Published on May 23, 2012
Charlie is available for Online Trumpet & Jazz Improv. Lessons via Skype or in person if you are in the NYC area. Please visit:
Notes on How To Improvise:
Learning how to improvise can be an easy and systematic when approached in a way that is as natural as how we learned to speak.
We are all natural improvisers! We do it every day through our speech and our movement. We don't carry around scripts to have conversations with people...we IMPROVISE.
Learning to improvise musically is the same process. Before a baby learns how to talk, she or he hears and imitates the sounds they hear (wouldn't it be insane for a parent to hand their newborn a stack of English Grammar books and expect them to speak?). After that, through context, they learn what those sounds mean and assimilate that knowledge into their thought processes until they don't have to think about it anymore. The third step, after imitating the sounds and forming words and an understanding of them, is to combine them in constantly ever-changing ways and even changing the words themselves...or innovation.
These three steps: 1. Imitation, 2. Assimilation and 3. Innovation (given to me by the great Clark Terry) are the cornerstone of my own method for beginning improvisation.
First you learn a melody by ear on your instrument...by imitating it note for note. Start with a simple song, like a nursery song.
Then apply my three step method to the song:
1. Play rhythmic variations while not adding any new pitches
2. Add new pitches while keeping the Melody and its rhythm the same
3. Do not play the melody, but play a counter-melody while hearing the melody in your mind.
After first learning a melody through "imitation", these 3 steps will help you to "assimilate" the information of the song, since they require you to think more specifically about the rhythm and harmony. They will also help you start the process of "innovation", since you are adding elements to the melody that were not there and making it your own.
Hope this video helps! If you need further help, I am available for lessons in person and via skype, as well as for master classes in the New York area.
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