How to Improv a Solo in Jazz Band

In my jazz band class, the only way we can improve our grade is during performances. And within those performances, we are all required to do at least one 16-measure solo. Coming into the class, I didn't have any experience with improv. I know that it can be a difficult thing for some, and that's why I'm writing this article. Here are my tips and tricks to preparing and performing an improvised solo for a jazz band ensemble.

Choose a Riff

A lot of times musicians just repeat certain riffs. These are just little phrases that consist of three or four (sometimes more) notes. Now, when I say repeat, people usually repeat the pattern itself, using different notes in the scale to spice it up a bit. Choose one that best suits you and the song you're playing. I have one specific riff that I always play, no matter what piece it is. You can change the notes and the tempo of the riff to match the music. Just find one that's comfortable to play.

Play in the Key

Make sure that you're playing in the key. I like to have the scale out and right next to the sheet music while I'm playing. This helps me, because I'm able to just glance over and there's all the notes I have to play, all the notes I can play my random riffs with. If you play outside the key, that's fine. It might sound really good. But there's always the possibility that it won't, which is why it's great to stay inside the key as much as you can.

Stand Up

This is pretty straight forward: STAND UP! (Unless your band director tells you otherwise, of course.) Most jazz musicians stand up when they're playing their solos. Obviously the piano, drum, and bass players don't. However, trombones, trumpets, and saxophones should. If the trumpet section is already standing, everyone else should sit down while the soloist stands. This is to not only bring the attention to you, so that the audience really listens, but it's also to project your sound. One musician, playing along with the drums, piano, and bass... that's a lot of different instruments, and since you're the one who's special and soloing, you should be the loudest.

Don't Be Nervous!

Really, don't be. It's not like the audience can really catch if you mess up at all. Only you can know that, and even then it's not that big of a deal. The audience will be impressed either way. It's a solo that you yourself are coming up with. It's not written down on the sheet music; you're coming up with it all on your own. That's pretty amazing. And, again, even if you play outside of the key, it's fine too! People can't tell if you mess up, so why be nervous?

I hope some of these tips helped. It's not as hard as everyone believes it to be. But, it's also a bit harder than some people think as well. These tips work with any instrument, and with any jazz band piece.

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