Hear the music before you play it
You can learn all the great licks, all the fancy notes in every chord and play faster and higher than a supersonic stealth bomber and still sound like crap when you play an improvised solo. The most important factor as an improviser is the ability to hear what you want to play – before you play it!
Have you ever heard the computer program Band In A Box play an improvised solo over a chord progression you typed in? The program sort of does everything right, both rhythmical and melodically, but it still sounds terrible.
And what about a B.B. King solo? No fancy rhythm and just blues scale up and down most of the time… And it sounds amazing!
You get my point? Computer versus man. Theory versus hands on. Thinking versus feeling.
Do that mean that you don´t have to learn the theory, get great chops and play fast as lightning? No, you should work on your scales, arpeggios, chord progressions and music theory but if you don´t make sure that your ears can keep up with what you play your solos will not sound very good.
- Pick a scale that you are familiar with, for example F major. Now play the note F so that you have a reference point.
- Sing a simple melody of 2-4 tones from the scale while moving the trombone slide accordingly.
- Play the same melody on the trombone with the same positions as when you sang.
- Repeat the exercise and gradually involve notes outside the scale.
Look at exercise 1-5 for examples
Did it match? Make sure that you keep it simple enough so that you can sing it in tune and with the correct slide positions, and increase the difficulty gradually. I have done this a lot, and now my slide hand starts moving as soon as I sing a melody, with or without the trombone. I have even experienced that using the wrong slide position actually made me sing the wrong note, found on that position!
- Ready to move on a little?
- Try the same exercise with a pentatonic scale and a blues scale. (example 6-7)
- Try singing simple phrases over a II-V-I progression (example 7-8)
I know the title to this post might be a bit over the top, but I truly believe that this is important and I hope that you find it useful. Have fun and be great!
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