A five week course on Improvisation (on the ukulele) for skilled players
Time: Wednesdays – 7:30 – 9pm
Dates: 14, 21, 28th October; 4th & 11th Nov
Meeting number 880 2345 2574
This course will give you opportunities to improvise in class. Some of this can be live (ish), most will be in your own privacy bubble, but we also ask that you submit homework each week. To get the best sound in Zoom, please select Original Sound. This document tells you how to do this – Optimising Zoom for Musicians
Join the Facebook Group (click here) to submit ‘homework’ and to participate in conversations about improvisation. We ask you to submit an improvisation on a song each week for comments by your peers.
Assumed Knowledge (what you should know already)
- the pentatonic scales
- use the circle of fifths (roughly)
- the blues scales
- notes in the home position of the ukulele
- some music theory
- some chord shapes up the neck
- read either tab or music notation
Repertoire for every week (please print these out and have them ready every week)
Chromatic scale (all the notes on the fretboard)
We have provided you with online material that contains video of us playing songs that you can improvise along to. Please use this site to practice and refine your improvising each week. Available soon.
Week One: Rhythm, Articulation and Phrasing
with help from the blues scale.
Explore the impact of good phrasing using limited notes.
We will look at classic swing/jazz phrases, call and answer riffs, the blues AAB vocal form and adding notes to the blues scale.
The endless options in soloing can be daunting so it’s a good idea to set some rhythm boundaries so you can make good use of your notes.
Exercise – use 3 notes from the blues scale. If you can create great rhythmic phrases, the notes are a bonus.
- Classic Swing/Jazz phrases. (discuss syncopation – mixing 1/4 and 1/8th notes. do call and answer exercise – play short phrase on bars 1,3,5, 7,9, 11 and improvise fill on even number bars or learn C Jam Blues and fill gaps between melody.
- Same rhythm different notes- use the rhythm of Sunny Moon for 2 but play different notes.
- Blues Vocal from AAB (demonstrate with Can’t Buy Me Love). That means you repeat the same first phrase twice (A) and then play a different phrase (B) on the third time.
For soloing over a Blues try copying a typical 12 bar vocal form.
- 1st 4 Bars – Play a phrase or short phrases that fit into 4 bars
- 2nd 4 Bars – Repeat the same phrase
- Last 4 bars – Something different and resolving
4. Where Blues meet Jazz – adding non Blues scale notes. Combine the Major and minor (Blues) pentatonic learn/play T-bone shuffle.
REPERTOIRE FOR WEEK ONE
And here is Sam playing all three tunes to a backing track!
1 Riff Tunes -
C Jam blues ( 2 notes only!)
Caledonia ( Blues and Diatonic Notes)
Strolling with bones ( Blues and 1 Diatonic Note)
T-Bone shuffle ( Blues and Diatonic Notes)
Things Ain’t What They Used To Be ( Blues and Diatonic Notes)
The Blues Walk
Homework 1: pick one of the new songs and using the backing track (C swing blues) provided play the melody of the song, then do a solo for the next two rounds of the song, then end it with a run of the melody. Post the results on facebook.
1st time melody
2nd time solo
3rd time solo
4th time melody
Homework 2: change your rhythm and make a solo on a blues song with just 3 notes. (Don’t post this to facebook). Remember to use hammers and pull offs!
Review of Sam’s Rhythm drill
print the above pdf and play along with Sam
Video of the Week One
Week Two: Steal from the Melody
Melody is the foundation of a good solo. Using the melody as a base for a solo is one of the best devices (you steal from the melody). Tunes are the ingredients for your solo playing.
Explore ways of adding notes and chords to the melodies of Caledonia, Autumn Leaves, Sway and Mack The Knife.
Also let’s revisit the great Jump Jive style melody “Caledonia” by Louis Jordan as it sits in the gap between jazz and blues. Let’s also revisit T Bone shuffle.
Transcribing and analyzing more complex (swing, bebop tunes) melodies is a great way of adding to your bank of soloing ideas. They give you an idea of what notes work over chords and the phrases are often stealable!
Words of wisdom from Sam
Sometimes all you have to do for a great solo is embellish the melody! Learn it the melody well and then try some of these ideas:
Keep the exact shape but change the notes
Add chords to notes melody (that suit)
Add notes within a melody phrase but keep the important melody notes - turn crotchets into quartet notes
Add notes the beginning or end of a phrase.
Add a chords or phrase in gaps of the melody
Try a complimentary shape.
The more melodies you learn, the more you’ll have in your improv tank!
REPERTOIRE FOR WEEK TWO
Sway Backing track with a few extra bars after each B section
Mack the Knife pdf page two is for your interest – You are not expected to play those chords!
Mack the Knife mp3 backing track for you to play over
Here is Sam showing us how to do it!
and if you want to see the version Sonny Rollins’ plays here it is in notation!
Video of the Week Two
Pick one of these three songs (Sway, Mack the Knife or Autumn Leaves) to improvise on. Use one of the backing tracks provided. Then put it on the facebook page.
We will play each song again next week so please make sure you know the tunes well enough to play.
Week Three: Using chords up the neck (CAGFD) for your solo
Learn some tricks for each shape, learn the chords, the progressions, and the inversions, to allow you to arpeggiate a solo. Find the sympathetic notes and harmony notes. Use a bit of campanella in your solo.
You need to get your ears to tell where your fingers should go; calibration between fingers and ear. So you can hear when you need to move a tone (two frets) or semitone (one fret).
Use chords up the neck (melody on then high string) and use the harmony notes to support the melody note.
3 note chord practice with chords this time
Diminished scale – how to use them (where ever you have a V chord going back to the I chord you can use the diminished scale).
Review Mack the Knife pdf
Video of the Week Three
To be uploaded
Play any of the above tunes but incorporate chords up the neck (closed position chords) into your solo.
Week Four: Scale Tone Chords (the chords that are built off the scale)
We are taking our progress another step further and adding sympathetic chords into our melodies. Try playing Fly Me To The Moon but adding in extra chords to enrich the melody.
Video of the Week Four
To be uploaded
Week Five: Minor key Songs: other scales to use
- Aeolian or natural minor
- Harmonic minor scale
- Improvising on modal songs (Dorian)
1. Songs in a minor key
There are many minor scales to chose from but we will focus on just two; the Aeolian, and the harmonic minor. These can be used to give more colour than just the pentatonic minor.
Many minor songs change between the minor key and its relative major key eg Am and C, Dm and F. The verse might be a minor key and the bridge or refrain lifts to the major key eg Sway or vice verse Autumn Leaves
“Bi Mier Bist Du Schoen”
2. Songs in Dorian mode
Some songs use a different scale or mode called the Dorian mode. The scale contains a b3 and a b7 so it sounds very minorish! But the easy way to think about it is that the parent scale is one tone down from the key so;
D Dorian = C major scale
E Dorian = D major scale
F Dorian = D# or Eb major scale
G Dorian = F major scale
A Dorian = G major scale
B Dorian = A major scale
C Dorian = Bb major scale
Please record yourself doing an improvisation on a Minor key song (of your choice) and submit it to the facebook group where people will give you some constructive feedback.