Friday, March 16, 2012

The Best Long Tone / Overtone Exercise

Last week I was inspired to start a new overtone exercise. It's fairly simple and straight forward, and it's been the most productive overtone exercise I've ever used. In less than one week I've gained better control of my horn of both the altissimo register and the normal register. I'm now able to much more easily reach the 4th octave Bb and I can slide through the upper partials of the series with greater control. I should also warn you that I had some fairly sore stomach muscles during the first few days, however I did continue doing it each day.

The Exercise

Play each overtone of the Bb overtone series including the fundamental (low Bb). Start on low Bb, play it for a minute taking as many breaths as needed, and then move up to the next and play it for a minute, and continue onward all the way up to the highest partial you can manage. I spend about 15 minutes doing this each day, which lets you know by the time I get to the top I'm pretty worn out and I don't have a minute of 4th octave Bb in me.

Most importantly, I try to make each note sound pleasant, but I've also incorporated other aspects into my long overtones like bends and vibrato.

For those of you who are wondering what an overtone is you should read some of my post on altissimo. Below is an approximate chart of the four octaves of the Bb overtone series:

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Improvising on Difficult Tunes

This post is for anyone who is intimidated by tunes with difficult or fast moving chord progressions. I chose Serenity as an example tune because, while it's nowhere as hard as a tune like Countdown, it's still has some unique harmony that can present a challenge. I wrote the etude below as an illustration of where to start with a difficult tune, and I'll be referencing measure numbers of the etude in my tips The links below it are to high quality PDFs for tenor and alto and two recordings of the etude in varying tempos.

PDFs: Tenor, Alto
Audio Clips: Fast, Slow

Outline the Basic Harmony - One of the first things you want to do be able to do on a new tune, difficult or not, is outline the harmony clearly. You'll need to figure out the exact modes and chords that the melody implies, and then make sure you can cleanly and clearly make your way through the changes even if it's just playing a bass line through the changes. If you notice my etude doesn't step out into any harmonically advanced territory until the 5th measure and even then it's just a #11 which is pretty standard on dominant chords. Some of you might be looking at measure 2 and wondering how that's basic harmony, but if you look at actual melody of Serenity you'll see that the F (the #5 or b13) is being held for over half the measure bringing me to my next point...

Use the Melody as Your Guide - The melody is your best reference for how to treat the tricky parts of the tune. In measure 3 of the melody Joe Henderson basically guides the melody in a pattern down the #11ths of the BbMaj7(#11) and AbMaj7(#11). I took my cue from him and did a similar pattern descended down the major 7ths. Another good example is on C7(#9) in measure 12. I used the exact same notes from Joe Henderson's melody, just in a different order and shape. 

Use Good Voice Leading - Using good voice leading will help your improvisation sound smooth and melodic. Angular improvisation can sound great, but being able to first transition between tonalities smoothly by step will help you hear the harmony more clearly. I tried to use mainly smooth step transitions between tonalities in my etude like half step motion moving from the B7 to the Gmin7 in measures 4 and 5 or moving from the AbMaj7 to the G7 in measures 9 and 10.

Memorize the Changes - Memorizing the chord progression will allow you to hear the progression more intuitively. Knowing what the next twist in the progression is before it happens will help you transition more  smoothly into the new tonality.

Repetition, Repetition, Repetition - Sometimes there are no shortcuts. Repetition is often the key to learning new tunes. Practice improvising over and over again.