Bands that improvise - how do you signal the changes?

Frank

Gold Member
I would be interested in hearing from any of you who are in bands that improvise significantly. Instrumental bands, especially jazz bands.

Instrumental bands can take a tune and improvise over it for 10 minutes and more. Say there are a couple of different sections, a head/melody, and spaces for soloing for various players. How does your band signal the different sections without adhering to a strict arrangement?
 

tcspears

Gold Member
Well it depends on how "free" the music is.

If it's a traditional/standard jazz or blues tune, then everyone is going to know the form, and it's usually 32 bars of AABA for jazz or 12 bars of AAB for blues... obviously there are plenty of other song forms, but thee are the most typical.

When playing these songs, the band (even the drummer) have to know the song form. Soloists may take 1 chorus, or 2, or 3... But you should always know where you are in the song. If they are taking just 1 chorus, then there really isn't any need for signaling, but if they are taking multiple choruses, it's usually a good idea to make eye contact with the next soloist, or turn to the band and point to your head to signal going back to the top of the form.


If you're playing really free music, then it's a little more organic, where someone takes the lead for a while, and then will transition that to someone else. With free/creative music, there aren't hard structures around who's soloing, it's a group effort... sometimes there are multiple people soloing at once, in a contrapuntal method.

I'm assuming that you are talking more about the first scenario, which is you're playing Autumn Leaves and go through the solos. If that's the case, then everyone would know the song form, it's just a matter of knowing how many players are soloing and for how long. Sometimes that can be arranged before the song (gtr 1 chorus, piano 1 chorus, trumpet 1 chorus, bass 1 chorus, trading 8s with the drums in the same order), or it's done on the fly where players take one or more choruses, and will make eye contact or signal when the next player can go.
 

Odd-Arne Oseberg

Platinum Member
Depends on the music and it depends on how well you know the guys.

SOmetimes it's just musically obvious even without a form.

Apart from that it's pretty much either leaning head back looking around or looking at the next guy and give a nod.

If there's a leader that's not doing anything or conducting there'll probaby be a shaking pointing index finger. :)

Obviously, if little cues don't work you have to a bit more, but that's also a hint of how present people are in the situation and how sensitive and attentive they are to others. Kind of important in that type of situation.
 

HenryColt

Member
I my church we improvise a lot. But we don't play jazz.
So, what we do is follow the lead of the guitar. Hearing all the band is vital, so you can pervieve all the changes in intensity .
And in doubt, just stop, play the ride or something quiet and listen to leader.
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
Usually we know the "improvised" parts before playing them. It's kind of just a matter of hearing when they decide to go there (wherever that is) and following them as seamlessly as I can. Usually it's a whole new song we jump to to quote for however long and then we return to where we started from. Usually. With this band I'm in, I can improvise with my ears, because that's how we cue, musically. It's not true improvisation by definition, but we do have to keep on our toes to make it a smooth thing, because it can happen at unexpected times.

Sometimes the leader will have to walk over and tell the bass player what he plans on doing, but he doesn't tell me. I don't like being talked to while playing. I can hear it as it happens so there's no need.
 

Morrisman

Platinum Member
How does your band signal the different sections
If its a jazz solo, the soloist will play for a number of choruses/cycles, so at the end of each chorus we're ready for a possible change. When they've finished their solo they'll end in some way - maybe a big loud note, maybe a wind down to a soft, low fade out - then step back and look around at the next soloist. The rhythm section will usually get softer for the start of the next solo, to give them space to start softly and build when they're ready. I might change from brushes to sticks, or hihat to ride, or to a different ride, or play rim clicks instead of snare, or I might stop the snare for a while.

In a song like 'Tequila' the solo goes over the A section for an extended time. When we feel like its time for the B section, we all look around and make eye contact, maybe nod, then lead into it together. The soloists will hear this and respond.

I recently played some jazz where the piano player was the leader - we just looked at him at the end of each section ready for a nod or a signal.
 

Frank

Gold Member
I recently played some jazz where the piano player was the leader - we just looked at him at the end of each section ready for a nod or a signal.
I actually think in the project I'm in, this would probably be the best approach.

I can't see how we will pull it off tight if one or more people are not actually signalling in some way.

For example, it goes beyond just A and B and solo sections. We'll have sections in these tunes where you really can't hear a transition. It might just be the A section, but with 3 accents. In the beginning of the song, that might be done once. Near the end of the song, you might hit that section multiple times, at different times. There's no way people are going to hear those, unless hearing those means we all miss the first accent and then hear we are into the accents.

:)
 

jimzo

Senior Member
Good responses to various scenarios. "a head/melody" for the sake of improvising allows room for your library of time signatures; which generates a perpetual improv/jam session.
I have an "eyes wide shut" approach if we are in a groove; thinking of phrasing, in-between.
Sensing a change, then a good time for visual contact. Which does not necessarily mean there will be a signal... be on-the-ready for it.
 

GeoB

Gold Member
I'm in a band that goes into extended stuff all the time. The keyboard or the bass usually set up aurally and it just flows from there. Pretty esoteric indeed. And it works out well. It helps that we've all been around a while and all have pretty deep musical pockets to pull from.
 

pgm554

Platinum Member
I would be interested in hearing from any of you who are in bands that improvise significantly. Instrumental bands, especially jazz bands.

Instrumental bands can take a tune and improvise over it for 10 minutes and more. Say there are a couple of different sections, a head/melody, and spaces for soloing for various players. How does your band signal the different sections without adhering to a strict arrangement?
When I'm coming out of an extended solo ,I usually play a two bar pattern that they recognize as a lead in.
 
Top