Learn Improvisation Concepts: Repeating Riffs

First page of WC Handy's "St.Image via Wikipedia

Sometimes the best lessons are the simplest. Too much theory and too many technical terms can kill the best of intentions and enthusiasm for improvisation. Students are quickly engaged in playing chord changes by rote using the basic 12-bar blues progression:
I, I, I, I, IV, IV, I, I, V, IV, I, I

With simple repeating rhythms and melodic intervals, students flow through the basics of blues improvisation.

Example 1: Simple Blues Riffs

C7/ C, C ( 4 x's)
F7/ F, F ( 2 x's)
C7/ C, C ( 2 x's)
G7/ G, G
F7/ F, F
C7/ C, C ( 2 x's)

Roots... 1, flat 7, 1... 1, flat7 1, b3

Example 2: Blues Riff Transposed

By getting the students to sing the riffs, they can overcome their instrumental shyness and start to hear the changes. They become better oriented and don't get lost while they're mentally and aurally manipulating the root, flat third and flat 7th of three chords with a series of simple rhythms.Now they're improvising. Once that can be done smoothly, we expand the riffs to include:

First time comping
Example with Blues Riff Transposed

C7/ C,C, Bb, C,C, Eb - 4 x's (play r.h. single notes while holding C7 chord w/ l.h.)

F7/ F, F, Eb, F, F, Ab - 2 x's

C7/ C, C, Bb, C, C, Eb - 2 x's

G7/ G, G, F, G, G, Bb

F7/ F, F, Eb, F, F, Ab

C7/ C, C, Bb, C, C, Eb - 2 x's

Example 3: More Complex Blues Riffs

1, flat 7, 5, flat 7, 1... 1, 3, 5, 3... 1, 3, 5, 8, flat 7

* C7/ C, C, Bb, C
F7/ F, F, Eb, F
G7/ G, G, F, G

* C7/ C, C, Bb, C, C, Eb
F7/ F, F, Eb, F, F, Ab
G7/ G, G, F, G, G, Bb

* C7/ C, C, Bb, G, Bb, C
F7/ F, F, Eb, c, Eb, F
G7/ G, G, F, D, F, G

* C7/ C, C, E, G
F7/ F, F, A, C
G7/ G, G, B, D

* C7/ C, E, G, C, Bb
F7/ F, A, C, F, Eb
G7/ G, B, D, G, F

Teaching improv concepts and using a rhythm section are really two different tasks that need to be done simultaneously. Practice along with a play-along recording.

You might also enjoy reading Willie Myette's article on comping:


All the best,
~ LadyD

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