Gary Burton: Jazz Improvisation

I really enjoyed this class. It delved into which chord scales to use when on real songs. It was a lot of work just to get things going but helped to make it super clear what to do, and when.

I think the highlight of the class was the instructor, Jim Odgren. He was super cool in his live classes and knows this stuff inside and out. He always provided super prompt and thoughtful feedback on the assignments.

I’m not sure that I would have enjoyed this class as much if it wasn’t for Jim. He was a bit of a bridge between Mr. Burton’s course materials and each student’s current level of understanding/ability. He definitely helped make the information a bit more approachable and enjoyable.

One bit of advice that Jim gave that I found to be particularly useful in learning the tunes in the course was:

Take the first 4 bars of the tune and play the melody 5 times while looking at the music, 5 times looking away. For the next 4 bars, use the same approach, then do the full 8 bars, doing the same thing. Then use the same approach for the rest of the tune.

Jim Odgren

Here’s what we covered in the 12 weeks.

Week 1 – “What is Improvisation?”, Jun 27 – Jul 1
Introduction, Meet and Greet, The Language of Jazz Improvisation, The Relationship Between Spoken Language and Improvised Music, Solo Analysis, Gary’s Picks, Exercise 1.1: Listening Analysis, Assignment 1: Improvisation Analysis, Recap

Week 2 – “Chord Outlines and Scales”, Jul 2nd – Jul 8th
Introduction, Chord Tones, Chord Scales, The 10 Scales, The 10 Scales: Seven Modes, The 10 Scales: Dominant 7 Alternatives, The 10 Scales: Altered and Symmetrical, Workshop: Scale Practicing Method, Exercise: Scale Practice, Outlining the Chord with the Scale, Discussion 2.1: Scale Practice, Assignment 2: Understanding and Playing Scales, Recap

Week 3 – “Identifying Chord Scales”, Jul 9th – Jul 15th
Introduction, Choosing a Chord Scale, Finding the Correct Chord Scale in Practice, Finding the Correct Minor Chord Scale, Minor Chord Examples, Finding the Correct Dominant Chord Scale, Workshop: Chord Scale Method Review, Exercise: Determining the Chord Scale, Discussion 3.1: Identifying the Proper Scales, Assignment 3: Write the Correct Chord Scales, Recap

Week 4 – “Harmony for the Improviser”, Jul 16th – Jul 22nd
Introduction, Helping Move the Harmony, V to I, Guide-Tone Lines, Common Tones, Harmonic Variation and Constant Structure, Chromatic Movement, Exercise: Moving the Harmony in Familiar Tunes, Discussion 4.1: Harmony Analysis, Assignment 4: Identifying Guide-Tone Lines, Recap

Week 5 – “Melodic Development”, Jul 23rd – Jul 29th
Introduction, Theme, Theme and Development, Three Characteristics of Melodic Form, Developing a Theme Over Chord Changes:”On Green Dolphin Street”, Duration of a Theme, Exercise: Developing a Theme Over a Single Chord, Discussion 5.1: Melodic Structure, Assignment 5: Developing a Theme, Recap

Week 6 – “Playing on the Blues”, Jul 30th – Aug 5th
Introduction, The Blues Form, Blues Chord Scales, Approaching the Blues, Minor Blues, “Syndrome”, “Sing Me Softly Of The Blues”, Exercise: Playing the Blues, Discussion 6.1: Blues-Based Compositions, Assignment 6: Improvising on the Blues, Recap

Week 7 – “Song Analysis”, Aug 6th – Aug 12th
Introduction, “Olhos De Gato”, Chord Scales, Compositional Structure, First Eight Bars, Second Eight Bars, “Israel”, “Israel” Chord Scales, “Israel” Compositional Stucture, Exercise: Playing “Israel”, Discussion 7.1: Song Form, Choosing Songs, Assignment 7: “Day Waves”, Recap

Week 8 – “Song Analysis (Part 2)”, Aug 13th – Aug 19th
Introduction, “Day Waves”, “Day Waves” Compositional Structure, “Day Waves” Second Half, “Sweet Rain”, “Sweet Rain” Compositional Structure, Exercise: Playing “Sweet Rain”, Discussion 8.1: Choosing Repertoire, Assignment 8: “Waltz For A Lovely Wife”, Recap

Week 9 – “Song Analysis (Part 3)”, Aug 20th – Aug 26th
Introduction, “Waltz For A Lovely Wife”, “Waltz For A Lovely Wife” Analysis, “Semblance”, “Semblance” Analysis, Exercise: Playing “Semblance”, Discussion 9.1: What Makes a Good Song?, Assignment 9: Student Choice, Recap

Week 10 – “Advice on Soloing”, Aug 27th – Sep 2nd
Introduction, Approaching the Solo, Conversational Soloing, Length and Pacing of a Solo, Dynamics, Chromaticism, Diminished Harmony, Symmetrical Diminished Scale, Exercise: Using Three Diminished Scales, Understanding the Sus4 Chord, Improving Time Feel, Exercise: Continuous Eighth Notes, Connecting Chord Scales, Soloing on Ballads, Play Like a Butterfly, Discussion 10.1: Tips, Assignment 10: Soloing in Practice, Recap

Week 11 – “Comping”, Sep 3rd – Sep 9th
Introduction, A Personal History of Comping, The Role of Comping, Straight Eighth-Note Comping, Contrast, General Comping Tips, Comping Approaches, Listen Up!, Comping on Ballads, Gary’s Picks, Discussion 11.1: Comping in Various Settings, Assignment 11: Comping Effectively, Recap

Week 12 – “Communicating with the Unconscious”, Sep 10th – Sep 16th
Introduction, The Art of Improvisation, Learning and Unlearning, Evolution of the Learning Process, Role of the Unconscious Mind, Understanding the Unconscious Mind, Role of Conscious Thought, Putting it All Together, The Importance Recording your Improvisations, Demystifying the Process, Practice Tip, Exercise: Two Practices, Discussion 12.1: Evaluating Your Thought Process, Assignment 12: Final Project, Recap