The late, great trumpeter Clark Terry (a featured soloist in both the Basie and Ellington bands) said the most important elements of a jazz solo are:
Technique and theory are important, but they are not prerequisites for improvisation.
Courtesy of Flickr/GigNRoll.com
Many world class musicians learn to play music before learning about abstract theoretical concepts. This is a sound before symbol approach. One of my favorite jazz musicians, tenor saxophonist Rich Perry, learned to play by jamming a long with Beatles records.
Put away all of your sheet music and simply play melodies. Figure out songs you know, play along with recordings you like, experiment, and explore.
My post, Getting off the Page: Play Music By Ear in 5 Steps will guide you through the process of learning music without notation.
We all can strive to develop a deep connection between our ears, voice, instrument, and mind.
The most important elements of jazz are groove, time, rhythm, and swing! Having a great time-feel is by far more important than playing the “right notes” (see my demonstration here). In my experience, a rhythm-first approach to teaching jazz is the most effective and engaging.
Once you have a mastered a melody, feel free to change it. Change the rhythm, add notes, omit notes, change the notes. Tin Pan Alley composers like George Gershwin, Jerome Kern and Cole Porter typically wrote simple rhythms in their songs because they expected performers to freely interpret the written melodies. Read more and listen to examples in my post, How to Improvise Variations on a Theme.
Experiment, explore, follow your ears, follow your intuition, groove, collaborate with friends, take risks, let yourself fail. It’s all part of the process.
I will share a powerful fourth entry point later this week: The Power of Limits.
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