Dear readers, I found this sheet of concepts that I wrote for a friend that requested ideas to teach a workshop. Hope you dig it and feel free to comment and be in touch!
I find that having simple specific rules or concepts while practicing help me develop a more compositional voice as an improviser. They also make my improvisations more cohesive and better developed, allow me to have more control directing where I'm going in the moment, help me react to what my band mates are feeding me, and help me feed back some (hopefully) interesting material to the group. These simple rules are sometimes very restrictive and a serious challenge to follow, which may sound counterintuitive given that we're dealing with improvisation and ultimately freedom, but I find that if I do exercises like these for a while and then lift all restrictions I'm a lot freer and yet able to "compose" on the spot much better.
Here are some simple ideas to use. They can be applied to any context such as a Standard, a blues, an original piece or even a Bach chorale, anything works! The endless possibilities make this fun to do and allow some growing at any level.
1. Use a 1 or 2 bar rhythmic pattern and play ONLY that pattern over your piece.
2. Use the same pattern as 1 but place it freely (start on any beat at any moment) in the piece.
3. Do number 1 and 2 with a second pattern.
4. Do number 2 combining both patterns.
5. Do number 2 adding some melodic and/or harmonic concepts.
1. Choose a direction in which your phrases will go: "Can only play ascending from lower to higher pitch" or reverse.
2. Choose an intervallic pattern: "Can only play scalar, thirds, fourths, triads, 7th chords, 7th chords starting on the 5th, etc.."
3. Combine 1 and 2: "Can only play ascending 6ths".
4. Combine 1 and 2 adding some rhythmic and/or harmonic concepts.
1. If playing changes make sure you KNOW them well, and that you are capable of playing simple chord or scale patters vertically over each chord.
2. Once you got that, find harmonic "zones" in which you can play more horizontally, such as "Play notes of the C major scale over a ii-7 V7IMaj7".
3. Work on all tritone subs on dominant chords of the piece.
4. Explore the possibilities of altering the extensions of all dominants chords of the piece.
5. Mess with the quality of I chords (major to Maj7#5, minor to minMaj7, etc)
6. Change the color of all chords like "Play all chords Sus13 or Lydian"... this one is fun.
Applying some of the above concepts can easily lead you to play motives that can be developed. Think about how pieces like "Stella" or 'All the Things" are based on a couple motives that repeat. Think about tunes from all the great jazz composers (Ellington, Monk, Miles, Trane, Mingus... ) They are ALL based on a few motives that repeat. Composition is based on repetition, that's what makes it memorable, improvisation can be based on motives as well. Here's some suggestions:
1. Play one motiv and stick to it through the piece.
2. Combine 2 or 3 motives only "play" with them through the piece.
3. Play one motive, then follow up with something that relates to it and keep morphing your ideas in a somewhat logical way, you can spend hours doing this, and you end up with something that doesn't relate at all with what you started with but the thread can be somehow followed.
Specific Rules/Restrictions for Bass
1. Play in one "zone" of the instrument only, i.e Rabbath's second position (B to Eb on G string) and use all the strings in that zone
2. After working on 4 or 5 zones separately play connecting two adjacent zones.
3. Then play with non-adjacent zones i.e first and fourth position only.
4. Play with one string only.
5. Play with 2 adjacent strings only.
6. Play with 2 non-adjacent strings only.
7. Pay a phrase with pizz and a phrase with the bow using a "call and response" aesthetic.