building a solo
The following ideas and chart are provided to help beginning learners develop a perspective in regards to creating an improvised solo. These concepts and suggestions are directed toward a basic level of instruction, for in practice, the building of a solo is a highly personal endeavor with potentially as many unique twists as the many players who create them. Perhaps needless to say, the structuring of our solos can become very, very complex. Is there a gillion ways to build a solo? Absolutely. The ideas which follow are simply one way to do it and hopefully will be helpful to the emerging artist.
Perhaps the most important concept here is that the majority of musical ideas we use to create and climax our solos, are ideas that we have already worked out on our instruments. The scales, licks, melodies, quotes and clusters already under our fingers become our resources. The idea with building an improvised solo is to explore how we each combine our resources in telling our stories, while using the energies of the performance environment to energize our efforts. By adding this "live" energy, experienced improvising players will create some incredible musical moments for all to share.
So why is this important for the creative musician? Well, mainly that in all of the American styles, improvisation can play a role of some kind. And depending how it all comes together, creating improvised lines can play a major role in the creation of the music as well as becoming the focus and highlight of the performance. This is perhaps more true today in the jazz and blues world, for many rockers have dropped the "extended" soloing from the format, moving towards blistering bursts of energy to get the job done. The ideas which follow are well worth the read for the emerging soloist. And whether our solos are spontaneously improvised or written out and performed, oftentimes many of the same musical properties and components are involved.
So, how is this "building a solo" discussion organized? The graphic which follows creates a possible roadmap for taking a blues solo. Using the 12 bar blues form as the vehicle, each completed 12-bar cycle is referred to as one chorus. For discussion sake, well take three choruses or so. Using a pictorial graph to chart out common elements, with excitement and real time as our X to Y-axis respectively, the letters "a" through "g" denote points of interest along the way. Click the graphic to hear the solo. Example 1.
From the direction of the squiggly line within the chart, we can see that as time goes by, we indicate a gradually building of excitement. Lets discuss our lettered reference points. Example 1a.
|a||A good place to start is with the melody of the tune you're playing, perhaps a variation of the basic motive, setting the tone for the story being told.|
|b||At the end of any given chorus is the turnaround. Many players feel that these turnarounds contain the "heart" of the improvisation in multichorus solos. This turnaround is the "link" into our second chorus, allowing us to continue our story. Gaining strength with the turnaround helps us to lengthen our solos and stretch out artistically.|
|c||Into our second chorus, perhaps using a rhythmic motive from the melody of the tune as a basis for ideas, we gradually try to begin to build some musical tension.|
|d||Turnaround into the last chorus, perhaps quote the melody again, rhythmically keeping our forward motion alive.|
|e||Last chorus, build tension. Repeated notes, fast rhythmic passages, double timing the groove and sequences can all help to build tension. Head toward the climax of the solo.|
|f||Climaxing the ride, the release of tension can be achieved many ways. Hold one note, play 10,000 notes, displace the rhythmic pulse, lots of ways to climax, it's something to strive for and control.|
|g||If applicable, play a simple phrase that the next soloist can "pick up the thread of" to start their improvisational story. Using the original melody at this juncture will provide a convincing sense of "closure" to your improvisations.|
Overall, the basic artistic components of building a solo may include the gradual building of tension, its eventual climax and release, trying to keep the melody line and form of the composition chosen in mind, while improvising through the changes used to support the original melody. When first beginning to improvise, if you run short of improvised musical ideas, your artistic interpretation of the original melody should always work. Cool?
So where would we want to build a solo? Well, as so often happens in the blues, in rock and almost always in jazz performance, the players get to solo over sections of the tune or the entire form of the tune chosen for performance. Oftentimes in performance, a song is called, the melody or head played down to set the mood, and then the soloists of the group get to improvise their own ideas about the melody within the mood of the piece. When the soloing is done, the originally written melody of the song is oftentimes played again and the tune ends. Basically the ancient theme and variations format used with modern American sounds.
Players will often follow this ancient format in a couple of performance situations. Jamm sessions, where one focus is oftentimes to let folks exercise their improvisational abilities, will follow this "head, solos, head and out format." Casuals, which as the name implies, is generally a performance where the leader of the group has organized the best players they can and will simply call tunes, oftentimes will follow the above format, creating on the spot arrangements while you wait so to speak, based on the recorded history of the tune, i.e., emulate John Coltranes arrangement of "Body And Soul", depending on the experience each of the players is bringing to the session. These casual dates can over a period of months say, create definite combinations and groups of players, as it gives leaders a chance to hear a number of different artists and select which ones can create the sound they are looking for, can work well together and can hang. As the players become more solidified into a group, the leader often creates performance formats based on the strengths of their soloists, placing this important aspect of the performance in it's best possible light, allowing the whole group to shine, the soloist oftentimes leading the way. An example of this would be say, on a jazz gig, and having strong blues players in the band, and using a cool blues number for the last tune of the set, or the encore of the show etc., giving your soloist a solid chance at a familiar format to hopefully "bring the house down" at the close of the show, to thoroughly testify, maybe looking for that often elusive 2nd encore? Is that soloist you?
Cool with this description of a "typical" gig? Pretty loose I know, but the sequence of choosing or calling tunes because of their mood, then getting to solo within that mood, and that over the course of the length of the performance, i.e.,where ya get to play more than one tune, leaders simply sequence the moods of tunes, creating extended pathways for their soloists. With advanced players, oftentimes the music never really stops, moods evolve, players drop in and out of the mix as their art determines, oftentimes with a nod from the leader, who, as the leader, and oftentimes the person responsible for getting the gig together, has the overall say and responsibility of deciding where the music is going to go. Lot's of work and responsibility? Absolutely.
So, why do we want to work this hard? History reveals to us the idea that the impassioned soloist is often the leader of the band, who receives the "laurels" and is cherished and remembered for creating memorable musical moments for their audiences, which with the technologies of today, often are global. And while fame and fortune are fickle sometimes, the hard work to become the best is always rewarded in one's own heart. That this inner confidence radiates into all aspects of one's life and personality and is boundless in potential rewards when freely shared. So, learn those scales? Yep, learn those scales... Cool with this?
|Where to next?|
Other artistic concepts in this section? How about artistic techniques?
Man's unique reward, however, is that while animals survive by adjusting themselves to their background, man survives by adjusting his backround to himself. Ayn Rand