Wrapping it Up
Over this past year we have been looking at using Major scales, and the intervals, arpeggios and chord theory related to them. We have also discussed motifs and chord superimposition and finally, how to put these concepts to work building lines. This month I would like to wrap up these basics in this area, and then next year, move on to some of the other types of scales, as well as other improvisational concepts.
The main thing to take away from all of this, is that all of the techniques and concepts you learn with regard to improvisation are nothing but tools. Too often, students confuse the tool with the job it is designed to do, resulting in musically and/or technically correct solos that lack any real "life". Work on all these things until you have mastered them, but understand how they sound and use them to play what you hear. Once you have practiced and played something enough times, it will become part of your musical vocabulary, and will come out naturally as you improvise, just as words come to you as you speak. That is why you have to practice these basics so much at first, but later, "forget them", and just play.
Other things to remember are to try not to put too much into your improv, or put things in just to make things sound more complicated. Appropriate use of any given concept is much more important than the quantity of ideas you pack into a given solo. Many players attempt to put too much into a solo in inappropriate places, and end up with a decidedly non-musical result. Think about the style you are playing and whether what you are trying to do fits in. Make sure you do not use something just to put it in, and that it sounds good where you use it. Record yourself when playing live, and then go back and listen to what you did. This can be a very helpful learning tool.
Another way to approach using what you have learned is to think of your solo as a story. When you tell a story, there should be some "plot development" to start the story. Too many players try to play too much too fast, and end up running out of steam before they ever get to the end of their solo. Use shorter ideas and phrases using the arpeggios for instance, to set up the chord progression and guide the listener into you solo. Think of how you talk; when you talk you have to take breaths as you speak. In a similar manner, let your lines breathe, not run on in endless strings of notes. Let the speed and complexity develop over time, just like the storyline in a novel builds. After bringing your solo to a high point, then let it unwind again. This is all not necessarily the same thing you will do every time, but merely some guidelines to get you started. Remember every situation is different so match what you do to your goals.
In the end, the only rule of music is, does it sound good? Each technique or concept you learn is just another color in your paint box. As long as you use them creatively and appropriately, your solos will continue to improve, and be interesting to the listener. Practice and learn your basics, the time spent doing this will pay off as time goes on and, you will be glad that you did. Have a great holiday season, and continued best wishes for your continued progress.