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  1. #1

    Default Building a good solo

    Hi Guys,

    Have been working on my language for some time now and would like to add a little more story to my soloing.

    Here's the question. How do you guys build your solos? etc. theme, patterns, progression. The reason I asked is that, I've been recording myself lately and realized that my solos aren't that catchy/interesting (as far as what I can hear). I think I'm lacking the story, just like in a movie/song, it has the beggining, middle and the climax of the story.

    The reason I asked is that I've been listening to some interesting solos from Bob Reynolds, Janek Gwizdala, Justin Vazquez and the likes, and they all have this story to tell.

    I'de like to learn how to build that behind the solo. You guys have anything to share on this?

    Thanks in advance....

    Jessie
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  2. #2
    Distinguished SOTW Member HeavyWeather77's Avatar
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    Default Re: Building a good solo

    Hi Jessie, this is one of the best questions I think anyone can ask about developing ability as an improviser. You're definitely right in observing that great musicians have lots of "story" in their solos, which is a great way to describe the complex process of developing ideas from simpler, fundamental kernels. The guys you mentioned are brilliant about this, and some other people to listen for are Mark Turner, Aaron Goldberg, and Kurt Rosenwinkel; all of them seem to approach their playing as a perfect unity of performance and composition. The more you can think like a composer when you improvise, the better.

    Lee Konitz' method (at least as he gets older) is to stay close to the melody as your solo starts. I heard a second-hand story of him asking a student why they're playing all this crazy new stuff halfway through the first chorus; the student should be improvising off the melody for a couple choruses before going off into material that far abstracted from the melody! I don't think it's always appropriate to do that, but it's seriously something to think about, and a great way to start approaching improvising like a composer.

  3. #3

    Default Re: Building a good solo

    Quote Originally Posted by HeavyWeather77 View Post
    Hi Jessie, this is one of the best questions I think anyone can ask about developing ability as an improviser. You're definitely right in observing that great musicians have lots of "story" in their solos, which is a great way to describe the complex process of developing ideas from simpler, fundamental kernels. The guys you mentioned are brilliant about this, and some other people to listen for are Mark Turner, Aaron Goldberg, and Kurt Rosenwinkel; all of them seem to approach their playing as a perfect unity of performance and composition. The more you can think like a composer when you improvise, the better.

    Lee Konitz' method (at least as he gets older) is to stay close to the melody as your solo starts. I heard a second-hand story of him asking a student why they're playing all this crazy new stuff halfway through the first chorus; the student should be improvising off the melody for a couple choruses before going off into material that far abstracted from the melody! I don't think it's always appropriate to do that, but it's seriously something to think about, and a great way to start approaching improvising like a composer.
    That's a good point. I remember watching one of Wynton Marsalis on youtube about how he improvised over a melody of "Happy Birthday" and they improvised over the melody for sometime with different prosective every chorus. Its insanely mind boggling.
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  4. #4
    Swaman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Building a good solo

    The melody is the story, as are the words if there are any. Dexter knew the words to most of his standards. It puts meaning into the tune. Lee Konitz's method is a great way to relate to the tune. Too many players immediately go into showing how much technique they have like some Utoob instrument and mouthpiece demontrators. Try to avoid the disconnection between what you are improvising and the tune by only relating to the changes exclusively. It also depends on the style of music you are playing. Many modern tunes don't have great melodies so the player gets into the changes instead. Nothing wrong with that as long as you're playing something that is cohesive and imaginative. You can practice all the licks and arpeggios all you want, but most of the time you don't use many of them unless you plan ahead of time, which to me is not the highest form of improvisation. Wayne Shorter sounds like he's composing within his compositiions and is a good player to emulate. There's lots of ways of doing it. Keep trying.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Building a good solo

    It's simple, and been said many times: think and play like you are singing. If you are thinking the way many have been taught (playing changes) you won't have a lyrical quality. The finger memory patterns/riffs/arpeggios that are learned to make us think we are "players" become impediments to good composition and lyrical playing. A spontaneous lyrical solo played with integrity is magic. If you can't play what's in your head (what you would sing) then this is the first problem to overcome with ear training. There is no magic music formulae as there is no formulae for writing a good story, just good form within which the writer still has to choose the words that convey the message. The more personal the message the better. What everybody “gets” is when someone is singing/playing the song of their soul. That’s the integrity part.

    If you are playing mainstream (which seems to be what previous posters are referring to) then this can be theme and variation, which continually refers to the melodic head. Theme and variation is a relatively simple compositional technique that can be studied and practiced. If playing new music then this requires developing your own melodic inventions. These can also work in place of variations but may not work if extremely different to the chord structure or embodying too much contrast within a lyrical context.

    It seems that you already understand the rough format: into, build, climax and ending . Within that are tension and release, tonal quality, phrasing, etc. Many of these internal elements flow naturally in our speech and singing. If you are trying to reinvent your own speech or singing as an “out of body experience” or copy someone else you’re fighting nature and at best aping what should flow naturally.

    Having a lot of internal references (music that you relate to and love) will have its influence, but is usually modified by our own personalities. If you haven’t had a wide range of musical experience then this could limit your pool of ideas.

    Have it come from within you (as though you are singing), keep it simple, play with integrity.

  6. #6

    Default Re: Building a good solo

    One thing I learned from one of my mentor is that when we sing, that's the most genuine form of improvisation and I should sometimes transcribe what I just sang. That will train my ear and my playing dramatically.

    I just realized that this morning when I was taking a shower. I tried to improvise when I was humming. I sang Janek Gwizdalas "Four Brothers" coz its a catchy song and just started to let go and improvise through humming. I can't believe what I just did, if only I brought a recorder when I was on the shower. Melodies, timing and all are coming out naturally....I wish I can play as goos as I can hum...
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  7. #7
    Distinguished SOTW Member/Forum Contributor 2012 dexdex's Avatar
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    Default Re: Building a good solo

    Give Janek a break, and listen to Dexter Gordon. The ballads he recorded in the 60s on Blue Note. Example: "Don't Explain". It's all in there.
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  8. #8

    Default Re: Building a good solo

    I think for my personal taste, Early Coltrane, Redman, Ike Quebec, Mintzer, Brecker and the likes speaks to me more than Gordon. Its just me, and its just my taste. Everybody's different i guess....
    Tenor: The Martin Tenor Saxophone, Drake Son of Slant 8L, Vandoren ZZ Reeds
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