Steve Treseler Music

Jazz Improvisation Workshop: Resources

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.

Workshop at Madrona K-8

Workshop at Madrona K-8

Four Entry Points for Jazz Improvisation

1. Play by Ear

Jazz is an aural tradition, so it’s important to get off the page and develop a connection between your ears and your instrument. The first step is to figure out familiar songs by ear through trial and error. This is the gateway to transcription, improvisation, and composition.

Articles from my blog:

“Getting off the Page: Play Music by Ear in 5 Steps”

“Playing Changes Part 1: Thinking in Scale Degrees”

Beginning Jazz Transcription: 4-Bar Riff Blues Tunes

“C Jam Blues” by Duke Ellington
“Night Train” by Jimmy Forrest
“Centerpiece” by Harry Sweets Edison
“Bags Groove” by Milt Jackson
“That’s What I’m Talkin’ ‘Bout” by Shorty Rogers
“Blue Ammons” by Gene Ammons
“Splanky” by Neal Hefti, as played by Count Basie
“Sonnymoon for Two” by Sonny Rollins

Major Blues Scale: 1, 2, b3, 3, 5, 6, 8
Minor Blues Scale: 1, b3, 4, #4, 5, b7, 8

2. Rhythm

Rhythm is way more important than “right notes” (video demonstration). Here are a few ways to practice and internalize rhythm:

3. Call and Response

“5 Types of Call and Response Phrases”

4. Variations on a Theme

Once you have a mastered a melody, feel free to change it. Change the rhythm, add, omit, or change the pitches.

“How to Improvise Variations on a Theme”


The creative process is messy. Experiment, follow your ears, collaborate with your friends, take risks, and let yourself fail. It’s all part of the process.

Once you have built a strong foundation and are interested in playing chord changes, check out my book, The Living Jazz Tradition: A Creative Guide to Improvisation and Harmony.

If you have any questions, feel free to email me at email hidden; JavaScript is required

– ST


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Photo credits: Jim Levitt (Main Page) | Daniel Sheehan (Blog)