My Blues Life

09/07/11 The Art of Improvisation:

Do you ever wonder how a musician playing blues or jazz comes up with all the stuff they do. Most of what we do is improvised, meaning we are following some chord progression and making stuff up as we go. Usually we have some basic thing that is characteristic about that song (otherwise you wouldn't ever know what we were playing). It's always puzzled me how it all happens, how does your brain play all this stuff in real time. Listen to someone like John Coltrane and the incredible speed with which he plays flying through complex changes and yet it sounds amazing.

Everyone has licks (short musical phrases) that they rely on but when you are having a good night stuff just seems to happen, that you might never have played before (although that's not really true, it's always based on something you've done before). I went to a clinic that Robben Ford put on once (I highly recommend going to one of his clinics if you have the opportunity, it's very cool) and for him it's like finger painting, the scales and licks are just the palette and he would do different things with the palette.

For me it's like this instant feedback loop that you are constantly reacting too. You play something and you either like it or you don't, if you do you like it, you play something similar or in that theme, and this loop just continues at amazing speed that you end (sometimes) playing these really cool things. I sometimes find myself planning what I want to play, and sometime that works but what is usually way better and more fun is just letting go and reacting to what the band and audience and just let things happen. It's almost like stepping out of yourself and being one of the audience. Then it somehow becomes a conversation with phrases and sentences that relate to each other, that create paragraphs and so on. Each time I play, every solo I try to play what I would love to hear myself, so I guess I really am the audience. If I like it then hopefully other people will to.

Pretty amazing stuff when you think about it.


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Mark Howe is a blues rock artist living and playing in Santa Cruz and the Bay Area. Visit us here to check out his up coming gigs, listen to Marks original music and all the latest news. Please contact us for more information or to book his band Streuth for your party or club.

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