> I've been playing for several years now and I still cannot improvise.
> I can only play tunes I have learned and add a little of my own sound
> (but not much).
> Does it get any better or easier? Am I the only one with this
For me, improvisation gets easier. Then it gets harder. Then it gets
easier, again. Then...
I have to play A LOT, every day, to get comfortable improvising. I think
the reason is that the mechanical technique required for playing the
harmonica uses a different kind of thinking than improvisation does. My
ability to let my mind be free to dream up melodies is dependent on my
being able to find the right notes without consciously thinking about it.
Of course, immersing myself in music much of the time helps, too. I can
remember bits and pieces of what I hear, and include them in my
improvisations. Yes, that is entirely legitimate. Bird, Coltrane, Little
Walter, Toots, all use ideas that they've picked up from somebody.
Here are some things I do to improve my improvisation.
1. Listen to lots of music.
2. Practice scales. This part sucks. I recommend working on
the following as a minimum for playing 2nd position blues:
a. 2nd position blues, major, & dominant 7th scales
b. 1st position major & dominant 7th scales
c. 3rd position major & dominant 7th scales
(The major scale is the do-re-mi- scale we all learned to sing.
The dominant 7th scale is just the major scale with the ti note
flatted one half step.)
3. Put down the harp, and try to create melodies in your head,
either while listening to music or not. Actually voice the
melodies by singing or whistling. Then when you have something you
like, try it on the harp. It might work, it might not. Eventually
I began thinking in terms of notes available on the harp. Tape
record or write down the ideas you like.
Some resources I've used and found helpful:
1. _Improvising Jazz_ by Jerry Coker. A slim book with lots
of good advice. Don't be put off if you're not "into jazz."
Jazz is just improvised music, which is what you're after.
2. Play along records, tapes and cds by Jamie Aebersold.
For around $12-15, you get a cd with a good rhythm section
playing backups for you to play over, and a book with lots of
good exercises. There are 50 or so volumes. I recommend
"Major and Minor", which gives practice in all keys, and
"Nothin' But the Blues."
I don't consider myself a strong improviser, but I'm getting better
all the time.
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