IFR blog > Student questions > How to pick up tunes and improvise confidently

How to pick up tunes and improvise confidently

Hi David,

I have been learning to play jazz saxophone for the last 20 years. I am mostly self taught. I did about 2 years of jazz studies but I don't think I was musically ready to grasp what I was taught. I felt very small and incapable, but I am still trying to get there.

I have played some gigs although not at present. I'm hoping to get back into public performance. I actually feel a bit nervous and I have sort of lost my confidence. I have problems remembering tunes and I want to feel more confident improvising. I want to tell a story rather than just randomly playing what comes to my fingers or thought. I really want to train my ears so I can just pick up a tune instantly and play.

I have been thinking of getting your book because it has a different approach to learning what to play over chords. I am reluctant to get private lessons because they just tell me to learn this and that and practice, and I get in a rut and I feel I'm not absorbing it. Then I lose interest and I don't know what to practice next. I want to spend focused time on the sax. I just need some guidance.

What do you think David?

Cheers,
Vai

David's response:

Hi Vai,

Thanks for writing. Your experience is a very common one. Almost every jazz student tries to take on too much information at once. Students have the idea that they want to improvise over jazz standards, so teachers try to get them into this experience as quickly as possible. This requires the student to suddenly memorize a bunch of information about scales and chords which has no meaning because the student hasn't had time to really explore and understand each concept. Then the student is thrown into improvising over a tune with many different chords and scales. The student then resorts to playing licks or just trying to keep up with the scales, and none of this has anything to do with actually improvising.

The path we lay out in IFR is based on the exact opposite philosophy. Our idea is to take one harmonic situation at a time and give the student the opportunity to truly understand this material and find his or her own creative voice before moving on. This changes your experience completely because each harmonic situation that you explore gets added to your own personal repertoire, and you can play with complete confidence right from the beginning because at each step you're having the chance to truly master the sounds before moving on to something else.

It sounds like you are the ideal student for IFR. My advice would be to start with the IFR E-book Package, which contains the complete method along with the first two levels of jam tracks. Right now the best thing for you is to put aside your desires and concerns about the future. There will be plenty of time to learn all about jazz harmony in the future, and the IFR method will teach you all of that in due time. But the most important thing in the beginning is to first discover your own ability to create MUSIC, and this can be in any style.

Once you've tasted the pleasure of truly improvising your own music, then suddenly you'll have a lot more confidence because now you know that this is something you can really do. From there it's easy to expand your harmonic vocabulary because it's just a matter of progressing through the method using the roadmap we've laid out.

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