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#2954904 - 10/27/18 05:53 PM How do you practice improvisation?
Kenji13 Offline
Senior Member

Registered: 04/30/18
Posts: 38
Loc: NY
Hi all -

I have been fascinated about improvisation, but I am not good at it. I am trained in classical guitar and I tend to focus on interpreting what it is already written...

I understand music theory and I can improvise over harmonies, but I never feels good about it. In other words, I think too much about what to play and cannot feel what I do.

I would appreciate if anyone can advice on how to practice improvisation and how to improve?

Thank you!
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Kenji

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#2954909 - 10/27/18 06:13 PM Re: How do you practice improvisation? [Re: Kenji13]
desertbluesman Offline
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Registered: 05/22/07
Posts: 4770
Loc: Near Phoenix Az
Ok I am about 99% improv in my playing and into my recording computer, then I learn my own licks over time listening to my own improvs and then remembering by doing over and over again.

My advice is to actually play over backing tracks which you can get on the web if you cannot create them yourself. You learn the scales, and the modes, (if you are a classical player you know them already). Now you find out which mode to go against the chord changes, and then you improvise. Like playing something classical and practiced, it takes time to learn the feel by doing. If you have recording capability then play your improvs into the computer and listen to what you have done.

I took some formal lessons and learned a little theory, but the guys I wanted to emulate seemed like they were going from sound to sound. Not from note name to note name. Just wing it which is another way to say improv, wing it, until you hear something you like.

I find that my best improvs come from major and minor pentatonic scales with a little bit of the other notes of the full scales thrown in as approach notes or even resolutions.

The technique is learned over time by doing, not by studying, and if you have friends who play also jam as much as you can without much planning beyond the chord progressions. I do not do arpeggios because I do not want to think when I am soloing, and anticipate what is coming. I just know that I can fit any note over any chord using pentatonics (especially minors). One of my teachers was very impressed with the way I played when we jammed and she called my soloing "totally outside" (whatever that means). But she dug it which was encouraging.

So if you want to learn improv you just start with a simple scale against simple chord progressions. I would suggest a half hour to an hour daily added to your practice regimen daily. And importantly jam with other musicians or create your own backing band using compositions programs like Band In A Box. Then jam it out until you get the idea by doing not thinking. Also remember to use sustain and pauses to accent the notes with silences and longer sustains than you would use in Classical styles.

Here is one I did, I created the backing track from scratch and then soloed over it, all improvised. By the way I use the stage name Harvey Cedars. That is me. And also remember it will take a lot of time by doing maybe a few years of daily practice, so be patient and never quit trying.

https://www.soundclick.com/html5/v4/player.cfm?songID=5913545

You can listen to all of my originals on the link below, most of not all are 95% improv.

https://www.soundclick.com/bands3/default.cfm?bandid=143231
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dbm
If it sounds good, it is good !!
http://www.soundclick.com/bands/default.cfm?bandID=143231&content=music
Harvey Cedars is my stage name on Soundclick

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#2954947 - 10/28/18 04:21 AM Re: How do you practice improvisation? [Re: desertbluesman]
whitefang Offline
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Loc: Lincoln Park, MI, UNITED STATE...
Heh....

Basically, I just did it. Not being formally trained and early on not good at retaining what was observed or taught, I intuitively came to rely on what I could "make up" on the spot(solo-wise). Wasn't always GOOD, mind you, but got a bit better at it as time went on.... wink
Whitefang
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#2954983 - 10/28/18 08:04 AM Re: How do you practice improvisation? [Re: whitefang]
Larryz Offline
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Posts: 11487
Loc: Northern California
I'll second everything DBM said above...then I'll throw in YouTube.

There are many clips on YouTube which will take you through the scales (modes, Pentatonic Blues, Major, Minor, etc.) and how to use them. You don't play scales but they will provide the reference points (i.e. notes) that you will be needing. Then call up any backing track (i.e. blues, rock, rock and roll, jazz, etc.) that you are interested in. Get the connections and run your lap top into your amp or PA and play along with those backing tracks. Then while you are at it, call up your favorite song and play along with the original. Copy a few leads if you have to and then as they say at the jam "Take It!" The most important thing is to have fun when practicing your improvisation IMHO. I can just sit down with a guitar and skip all of the above LOL! Good luck with it and have fun! cool
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#2955016 - 10/28/18 12:56 PM Re: How do you practice improvisation? [Re: Larryz]
d Offline
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Registered: 03/20/01
Posts: 7043
Loc: no longer lexington, Kenfunky,...
To me there are 2 approaches.
One is completely free; the other directed.

An example of the 1st is something I suggest to every musician.
Whenever you feel relaxed & as close to mentally blank as possible (for me that's sometime soon after awaking in the morning or maybe after a nap or meditation, etc) just go to an instrument & play whatever comes out...no chordal/harmonic plan nothing you are working on otherwise.
Simply play !
It may be helpful to have a recording device going in case something really cool happens.
The idea is to start w/a blnk mind & try to do something outside yer habits.

The 2nd is more productive but also less refreshing.
Take some material you may be working on (chord prog; harmonic idea or maybe some element of music yer studying) &, again, simply play, although here one's doing so in a more directed manner b/c yer actually tryna create something particular.

There's a sorta middle ground between the 2 as well: take a chord prog or bassline, etc,record it & play that backward while playing along w/it.

Not to disagree w/ the above suggestions from DBM & LarZ b/c I know they're sincere & come from talented cats but to me there's a slight hindrance when one is trying to concentrate on scale learning---especially as a beginner---& trying to let yer mind roam freely.
Also while it's instructive to copy what you hear others play (if you also study it to understand why they played it or how it fits) that seems to me not improv. idk
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#2955023 - 10/28/18 02:06 PM Re: How do you practice improvisation? [Re: d]
desertbluesman Offline
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Registered: 05/22/07
Posts: 4770
Loc: Near Phoenix Az
Originally Posted By: d

Not to disagree w/ the above suggestions from DBM & LarZ b/c I know they're sincere & come from talented cats but to me there's a slight hindrance when one is trying to concentrate on scale learning---especially as a beginner---& trying to let yer mind roam freely.
Also while it's instructive to copy what you hear others play (if you also study it to understand why they played it or how it fits) that seems to me not improv. idk


I must clarify, (and no offense to anyone) the scale learning is absolutely necessary, to know the fret-board is key to improvisation, winging it is also completely necessary so the two things have to be practiced separately.

I do scales when I am warming up every day. It is regimented, it is boring, it is tedious. However I leave the regimented behind, I leave the tedious behind, I leave the boredom behind when I start to play my songs after my chord work and scale work. The scale work is absolutely necessary to warm up my fingers. The chord work is absolutely necessary to wake up my chord form memory.

Now there are many ways to learn guitar, mine was to ignore learning cover tunes, (Or playing my own licks against cover tunes ignoring the licks being played and the vocal being sung). (This was before I could record my own backing tracks and pre internet for me) Slowly I was able to separate my scale regimen from my jamming regimen as I played along with those early cover tunes. By the time I was able to improvise competently, I had been trying for 5 or more years, jamming poorly every single practice day, until it finally clicked in. Even when I play some jazz and use the modes and full scales in the modes I was able to separate the scale played mechanical sound into melodic lines. But it took me years of daily practice. I could play the blues almost right away but as soon as I heard about the modes and the major scale it took me years to make melodic sense out of the scales. So my further advice is; to get used to the practice tedium until it becomes habit, once it becomes habit the free flow begins.....
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dbm
If it sounds good, it is good !!
http://www.soundclick.com/bands/default.cfm?bandID=143231&content=music
Harvey Cedars is my stage name on Soundclick

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#2955033 - 10/28/18 02:56 PM Re: How do you practice improvisation? [Re: desertbluesman]
d Offline
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Registered: 03/20/01
Posts: 7043
Loc: no longer lexington, Kenfunky,...
There's no disputing the value of understanding scales/modes/etc, their structure & general uses.

My suggestion is that, for one at the beginning stages, concentrating on what is "proper" to play, is an inhibition on playing freely, as in improv.
Improvising's not abt playing the right thing but abt finding something new.

I'd study as many ways as possible but keep them in separate sessions.
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#2955076 - 10/28/18 07:34 PM Re: How do you practice improvisation? [Re: d]
Sharkman Offline
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Registered: 06/12/10
Posts: 658
It's time for me to throw my two cents into this conversation. This is an exercise that the late great Frank Zappa used to do, so I am not going to try and take credit for coming up with this. Frank would pick a scale, any scale, and then take three notes from that scale, and try to make something out of those three notes, which he could play anywhere on the fretboard. Lets use the A minor scale as an example. We'll go with the first, third, and fifth notes of that scale, which are A, C, and E. This example happens to be an arpeggio of the A minor chord, but like I said, you can use any three notes of any scale. Give it a try. After you get tired of those three notes, pick a new scale and three different notes, and get as creative as you can.
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#2955078 - 10/28/18 07:58 PM Re: How do you practice improvisation? [Re: desertbluesman]
Kenji13 Offline
Senior Member

Registered: 04/30/18
Posts: 38
Loc: NY
Hi desertbluesman,

Thank you so much for your advice. I see that I need to just do it. I never thought about using backing tracks. I will try it and record myself.

Thank you for sharing your recordings. I enjoyed it a lot! Thanks for the inspiration!

Kenji
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#2955107 - 10/29/18 04:06 AM Re: How do you practice improvisation? [Re: Kenji13]
whitefang Offline
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Registered: 05/13/02
Posts: 11102
Loc: Lincoln Park, MI, UNITED STATE...
I dunno....

It just seems to me that somebody trying to TEACH someone how to improvise is like someone trying to teach someone else how to say what's on their mind, and HOW to say it. If you plan it all ahead of time, then it's not really improvisation, is it....?

WIKIPEDIA gives us this:

Improvisation is the activity of making or doing something that you have not planned, using whatever you find.[1]. Improvisation, in the performing arts is a very spontaneous performance without specific or scripted preparation. The skills of improvisation can apply to many different faculties, across all artistic, scientific, physical, cognitive, academic, and non-academic disciplines.
Whitefang
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#2955115 - 10/29/18 05:25 AM Re: How do you practice improvisation? [Re: whitefang]
Eric Iverson Offline
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Registered: 08/03/05
Posts: 5285
Loc: Jackson Heights, NY
Well, even the best improvisers fall back on their "tried and true" knowledge sometimes. After all, the music has to SOUND GOOD, LOL.

However, the best ones manage to transcend that and be spontaneous while still sounding good and feeling right. It helps to be playing with simpatico people that you can react to, like a conversation with a good friend.

And, while improvisation is great, there is nothing wrong with polished, well crafted and well rehearsed music either, even if it isn't improvised at the moment.

It's great when you can have the best of both worlds.

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#2955138 - 10/29/18 07:44 AM Re: How do you practice improvisation? [Re: Kenji13]
desertbluesman Offline
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Registered: 05/22/07
Posts: 4770
Loc: Near Phoenix Az
Originally Posted By: Kenji13
Hi desertbluesman,

Thank you so much for your advice. I see that I need to just do it. I never thought about using backing tracks. I will try it and record myself.

Thank you for sharing your recordings. I enjoyed it a lot! Thanks for the inspiration!

Kenji


It is our pleasure (the regulars on this forum above who answered your question) to help a fellow guitar traveler improve his/her skills.
_________________________
dbm
If it sounds good, it is good !!
http://www.soundclick.com/bands/default.cfm?bandID=143231&content=music
Harvey Cedars is my stage name on Soundclick

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#2955141 - 10/29/18 07:47 AM Re: How do you practice improvisation? [Re: Kenji13]
skipclone 1 Offline
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Registered: 08/21/03
Posts: 8250
Loc: Japan
Kenji13 I hope this is helpful and doesn`t sound too silly.
Play one note.
Any note you like.
Classical music tends to be about movement.
Do the opposite of that.
Play the same note, with different feelings.
Make it sound sad, like a violin. Slide into it. Slide out of it. Play it aggressively.
Find an interesting rhythm, make it sound happy.
Improvisation is not just about notes. It`s about evoking feelings. The guitar is a very expressive instrument. It`s often said about the Blues, that the best players can say more with one note than others can with 100 notes.
That is improvisation.
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#2955142 - 10/29/18 07:55 AM Re: How do you practice improvisation? [Re: Eric Iverson]
Winston Psmith Offline
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Registered: 02/15/10
Posts: 3529
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Slightly different take here, no surprise.

Little kids are born improvisers. Sit a little kid down with an Instrument, and they will press, pound, pluck or flail away with abandon, and then, as often as not, declare that they've just played an original song. How can you argue with them? Because no one told them there was a Right or Wrong way to play, the pure joy of bringing sound out of the device is enough.

By the time we've learned to play an Instrument, we've been given a set of instructions on how to play it correctly, and had them hammered into our skulls. It takes some mental effort to regain the child's sense of freedom: "Just play!".

To practice improvising, oxymoronic as that may sound, try doing things you've been taught not to do, and see if any of them have Musical merit. Try a new Tuning, limit yourself to playing on one string, imagine that you're playing an Organ, a Sax, or a Vibraphone, instead of a Guitar, anything that allows you to break out of old habits. Play familiar phrases or chord progressions backwards, just to break the pattern of playing them as you're used to. Sure, you'll wind up drawing on your skills and previous knowledge, but it's the difference between approaching a blank canvas and a paint-by-numbers set. Both require that you be able to distinguish Blue from Red, but one lets you place the colors (tones) wherever you think they'll fit.

I play in a Synth-&-Guitar duo with a good friend, and ALL of our performances are improvised. We practice by getting together on weekends, and just playing together for a couple of hours. Probably the most important skill involved in playing the way we do is Listening. Very often, we get into neat, interlocking riffs that sound as if we'd rehearsed them, when the truth is, we're just listening carefully, and trying to create a more-or-less coherent sound, like one large Synth array.

Like George Clinton said: "Free your mind, and your ass will follow." You know how to play, just let yourself . . .
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#2955161 - 10/29/18 09:23 AM Re: How do you practice improvisation? [Re: Winston Psmith]
Larryz Offline
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The OP question was how do you practice improvisation? Not, what is improvisation? I agree with Winston's "oxymoronic" comment LOL! If you practice what you just played from the heart and continue using it, it becomes a rehearsed lick. But, that's a good thing if it sounds good. It actually becomes a lick that you wrote. If it doesn't sound good, throw it away and try again...

Each of us attacks learning this instrument in our own way. Copying licks and songs note for note, taking lessons, playing to backing tracks, improvising, using scales and arpeggios, chords, self taught, theory, etc. So, how do you do it? cool
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#2955207 - 10/29/18 12:05 PM Re: How do you practice improvisation? [Re: Larryz]
Winston Psmith Offline
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Originally Posted By: Larryz
So, how do you do it? cool


One thing that's helped me is sitting down with people who approach Music differently, and finding a way to fit in. Improvisation, IMHO, is about breaking patterns, so getting out of your own comfort zone is a big step. To paraphrase Yoda: "DO or DO NOT; there is no 'practice'."
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#2955255 - 10/29/18 03:08 PM Re: How do you practice improvisation? [Re: whitefang]
d Offline
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Registered: 03/20/01
Posts: 7043
Loc: no longer lexington, Kenfunky,...
Originally Posted By: whitefang
I dunno....

It just seems to me that somebody trying to TEACH someone how to improvise is like someone trying to teach someone else how to say what's on their mind, and HOW to say it.


Everyone needs some guidance at times.
T extend yer thought, no matter what language one learns they must hear the language, grasp or be taught it's parts & how to use them & then have something to express.
Originally Posted By: skipclone 1

Play one note.
Play the same note, with different feelings.
Make it sound sad, like a violin. Slide into it. Slide out of it. Play it aggressively.
Find an interesting rhythm, make it sound happy.
Improvisation is not just about notes. It`s about evoking feelings.
That is improvisation.

twothumbs Skipster !
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#2955437 - 10/30/18 11:32 AM Re: How do you practice improvisation? [Re: d]
Larryz Offline
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@ Winston, That's one of the good things about improvisation, the freedom to experiment. For me, I like the Comfort Zone, which would be a great name for a song or for a band LOL! But, I know what you mean about getting out with others and breaking those patterns that you fall into. There is such variety of genres on YouTube, that I think it would be a great way to find those various artists that play outside your comfort zone and see if you can play along with them and improvise during the lead breaks...freedom is a key concept, provided you play in the right key! +1 Mixing it up and practicing with others (using DVD's, CD's, live practice sessions, etc.) can bring up new ideas and feelings... cool
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#2955507 - 10/30/18 03:50 PM Re: How do you practice improvisation? [Re: Larryz]
d Offline
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Registered: 03/20/01
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Loc: no longer lexington, Kenfunky,...
Originally Posted By: Larryz
... the Comfort Zone, which would be a great name for a song or for a band LOL!


Or a spa roll
It could even be a Ska Spa = Jah Comfort Zone.
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#2955587 - 10/31/18 04:44 AM Re: How do you practice improvisation? [Re: d]
whitefang Offline
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Registered: 05/13/02
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Loc: Lincoln Park, MI, UNITED STATE...
I liked Skip's advice:

"Play the same note, but with different feelings." wink

Sorta like the opening of THIS solo.... laugh

https://youtu.be/75RiHJGfyUE

Whitefang
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#2955607 - 10/31/18 07:03 AM Re: How do you practice improvisation? [Re: d]
Larryz Offline
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Registered: 06/23/08
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Loc: Northern California
Originally Posted By: d
Originally Posted By: Larryz
... the Comfort Zone, which would be a great name for a song or for a band LOL!


Or a spa roll
It could even be a Ska Spa = Jah Comfort Zone.





There is also Comfort Zone skin care, cat and dog management, heating and air and other products to choose from, and I found a band by that name and a song by Vanessa Williams LOL! But jah, de comfort zone ska spa would be relaxing mon... puff


Edited by Larryz (10/31/18 07:38 AM)
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#2955849 - 11/01/18 08:34 AM Re: How do you practice improvisation? [Re: Larryz]
Eric Iverson Offline
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To actually answer the original question: HOW do I practice improvisation?

From my earliest days on the instrument, I always wanted to be a lead player, so the first thing I'd do whenever I'd pick up the guitar would be just to improvise lead lines, often "in a vacuum" so to speak - no backing track or playing along with a record.

Later, of course, I had to learn actual SONGS and set lead parts, and how to play improvisations that make sense in context. Otherwise, who's going to want to play with you? It just becomes "musical masturbation", so to speak. Entertaining to you maybe, but not to anyone else.

People were not shy about making this clear to me, with no concern at all for my tender feelings - POOR BABY - does this qualify as a "microagression"? LOL

Anyway, since I like playing with people, I didn't go cry in the corner. OK, I did, but not for too long - and before too long was able to fit in with others.

But I still play lead lines the first thing when I pick up the guitar; old habits die hard, I guess. Sometimes in a vacuum, but often with a track or record to provide some context.

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#2955997 - 11/02/18 04:30 AM Re: How do you practice improvisation? [Re: Eric Iverson]
whitefang Offline
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Loc: Lincoln Park, MI, UNITED STATE...
Sure.
Well, who's to SAY that maybe everybody's favorite solo WASN'T the guy just noodling around originally and making it up as he went along? wink
Whitefang
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#2956034 - 11/02/18 07:32 AM Re: How do you practice improvisation? [Re: whitefang]
Larryz Offline
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Loc: Northern California
That's a good reason to tape yourself or use a looper. You can capture some of that noodling. In the early Jazz clubs a ton of great improvisation was lost every night as nobody was taping it. Finally somebody got the idea that there was some great stuff getting flushed down the drain... cool
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#2956196 - 11/03/18 09:05 AM Re: How do you practice improvisation? [Re: whitefang]
picker Offline
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In my opinion, the most important skill involved in improvisation is listening. Spend time working out what players are doing by listening to to them. It's not a quick process, but it works.
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#2956445 - 11/05/18 05:13 AM Re: How do you practice improvisation? [Re: picker]
Eric Iverson Offline
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Yes, REAL listening, as opposed to just background music, is an art in itself!

You have to disconnect a lot of ego-centered stuff and just focus on what was actually PLAYED, and HOW it was played, and it what context and why it worked or didn't, in your perception.

There's a lot of "gold in them thar hills", LOL if you have ears to hear.

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#2956507 - 11/05/18 12:27 PM Re: How do you practice improvisation? [Re: Eric Iverson]
d Offline
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Registered: 03/20/01
Posts: 7043
Loc: no longer lexington, Kenfunky,...
Originally Posted By: Eric Iverson
Yes, REAL listening, as opposed to just background music, is an art in itself!

You have to disconnect a lot of ego-centered stuff and just focus on what was actually PLAYED, and HOW it was played, and it what context and why it worked or didn't, in your perception.

There's a lot of "gold in them thar hills", LOL if you have ears to hear.

Not to tail-chase too much but perception itself can be a prob.
How many of us sometimes listen on auto-pilot, "hearing" what we remember as opposed to what is actually happening ?

BTW & FWIW, one of Hendrix's fave offerings to concert crowds was the suggestion that he was about to play something "for those w/ears to hear".... cool
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#2956625 - 11/06/18 05:32 AM Re: How do you practice improvisation? [Re: d]
Eric Iverson Offline
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Registered: 08/03/05
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Do we listen on auto-pilot? Most of us live our LIVES on auto-pilot, to a certain extent, because we have a lot to do and don't have time to reinvent the wheel all the time.

But nowadays, when I hear an old song I liked back in the day, I do my best to REALLY listen to what they ACTUALLY PLAYED. And find that I learn a lot, especially since my ears are much better trained than they were 50 years ago, LOL.

OK, maybe I've lost a little top end in my hearing range. If so, it doesn't hurt me too much,LOL.

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#2956658 - 11/06/18 07:45 AM Re: How do you practice improvisation? [Re: Eric Iverson]
jimmac Offline
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Registered: 08/31/11
Posts: 288
Loc: Jackson, Michigan
I find that I listen intently to music and my brain is piecing together what different instruments are adding etc. I cannot sleep with music on because the brain is busy trying to figure out who in the song is doing what. Jim

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