keeping place in the changes while soloing

  • i'm having a lot of trouble keeping my place in the changes when soloing.  the problem seems to arise as i focus on the soloing melody, and not the chord stucture and then get lost.  this then means i am lost in the changes and do not know when to come back in, or when to stop the solo.  does anybody have any advice for this matter?    

    thanks jonny

    by Jonny on 02/20/2006, 05:34:05 # 24431

  • jonny, this means you don't know the song well enough.

    you have to own the tune.  play it over and over and over and over again when practicing until you can play it while eating a hamburger.

    also, learn it in 12 keys. as you learn a song in 12 keys your mind starts creating connections between the chords because as you go through the keys, you are searching for ways to make the process easier.  so after 12 keys, i guarantee you'll know that song well enough to solo over it while having a conversation.

    during practice set your metronome at a slow tempo and play scales over the chord changes, also. do it until you don't mess up the changes, then try doing really slow solos over the changes. if you get lost, then work on that area until you have it down then move on.

    there's no shortcut- you have to practice and immerse yourself in the tune you want to know.  as time goes on this will become much much easier because the standards have a lot of similarities that helps learning tunes.

    another thing is you gotta have time.  if you get lost as far as the chord changes go, at least you know where you are in the tune. the first 4 measures, the 2nd 4 measures?  you gotta know this in your blood, in your stomach, feel the time like it's your own heart.

    the way i figured that out is by carrying around a metronome. i would turn it on for a while at some random tempo, then turn it off for a while and try to keep time, then turn it back on again to see where i'm at.

    another thing that helped me "get time" is that for three months i played piano with another piano player every night almost.  we would play standards, change keys, and i don't know why, but after that my time was rock solid and hasn't wavered since.

    by Scot Ranney on 02/20/2006, 12:14:51

  • many thanks for your advice scott, you've hit the nail on the head.  i will try all these practice ideas.  your definatly right, there is no short cut, this is gonna take a long time.

    by Jonny on 02/20/2006, 15:49:52

  • then there is the other skill that i rely on a lot and that is being able to keep my place while soloing with a chart that i am reading and have not memorized.

    by Jazz+ on 02/20/2006, 16:13:55

  • the similarities in standards are the focus of a book by marc sabatella.  he basically goes through different types of substutions and chord progressions that one is likely to run into all the time.  i've started going through it but haven't found time to get into it enough to give a fair evaluation.

    by anacephalic on 02/21/2006, 17:42:07

  • yeah, knowing them there ii v is comes in handy!

    by Jazz+ on 02/22/2006, 03:29:48

  • thank you scot for that great advice on how to keep and know  
    where a tune is going.  i am going to keep reading what you have
    written, and make this a step by step process.  it is quite like
    learning a language; we don't question the parts of speech, we just
    know them as a total part of ourselves.  

    this advice definitely makes me take a look at my play/practice
    habits.....sticking with one tune until i can make this internal
    connection is imperative.  i am going in search of another piano
    player and see if my timing moves from "shaky to solid".......

    thanks again,


    by MRuth on 02/22/2006, 09:28:06

  • scott gives great advice, learn one tune inside and out. autumn leaves is a great one to internalize. but also practice the skill of keeping your place in tunes that you don't know the changes to very well. bebop players that workded with charlie pareker said he sometimes did not realy know the particular chords to some of the tunes he was playing. but it didn't really matter because his rhythmic concept, melodic ability, and sense of basic form was so strong that he could play over just about anything.

    by Jazz+ on 02/22/2006, 12:52:44

  • for pianist the left hand help be an anchor to the changes and it can also be a distractiuon. it's a dual edged sword.

    by Jazz+ on 02/22/2006, 12:54:11

  • i think bill evans new the tunes in great detail. it was parker i heard rumor of that he didn't know all the chanhes sometimes but was so great that he good fly like an eagle over any backdrop.  if you read the stories about parker's personal life it is not suprising that he may not have known the exact changes to what he was riffing on.

    by Jazz+ on 03/03/2006, 22:55:18

  • dizzy once said something to the effect of, "i may not play all the right notes, but i play in all the right places."  meaning that it's how you play the notes, the rhythms and phrasing, that really makes that kind of be-bop improvising what it is.  that's true for a lot of jazz. you can't play garbage, and i hope everyone tries to be deliberate in their playing (choose notes to play with your brain, not your fingers), but sometimes if the notes aren't coming, getting out of a harmonic jam with good rhythm or a good rhythmic idea can work wonders.

    by Scot Ranney on 03/04/2006, 01:00:02

  • <dizzy once said something to the effect of, "i may not play all the right notes, but i play in all the right places.">

    this is so true. this is why i started spending so much time studying phrasing because a bunch of same length notes sound awfully boring.

    in any case, jonny, your problem is probably true not for any particular tune but for all tunes. so it may be an issue of lh independence. so i would just play the chord changes for hours and hours on end while you are watching tv, reading a book, whatever to get the lh on automatic. then do simple patterns on the rh and make them more and more complex, while making sure you never lose your place in the left hand. eventually the two hands will break apart and you can improvise with ease while still remembering the chord changes on the left.

    another thing that helps is the know all the 2-5-1 chords for all keys (in both lh and rh). this is because part of the "losing track" is that you may be thinking about the chord placement/voicing.

    anyway just my 2 cents.

    by rc on 03/04/2006, 03:05:30

  • well, sometimes i get so engrossed with where the melody is going and where i want to take it that i too realize "oops, i'm off the trail into the woods, but...what a wonderful woods it is". the left hand is then "thinned out" as i recatch myself.

    by SolArt on 03/04/2006, 14:51:48

  • when i used to have this problem....actually i still do sometimes...
    i was performing with a bass player who knew my abilities quite well.
    i was talking to him about it.  he knew i was a pretty solid blues player at the time, but lost my place on jazz tunes frequently.  he said to me... you know i notice you dont lose your place in the blues.  "problem is you gotta make every tune like the blues is for you or it just dont make it"   thats for the rule for ever since ... if i cant play a tune as easily as i can play a blues i dont really have that tune yet.  in reality i perform a lot of tunes before i really quite have them ready, but if you make it your goal to have them as good as you can play a standard 12 bar blues you set a pretty good standard to live by.

    by Mike on 03/04/2006, 18:14:04

  • well a lot of typos there but i think you can get the point right?

    by Mike on 03/04/2006, 18:15:12

  • yup, and it's a good point.

    i used to have that problem with rhythm changes.  i could play great over blues, but then rhythm changes would give me problems. then i practiced them for months and then they were as easy as the blues.  certain tunes i play a lot are very easy to jam on, new tunes or ones i don't know well, are not as easy to jam on.

    guess what the lesson here is?

    you gotta practice what you want to know well.

    by Scot Ranney on 03/04/2006, 19:15:16

  • it is indeed a good point, but man, still some of those melodies appearing "out of the blue" can overpower all else! nothing seems to beat a sweet melody. changes are changes, but song is supreme! you can always catch the changes, but you cannot catch a melody created on the fly. if i had to choose a gift, i would chose melody.  

    "one can always find harmonizations, but a melody can be elusive to 'find'".

    by SolArt on 03/05/2006, 07:00:43

  • well i know i will be guilty of beating up a point here but...
    i have played lots of blues with mediocre melodies and not come close to loosing the form while soloing.  also i have taken countles horrible solos on blues changes completely void of anything even vaguely resembleing melody without loosing the form.  so  i maintain if you know a tunes changes as well as you know the blues melody does not necessarily have to be there to keep the form.

    by Mike on 03/05/2006, 22:33:05

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