com/course-resources/

The course is loosely based in Jazz, but the concepts apply to music universally. No matter what you want to be able to play, this is a great place to start!

Transcripts

1. Intro: What would it be like to sit down at your instrument and be able to play anything you want? When we look to the greats, both past and present, we marvel at their ability to create complex, thoughtful, and innovative melodies and harmonies on the spot right before our eyes. If you're a musician, no matter what level you're at, I'm sure that you have had an interest in learning how to improvise or learning how to improvise better. Maybe you have been afraid to start because you just don't really know where to start or maybe you think that you might need an in-depth, advanced working knowledge of music theory in order to do any improvisation at all. Well, I'm here to tell you that that is not true at all. You do not need a super in-depth, advanced knowledge of music theory. You simply need your ears, your excitement, your willingness to learn, and your desire to make music, and assuming you have all of those things already, this is going to be a piece of cake. Throughout this course, we will be doing and talking about a number of things designed to get you improvising now and also to give you the tools to continue your journey in learning how to improvise better. This is going to be a long journey. It's going to be one that I'm just helping you get started on. But know this, we are going to help you get past that barrier of starting to improvise now. By the time you're finished with this course, you will have a definitive path forward so that you can continue learning, continue listening, continue playing, and get better. So come along with me, let's dive in and start developing your ability to improvise. 2. What Is Improvisation?: I can still remember the first time that I ever tried to improvise on the piano. I was probably 11 or 12 years old and I had been putting it off for a long time for one simple reason. I started playing the piano because I wanted to sound good. I wanted to play things that were pretty and pleasing to the ear. I was terrified to start into a song where I did not know what was supposed to come next, where everything was up to me and all of the decisions had to be made in real-time. I was terrified to sound bad. I did not want to feel the embarrassment of other people potentially hearing me and thinking, "Look at this kid trying to improvise. He sounds terrible." Which logically, of course, nobody's thinking that, but it doesn't change the fact that in the moment when you're faced with jumping in and doing it and breaking that barrier, it's scary. We play music because we enjoy sounding good and it's counter-intuitive to allow ourselves to explore a pathway where, "You know what? We're going to have to sound maybe not so good for a little bit in the beginning." But that's okay. What we're trying to accomplish in this course is to get you comfortable with the idea of sounding bad. Because sounding bad is the prerequisite to sounding good. Now, before we actually begin improvising, it's important that we understand what exactly improvisation is. Now you may be familiar with the concept in general, anything that is not written or planned out ahead of time but rather is made up on the spot in real-time, well, that's improvisation. Now normally we think of improvisation as soloing where a player will just replace the melody with a new melody. Now, while this is the most obvious form of improvisation, there's actually a lot more to it than that. If you play an instrument capable of playing chords, well, there's actually a lot more to it than just a solo line. Those chords that you might play very well could be improvised. Whether it's the chords underneath your own solo or the chords underneath someone else's solo, the rhythm of those chords, the melody of those chords, any of that that is not predetermined and written out ahead of time, is improvisation. Even the structure of a tune if you're playing with the group. Maybe you decide to put a tag near the end of the tune, maybe an intro or an outro, is something that is improvised on the spot between you and your fellow musicians. Every single component to playing a piece of music whether by yourself or with a group of people can be improvised. We can use certain methods and processes to equip ourselves with the ability and the technical facility and the musical knowledge to do all of it. When it comes down to it, improvisation is the process of communicating musical thought in real-time. Well, how else do we communicate thought in real-time? Well, we do exactly what I'm doing now. We speak to one another. We use language to communicate our thoughts. Your conversations with the people in your day-to-day life aren't planned out, they're improvised. One of the most important things that we can learn and harness to develop our ability to improvise is to understand music's relationship with spoken language. Music can be looked at as a language in the same exact way as any other language on the planet. It is not even in a different category. There's English, Spanish, French, German, Latin, Music, Portuguese. It's in the same list. When we look at it that way, we can begin to break down all the ways that we can harness our understanding of how we communicate with one another through language and when we break it down that way, we can start to harness the different components that we understand about how we communicate with one another and apply them to how we communicate through music. If we want to develop our ability to improvise freely and in an effective manner and to get to a point where we sound good, we have to develop a fluency in the language of music in the exact same way that you would develop a fluency in any other language. Now that may sound daunting, but here's the good news. You don't need to develop an advanced knowledge of music theory or really any music theory at all to start this process and to start improvising and to start learning how to get better. We did not learn our native language, whether that's English or anything else, by going to English class in school and learning all of the fundamentals. Now, we already knew how to communicate before we ever got there. While taking classes might help refine your ability and help develop your ability to communicate more effectively, it is not a prerequisite to learning how to do it at all. You learned how to speak through your environment. You learned how to speak through full immersion. As a child, we hear the environment around us and that is what hones our ability to communicate with those around us. Music is no different. All we have to do is immerse ourselves in the material we are trying to learn and to understand that all we're learning to do is just to communicate our thoughts and ideas. We'll build a vocabulary, we'll build a set of phrases that we might go back to often. But really we're just developing a fluency in the language of music. This is going to be important for you to remember as you start your journey in learning how to improvise. Because while it may seem daunting in some ways, it will actually be incredibly liberating in others. That's because we realized that there is no concrete definition of the correct answer to what we should play in any given scenario. There is no definitive chord scale relationship that we have to stick to every time we see a certain chord sequence. It's improvisation, its language, its speech, it's musical thought. You are free to develop that as you see fit. The more you equip yourself with an understanding of the environment around you, the quicker and easier you will be able to convey your own thoughts and ideas. Before we jump into more specific details, I want to get you improvising right now. Join me in the next video and I'll guide you step-by-step to get you playing without the fear of sounding bad. We're going to break that barrier that may have kept you from starting this process before now. If you've ever been afraid to just play your instrument not knowing what's going to come next, here are the next steps you should take. 3. Course Resources: Hey guys. Really quickly before we keep going, I just want to mention that there is a link in the description of the course where you can download a couple of the resources to go along with some of the stuff we're about to do. There's a sign up for an email list if you want to stay up to date and receive resources like this from time to time, and of course, I'd love for you to do that, but you absolutely don't have to. There's a way to download it without doing that at all. If you want to download a couple of PDFs that are going to be helpful as we move forward, go ahead and follow that link in the description and you'll be able to do that. All right, that's it. Let's keep going. 4. Getting Started - Part 1: In this video, you're going to improvise, plain and simple. I'm going to give you step-by-step guidance to get you playing and exploring some basic musical concepts. There's no prequalification to be able to do this. There's no required knowledge of music theory, no experience necessary, none of that. Here's how it works. We're going to play along with a backing track and a series of simple chords. Now for each chord, I'm going to provide you with a bank of notes that are technically correct, or at least that will definitely sound good. Now as you'll learn, there are no technically correct or incorrect notes, but as a starting point, this can help you feel more comfortable. Your job is simply to follow my lead, play along with the backing track and explore the bank of notes for each chord. Now, each time the chord changes, the bank of notes will slightly shift as well. Let's go over that now. Now this backing track consists of four chords, and they are as follows, C minor 7, F major, A flat major 7, and B flat major. That's it. Those are the only chords that we have to deal with. Now, let's go over the bank of notes that will fit for each chord. Let's start with C minor 7. For this chord, we're going to use the following notes, C, D, E-flat, F, G, A, B-Flat, and that will bring us back to C. Extra points if you know what scale that is. Let's move on to F. Now for this chord, you may think that we're just simply going to use the F major scale, but because of the overall context of what the backing track sounds like, we're actually going to make one small change. Here is the bank of notes that we're going to use for F-major, F, G, A, B-Flat, C, D, E-flat, and that brings us back to F. You'll notice we only changed one note from the F major scale, instead of playing an E natural, we've simply moved that E natural down to an E-flat. That is the bank of notes that we'll use for F. Let's move on to A flat major 7. The bank of notes we're going to use for A flat major 7 is as follows, A flat, B flat, C, D natural, E-flat, F, G, and that will bring us back to A flat. Now you may notice that like the F major scale, this was very close to the A-flat major scale, except we made one notable change. Rather than playing D flat, as you would find in the normal matrix scale, we've changed that D flat to a D natural. Again, extra points, if you know what these scale names are. That leaves one chord, B flat major. Let's decide what we're going to use for B flat. B flat, C, D, E flat, F, G, A flat, and that will bring us back to B flat. Once again, this is one note removed from just the regular B flat major scale. That change comes on the seventh note in the scale, which would normally be A, but as you remember, we're now going to use A flat. Those are the four chords and the bank of notes that go with each chord that we're going to use. Now as the backing track plays, you'll see video of me playing the backing track, and over top of that, we're going to show the chord and the bank of notes, both notes on the staff as well as note names. You'll be able to see all of that on the video so that you can play along. Here's what I want you to do, your goal should be simply to explore each of these banks of notes. It does not matter how fast or how slow you play any of them. Do not worry about how many notes you can play, or if you nail every single note correctly, none of that matters. This is just a basic outline to allow you to explore something that has somewhat of a structure for you to use as you start your journey into trying out how to improvise. Don't worry about messing up or sounding bad, it doesn't matter. The goal here is to play some notes along with the tracks so that you can feel what it feels like to improvise. I want you to explore, and I want you to feel truly free to try anything on your instrument. I will count the backing track in, and then we'll start. Feel free to play this over and over as many times as you like to just explore different sounds that you can make in different lines that you might be able to play. Have fun with it, and don't worry whether it sounds correct or not. It doesn't matter, just explore. Let's try it. 5. Getting Started - Part 2: Welcome to part 2. Just before we get started, I want to give you a brief rundown of exactly what we're going to be playing and what you're going to see. Up on the screen in front of you, you can see what we call a chart or a lead sheet. That just contains all of the chords that we're going to be playing and exactly how long each of those chords last. We have C minor seven for two bars, followed by F major for two bars. Then we repeat that again before moving on to A flat major seven for two bars, and then back to F for two bars. To wrap up the form of our track, we have A flat major seven climbing up to B flat. Then finally back to C minor seven for one bar, then to F for one bar, and you'll notice that the sound is just like the intro. As far as all the slashes are concerned, well, that's just the notation that we use to indicate that this is a section where you can play whatever you want. Now, all this will be super clear. I just wanted to give you a brief rundown of exactly what you're going to see. So the next thing you're going to hear is two measures of counting clicks, followed by the intro. You should feel free to explore on your instrument, and don't worry about whether or not it's correct. Just have fun. 6. Review and Try Again: Hey. Very quickly before we move on, there's one particular thing that I want to go over with you quickly and then I actually want you to try that again. In case through that backing track you felt a little bit like, "Man, this is moving pretty quick, I don't really know how to get enough notes out," I want to illustrate what to do in the scenario where you're just not super comfortable with the changes yet, or maybe you're at a point on your instrument where you haven't quite built up the ability to play fluid lines. Well, I want to point out why that is totally not important at all. I know oftentimes what we think about with improvisation are these incredible, impressive, fast, sweeping lines on various instruments. That's all great, but that takes a long time to build up the ability to do. Before we get there, we have to navigate our improvisation in a slightly different way. I thought I would demonstrate for you very quickly how I might approach this on a somewhat unfamiliar instrument. I played trumpet in band in school, but I never studied playing jazz on the trumpet. I'm not really a brass player, I've never worked out how to improvise fluently on this instrument. I haven't played this instrument in a very long time. I thought what I would do is demonstrate how I would approach playing with this backing track on an instrument that I'm largely not that familiar with, at least in comparison to the piano. I want you to notice how few notes I'll choose to play in a scenario where I'm maybe not that comfortable playing more fluid lines. This can be a very effective tool for getting around chord changes that are maybe moving a little quickly than maybe what you're comfortable with so far, or just unfamiliar chords and keys in general. Let me take a whack at this and see what happens. You can see, I really don't play much trumpet not really the most clean, not the best sound. But the important thing to notice is that when I have less familiarity and proficiency at the instrument, when you use different tactics to navigate, the chord changes. I'm not going to try to play sweeping lines and fast notes and things like that because I can't. So instead I'm just going to play what I feel is within my ability level and maybe I'll just do it over and over and over and over again, just try to work out bits and pieces a little bit at a time. With that in mind, I would love to see you go back to the backing track and give it another shot. Maybe try longer notes or fewer notes or leave more space. Whatever is going to help you feel more comfortable and feel like you're not trying to pack in a bunch of notes that maybe you're not totally comfortable with playing just yet. When you're done with that, I'll see you in the next video. 7. Learning To Speak In Music - Singing Exercise: Now that we've started improvising a little bit, our next goal should be to figure out how do we make sense of any of that, after all that exercise was basically just drawing random notes from a defined bank and being able to play any of them in any particular order. But that's not necessarily how we improvise. It's a great start, but there's a lot more to it than that. Improvisation is the process of replacing perhaps an original melody with a brand new melody of our own that we develop on the spot. Melodies are usually things that we might sing, after all, the words to any songs are some with the notes of the melody, that's how songs go. If we only stuck to the exercise that we just demonstrated where you simply play random notes from a predetermined bank, well, playing random notes doesn't necessarily say anything. It would be like trying to have a conversation and just speaking random words. You probably wouldn't have a clue what it means if I said, hence students waste tough contracts on the onions, but only in the card with the easy break possibilities. To take improv to the next level, we have to learn how to speak sentences and phrases that make sense. Now, when we play our instruments, we have one distinct disadvantage, we are able to play notes with our physical bodies without deliberately choosing them through a thought process. You might refer to this as a autopilot. I can sit here at the piano and play, but it doesn't mean that I just deliberately chose any of those notes. No, those are in a sense pre-programmed things that I've worked out over the years that I'm able to play when I just choose to play that particular line. The easiest way to illustrate the differences between that and deliberate musical thought is to remove our instrument entirely so that we don't have that ability to simply use our bodies and our physical memory to play things that we've already pre-determined. If we sing rather than play, we are forced to deliberately choose every single note. I'd like to try that with you now. We're going to have another backing track and this time I want you to put your instrument down and we're going to sing along with the backing track. Now, if you're not a singer or if you're afraid to sing, don't worry, that does not matter. Our goal here is not to be beautiful singers, our goal here is to simply force ourselves to deliberately choose every note we want to play in or in this case sing. By doing so, it'll help illustrate how maybe our ears truly hear the music when we don't have our tactile memory to fall back on and we're forced to deliberately choose every single note that can really illustrate to us that all those crazy lines, well, maybe that's not actually how you hear music. Your true style might very well come out when you don't have your instrument to fall back on. When you're forced to come up with every single note on your own and sing it out loud sometimes that is the best way to discover how we actually musically think. For backing track for this exercise, we're going to simply use an F Major Blues. I want you to just sing as though you're creating your own song from scratch. Don't worry about the notes you choose just sing whatever feels natural. Sing what you might expect to hear Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, sing. Have fun with it, don't worry if it sounds good or not, we're not all singers here, that's fine. What's going to happen is we're going to start the backing track and I'm going to go ahead and sing a chorus for you so that you can hear how I'm going about it and maybe give you some ideas as to what you might try. Then as soon as we get to the end of that chorus, I'll make sure to cue you in and you take it from there and have fun with it. This is probably where I feel like an idiot. 8. How We Practice Improvisation: Now we had a chance to jump into improvisation, and we've tried it in two different ways. Number 1, you've tried it on your instrument and now we've also taken the time to practice singing. I hope that maybe you've taken this time to compare, how did your ideas change when you were on your instrument versus when all you had to use with your own voice. Obviously, the next logical question is to say, "All right, well, I have a understanding of how to go about improvisation, but now, how do we get better?" While it is a life long process of improving your ability to improvising your ability to communicate your musical thoughts effectively. There are plenty of things that we can do to help gain ground in the short term. There's one very important thing that we have to remember about improvisation, and it's a little bit counter-intuitive. We have to practice improvising. Now, why is that counter-intuitive? Well, how can you practice something that is made up on the spot, that is not planned out. There's nothing written out ahead of time, you don't know what it's going to be. How are you supposed to practice that stuff? Because normally practice is, well, you might take a piece of music that you're working on and you might work on that piece. You might go through the music, and take a particular section, and work on that section over and over until you get it right. Well, how are we going to do that if it's improvisation? It doesn't seem like you could. Well, actually you can, and the very simple answer to how you can do that, is by doing it. Once again, we need to think about music as a language. That will help us understand the different ways that we can indeed practice things that are made up on the spot. As children, we do not become proficient at communicating in our native language by reading textbooks, and going to English class. No, we consume the environment around us and we get better at speaking by speaking. The way that a child develops their ability to speak, and communicate is simply by consuming the environment around them, and then attempting to utilize pieces of what they are experiencing. Eventually what happens is you build a vocabulary, you build up a bank of phrases and sentences that you hear people use, and you start choosing bits, and pieces of things that you hear from the environment around you, and including them in your own vocabulary so that you can effectively communicate with others. If you want to learn a foreign language, you can study all of the textbooks you want. You can download Duolingo, and spend hours and hours a day, and you might get pretty far. But there are very few things, if anything at all, that can substitute simply going, and living where they speak the language that you want to learn. It is single-handedly the most effective method of learning, because you're forced to not only consume the entire environment around you, but then to attempt to use bits and pieces of that environment to communicate with others. Music is exactly the same. Even though we are not playing things that are predetermined or that are written out ahead of time. We still have to practice them, and we practice them by consuming it constantly, and then attempting to apply some of those pieces that we've consumed, and include them into our own vocabulary. Over time, you'll build up an arsenal of words, and phrases, and sentences, in different ways that you can draw from a bank of material to effectively communicate with other people, whether it's other musicians on the bandstand or your audience. Now, even though it's improvisation, don't be afraid to work out particular lines, and phrases that you like because it's always helpful to have a few things on hand. Notice there are certain things that we will say to one another that are just common phrases like, how's it going? Or how are you? Or what's up? Those are three distinct ways that we can greet somebody, and depending on where you're from or who you're around, you might typically use one or the other. But when you use them, it's still improvisation, you had not necessarily plan exactly what you're going to say. But when you do improvise speaking to other people, we do draw from phrases, and sentences that we use often. Don't be afraid to work out some lines and develop some phrases that you like to use because they are now part of your arsenal that you can draw from, if the particular musical thought arises as you're playing. Once again, it might seem a little bit counter-intuitive to practice something that is made up entirely on the spot. But the reality is it's just like anything else, doing it over and over and over and over again, you will begin to develop proficiencies that you never knew you could have. Every single day as you're working to develop your improvisational ability, you should simply sit, and play, and don't worry about what you're playing. Don't worry about whether or not you're practicing certain exercises or techniques or fundamentals, just play. Because the act of doing so is going to get you a long ways, and it will pay off, and it is how you get better. In the next video, we're going to talk about some more targeted methods that you can use to add knowledge and ability to your musical arsenal that will allow you to learn to improvise better, faster. 9. Copy Your Way To Success: In the last video, we talked about how practicing improvisation is one of the most important things you can do to get better, even if practicing something that's entirely made up might seem a little counter-intuitive. Let's talk about some things that you can do that maybe are not so counter-intuitive, that can make you better, much faster. Transcribing is one of the most effective tools you can possibly use to improve your improvisational skills. Quite simply, transcribing is just the process of listening to music and learning to play it in exactly the way you heard it for yourself. Now, there's a few different ways we can go about that and each way has different drawbacks and different benefits. But before we get into that, let's talk about why transcribing is so important. Simply put, it is impossible to learn to speak a language effectively if you don't know what that language sounds like. It would be easy to open up a book written in French, if you don't speak French, and maybe sound out some of the words and probably not get the pronunciation anywhere close to correct. But you might be able to make sounds that vaguely are reminiscent of what it's supposed to be. But if all you ever did was read books in French, and then you went to France and tried to talk to people, you're probably not going to have very much luck, because the thing that you're missing is simply the sound of the language. You don't know what this stuff is supposed to sound like. Therefore, you're not going to be able to communicate with anybody because nobody will be able to understand you. Music is very much the same if all you ever do is read about jazz, for example, and you read books that have transcriptions of which there are many, and you learn these note-for-note transcriptions, and you learn how to play them through. Chances are, if you go and play that against the recording, you're probably not going to be very close at all to what it sounds like. Because there is so much more to understanding how to play a particular genre of music than simply knowing what the correct notes are. There's inflections, there's feel, there's rhythm, there's touch. All these things which are not easily translatable through written notes, but that are so important in getting the feel and the overall genre of the music correct. If you want to improve the overall feel of any particular genre, you're going to have the best luck if you're directly taking the examples from those who have done it before you, and we can do that through transcription. Now at its most basic, transcription is simply the art of copying other people, copying things that have already been done, copying other musicians that you're inspired by, that you look up to you and that you want to sound like. It might seem odd to say, should we copy other musicians? Because the short answer is, yes. But the long answer is, kind of. Now, let's take, for example, one of the most famous jazz tunes ever recorded, John Coltrane's Giant Steps. Every saxophone player in history probably has recorded Giant Steps in some way, shape or form, or at least just played it. But you'll notice that nobody, that I'm aware of, has ever done a cover of John Coltrane's version of Giant Steps, meaning, nobody has ever recorded note for note the solo that John Coltrane played on the recording. Contrary to that, probably almost every saxophone player that plays Giant Steps can play that John Coltrane solo note for note. But there's really no reason to record it because, well, it was already done. To answer the question of, well, is transcription just copying? Yes, it is. But we don't copy for the sake of using it word for word in our own performances. Instead, the goal of transcription is to develop a vocabulary and an arsenal of words, phrases, and sentences, like we've discussed before. So that in our own improvisation, that is based on our own authentic musical thought, we can reach into that bag of all those devices and things that we've collected from all around the musical environment around us, and we can develop our own thoughts and phrases using a combination of those things. Transcription is so important, because without it, it's difficult to develop a vocabulary or have a deep understanding of what this particular genre of the language is. Now there are two main ways that you can transcribe music. The first way is by listening and note by note writing out your transcription on paper. This would be the process of listening to a little bit at a time, over and over and over again, and writing note for note one at a time, the whole solo or whatever it is that you're transcribing, out in notation on manuscript paper or in notation software. Then once you have the whole thing written out, you can go through, use the music, and learn the tune, or learn the solo. Now this is obviously quite valuable because, well now you have a written out version of that solo that you can put it into a notebook or into a folder somewhere and you'll always have it. It can also be helpful to analyze different things that are going on in the solo. You can really get into the mindset of a musician by helping yourself to understand what exactly it is that they're playing and maybe some of the music whole thought process behind what they're playing. It's incredibly valuable to be able to go back and look at that page that you've taken the time to go through and painstakingly read out note for note and refer to it much later on down the road, sometimes even years later. I have transcriptions that I wrote back in my freshman year of college that I still have in a notebook somewhere. But there's one significant drawback to this method of learning. I may have those transcriptions written out in notebooks, but I can't remember how they go. When we learn things from a piece of paper, there's a distinct thing that we're missing, and that is the true memory of how a particular song or solo goes. If I listen to something where bit by bit I'm writing out note for note the transcription of whatever I'm listening to, so that I can go back and learn it from the page, and maybe bounce it off the recording and play along with the recording so I get it correct. Well, that's all well and good. But when we learn from the piece of paper, one could argue that it is not truly engrained into your memory. Now, unlike those pieces of paper that I have written down in notebooks from when I was in college, there are transcriptions that I learned the second way that I can still play today. Instead of listening to something and note by note painstakingly writing out the transcription on a piece of paper, you're going to listen to that thing that you're trying to transcribe, whether it's a solo, or an entire tune, or just a piece of a tune. You're going to listen to that over and over and over and over, until you can sing every part of that solo right along with the recording, and this is all before you have even touched your instrument. This whole process is simply listening to the same things so many times that it's completely ingrained into your ears. I want you to think about all of your favorite songs, your favorite popular music, maybe the things that we hear on the radio that become so engrained. Why is it that we remember these things so clearly. In fact, to the point where there are game shows entirely based on play, 0.5 seconds or less of a song and try to identify it, and people can, because they've heard it so many times that they could never possibly forget what it sounds like. You probably only have to hear a split-second of this to understand exactly what it is. You see, when we learn something from the page, you're not listening to it enough times to allow your memory to truly absorb that thing, and as a result, you might be able to learn it really well from the page and play it right along with the recording and get a lot of benefit from it. But like I said before, those solos that I wrote out when I was in college, that I still have in a notebook somewhere, I can begin to tell you how they go. But the ones that I learned by listening to it over and over and over again, I could still play them today. This is by far the most effective form of transcription, and while both can be valuable, I highly recommend, pick out something that you love to listen to that you would like to learn how to play, and listen to it over and over and over until you can sing every single part of it. It should get stuck in your head, and you should know it so well, you're singing it in your sleep. Then, and only then, sit down at your instrument, and start to work it out note by note. Now notice, no part in this entire process do we touch a pencil to manuscript paper. We're not going to write any of this out, because the reality is, why do you need to? If you learn it by ear, to the extent that it is locked into your memory forever, you're not going to need to write it down because the sound is going to be so ingrained that you'll remember it for a very long time. This is how we can build an incredibly large arsenal of vocabulary and phrases and sentences that we can use to influence our own musical thoughts, and to help us communicate with others, whether on the bandstand, or in the audience. To start your transcribing journey, I would recommend picking something relatively simple and learning to play it for yourself. Why don't we start by doing this. I'm going to play a very simple improvisation, and I'd like you to listen to it enough times that you remember it, and even tomorrow, I could ask you to sing it back to me, and you'll remember it. Then go to your instrument and work it out. I bet you'll remember how to play it a long time from now. All you have to do after that is take that process and do it with all the different types of music that you would like to learn how to play. Transcription is one of the most effective ways that we can improve our improvisational ability. It is essential to the learning process, and the sooner you start doing it, and the more you start doing it, the better you're going to get faster. One, two, three. 10. The Case For Theory: At the beginning of this course, we discussed how having an in-depth knowledge of music theory was not a prerequisite in order to start improvising, and that is very true. It is not important that you understand music theory before you start. What's far more important is that you do start regardless of where you feel you are in your musical journey. Because we can all learn how to speak bit by bit, by consuming the content around us and by learning from our environment in many ways simply by listening to the music we want to play. But in the spirit of finding ways to improve our improvisational ability, music theory will come into play at some point. As well, developing a better fundamental ability to play your instrument, whatever your instrument is. So let's start there. Perhaps it's obvious, but the better you can play your instrument from a technical standpoint, the easier time you'll have in learning how to improvise. Because things like keys that are difficult to navigate, chords that your hands might be unfamiliar with, when those become easier as a result of having a more developed proficiency on your instrument, utilizing those things in improvisation will get easier as well, and you will greatly improve what you're able to accomplish simply off the top of your head. There's a reason that we practice scales and arpeggios in different technical exercises on our instruments, and that is because we need to be able to physically play the instrument for any particular reason that might come up. Whether we're performing a classical piece, whether we're reading a page of music, or whether we're trying to improvise. Simply the physical ability to play your instrument will make life a lot easier, and that seems obvious and it is. But it's important to remember that even though we're talking about making things up as we go along, every little detail that we can give ourselves as an advantage, whether it's music theory knowledge, or understanding how to simply play our instruments from a physical perspective, all of that is going to increase our ability to learn how to improvise faster. Now, when we're discussing music theory specifically, this is where we will open up more and more possibilities for our own authentic musical thought. If all we know how to play are major scales, well, you're going to be somewhat limited in the ideas that you know how to execute on your instrument, versus if we begin to learn all types of different scales and chord-scale relationships, choosing what scales are appropriate with what chords, we will over time develop more and more of a vocabulary that we can choose from in order to come up with our own authentic thought, our own stream of consciousness from a musical perspective and play more and more interesting lines. Having an understanding of music theory allows us to experiment in a much more in-depth manner than if we don't really have a full understanding of chords and scales and the different ways that they relate to one another. While it's certainly not a prerequisite before you learn how to improvise, you will find that the more you learn about music theory, the more you will be able to freely explore musical concepts on your instrument, and the more you develop your technical proficiency at your instrument, the more you'll be able to apply those music theory concepts as you learn them. All of these components feed each other to allow you the freedom to explore musical ideas on your instrument and create entirely new sounds that you can mix with maybe some of the things that you've transcribed over time. These are all of the different components that must come together if we want to build our own unique musical voice. Everything is influenced by everything else. You're going to have your favorite musicians that you look up to, that steal steal little beats and pieces from. You're going to steal something from over here and something from over here and you're all going to put it into this bag that you will be able to pull from, and the more you understand about music theory, the more technical proficiency you have, and the more transcribing that you have done, you are arming yourself with an ability to make your playing more interesting, more satisfying, and ultimately better. 11. The Importance of Listening: Trust me when I tell you, you will learn more from listening to music than you ever will from playing. Now this is something that we've touched on briefly in a few of the other videos. But I really wanted to make a short video just to explain how important this is. Like we said before, it is impossible to learn how to speak a language if you don't know what it sounds like. There is so much more to music than the notes on the page. All of the things that we've talked about in the last three modules about how to improve your improvisational ability, they all center around consuming the content that you ultimately want to play like. You have to listen to the style of music that you want to play. If you want to play jazz, well you have to listen to jazz day in and day out, all of the time. It doesn't mean you can't listen to other things, but it is so important to consume as much material as you possibly can, so that you understand where this music comes from, what the history of it is. I don't mean history about who played where, on what date, and who played with who. All of that stuff is good to know, but it doesn't matter in comparison to understanding the sounds of your genres past, how the music has developed over time, and where it's headed now. The more you listen, the better of an understanding you will have, and the better you will be able to authentically replicate the sound of your genre. Now it may sound like I'm saying, if you want to play jazz, then you have to know exactly what jazz sounds like, you have to play like that. But that's not what I'm saying. It's extremely valuable to know where the music comes from, so that you can push it forward and break some of the rules maybe that have been established over time. I don't want to pick on classical musicians, but if there is a classic thing that we talk about in the jazz world about what happens when classical musicians try to play jazz? Now sometimes, a classical musician may try to play jazz based on the concept of what they believed jazz to be. The most obvious concept to replicate would be swung eighth notes. But anybody that plays jazz understands that there is no accurate notation for swing, because swing is a spectrum. There are many different ways to do it, and no particular notation is correct or not correct. But when you don't listen to jazz regularly, you may not really understand the intricacies of what that means. So when a classical musician who does not listen to very much jazz comes and tries to play jazz. They may be extremely proficient at their instrument and an incredible musician in their own right. But oftentimes there will be a very distinct sound, a sort swing feel that doesn't quite feel like it fits into anything and doesn't really have a very relaxed feel at all. That's not because they are somehow not perfectly capable as musicians, but rather because they simply haven't consumed the content like a jazz musician probably has. Therefore, they don't have this innate understanding of what the style is supposed to sound like. Feel is one of the biggest things that you gain from listening. When you listen and you transcribe and you play your transcriptions along with what you're listening to, you will develop an understanding of feel. You will naturally begin to absorb the dialect or the accent that the musicians you look up to speak with. In the same way as in conversation in language, different parts of the world, in different parts of even your own country, have different dialects and different accents. Music functions in exactly the same way. Somebody from the deep South of the United States and somebody from the Midwest, may speak completely differently. When they get together, it almost doesn't even sound like they're speaking the same language at all. This is how powerful accents and dialects can be. There might be phrases that people say in one part of the world. You might call carbonated soft drinks soda, where some people might say pop. All of these little intricacies are bits and pieces of language that we pick up based on our environment. Because in our environment we are always listening to the people around us, and that in turn, influences how we speak and how we think. Well, just like everything else we've touched on in this course, once again, we are able to draw the comparisons between music and language and see how similar they are, because those same dialects and accents and phrases and vernacular that we pick up from different parts of the world, that's same thing exists in different genres of music. The classical musician who doesn't typically listened to jazz is naturally going to sound like they're speaking in an accent. They may not fully understand or use the intricacies of jazz vernacular. So to fully develop an ability to participate in a particular dialect or music case, a particular genre, you have to consume the content that you wish to sound like nonstop. That is why in all of my years of playing, performing, practicing, I have definitely learned more from listening than I ever have and ever will from physically playing my instrument. Always be listening to the things that you want to play. It doesn't matter what genre they are. They don't have to be any particular genre necessarily. But the things that you're inspired by, listen, listen and listen some more, and go and find the things that sound similar to that. We have so many tools these days between YouTube, Spotify and Pandora and all of these things that recommend similar music to you based on an algorithm that often can turn up some really incredible results. These are great ways to dive into the genre that you're interested in, and find out everything there is to know about it, and listen to every example that you can find. Because the more you do that, the more you will totally subconsciously just ingest this language and become fully immersed in the accent, the dialect, the vernacular. You will just consume all of it, and it will ultimately affect your improvisational ability, and the ability to play with an accurate feel in whatever genre it is that you want to play. 12. Putting It All Together - Part 1: Well friends, we've reached the point in this course where it is time to take all of the things that we've been discussing and all of the concepts that we've been talking about and put them to use. Let's do some playing. I have a really find way that you and I can play together so that you can try out some of the things we've been talking about and hopefully I can give you some ideas to build off off so that we can get some good practice in. check it out. We're going to play with a backing track that I'm going to put together for you, and how we're going to do it is this. We're going do what's called trading. Trading is the process by which somebody plays for maybe four bars or eight bars, and then we pass it off and the next person plays. Now why this might be particularly helpful is, it's often a great way to have a conversation back and forth and while I can't necessarily hear what you're going to respond with, what I can do is offer you some ideas so that when you start to play, you can build on those ideas and use them as the starting point to jump off off and explore your own improvisational concepts. The material we're going to use to improvise over is an F blues, which is a simple chord progression that you may be familiar with. But if you're not, that's okay too, because we are going to put the coordinates as well as the corresponding scales that can work as a graphic overlay while we're playing. Now the notes that we put up as examples of notes that would work are not the only options because the reality is, there's many, many different ways to play over a blues. If you're at a level where you already know how to play an F blues, well, that's great. You'll probably just have more options. Feel free to ignore what we put up as the notes that you can use and use what you already know how to do. I want you to listen to some of the ideas that I start with and try to imagine yourself building on those ideas as if you're responding to something that I just said. It's only fitting that we draw everything back to language yet again and imagine ourselves having a conversation. I'm going to make a statement, and I want you to interpret that statement, think about it as I'm saying it, and come back with your response. Now, the classic thing that we see young musicians often do is simply mimic whatever it is that I just said. Well, that doesn't really work in conversation. That would be odd if somebody walked up to you and said, "Hey, how's it going," and you turn right around to them and said, "Hey, how's it going?" They expect you to say, "Good. How are you?" The goal is not to simply mimic what I play, but rather to interpret it, feel it, and respond with your own ideas. We're going to count in the tune and let's have some fun. We're going to trade a little bit. There'll be a graphic on the screen telling you when it's going to pass over to you and when it's going to pass back over to me and feel free to come back to this video and play it over and over again and simply use it as a practice method so that you can develop your improvisational skills, and most importantly, have fun playing music. 13. Putting It All Together - Part 2: Once again, I want to take a moment to go over the chart with you really quick, and as we said, this is an F major 12-bar blues. If you're familiar with the blues, you can feel free to skip ahead. Otherwise, here's how we break it down. Starting out with F dominant seventh, the F major scale with a flat seven works particularly well here, here are the notes for that. Another good option is the F blues scale, and here are the notes for that. We have that F7 for one measure and then we move on to B-flat seven. Once again, the F blues scale will work well here, but we can also use the B-flat major scale, again with a flat seven, and here are the notes for that. After playing B-flat seven for one measure, we move back to F7 for two bars, and that will round out the first line of our blues form. After that, we have B-flat seven for two bars before once again moving back to F7. Now this is where things change up a little bit. Now there's a number of different ways to play the blues, many versions will just stay here on the F7 for two bars before going to C7. But in our case, we're going to insert two chords before we actually get to that C7, the first of which is D7. Now this one's a little bit different. It usually works the best if we use these notes. Again, bonus points if you can identify the scale and what form of D7 this would be. Moving on, we're going to round out our blues form with a standard 2-5-1, G minor 7 works really well with this scale, C7 works really well with this scale, and then that brings us back to F7. We're going to do what's called a turnaround, where we'd go down to D7 and then a 2-5 will bring us back to the top of the form. Now I know there's a lot of notes in there and a lot of chord changes, and we're going to play it a nice relaxed, medium tempo, not too slow, not too fast. Just remember what we talked about when we first improvised. There is nothing wrong with playing fewer notes, if you're not quite comfortable playing a bunch of lines. Focus on singing your lines and use your ears to help guide you. On the screen, you're going to see a timeline bar that'll indicate when it's your turn to play. We're going to start out, I'll take the first chorus just to give you some ideas to get going. When the bar runs out, it will turn green and that's your time to play. Now as we go forward, the training will get quicker and quicker. In the beginning, we'll be training full choruses, and then eventually, we'll switch over to training four bars, then two bars, then one bar, and then I want us to play altogether. Now it's important to remember that as we go along, you're going to see a lot of scales flash up on the screen. Now, of course I don't expect you to be able to read them all as they're going by, but rather you should take a few tries to get comfortable with the different sounds, and then mostly they'll just act as a reminder of where we are in the form as we go along. This will take some practice, so be sure to spend some time with it. Give it a few tries, get comfortable with it, and most of all, have fun. 1, 2, 3, and. 14. Outro: Well, you guys, that's it. I really want to thank you for coming on this journey and starting your improvisational journey yourself. Remember, this is just the beginning. I hope that what you've been able to take away from this, is maybe some ways to think about improvisation, as well as some ways that you can go about improving your improvisational skills. I hope that by now maybe we've removed a little bit of the fear of sounding bad and understanding that, hey, we going to sound bad, if we ever want to get better and sounding bad is nothing, absolutely nothing to be embarrassed about. You know why? Because every single musician in the world sounded bad at one time or another. It is no reason to not just plow through and sound bad and be proud of it because that is how you're going to get better and ultimately sound really good. Feel free to go back and look at any of these videos in this course, to remind yourself exactly how you should be going about, learning the different steps to improvisation, improving your skills, what to listen, how to listen, how to transcribe, all of these tools which you are now equipped with to use on your journey of learning how to get better in improvising. The most fun I've ever had on stage, is with a group of my fellow musicians and not a clue what we're going to play or where it's going to take us. But those conversations are some of the greatest I've ever had in my life, and they didn't even use words. If you're a beginner improviser, all of this might seem like a daunting task, but just remember, the most important thing is that you just start playing. Don't worry what it sounds like, don't worry who's listening and don't worry if it's correct. Because at the end of the day, none of that matters. All that matters is that you're trying to get better and that you're having fun while you're doing it. Improvising is some of the most fun you can have playing an instrument. The greatest part about it, it is a never ending endeavor. You will never listen to all the music that's out there. You will never discover all of the genres that exist. There's just too much and you can't, you would need many lifetimes. If you're ever finding yourself feeling bored with what you're playing, go put on some music you've never heard before, and then go and grab the pieces of it that inspire you. Go and grab the parts of whatever that new genre is, that make you excited to play your instrument. But most importantly, understand that this is a lifelong process. There is absolutely no magic bullet that you're going to discover, that will make you a great improviser tomorrow. It is just something that, like learning any language, you just have to spend time immersing yourself in the world, and just learning how to do it bit by bit. But if you do it a little bit every day, you will get better. You'll have more fun with your fellow musicians, and you'll be on your way to becoming a great improviser. Thank you so much for joining me in this course. I hope you got a lot out of it, and I hope you go back to it often to practice with the backing tracks, and to just explore different concepts and think about music in new and exciting ways. Thanks so much for joining me and playing together, and we'll see you next time. 15. BONUS - A Lesson With Thomas Frank: In this video, I'm going to be joined by another creator, you may know, Thomas Frank. Thomas is a productivity expert and he has multiple courses here on Skillshare about productivity and habit building. I have gotten so much out of Tom's courses, and I'd highly recommend them if you yourself, like me, find that you have sometimes some struggles with staying as productive as you'd like to be. You may not know this but Thomas is actually a musician himself. He's a guitar player, he can play a little bit of piano, and he has some questions for me regarding improvisation and how to improve at it. We sat down and did what is basically a full lesson. We thought it would be useful for you guys to see what questions somebody might have, who is developing their improvisational ability like Thomas'. I hope you enjoy a lesson with Thomas Frank. Welcome to Tom, and we are going to just go about a typical lesson that I might have with a student who is interested in developing their improvisational skills. This is aimed to just give you an idea of hey, what questions might Tom ask, maybe they echo questions that you've had thus far in the course as well. It could just be handy to see the perspective of somebody who has a little bit less experience with improvising than maybe I do. Although, Tom does have some experience with improvisation and he's quite good at it. We're starting from a pretty good point, so we'll have some fun and we'll do some talking. Enjoy. First and foremost, tell me a little bit about, just for the background so everybody can get an idea, how long have you been playing guitar, what has been your focus in terms of what you've been learning, whether it's songs, whether it's music theory or fundamentals? What your recent, maybe the things you've been working on the most? I think I had my first guitar when I was 13 and I never really took lessons, I never really had any formal training, no program, just noodling around figuring things out. I played throughout my teenage years just when I had spare time. All my guitar gear got stolen in college. So I had about a five-year gap where I didn't play. Wait, really? Yeah, I was an RA in college and the maintenance people in building were like, "Yeah, you can store your guitar stuff in the storage room over the summer." Over the summer, people broke into set storage room, used it as a drug smoking place and then stole my gear. I went for five years not playing. I moved to Denver and like, I just need to go out and buy a new guitar to get back into it. I've been playing a lot more seriously since about 2018. About two years now that you've been focused on it. Now what has been your focus as you've gotten into it? Almost purely improv, I can name on one hand the songs I can play, maybe even two fingers. I do not know very many songs at all, maybe odd riff from Smoke on the Water. There's a song from a Tony Hawk game I remembered. There was one song that I played all the way through. It's a statical by song. Other than that, I purely play improv stuff. Okay. I figured out the major and minor scales, early on. I didn't know what they were, I just picked a group of four frets and started playing in there and figuring out what sounds good to me. Hang on, one second because I want to answer this question. Have you formally studied with a teacher or taken any type of music theory, formal education? Now I have. I have taken Samurai Guitar's two courses. Okay. That is it. But that's it? That's it. If you were to give yourself a level in terms of your knowledge of music theory? Maybe like week 2 of somebody in a class. Well, the reason I'm asking this is because we've been harping on in this course thus far, how little importance your level of music theory knowledge has in regards to actually being able to improvise and improvise well. It really does not matter and maybe you have found this to be your experience, but without a formal music theory education, you can still improvise. You can still learn how to do all of this stuff, and it really just doesn't matter that you don't have the formal education. To think that a music theory background or an in-depth understanding of the fundamentals of music or of your instrument to think that that is a prerequisite to improvisation, it's just not true. This is one of the things that we've been attempting to help people understand with this course is that you don't need any of that. You can just try it, learn it, and get better at it. You know what? Down the road, can we solve your problems of only being able to play the number of songs that you can count on one hand? Can we solve that problem by adding in that stuff later? Of course. We can add in the music theory knowledge. We can get it so that you can listen to a song once to be able to turn around and play it. We can do all that. But as a starting point, simply just getting into improvising on your instrument, you don't need any of that other stuff as a background point. You can do it and I think that's a really great example to show how little formal education you have and yet you're still here doing it. Yeah. I think I read somewhere that Stevie Ray Vaughan never took a lesson, didn't know the names of the notes or anything, he just played. I feel like that's always been my motivation for just playing. The only reason I really wanted to get into theory is because I wanted to know what these notes are so when I play with other people, they say, "Hey, we are playing this key or playing a G chord. I know what that is. There is a lot of things about the language that having that understanding can make it a lot easier for other people to have conversations and to be able to play with other people, of course, that's going to make a big difference. But simply getting your foot in the door and breaking that barrier because I find that a lot of people are scared to improvise. Now, I want you to tell me about when you first started improvising, did you feel awkward or embarrassed because you felt I guess you just play notes without picking them ahead of time. Did you feel like I don't want to sound bad or I don't know. I was just a kid in my bedroom. When you were really young you were doing it. There was nobody listening to me, from the beginning. I think the first thing I ever learned was Smoke on the Water and then my dad taught me the basic blue scale. That was it and then I'm like I want to learn how to play, I pick four frets and then I just played within there. There was never any embarrassment because there's really nobody around. Sure, but that's great because that's something that I know that I experienced when I started and I know that a lot of other people have experienced it as well is this fear of sounding bad. That's something that I really like to focus on with beginner improvisers, is removing that fear of sounding bad because you got to sound bad before you can sound good. Now what I will say is, I have that fear when I'm playing with other people. Sure. We were just playing a little bit before we start filming this and I'm like, no, I did some wrong notes or I'm screwing things up. There's a little bit of that fear there. Especially with how good you are and everything. That's something that I could get it over for sure. Yes. The best way to do that is just by doing it. The more you do it, you get more and more comfortable with it. I always tell people when I go on stage, if I'm performing classical music, I get really nervous because you can have one shot to get it right and it's a specific defined thing. There is no interpretation, note wise. Of course there's musicality interpretation but the notes are defined. I get very nervous because I'm like what if I screw it up, what happens? When I play jazz, I never even get a little bit nervous. In fact, there's an excitement, what can I discover this time around? What can I come up with this time around? I find that to be a way, way more liberating experience when the music is improvisational in nature. Why don't we start. I'd like to just get an idea of maybe some of the questions or the things that you've been working on or anything that you're like, "I've been working on this thing and I'm not really sure how to get it to the next point." What are some things that you're working on that I can help with? One of the things I have trouble with is switching keys in the middle of songs. You do it all the time. I just pick one scale. Yeah, sure.. I will play that scale out for the entire song and I don't really know how to get out of it in a clean way or a pleasing way. Yeah. By changing keys, I think you're probably referring to chord changes? Well, maybe chord changes too. We were playing a little bit earlier and you had switched into a different, I guess, scale on one chord. Yeah. That I don't know how to do. In fact, I have so much trouble with making my own backing tracks because I don't know how to build a chord progression that's more than two chords. Would you say that when you do build the chord progression, you're focused on what chords can I play that the notes I want to improvise with will work? It's more that I just don't know many chords. Okay. I have no problem playing like your basic. It's easy super power chords. But if you want something that sounds a little full, I can play that one nicely. But up here, I don't know it sounds a little more, I just have trouble with that, I know that's a practice issue. That's going to be technical facility on the instrument itself, that is something that we all are working on constantly, and you'll never ever be done with that. With technical proficiency, really that just comes down to exercises, when you're correct. On the piano for example, we have things like classic hand and exercises. On the guitar I'm sure there's the equivalent of that, if you were to go take guitar lessons some of the fundamentals that they would have you practice. All of that stuff is very important and no matter what instrument you play, this is a component that you constantly need to be working on. Because what we are talking about in the context of improvisation is much more about concepts and understanding how are we approaching, actually improvising. But we are doing that under the assumption that we've put in some amount of work so that we can play our instruments. For example, you should be at a point where you have chords that you're playing, you have some scales that you're playing, because that's what's going to equip you to be able to utilize those chords and scales in an improvisational manner. We're starting from the point of, there's a lot of technical facility work that we all need to do on our instruments. That should be step number 1. Practice your fundamentals, your scales, your chords, whatever is unique to your instrument, got to practice that, of course. Then we take that and we go into, how do we now apply the things that we do know? Like we said, we don't need a serious background in music theory. We just need some basic understanding of you've got some scales together, you've got some notes together, you have some chords together, and what not, and that's all a great start. We can use that to really start to work on our approach to improvisation. Make sense? Okay. Why don't we, because you were just talking about how you have maybe a scale in mind and if we go through certain chords, you're like, "Well, these notes still work. I'll play this particular scale, and if it works across chords and the difficulty you are experiencing is when the chords change, thus changing the notes that would technically fit with the new chord." Is that correct? I think so. The way I understand it, every key has a lot of chords in it that work within a key, right? Yeah. There's pretty much an endless, in other words, the way you just worded that is so vague. It's not a bad thing. Rather to just illustrate that the boundaries of what it means to play in a "key" or what "chords" work in a key, there are no limitations in regards to that. I guess, say we're in D minor, which is F major equivalent key in major, right? Base, yes. You've got within a single octave, you have seven notes. Correct. You can create triads with those notes, and there are certain notes that they're not really in the key, right? Yes. Sometimes you went from a D minor which is like that, but then you added in that on a chord change which is not in that key. That's where I get confused. I'm like, well, how do I get into it? It's like a different key or a different scale. I'll tell you exactly what you're talking about. What you are talking about is what we call chord scale relationships. The reason I mentioned how vague it was to say certain chords, certain keys is because chord scale relationship can be independent of whatever key overall you're playing in. Because if I'm playing in the key of D minor, well, the chord changes could go anywhere and I'm still overall the song is in the key of D minor because that's our home base. That's where we'll come back to and everything will feel complete, right? Right.. But I can go anywhere. I can go from here. All of that wound up coming back to D minor. Yeah. However, there were moments in there where we switched to a different chord that would require a whole different set of notes. I did notice that because I know enough about piano, I know the notes that are in D minor and like this is not. It depends on the form of D minor because there are different minor scales as we know. What you played was a natural minor. There's also melodic minor. Now for anybody picking that out, there's a slight difference between the classical melodic minor and what we typically call jazz melodic minor. In classical melodic minor, it is actually a different set of notes on the way down. This is classical melodic minor. But in jazz, we focus on applied theory, how we actually going to use it, and we're never really going to be playing the scale up and down in that manner. We just stick with because when we use that, it could be in all types of different ways, so I'll just use the notes from that scale, for a second here. It wouldn't be practical while sometimes I'm moving up, sometimes I'm going down. We just don't really switch the scale in the way that you do in classical theory. Just a little side note there. Technically, you can find a way to fit that into a D minor scale, but the one we were using, maybe not. But when we change chords, now we change scales. This is what we're talking about with chord-scale relationships. Chord-scale relationships is just when we hit a certain point in whatever the chord progression is, at each particular chord, what's the right set of notes? I do this because we can get away with anything, depending on the context, depending on where we start from, where we're heading. I always like to come back to the fact that these rules that we're laying out, they're all meant to be broken. You can really play anything, and I don't want people to feel, and I don't want you to feel like you're beholden to, oh, well, I can't play a wrong note, I don't want to play a wrong note, because it doesn't matter. You just feel the freedom to explore the sounds into play then play whatever notes that you hear coming next. The more you incorporate the knowledge of music theory into that, the more accurate or the better you'll be able to construct your lines so that you're saying things that are a little more concrete in their meanings, so to speak, as if it were a conversation. You're actually saying sentences and phrases now that people are going to understand, that say something meaningful. But when we're starting out, we need to not necessarily worry about that and just feel more of a freedom to explore these different sounds. It sounds like one of the things that might help is to start to develop an understanding of when I do switch to this particular chord, what's a good set of notes that works with that? Just expanding your knowledge of scales on the guitar and how to identify what scales to use when you're at a particular point in a chord sequence, right? Yeah. Cool. Tell me about your approach to thus far, because you mentioned that you'll find a scale that will work if there's a few different chords or something like that. When you have a set of chords, how do you think about what you're going to play for your improvisation? I see the fretboard and I see which frets I can play based on a key. I don't know if you understand this, if you're not a guitarist, but there is something called the CAGED system. There's essentially five different groupings of notes. Often, if you look up a scale diagram online, you'll see it grouped in a certain way. So I see five different types of patterns on the board, and I'm far enough along in playing that I know how to go between them. But breaking out of that pattern is difficult for me. Let me ask you this, as you're doing that, are you thinking about what the notes are and what the scale is that you're actually playing? No. Right. Okay. That would be very similar too on the piano. Well, I know I can look at the shape of the piano and see that I'm going to use this note, this note, this note, this note, this one, that one, that one, and then that's just repeated all throughout the keyboard. If I know that, I can do the same thing in the sense that I'm almost playing visually, and I can explore that. If we're playing, I can just see where that scale lies and pick notes from it. That's a great way to start. The limitations there are going to be exactly like what you mentioned when you talked about moving through keys. I think the more accurate way to say that would be moving through a chord sequence. Because key, that's a little bit of a different thing. But moving through a chord sequence would be simply be this scale works if we're on this chord. Maybe it works if we're on this chord. Sure, it still sounds great. Move through this one, still sounds great. What happens if we go like this? Well, it's not particularly offensive, but we do have a problem. It's missing something We have a problem, and that problem is that C-sharp. Because if we play our scale that we decided we're going to use, we have a C-natural, so we have this issue of conflicting notes. Here now hear how that doesn't really match? Yeah. The simplest way without really dealing with any music theory at all would be to say, "Well, how do we change this scale to accommodate that one note that's now an outlier?" Why don't we just switch the note that didn't fit to the note that does? Let's try that. Well, that sounds great. Sometimes the answers to the questions like how do I figure out what I'm supposed to play? Can be as simple as, what sounds good. Sometimes that's the only thing we need to answer. When you find yourself at a mismatch, where the chord and the notes you've chosen, there's something wrong there, there's a classic saying that the wrong note is only ever a half step away from the right one. Because check this out. If I play, theoretically that doesn't work, right? Right. The notes I just played were D-flat, E-flat, F, G-flat, A-flat, B-flat to C, so basically a D-flat major scale. Well, let's take each one of those and move each one by a half step, and we'll see if we can fix this to get it to fit. From here, we can either go to C or D. Why don't we choose C? Now let's move to F. Isn't that D? What? I'm sorry. Isn't that D? What did I say? Oh, C. Oh, C? Okay. So it's D, yeah. Let's take the E-flat and we'll make that same movement, we'll move it up to E. We started with this and now we have. Well, that now sounds correct. Let's take the next three. They don't sound right. Well, why don't we do exactly what we just did? Let's move them all a half-step up. That [ MUSIC ] was in the original, but that doesn't sound bad, so we can leave that [ MUSIC ] and that brings us back. So now we've moved [ MUSIC ] from what was most decidedly a wrong match. Right. Moved everything only by a half step. [ MUSIC ] Works fine. That's an exaggerated example, but the point is, the wrong note is only ever a half step away from the right one. If you feel like there's a note that's sticking out, something that doesn't work and in our case, the example we gave was [ MUSIC ]. That was the note that was not particularly jelling with the rest of the sound. Well, we have a couple options. We can move it down a half step or up a half step. Lets choose. Lets try to move it down a half step [ MUSIC ]. Okay. I'm sorry. [ MUSIC ] Well, that's worse. Yeah. Lets go the other way. Lets move it up a half step. [ MUSIC ] Money. That works. That works. Yep. Right? Whenever you encounter a situation where you're saying," Man most of these notes sound okay, but I feel like there's something missing." Find the note that feels the most wrong, and move it up and down by a half step and see if that fixes it. Okay. And you can get a lot of ground that way. Yeah. Right? [ NOISE ] I think the other thing that can really help a lot is starting to work with [ NOISE ] chords in a more definitive manner. Tell me about what sort of chord sequence do you like to play? How do you think about chord sequences? Do you do much with chord sequences? Tell me a little bit about that. Probably not enough. I'm a little like Hans Zimmer where I typically play in D minor way too much. [ LAUGHTER ] And so my home chord is literally always [ MUSIC ] that. If I asked you to play F minor. Good question. Well, I'm guessing I would read it at F. [ MUSIC ] No, that's major, isn't it? [ MUSIC ] No. [inaudible] [ MUSIC ]. There you go. Now, how did you do that? Did you just move your hand the appropriate number of frets? Yes. Okay. [ MUSIC ]. Because I know this is F. I've been trying to memorize these. [ MUSIC ] Yeah. This is a minor shape. And if I were to move it up to here and root if here, then this would be a major shape. [ MUSIC ] Not F. No that's F. [ MUSIC ]. Is that [inaudible]. No, you're right. [ MUSIC ] That's [ MUSIC ] C major. Yeah. Yeah. [ NOISE ] See, I was practicing my note names here. Yeah. It's been a while, so I forgot them all. [ LAUGHTER ] If you have a little stickers on the neck. I think I do. Yeah. Yeah. Okay. When you put together a chord sequence, how do you think about that? Well, I typically start here [ MUSIC ] and I go down [ MUSIC ] and then I go here. [ MUSIC ] And now I don't know where to go. Go back up. [ LAUGHTER ] Or up. [ MUSIC ] Can you define that? Do you know that is? [ MUSIC ]. This? Yeah. I probably could have. I thought about it really hard. [ LAUGHTER ] [ MUSIC ] Would this be [ MUSIC ] because I'm playing minor it's not a 1. It's a 6, [ MUSIC ] right? It's a minor 6, right. I understand what you're saying. You're thinking about it in relation to the relative major. Yeah. But answer me this. When you're playing in this particular sequence, is the whole song major or minor? Minor? It's minor. Yeah. I guess it's because that's the whole You don't have to relate it to the major. You just leave it as as minor. That would be your 1. I would say that's my 1? Yeah, of course. Okay. Yep. What cord is that? This? Yeah. It's a D minor. D minor. Okay. [ MUSIC ] [inaudible] That should be a C.[ MUSIC ] It's almost a C major. No, it's like a C Well, I'll tell you what you're doing. Because I'm not covering this one. If I were playing it correctly, I'd have all three of them. [ MUSIC ] But I'm not very good at it. You're basically playing a suspended chord. It's not really defined whether it's major or minor. But if we're bouncing it off of the key that we're playing in, if say, because we're in D minor. If we're going from D minor and we're saying, "Okay, we're gonna go down." [ MUSIC ] And then what was your next one? The same one. So that's [ MUSIC ] Is that B flat? You're doing that B flat, but you're doing the same thing again where you're not defining major or minor. [ MUSIC ] Excuse my fingers can't do it very well. [ LAUGHTER ] But what that would actually probably be is we have D minor, [ MUSIC ] C major, [ MUSIC ] B flat major. Okay. [ MUSIC ] You're just not including the third in the in the other two chords. [ MUSIC ] You have D minor. That's defined. I'll play it up here where I can actually do it. [ MUSIC ] Is that D? That's D major. That's D major. [ MUSIC ] And then go down to C minor. [ MUSIC ] or C major. Well, that sounded weird, didn't it? Yeah. It did. Right? Do you know why? Is it not the chords on the key or something? Remember how you were saying in the beginning, that when you play things like this, you're playing something that is based on a sound where you know that a certain scale kind of works for all of it. Right. Yeah. All right? Play me that scale. This scale? [ MUSIC ]. Right? Yeah. That's scale right there. You're using those notes throughout all three chords, correct? I think so. Yeah. Okay. When you do that, you're by definition, deciding whether or not those other chords are going to be minor or major. When you just played that C minor chord, it sounded strange. Why? [ NOISE ] See, that's where I lose it. Okay. Think about this. [ MUSIC ] We started here. [ MUSIC ] And we know our scale is this. [ MUSIC ] Okay? When we move. [ MUSIC ] When you played C minor. [ MUSIC ] There was a note in there that it doesn't belong. [ MUSIC ] What is it? It's that D-sharp? E-flat. [ MUSIC ] Oh, E-flat? Yep. That E-flat conflicts with the scale that we're using. [ MUSIC ] Sounds horrible, right? Yeah. How would we fix that? Well, what did we say? Go to the suspended. The wrong note is only a half step away from the right one,. Right. Lets move it a half step. [ MUSIC ] And when we move it a half step, what did it do to the chord? [ MUSIC ] Made a major. Made a major. Changed the entire That's three half-step interval, right? It's a [music] one, three, [ MUSIC ] five [ MUSIC ]. It changed the entire quality of the chord. And now lets try our scale. Play. Go ahead and play that scale. [ MUSIC ] Well, that doesn't sound bad at all. Does it? Yeah. Let's do it again against the C minor. Doesn't work. We move that note. By doing so, we've now decided that probably the best usage in chord-wise is to go from D minor down to C major. C major. Now, let's do this same process again, going down to our B flat because we said you were playing something that didn't quite define whether it was minor or major. Let's try the scale that we're using against B-flat minor. Watch this. Play it again. Doesn't really work, does it? Let's try B-flat major. Perfect. That was a lot better. Perfect, right? Yeah. If we want to use that same scale throughout the entire cord sequence to improvise with, we've now just determined because what you were playing was a suspended and a suspended chord, there's no third there so theoretically it could be. So those will work because we're just using first and fifth? Yeah. You had the second in there as well. You went from a D minor to a C, what we're going to call a SAS 2. Because we're using 1,2 and 5. That still contains our scale. It does. So it works. But the question we were trying to answer is, if we played a third, which would it be? Would it be minor or would it be major? Okay. We answered that by saying, well, the notes that we're using to improvise with don't fit if we make it C minor, they do fit if we make it C Major. Makes sense? Then we just do the same thing for B flat because the chord that you played was another SAS 2 voicing. Again, we have to say, if we're going to add the third, is that third going to be minor or major? Right. We said the minor chord did not really work very well, but the major chord worked very well. See how we're deciding what our chord scale relationship is going to be. That you can dive very much into the theory of how to determine all this based on theory. But that was just an example of how we could do that based purely on sound. How you can figure it out. You can just figure it out. That is further illustrated to the point that like you don't need to back all this up with necessarily super in-depth working knowledge of music theory. You can simply do it based on your ear. To your point, there have been so many musicians throughout history that been been some of the biggest artists ever, without knowing anything about music theory, sometimes without even being able to read. I mean, famously, Chet Baker in the jazz world was one of these individuals who did not have a very good knowledge of music theory or how to read really at all. Yet that did not stop him or anybody else from being able to develop an incredible ability to play at a high level. We can talk about the theory components. But I feel that based on where you are right now, there's a lot of filling in that you are going to have to do theory-wise before you can really start to look at things through that lens. But that's okay because you don't need to do that here and now. The important thing here and now is that you're simply playing at using your ear to answer the question of, am I in the right place here? Does this sound good? Does this work? I want to add one thing to what we just did. We just developed a three-chord sequence and you said you've been playing the same scale over those three chords for all of them. Can I see if I can replicate that? Go ahead. That's D minor, right? Yes. Then C major. C major. Yeah. Now play the ones you were playing. The ones I was playing? The SAS voicings. The SAS ones. Which to my ear, those sound better. Maybe that's because they're not as typical. Now, I agree with you. It's totally a matter of preference, but I tend to agree with you because I love that sound. But that's just something where you played it and you said, Ooh, I like that. That's all. It doesn't matter which one you choose. I think part of that is that sometimes we're bored by just standard major chords. It might sound a little cooler just to kind of add in. You know? Right. Yeah. Especially on the guitar. SAS 2 voicings on the guitar are really, really nice. That's definitely something that you can do. There's no rules as to whether or not you have to play the full major chord or whether you just play the SAS chord. Plus this for me, a lot easier. If you're bringing the know on the A string, so much easier to play the SAS chord. That's a totally valid reason to do anything in regards to how we play our instruments. We build things around physical practicality. There's nothing wrong with that. Sometimes guitarists might use certain voicings that are typical of the guitar, that may not be typical on the piano or any other instrument. That's simply because of the physical limitations of the instrument and making it as convenient as possible for us to play it. Right? Yeah Right worry about any of that. Choose what sounds best and what's easiest to play by all means. Cool. What I'd like to do now is add another chord that is going to challenge that scale that you've been using, because now that's not going to work. We touched on this briefly. That's where you're adding in that C-sharp. That's going to force our hand because now. Instead of, we're going to have to go. We know that that will work because we're changing the note that was an outlier to a note that fits. Are there other ways to accomplish this? Certainly, there's many other options in terms of scales that would work for that. Actually, we're pretty well-defined here. Because what we're taking is we're taking an A major chord and we're giving it upper extensions that are altered. In other words, by definition this would be an A7 flat 9. Where is my brain going? Flat 13, flat 9, flat 13. Now if the chords were structured differently, maybe a different scale would have been more appropriate on that A. But we've determined, based on listening to the combination of what the scale that you're playing in the chords and how they fit, we've determined that we can play, right? Yeah. Okay. Now that is giving you another thing to switch to, right? Right. Let's play a little bit of that. We're just going to work through those four chords. I want you to just play and know that when we get to this chord, you now need to incorporate that one changed note. Okay? Yeah. Let's try that. We'll do like 1, 2, 3. Sweet. What do you think? Yeah, that's great. I promise I only know, because I play visually, so I know where that one is, and I know where that one is. Rest of them, I don't yet. Okay. But it's a start. Now, you've linked up what that sound is with how to play it. So you know now, anytime you hear that change. Now, here's a trick. Ready? Can we do it in the next key? Instead of D, Can we start on E minor? Absolutely. Good. Now, you did that just by moving over. Yeah, the visual thing helped me. Sure, cool. My entire pattern up one, two frets. That's a unique benefit to the guitar, that we don't really have on the piano. But every instrument has its own unique benefits where you can do things like that. The important part is just that we understand that when we learn something, if we can learn that in all types of different keys so that we have that same device that is available to us, that's going to make it so that you can use it anywhere in anything. Yeah. You know what I mean? That's the benefit of like, for example, you might take a tune that you know and try to play it in all 12 keys. It's very useful thing to practice because obviously, certain keys on the guitar are going to be very difficult. In the same way that certain keys on the piano are very difficult. That's all part of what we need to practice. That falls back into the area of the fundamentals. The fundamentals of playing your instrument that are so important to help increase our ability to do this stuff fluently. But the point we should be illustrating here is that, you don't need to start from there. You don't need to feel like, "Oh wait, I can't improvise because I still have to learn, I still have to get all of this stuff together. I got to learn music theory, I got to learn how to play my instrument better." None of that matters. You're playing a decent number of notes as we go through these chords. But as a practice, I want you to try playing really, very, very sparse. Don't fall back on the things you know how to play with your fingers. I want you to think, sing in your head and only play that. This is a tough thing to do because what you've done is you've developed certain physical memory that allows you to play little trills and little accent notes and things that you've worked out ahead of time. Right. We want to see what happens when you stop yourself from playing any of that, and truly only play what comes to your mind. Now here's what it's going to sound like. It's going to sound much more sparse, you're not going to plays many notes. Because if you start playing a lot of notes, then we know that you're falling back into that physical memory, which we don't want to do. We want you to only play what you could sing in your head. Okay. Let's try that. One, two, ready. How did that feel? It's a lot easier to conceptualize where I should be going and anticipate that chord change and my skill change, for sure. [inaudible] break out of some of the little tricks. It is. It's very hard, yes. But that's just one of the things. The reason that we do this is not because you should not be playing those things that you've worked out. You've worked them out for a reason, you want them available to you. They're available in your arsenal of things that you can play at any given moment, that's useful. If you look to any musician ever that improvises, they have a style and a vocabulary that is unique to them that they're going to pull things from all of the time, that's fine. But as a practice, we should understand the difference between when we are playing things on what you might call autopilot, and when we are truly speaking from our own musical thought process, which is much more difficult to do fluently. Because it's the same thing as, you and I having a conversation where you have no clue what I'm going to say next. Yeah. You have to, word by word, come up with an answer. We all know people that slip into sayings or phrases and conversation where they're just kind of autopilot phrases, things like, "You know" At the end of the day. At the end of the day. Well, when push comes to shove, those types of things that sometimes are just filler, they come out naturally. It's not that we shouldn't say those things, but it's that those are not the things that are truly defining the meaning of what we're saying. What we are saying needs to be much more deliberately decided upon in our minds and in our ears. That is why it's a great practice to force yourself not to play those things that we've worked out ahead of time and to really focus on just allowing the music to speak through your own ears, which is harder but more meaningful. Does that makes sense? Cool. What are some questions maybe that in talking about all this stuff, any parts that maybe you're confused about or things that you're like, "Okay. Well, that might lead to this." What kinds of things come to mind? The one that stuck on my head was, how do I develop the ability to create a chord progression like the one you made where that fourth chord is out of the scale. Sure, yes. Well, this kind of stays on that same sort of theme of there are things that we develop over time that become part of our vocabulary, part of our arsenal that we can draw from. In the context of chords and harmonic progressions, I would say all of the music that we learned, the tunes that have been written over time, in jazz we might look to jazz standards and the great American songbook as a source of where we draw some of that stuff from. We utilize chord progressions over and over and over again. We've done that all throughout history. You might choose a chord progression based on a number of things that already exist. Okay. Now, again, that doesn't mean that you can't create chord progressions totally on your own because that's something that you absolutely can do, and you can develop some very interesting sounds that way. But part of what sometimes makes music fun to listen to is when you're combining those components that people are, maybe that sounds familiar. Not in the sense of, "Oh, I know that song." but more in the sense of, "This feels like something I've heard before." Like, it feels like it works. Chord progressions often we use time and time again because they work.