10 Ways To Improve Your Jazz Solos

Everyone who works hard on improvising jazz comes to a point that they hit wall. They feel that their practicing is not helping their soloing anymore. They don’t know what to practice anymore. They looking for inspiration but don’t know where else to look.

Well, here are 10 Things You Can Do To Improve Your Jazz Soloing:

  1. Listen to new music. – Listen to some music that you don’t or even wouldn’t normally listen to. You may want to first keep it in the same genre as jazz such as; you play hard bop, and you listen to some old swing recordings. Or vice versa. Or you’re maybe the type that will play mainstream jazz and listen to some hip hop or new classical. Hearing different melodies and compositional forms will give you some inspiration to try something new.
  2. Listen to other instruments. – If you’re saxophonist like me, you’ve mainly listened to other saxophonist in your lifetime. That’s all fine and good. The only downside of that is, you’ve probably wound up playing / sounding like a bunch of other saxophonists. To break away from that, listen to soloist of other non-related instruments. Miles Davis mentioned in his biography that he often listened to guitarists. David Sanborn not only listened to Hank Crawford coming up, but he also listened to Stevie Wonder‘s harmonica solos. Saxophonist Greg Osby told me in an interview that he used to transcribe piano solos! Note the uniqueness of just these three players!
  3. Learn a new tune. – Now, I’m pretty sure that we all have a bunch of tunes we plan to (or say we plan to) learn. Well, now’s the time to do it. Learning to play a new tune (preferably a hard tune, like “Lush Life”)will force you to look for new ideas as long as the chord changes aren’t too standard.
  4. Learn a favorite tune in an odd key. – Got a tune you love to play? Learn to play it in a key that probably no-one would play it in. It will expand your ears, force you to create new ideas, expand your technique, and your repertoire. We’ve all heard the stories about how Sonny Rollins often played “Rhythm Changes” in B Major. George Coleman was known to play “Cherokee” in all 12 keys!
  5. Take a lick from a solo and transform it. – This is also a technique that Greg Osby told me that he used after transcribing chose piano solos. He’d learn to play his favorite licks from the solo in every key, then transform that lick so often, that it had “virtually” nothing to do with the original lick anymore. Making it then, his own.
  6. Take a lick and transform it rhythmically. – This is something you can do in tandem with the previous technique. Change not only the notes, change the rhythms. Stretch it. Diminish it. Keep experimenting.
  7. Write an Improv Etude. – This is one of the main things I did during the time I studied with Steve Grossman and long afterwards. Take a tune. Write out the changes. Write a solo over it in all eighth notes. First one chorus, then two, or three. Practice it. Learn it. Transpose it to another key. Add another chorus in the new key. Practice it. Learn it. Transpose it again. Add another chorus. Etc.
    Writing a Improv Etude may not be easy but it is a game changer! I hope to offer an online course soon on how write them. Keep on the look out!
  8. Transcribe a solo. – This is one of the things that I didn’t and don’t do often, but it is a tried and true method of learning and getting new ideas. Although there are plenty of books on the market that are full of solos that someone else has already transcribed, bite the bullet and do it yourself. You’ll gain a lot more that just reading what someone else got the real benefit from (and your money too!).
  9. Improvise on an instrument you don’t play well. – This is an idea I learned from Professor Neal Slater who is now head of the Jazz Department at North Texas State University. He would teach jazz improvisation and bring his trombone to class. He said he had no chops and no technique on the instrument, but he was going to play a decent solo on it regardless. This technique will force you to concentrate on making melodies instead of relying on fast runs through scales and such (which saxophonists are really great at). I try to play a solo on the piano (where I definitely have no solo chops).
  10. Improvise freely over a chord. – These are one of the things I like doing. Without the constraint of tempo, bar length, etc. I let myself create freely on order to find out what comes out. I actually got a compositions this way.And Now for 2 Bonus Tips:
  11. Compose your own tunes!  – Often I teach improvisation to beginners by teaching them how to create their own basic blues tune. One musical idea and automatically get two tunes out of it. This gets the novice to learn to create and manipulate melodies and how it eventually crosses over into your spontaneous improvising. I hope to soon offer a course on the web on how to do that.
  12. Learn to play every new tune as a ballad. – This is something I learned from a jazz workshop I attended as a kid in New York hosted by Jamil Nasser and Harold Mabern. They even learned to play John Coltrane‘s “Giant Steps” very slow. Thinking is; playing fast is easy. You can repeat yourself without anyone noticing. You can also fake it! But when you play really slow, you really have to play something solid, it has to swing! Guaranteed, you’ll know the changes better than anybody else. ;-)Well, there you have it. Here are just 10 ideas. Maybe you have a few more?
    No more excuses!

Improv Etude over “Cherokee”

This is a challenging Bebop standard from Ray Noble. Any improvisor that wants to prove their worth must be able to play this standard, often at break-neck tempos.

This improv etude will force you to use the whole range of your instrument.

Go for it!

Start out slow and steady. Timing is everything! and above all have fun with it!

For Eb, Bb and C instruments

Go get it on my Patreon Page!

Chasin’ The Trane – Part 3 Bonus!

Here’s another way one can work with “Coltrane Changes”.

The dominant chord is one of the most flexible chords one can deal with. If you checked out the post “Playing over a Dom. 7th Chord”, you know what I mean.

In the attached PDF I have a handful of exercises on “Coltrane Changes” where every dominant 7th chord is altered (b9, #9). The exercises/patterns are more linear than vertical. Check them out!

As a bonus, I’ve included “Improv Etudes” for Alto and Tenor Saxes as an example of how you can integrate some of the techniques.

More info on Patreon!

Chasin’ The ‘Trane – Part 2 on Patreon!

This month I’ve got a whole 16-page PDF for you!

For those of you that are familiar with John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” and his other tunes based on similar harmonies, here I have an option you can try out in order to flavor up your solos by using some “alternate changes” over the Giant Steps pattern.

In these exercises, the Dominant chords are substituted by their related minor chord.

For example:

The original changes:

BMaj7 D7 GMaj7 Bb7 EbMaj7 F#7 BMaj7

The “alternate” changes:

BMaj7 Am7 GMaj7 Fm7 EbMaj7 C#m7 BMaj7

You’ll notice that the root of the chords move in whole-tone steps downwards.

Practice a few of the patterns in the booklet and try them over a slower version of a Giant Steps play-along.

Play-alongs for Giant Steps in various tempi you’ll find at PlayJazzNow.com .

Have fun!

Go to the original article and PDF on Patreon!

Playing over a Dominant 7th Chord

Hello Patrons!

With this article / sound file / pdfs, I’d like to discuss and demonstrate some of the thinking and techniques I use when I’m faced with having to solo over a dominant 7th chord for an extended solo.

In college, we often called the dominant 7th chord the “dumb chord”. Why? Frankly, it’s easier to play an interesting solo when you have a few chord changes instead of just one. You just have to get through the changes and your melodies (almost) create themselves.But this is exactly the challenge with a single chord.

How do you be creative with such a limited harmonic structure?

Well, that is exactly what we need to realize. The chord does not have a limited harmonic structure. It is actually ourselves that may have a limited harmonic understanding of the chord at hand.

Sure, pianist and guitarist have the luxury of playing an extension of the chord or another chord completely in order to support the melodic line they are playing. We single-note players will have to be clearer about what harmonic structure we are spelling out in our improvisations.

First of all, as I just said, dominant 7th chords are not limited. Depending on the genre you’re improvising in, the mood of the music, your harmonic understanding, etc. will determine how much room you have harmonically in order to create an interesting solo.

On dom. 7th chords you can use a Blues scale, a Diminished scale, a whole-tone scale, various Pentatonic scales, Diminished-Whole Tone scale or you can treat is a dom.7th sus4 chord.

One of the things I like to do is to create “implied chord progressions” to the chord. What I mean here is that I may create another set of changes to play over that dominant 7th chord.

The fact is: as long as your melodic lines follow logic harmonically, and resolves properly, you can play whatever you want! That is the real “secret” to “out” playing.

The audio example I chose is from a recording I did many years ago with a band. The tune was called “Middleman”, composed by saxophonist Michael Green. A link to the recording is provided at the end of this post.

The band played a type of odd-meter avant-garde funk, “M-Base” type of thing. I transcribed the beginning of my solo in order to display a little of my approach to playing over a single “F7” chord.

The solo is transcribed in 4/4 meter although it may not sound like that. In truth, the drummer and bassist are really playing a figure alternating between 9/8 and 7/8, while the guitarist is playing an overlapping figure in 6/4. Sounds complicated but the effect was interesting and provided for some great adventures.

I’ve made some notes of the chord changes I was kind of thinking of as I often experimented with it. The transcription is provided in Eb Alto and Bb tenor.


Check out the full, original recording at getyourmusic.com


Go to Patreon to get the Audio file and PDF!