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How can I learn modal jazz improvisation?

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  • How can I learn modal jazz improvisation?

    When I try to improvise a solo over a tune that has no harmonic motion for many bars, anything I try sounds unpurposeful or plain ugly to me. Not having the reassuring feeling you get when you successfully follow chord changes one by one makes the experience strange. What can I do to start sounding interesting and purposeful or "right"? What exercises could be useful in order to improve any skills that I can then use for this?

    Many thanks for any comments

    Alex

  • #2
    Try learning some modal solos by other people to get some inspiration and a good idea of how it's done. I know Mike Dodge has transcribed for guitar, Miles Davis' solo on So What. It's pretty useful, it helped me a lot.
    .

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    • #3
      Learning solos is always the best, and I often fail to follow my own advice.

      One thing about modal playing is that it really forces you to play with motives and not rely on streams of eighth notes that outline changes. I like to start with a small rhythmic and melodic motive, and develop it through small variations, extensions, contractions, etc.

      Another option that's quite different is that you can superimpose changes over the modal vamp. You can get away with this much more in modal situations because the chord vamp is static and fades into the background of the listener's ear. You can superimpose just about anything, from diatonic progressions (turning a minor7 vamp into a "ii - V - i" or just "V - i" in minor) to really outside things (playing up or down a half step and then returning to the key, playing through the cycle of 5ths, Coltrane cycles, or just playing over an unrelated chord and returning back to the key). The important thing is to always return back to the correct key to justify the tension created by playing out.
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      • #4
        just play over a static progression again and again - see what sounds good. throw in some new notes, go from there.
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        • #5
          Thanks very much, guys. I can't wait to try out. I'm pretty curious about one thing.. Say I'm playing So What, would I create an interesting sound by going Em7b5 / A7 / Dm7 (go tonal Dm) or should I think more like Em7 / Am7 / Dm7 (as these are diatonic to D dorian)? I shall give these ideas a try soon enough anyway

          Cheers,

          Alex

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          • #6
            By listening to a lot of jazz in the style you want to play and letting this vocabulary become a part of "your" vocabulary. Muscle memory is helpful too you get that by learning solos from tabs and playing that stuff over and over. The theory part of it is helpful but not as easy to digest as the practical aspects.

            What you asked for is calles a "vamp" and Miles davis " So what" is, as mentionned, a good palce to start.
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            • #7
              Yes, play over static vamps but the true essense of Modal Jazz is due to chord progressions that don't necessarily connect/relate Diatonically. Playing some of these tunes with show you mode about Modal Resolution than just playing the same notes/predetermined scale over one chord. And, then when you see how Modes resolve and the parallels found in some of these types of tunes, you find you DON'T HAVE TO stay in ONE scale, you only need to now how to resolve to it...yes, resolving even over one chord.

              One of the best, most obvious, and for some reason most overlooked ways to understanding, studying, and applying Modal Jazz is to actually LISTEN to Modal Jazz and learn/transcribe some.

              Here's a list of tunes you should source out in order to first get a grasp of what Modal Jazz is:

              For practical modal application:

              So What by Miles Davis - Dorian
              Maiden Voyage by Herbie Handcock - Dorian
              Song for John by Stanley Clarke and Chick Corea - Lydian with tensions
              Km-Pee-Du-Wee by Steve Vai - Lydian
              Norwegian Wood the Beatles - Mixolydian (to Dorina if I remember right)
              In Memory of Elizabeth Reed by The Allman Brothers - Dorian
              Windows by Chick Corea - Lydian
              Niama - John Coltrane
              Blue In Green - Bill Evans
              More Ravi Shankar and Shakti than you can shake a stick at!

              Most of those are the most common vehicles we have to learn Modal Jazz. And any body who's really into Modal Jazz has studied most of those. Some of those are excellent applications, and music of course, that not every one is aware of.

              If you're serious about learning Modal Jazz, those tunes are your serious crash course.
              PM me about Online One-on-One Guitar Lessons, via Skype and Paypal
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              Hint for online instructors...play the example in it's entirety, THEN talk about it for 5 minutes.

              The only good liberal is a...well, we're still trying to figure out the answer to that one.

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              • #8
                Most people will get a lot out of this site too: http://www.modaljazz.com/

                Also my lesson site: http://lessons.mikedodge.com has a lot of Modal stuff in all sections, even a a transcription of Miles solo on So What.

                And, there's a TON of info at my forum: http://mikedodge.freeforums.org/one-off-lessons-and-concepts-f2.html

                Of course, it's all free for the taking.
                PM me about Online One-on-One Guitar Lessons, via Skype and Paypal
                http://lessons.mikedodge.com
                http://www.mikedodge.com
                http://forum.mikedodge.com

                Hint for online instructors...play the example in it's entirety, THEN talk about it for 5 minutes.

                The only good liberal is a...well, we're still trying to figure out the answer to that one.

                Uma is a motorik.

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                • #9
                  What can I do to start sounding interesting and purposeful or "right"? What exercises could be useful in order to improve any skills that I can then use for this?



                  Try playing a solo using just one note (pitch).

                  You'll have to use rhythm, space, dynamics, tone, and so forth to communicate your ideas.
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                  • #10
                    Either "riff it", i.e. play some kind of repeating motif and develop it, or just imply some harmony even though it's not there. That's what I like about modal vamps; you have a lot freedom and you can really "step outside" quite easily.

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                    • #11
                      ^^^ yup the "riff it" idea. Here's just one simplistic viewpoint ...is that comming from a rock school you are use to riffs and generating a melody over a limited harmonic backing. Contrast this with a jazzer who is more into relying on chord changes to generate the interest.

                      So...modal jazz has that rock thing going on in terms of relying on melody more than harmony. BUT... a big difference is the extensions in a jazz setting are more exotic that rock.

                      Now I realize there is much more going on than that...but it is a part of it.

                      I think one thing for modal jazz...is to develop your ears for all the tones that can be played. One dimension is to find what is the "essential" sounds of the mode and what are the more outside elements. (basically what chisa was saying)

                      Edit:

                      One thing I've noticed is that some modes are harder to hear than others...and that even once you "hear" something the sound of it changes as your ears improve. Also, just the time it takes to recognize things improves. Like in certain situations, the #11 in lydian is hard to hear...but as the ears get better you can recognize that #11 in more situations (without all the "set up" of the major triad).

                      Another example of the sound of something changing...like in dorian you might get use to the 13th. But then later you notice the interplay of the tritone between the b3 and 13th. Those tritones are an interesting aspect to the modes of the major scale. If you look at the IV chord, it has the tritone and 1/2 steps in good spots. This is something I've realized as my ears have improved...not from any "theory". The IV and V chords of the parent major scale are pretty interesting and their location within any of the modes is something to look at.

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                      • #12
                        here's an cool article I just found talking about tritones and modes...its more comming from a classical/romantic style of music (and kind of academic). But still interesting.

                        http://www.jomarpress.com/nagel/articles/OnModes.html

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