Improvisation is common in many types of music, but is mainly expressed in jazz. Jazz music could very easily be considered the very essence of improvisation. Standards are the songs which all jazz players know. These songs are not usually practiced collectively as they are so well known. Standards are often the base around which a jazz solo is created. If you plan to be an instrumentalist, you definitely should attempt to learn the jazz standards. To be a good soloist, you must know the song and understand the pattern.
This is where learning to read music can be so important. Whether you read music or not, you must know the music thoroughly before you can improvise.The player usually will not begin prior to the main melody of the song being played once through by everyone. Awaiting your cue to begin your jazz solo, you are well advised to know how long the first section will be. You will receive a nod by the leader of the band to begin your solo when it is your time in any case. If there is a solo singer, your part will come after theirs.
Again, you must know absolutely when you are to come in. Nothing is worse that starting poorly. It is hard to recover after that. Only training and a good understanding of musical structure will be the building blocks of great jazz improvisations. Your solo should follow, sometimes loosely, the chord pattern of the song. This is a good example of why knowing your scales is important. If you learn your scales in all keys and practicing going from one to another, you will be on your way to knowing what a jazz improvisation solo should sound like. If you cannot seem to find any creative way to express yourself, try arpeggios in each key as you go through the song.
A good solo is not simply combining scales one to another. The jazz solo should contain dynamics, structure and have something to say. A good jazz solo cannot by definition be planned exactly, but can you can know roughly where you are going. It is usually best to start your jazz improvisation simply with a good statement of the melody. If you start too hurried and frantic, it will be hard to build upon that mood. You can then increase the tempo, dynamics and tension before resolving to the original melody at the end of your solo. Listen to some favorite jazz solos that you know and see if the structure is not the same as what we are describing here. You can learn from other players as you build your skills. Listen to recordings and go to concerts. After some study and experience you will understand the makings of a good jazz improvisation without having to think about it.
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