Jazz Noodling


The guy who lives directly below me plays, I believe, some form of saxophone. It might be the kind that looks like a clarinet, like Kenny G. plays. He often plays in the afternoon, generally as I'm trying to take a nap. This is annoying, but I really shouldn't complain; I practice my banjo in my room, though I close the windows and I don't believe he does, given how his noise carries. There's something odd, though, and maybe some saxophonist could clarify it for me. He does a lot of jazz noodling, just playing a lot of random notes. He noodles as well as anyone I've heard, though I don't really have much of an ear for it. It's not discordant, really, but there's no melody or anything. It flows, but it doesn't go anywhere. Then occasionally he practices scales and I'll be damned if I've ever heard him get through one without screaching and seriously screwing it up. I always understood improv to be one of the hardest musical skills out there, yet this guy seems to improv well but can't play scales. So saxophonists: Is this normal? Are scales that hard/is improvising that easy?

On a slightly related note, while cleaning up dishes I heard him blasting out "Everybody Hurts" and singing along. I really wish he would close his windows.


I only have two years of experience playing the alto sax, so I never really got to the freestyling part. We had to play the scales from G to high G every day, though. I don't remember it being particularly difficult, except that the guy one chair down from me would squeak every damn time he played high G.

He's probably working out riffs in different keys. It sickened me to find out that most 'great' jazz improv people are not making it up 100% on the spot, but rather stringing together riffs that they keep in their pocket. They may create (or steal) a 4 bar melody, then run it over and over to memorize it in every possible key, then pull it out while solo-ing. The improv that they do is how they string together the melodies, not creating them.

Of course, I can't be held blameless, during my short stint in college jazz band, when it came to me to solo, I'd often copy the main theme of the tune, but modify it - hold one note longer here, clip one shorter there, use an upper-neighboring tone as "trill" of sorts before landing on the note I aimed for in the first place. However, in discussions with other jazz musicians, that is precisely how you learn to solo. Get comfortable with one riff. Then expand out, get more and more removed from the main tune, and all of the sudden you have a few appropriate melodies in store for the appropriate style (samba, swing, be-bop, etc...)

/end music nerd comment

Huh. That's actually somewhat similar to what I've read about learning the banjo. I'm not nearly to the point of improvising yet, but apparently the key to great banjoing is memorizing a relatively small number of right hand rolls and left hand fingerings and just varrying them up and inserting melody notes to make songs.

That makes sense because you're playing the notes a hell of a lot faster than you can think about them (Earl Scruggs, the inventor of the bluegrass-style of Banjo playing, can play 14 notes per second) so you need to memorize finger sequences and just string them together.

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This page contains a single entry by Zach published on September 16, 2005 8:12 PM.

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