Two very important techniques for improvising that can be useful in building dynamic, structure, solo arc, contour and giving ‘breath’ to a solo are ‘SPACE’ and ‘PACING’.
Few students who work on improvising play with space as a big consideration. I think it’s because we get very ‘cerebral’ as jazzers, learning so much about harmony and rhythm that we forget to leave the space which makes a line or melodic idea beautiful in the first place. Space gives your playing effectiveness. It gives your phrases and lines more shape and it gives you time to listen to and consider, embellish or develop what you’ve already played.
Exaggerate playing with space in your next solo and see how it helps each idea come out more carefully formed, leave out large durations – whole bars or more and try and actually play rests! Try not to fill everything up with sonic information and do the classic over-playing ‘default’ that is indicative of so many players – space is just as valuable as notes.
Practice soloing with the thought that you have 10 choruses to blow over, not just two or three. This will urge you to underplay a bit and carefully consider the idea of PACING yourself – not just ripping off consecutive 8th notes till RSI kicks in. You will have to consider the idea of note quantity, note value, duration, and rhythmic dynamic – where you play, how much you play, and how often. This idea goes hand in hand with the concept of space and they can be easily practiced together.
1. Write out a small linear phrase (a ‘fragment’ or ‘germ’ of an idea) with harmonic relevance to the changes but don’t add to the line just yet – it’s better if the idea is simple. Use only two or three different notes, not too widely spaced. Then, let an entire bar go by (space / rest), then play another ‘rhythmically relative’ phrase in the following bar. Practice this technique over the whole tune or isolate a small part of the tune if the changes are tricky. This creates something akin to an inner dialogue – echoing the ‘call and response’ or ‘question and answer’ idea that is commonly used in improvising between two or more players when trading.
2. Write out an exact rhythmic phrase placed at different points in the bar – this is referred to as displacement. Just remember the line must be rhythmically and harmonically identical. Concentrate on spacing your ideas out too – don’t go so much for syncopations or continuous notes, think more along the lines of ‘how can I really SELL this idea’ and when practicing this concept, again, overplay / exaggerate it.
3. It’s not the what it’s the how! Take one single note on your instrument and play only that note (or the nearest relative common tone if the key centers are modulating) for the entire chorus. Focus on the rhythmic placement of this note and see if you can make it feel natural and melodic even with harmonically limited notes. Again apply the concept of ‘spacing’ to your phrases and leave rests even when you want to play more.
Remember – the key to practicing this is emphasizing the use of space. Don’t be afraid to exaggerate this idea when shedding, it is definitely a device that will manifest itself in your playing, just as scale practice or transcribing licks does.
Please leave thoughtful comments and questions below!~