Improvised Soloing: The Overall Goal

There are a lot of important technical details involved in creating an improvised solo --- chord progressions and melodic creation to name just two. But you can be a good improviser without consciously mastering these details if you do enough listening and imitation.

Whether you are crafting improvised solos with attention to the details or working intuitively from what you hear in the supporting chords and rhythm, it will help if you create your music in light of an overall goal. This goal can help you make tradeoffs among the many paths your improvisation can take, and it can help you evaluate and improve your playing.*

The overall goal of improvising is
to communicate with the listener.

This is no different from the goal of the entire musical performance. What you communicate ranges from emotions (joy, sorrow, love) to memories (playing in a familar style, quoting another song) to abstract ideas (freedom, enthusiasm, power).

Here are ways to achieve this:

Play for your listeners.

How you communicate musically depends a lot on your audience. An audience of experienced musicians listening in a club or concert setting can absorb and appreciate more complex musical ideas than a typical Central Park audience confronted with geese, children, popcorn vendors, and other distractions.

Bring the music to the audience.

A strong musical personality or individualistic style are only positive elements if they help you communicate. Make your music reach the listener's emotions and intellect, through well-understood techniques of phrasing and other musical elements, rather than forcing the listener into your psyche.

Let your technique serve the music.

There's plenty of room for flashy technique in some music, but a flurry of notes beyond the comprehension of the listener results in miscommunication, just as playing the wrong chords or phrasing in an inappropriate style.

Help the audience focus on your musical message.

Posture, movement, dress, and other visual cues all help communicate the music. If planned and executed well, movements can increase the audience's appreciation of your solo, but unnecessary or inappropriate movements can distract the audience.

Topics in Improvisation
The Big Picture
Keeping the Listener Interested
Organizing the Solo
The Buddy System

* There is no "final word" on any of the topics in this sequence of pages on improvising. My recommendations are general guidelines I believe are appropriate for a community jazz band member playing for concerts and dances, based on my observations of the audiences and the repertoire. If you listen to a lot of improvised music, however, you'll probably be able to find exceptions to all of them in the recorded solos of professionals.

--- Glen Newton

© 2001 by Glen Newton

This page was last updated
Friday, February 07, 2020.

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