"My mind was blown by the topic of the masters not thinking about chord changes when they’re playing but just emoting."
That was a comment by an attendee at my live webinar this week held for subscribers of my course Improvisation Savvy.
He is NOT alone in having been taught that improvisation is some sort of clever manipulation of letters and numbers memorialized on a piece of paper. Unfortunately, he's much more alone in that he's honest and aware enough to have a breakthrough in understanding what he REALLY should be doing when he plays jazz guitar.
Richie Beirach and I happen to be writing something new on this very topic. I'm thrilled with what we are creating since it dives another level deeper into this skill called jazz improvisation.
Early in the piece, Richie wrote:
I’m not thinking about the changes or the bridge coming up or the form. No. I’m listening to the bass and drums or what the saxophone is playing so that I can add to the creative moment. I’m playing purely from how I feel.
I don’t think of it as actually playing Stella By Starlight or some other tune. I use Stella strictly as a structure to play what’s on my musical mind in the moment. It’s a vehicle to emote my feelings reflecting that moment in my life.
Be warned, however, that playing with nothing more than your emotions to guide your note choices is very risky. You might play a wrong note! (Check out my encouragement of playing wrong notes in my latest blog post.)
You might also find yourself outside your comfort zone if you venture to musically express something deeper within you. Can you abandon the safety of the well-worn muscle memory of musical you?
The next time you stand up to improvise, instead of the neverending evaluating, judging, condemning, comparing, manufacturing, fearing, pretending, regretting, and hoping - concentrate on just one thing.
What is that one thing? It's a feeling. It's your feeling in that moment.