Louis Armstrong Jazz Improvisation

5 Ways to Improve Your Jazz Improvisation

One question that I regularly get from people is that they wonder what to do to improve their jazz improvisation.

They tell me that they are not satisfied with their way of improvising and that it does not sound like the recordings of their favorite jazz heroes.

No worries! Below you will find 5 ways to improve your jazz improvisation in no time.

# 1: Listening to jazz music

The most important way to improve your jazz improvisation is by listening to jazz music.

Sounds simple, right? Unfortunately, this is often overlooked by many people. However, they study their scales, standards from a realbook and play-alongs, but forget one thing: listen. A lack of this is often the reason that it does not work with the jazz improvisation.

Listening is essential to learning and understanding the basic concepts of the jazz language. It answers questions such as: What does swing mean? How does a blues sound? How do you articulate in jazz? What is a good sound? How do you build a jazzimprovision?

In addition, listening to jazz music makes us inspired and influenced by our favorite jazz musicians. You propably recognize the moment; after listening for a long time listening to music or after seeing a concert you suddenly get better. In fact, you play exactly the same as the musician you listened to! This miraculous absorption of sound, swing, articulation is due to the power of concentrated listening.

The beauty of all this is that you do not even need an instrument. By simply listening, you will notice that this will affect your jazz improvisation in different ways.

# 2: Transcribing

Another way to improve your jazz improvisation is by transcribing. On the basis of a recording you will find out how someone plays something in order to play it yourself or write it down.

Would you like to learn a jazz standard, steal a solo or some ‘lick’ of someone? Transcribing gives you the answer.

Of course, this process is not just about copying information. You can also combine what you learn with your own creativity. In this way you can build your own style with influences from other musicians.

Also read my article: Transcribing: What is it and why should you do it? In that I’m going to take a look at transcribing more extensively.

# 3: Practice, practice and practice again

Learning to play this music requires a lot of dedication. In order to achieve something you will have to spend a lot of time. This means that if you want to become a better player and improviser, you will have to practice, practice and practice again.

‘’You’ve got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail.’’

– Charlie Parker

When you go to your exercise room, you have the choice of studying. What are you going to practice today? How long will you practice? In addition, it’s important to know what’s relevant to you to get the most out of it.

Below are some points of interest for a successful (daily) workout.

Example of a practice schedule

  • Technique: Develop a good technique on your instrument. This is very important so that you are able to play anything whatever you want. You can practice technique by doing exercises like scales, arpeggio’s (broken chords), classical works and etudes. Of course, it is a good idea to use a metronome. By technique, not only is speed meant. Having a beautiful tone (pitch), loud and soft playing (dynamics) and exercises to play in tune are at least as important!
  • Jazz technique: work next to the traditional technique also on techniques and exercises from a jazz context. Think of practicing II-V-I patterns, voicings, articulation and rhythm. Pianists must often be able to play spontaneous intros and ends, be able to transpose to another key and accompany themselves with, for example, a walking bass. By using different jazz techniques in your improvisation, you can make it more interesting.
  • Repertoire: building a repertoire of jazz standards. Learning a jazz standard teaches you a lot about the jazz language and the history of jazz music. In addition, it helps you prepare well for a jam session; jazz standards are often played there.
  • Backing tracks: Practice your jazz improvisation by playing backing tracks. A well-known example of this are the backing tracks by Jamey Aebersold’s.
  • Listening: Get inspired and listen to the music you want to learn and understand.
  • Transcribe: Find out music by your ears and record or write it down.
  • Record yourself: To know how to sound and whether you’re making progress, it’s a good idea to make a sound recording or video recording of yourself. This can be done during a practice session, rehearsal or performance by using your phone.

# 4: Using Backing Tracks

A backing track – also called jam track or play-along – is a recorded musical accompaniment that you can use to improvise.

These are often played by great musicians. Very useful if there are no other musicians in the area to play together.

Using backing tracks allows you to practice your jazz improvisation and improvise on the chord progressions of a piece of music. In addition, they make a good preparation for performances and jam sessions.

A well-known example is are the backing tracks by Jamey Aebersold. This method is known as the most widely used improvisation method on the market.

A disadvantage of using backing tracks is that they are not always available in the correct key and pace. In this case, a program like iReal Pro may provide a result. This allows you to easily change items like chords, pace, size, and key. This program is available for computer (Mac), phone and tablet.

Backing tracks are all over on YouTube. You can of course always decide to make one yourself …

# 5: Tell a story in your jazz improvisation

Famous jazz musicians often talk about telling a story in a solo. That you as a musician must have something to say. What do they mean by this?

Telling a musical story simply means that a solo must have a logical structure. There is a beginning, middle and conclusion. It’s not so much about what you say, but how you say it. A way of playing that resonates with the heart and soul of the listener.

A famous example of this is the Coleman Hawkins saxophone solo from his 1939 Body and Soul recording. This way of soloing was revolutionary for this time. Hawkins really tells a story that speaks to the listener.

One of my personal favorites is the fantastic piano solo by Michel Petrucciani from his 1989 Looking Up recording. In his solo you can hear a clear story that immediately speaks to the heart.

Tell a story in your jazz improvisation and you’ll see people responding positively.

Also read my article: Why Storytelling is Important for Your Jazz Improvisation

Start today to improve your jazz improvisation!

Use these tips today, and you’ll see that you’ll improve jazz improvision in a short while.


What do you think of the tips above? Do you use them already or do you have a question?

I’m curious! In the comments below you can tell everything about it.

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