Learning how to improvise can be tough. There’s so much information to learn and things to practice. It can be really overwhelming sometimes. Right? I certainly remember feeling overwhelmed a lot. Right now, I’m going to share with you a shortcut for getting better at improvising solos that’s guaranteed to speed up the process for you by a huge amount. Sounds good right? Too good to be true maybe? It’s not and I’ll prove it to you.
Improvising over Chord Changes
Now, if you’re like me, when you first started learning to improvise over chord changes, you are probably given something like this. This comes from a Jamey Aebersold play-along book and they give you the chords and the corresponding scales. They also indicate which notes in the scales are chord tones. Now this is all very helpful information and there’s nothing at all wrong with it, but the way it’s laid out people are naturally going to be inclined to think of using scales as a tool for improvising over chords. Again there’s nothing at all wrong with that, but anyone who’s tried this approach finds out very quickly that the result doesn’t really sound anything like improvised jazz. At least not what we’re used to hearing on the records.
Let me give you an alternate approach to try. This comes directly out of a brand new course, the Rhythmic Pyramid by my friend, the great saxophone player and educator, Adam Larson. The first step in this course is to take a chord progression, we’re going to use a 12 Bar Blues in the key of Bb, and improvise using one single rhythmic subdivision. In this case we’re going to play only quarter notes and we’re limiting ourselves to chord tones. I’ll let Adam demonstrate.
Using chord tones
Now most people when they first start to improvise over the blues progression, they’re going to apply the blues scale and play that over everything. Again there’s nothing at all wrong with this approach, but it’s like creating a menu for a restaurant with only one ingredient. Potatoes are good, they go with everything, but nobody wants to eat just potatoes. As saxophone players, we absolutely must learn the chord changes to any song we are playing over. In this method of practicing, just using the chord tones is like a power up in a video game when we practice it. Let me demonstrate doing the same thing myself.
If you’re not quite able to do that exercise yet, great, it’s something for you to practice and get together. It shouldn’t take all that long. What’s great about limiting ourselves to only using quarter notes is that it forces us to slow things down and play more relaxed. Now this exercise that I just showed you can be applied to any other chord progression, and I strongly strongly suggest that you make sure you are able to play steady quarter notes on chord tones for any tune you want to improvise over, because if you’re not able to do that, playing the eighth notes is going to be problematic. Right?
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The next step in the Rhythmic Pyramid course is the same except instead of quarter notes we’re playing eighth notes. This is more challenging obviously but certainly doable. Here’s Adam demonstrating that from the course. Once you’ve played through these two exercises a bit you will undoubtedly start to feel the effectiveness of working through this method. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. As you go through the course progression, it gets better and better. There’s more than 30 additional steps in the full course.
Should I enroll in the full course?
We share tons of lessons like this on the channel and it’s true you can learn so much on YouTube for free these days, you may be asking yourself is it even necessary to purchase courses, and the answer is no. Just like you don’t need to get a gym membership or personal trainer to get in shape. We enroll in courses when we want to speed up the process of learning, fill in the information gaps, hold ourselves accountable, and get some help doing the things that are really hard to do all on our own.
I know that I certainly would have never come as far long in my journey without some structured guidance, so please work on those two exercises I just showed you. They’re really going to help, but if you want to unlock the super power ups, you should consider enrolling in the full course. The method taught in the Rhythmic Pyramid is going to save anybody so much practice time and accelerate the learning process by so much. It’s really a no-brainer.
Not only that, but there’s a bonus masterclass with additional content not in the course, as well as a special discount for launch. We really want to help as many people as possible achieve their improvisation goals faster so that they can enjoy playing the saxophone that much more. Click the link in the description or visit bettersax.com to enroll now. One of the most fun parts of the whole process of learning music is learning these little shortcuts that help us advance faster, so please watch this video next where I give you another lesson on something else that’s going to save you a ton of time in your journey.