How exactly is jazz ‘improvised?’

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I understand that often times jazz is improvised, but how, exactly? For instance, who leads? Is it always the same person/instrument leading?

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27 Answers

Anonymous 0 Comments

You usually build on top of each other. One instrument would play something like a drum line for example. Then maybe the bassist starts playing something on beat with that drum line. The maybe the guitarist says okay bassist is in this key, let me build a riff in that same key to this same beat.

A lot of times you have a basic kind of background happening and instruments jump in 1 at a time with an improvised solo. If suddenly a saxophone is blaring some crazy solo, the other instruments will back off so they can do their thing.

So no it’s not always the same person leading

Anonymous 0 Comments

You usually build on top of each other. One instrument would play something like a drum line for example. Then maybe the bassist starts playing something on beat with that drum line. The maybe the guitarist says okay bassist is in this key, let me build a riff in that same key to this same beat.

A lot of times you have a basic kind of background happening and instruments jump in 1 at a time with an improvised solo. If suddenly a saxophone is blaring some crazy solo, the other instruments will back off so they can do their thing.

So no it’s not always the same person leading

Anonymous 0 Comments

**Usually** (like on studio albums) they are playing a song that they all know, and most of the improvisation is trading solos.

***BUT***

A group of good musicians can also just “jam,” making up a new song as they go. I suspect this is the kind of improvisation you’re really wondering about.

It’s like that game kids play where everyone takes turns contributing a single word to a story. EXCEPT kids are usually trying to be funny or shocking. In other words, they are intentionally NOT trying to make a good story. Imagine playing that game, but everyone is *really* trying to be collaborative.

All of the musicians “speak the same language”. They know what *kind* of story they’re telling. They all listen to each other intently. They can “feel” what musical phrases or key changes would naturally come next.

The part I’m having the most trouble analogizing is how they trade off leading. They are NOT just going around a circle taking turns. They all allow each other room to lead. And each member will stop leading when someone else wants to take the lead. I think the actual signal is a combination of body language and a subtle change in the way you are playing your instrument. But it’s something that experienced musicians can pick up on. So I guess it’s just another part of that language.

Anonymous 0 Comments

You usually build on top of each other. One instrument would play something like a drum line for example. Then maybe the bassist starts playing something on beat with that drum line. The maybe the guitarist says okay bassist is in this key, let me build a riff in that same key to this same beat.

A lot of times you have a basic kind of background happening and instruments jump in 1 at a time with an improvised solo. If suddenly a saxophone is blaring some crazy solo, the other instruments will back off so they can do their thing.

So no it’s not always the same person leading

Anonymous 0 Comments

The secret to improvising is very often to structure it.

Here’s a very standard way of doing it in jazz:

* You’re playing a particular song in a particular key.
* You start off playing through the song, or maybe a verse or two. You may have a certain amount of adlibbing, but everyone will usually stick more or less to the song.
* Then you’ll have solos. You’ll agree the order of soloists in advance. You might agree how long each soloist will play, or maybe they’ll just signal when they’re done.
* Each soloist will play over the chord scheme of the song. So if you’re playing Summertime, the solos won’t play the melody, but everybody else will play the same chord structure, meaning the soloist has a particular backing.
* When the solos are done, you’ll play through (a verse of) the song again, then finish in an appropriately climactic manner.

Of course, the more experienced the musicians, the more they can improvise. Often, you’ll hear whoever is playing the melody improvising over the melody, not playing exactly the way the song is written. And the backing players will also improvise, adapting to each other and the melody/soloist. Maybe a solo will turn into what’s known as call and response, where one player will play a line, then someone (maybe the whole band) will respond with either the same line or one that resolves or responds to the first line.

When playing a solo, you’ll play tones that conform to the chord that’s played at the moment – though that can be more tones than you’d think. Very often, players will use something called “licks”, which is just little bits of melody that can be strung together into an improvised melody. You might also quote the main theme of the song, or you might quote other songs.

As you get better, you might abandon the main song altogether. Some groups do songs that are all impro. One variant of this is twelve-tone jazz, where the musicians aren’t restrained by conventional tonality.

In short: Most players don’t just rock up and start improvising. That takes a whole lot of skill. Instead, the group will agree what they’re doing, setting up a framework within which they can improvise.

Anonymous 0 Comments

**Usually** (like on studio albums) they are playing a song that they all know, and most of the improvisation is trading solos.

***BUT***

A group of good musicians can also just “jam,” making up a new song as they go. I suspect this is the kind of improvisation you’re really wondering about.

It’s like that game kids play where everyone takes turns contributing a single word to a story. EXCEPT kids are usually trying to be funny or shocking. In other words, they are intentionally NOT trying to make a good story. Imagine playing that game, but everyone is *really* trying to be collaborative.

All of the musicians “speak the same language”. They know what *kind* of story they’re telling. They all listen to each other intently. They can “feel” what musical phrases or key changes would naturally come next.

The part I’m having the most trouble analogizing is how they trade off leading. They are NOT just going around a circle taking turns. They all allow each other room to lead. And each member will stop leading when someone else wants to take the lead. I think the actual signal is a combination of body language and a subtle change in the way you are playing your instrument. But it’s something that experienced musicians can pick up on. So I guess it’s just another part of that language.

Anonymous 0 Comments

**Usually** (like on studio albums) they are playing a song that they all know, and most of the improvisation is trading solos.

***BUT***

A group of good musicians can also just “jam,” making up a new song as they go. I suspect this is the kind of improvisation you’re really wondering about.

It’s like that game kids play where everyone takes turns contributing a single word to a story. EXCEPT kids are usually trying to be funny or shocking. In other words, they are intentionally NOT trying to make a good story. Imagine playing that game, but everyone is *really* trying to be collaborative.

All of the musicians “speak the same language”. They know what *kind* of story they’re telling. They all listen to each other intently. They can “feel” what musical phrases or key changes would naturally come next.

The part I’m having the most trouble analogizing is how they trade off leading. They are NOT just going around a circle taking turns. They all allow each other room to lead. And each member will stop leading when someone else wants to take the lead. I think the actual signal is a combination of body language and a subtle change in the way you are playing your instrument. But it’s something that experienced musicians can pick up on. So I guess it’s just another part of that language.

Anonymous 0 Comments

The secret to improvising is very often to structure it.

Here’s a very standard way of doing it in jazz:

* You’re playing a particular song in a particular key.
* You start off playing through the song, or maybe a verse or two. You may have a certain amount of adlibbing, but everyone will usually stick more or less to the song.
* Then you’ll have solos. You’ll agree the order of soloists in advance. You might agree how long each soloist will play, or maybe they’ll just signal when they’re done.
* Each soloist will play over the chord scheme of the song. So if you’re playing Summertime, the solos won’t play the melody, but everybody else will play the same chord structure, meaning the soloist has a particular backing.
* When the solos are done, you’ll play through (a verse of) the song again, then finish in an appropriately climactic manner.

Of course, the more experienced the musicians, the more they can improvise. Often, you’ll hear whoever is playing the melody improvising over the melody, not playing exactly the way the song is written. And the backing players will also improvise, adapting to each other and the melody/soloist. Maybe a solo will turn into what’s known as call and response, where one player will play a line, then someone (maybe the whole band) will respond with either the same line or one that resolves or responds to the first line.

When playing a solo, you’ll play tones that conform to the chord that’s played at the moment – though that can be more tones than you’d think. Very often, players will use something called “licks”, which is just little bits of melody that can be strung together into an improvised melody. You might also quote the main theme of the song, or you might quote other songs.

As you get better, you might abandon the main song altogether. Some groups do songs that are all impro. One variant of this is twelve-tone jazz, where the musicians aren’t restrained by conventional tonality.

In short: Most players don’t just rock up and start improvising. That takes a whole lot of skill. Instead, the group will agree what they’re doing, setting up a framework within which they can improvise.

Anonymous 0 Comments

The secret to improvising is very often to structure it.

Here’s a very standard way of doing it in jazz:

* You’re playing a particular song in a particular key.
* You start off playing through the song, or maybe a verse or two. You may have a certain amount of adlibbing, but everyone will usually stick more or less to the song.
* Then you’ll have solos. You’ll agree the order of soloists in advance. You might agree how long each soloist will play, or maybe they’ll just signal when they’re done.
* Each soloist will play over the chord scheme of the song. So if you’re playing Summertime, the solos won’t play the melody, but everybody else will play the same chord structure, meaning the soloist has a particular backing.
* When the solos are done, you’ll play through (a verse of) the song again, then finish in an appropriately climactic manner.

Of course, the more experienced the musicians, the more they can improvise. Often, you’ll hear whoever is playing the melody improvising over the melody, not playing exactly the way the song is written. And the backing players will also improvise, adapting to each other and the melody/soloist. Maybe a solo will turn into what’s known as call and response, where one player will play a line, then someone (maybe the whole band) will respond with either the same line or one that resolves or responds to the first line.

When playing a solo, you’ll play tones that conform to the chord that’s played at the moment – though that can be more tones than you’d think. Very often, players will use something called “licks”, which is just little bits of melody that can be strung together into an improvised melody. You might also quote the main theme of the song, or you might quote other songs.

As you get better, you might abandon the main song altogether. Some groups do songs that are all impro. One variant of this is twelve-tone jazz, where the musicians aren’t restrained by conventional tonality.

In short: Most players don’t just rock up and start improvising. That takes a whole lot of skill. Instead, the group will agree what they’re doing, setting up a framework within which they can improvise.

Anonymous 0 Comments

It depends a bit on the style of jazz. Big bands will have complete arrangements, but the arrangement will have a section or two designated for a solo.

In a small combo it’s a bit different. This could be just a piano, bass and drums, or there could also be a trumpet or sax player, or both.

Bands like that work off of lead sheets. It will have the melody of the song written out, with the chords that are to be played. They’ll play the melody together, sometimes called the “head”, then everyone will take turns soloing over the whole song. The bassist will improvise a walking bass line, and the pianist will improvise the accompaniment based on the chords of the song.

As far as an actual solo goes, there are many approaches. You can base a solo on the chord tones, or you can use scales or modes that fit with the chords of the song. Different styles and periods of jazz have focused more on different approaches.