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Vocal & Jazz Improvisation

Martina Freytag translated from German by Gudrun Veil March 2002

Musical Exercises
Various exercises can assist in building a relaxed atmosphere for the vocal jazz improviser. Though these would be helpful even if only vocal expressions without a link to music, they provide yet a more effective result when accomplished musically. Here we will explore melody, rhythm, harmony, and musical expression. Melody The following approaches can prompt melodic development. Short Melodies Imitated The group stands in a circle. A leader sings two-measure musical phrases, which the group imitates in call-and-response. If the given phrase changes the tonality, vocalists can be challenged since there are no instrumental valves or slides to assist pitch-location. Therefore, the leader should take the time needed between phrases to listen internally towards creating a new phrase rather than simply modifying something that has already been sung. Given Notes for Improv Students snap their fingers in time. Someone starts to sing a short melody. The last note of this phrase will be the beginning note of the next one, and so on. Participants should attempt to maintain the current certain musical and emotional flow. Humming Tones Over a common humming tone of the group, each participant takes a turn improvising to express given emotions (joy, anger, sorrow). Rhythm Provide a rhythmical framework such as in "Find Your Own Melody" (Example 1). Groups 1 and 2 can improvise pitch freely over this rhythmical requirement. While the end result might resemble a harmonic context, that isn't necessary. Harmony Provide a harmonic framework utilizing major, minor, and ii-V-I progressions (Example 2). The group sings this material while rotating soloists improvise over it. Musical Expression In order to explore given terms of articulation and expression, everyone in the circle takes turns inventing short melodies, with or without rhythmic or harmonic accompaniment. Possibilities might include melodies in staccato, legato, or portato (as tied notes but with emphasis, as in detach or tenuto); melody maintaining a flowing line of moving tones; and melody resulting in a lively, cheerful expression.

Vocalizing & Phrasing


The relationship between melody and lyric often seems to discourage young vocalists from experimenting with lyrics, textual elements, syllables, and words as well as dealing with emotions. Yet these offer great possibilities for improvisation by a singer: the presentation of a jazz tune provides a certain structure of rhythm, melody, and harmony as well as a certain emotional picture through given lyrics. Choosing the exactly suitable key for each song is a requirement for vocalists, who often face great problems when performing with musicians who are jamming out of a given fake book. Vocalists should always make available their own transcriptions in proper keys, since creative work with a

song is only possible without the distractions of such technical details. The following sequence is a practice guide for working out a jazz standard, illustrated here using my jazz composition Remember Me (Example 3). Working Out the Melody and the Lyrics The foundation for any kind of improvisation over a song with a specified form or number of bars is to know the corresponding song very well. This especially includes the following details: the melody itself the exact rhythmical implementation of the notated melody logical division of lyrics fitting the melody memorizing certain points of focus such as the starting pitch, a repetition of the melody after eight bars, a change of melody in the middle part, or the like memorizing the form (in this case "AB") noticing certain harmonic coherences (for example ii-V-I progressions, ii-V chains) becoming aware of the bass line for guidance

Examine these elements within Remember Me, then start the creative work on this material. Phrasing the Melody There is a guide-tone line - the main movement of the melody without ornamentation - within the A section of this tune. It is a repeating, downward movement in half and whole steps, coinciding with the following words in the text (pitches noted in brackets): bee [C] tree [Bb] me [Ab] you're [G] im [F] (-pressed) sea [Eb] ship [C] trip [Bb] not [Ab] underline [G F Eb] In the B section the melody first moves up within 8 bars: now [Db] (full-)filled [Fb] (im-)pressions [F] (en-)joy my love [G] (a-)way [Ab] In the second 8 bars of the B section the guide-tone line moves down again: wist [C#] (-ful) voice [C] (ev'-)ry [Bb] corner [Ab] me [G] you're [G] im-pressed [F Eb] A singer can phrase personally by rearranging the entire progression while keeping the guide-tone line in mind. This line does not have to be obvious. It should be an aural orientation of the melody over which the phrasing is done. For example, the performer can: vary the articulation of the pitches (portato, staccato, et al) create a different dynamic development from the original (crescendo, decrescendo) anticipate or delay notes within the melody, or employ a different emotional relationship with the lyrics for the listener (here, for instance, considering the described situation from the lyrics).

See Example 4 for some varied phrasing for Remember Me. Vocalizing with the Lyrics Vocalizing with the lyrics allows a wide range of creative possibilities. You could simply interchange single words, short phrases, or whole sentences. Or you could challenge yourself with tonguetwisting escapades of improvised lyrics (such as the ones of the great master Jon Hendricks). Lyrics are sometimes spoken, sometimes sung, while keeping the original melody connected-a highly demanding musical improvisation. The following example of lyrics that might be so improvised retains the original AB form: you took this trip to explore your world around you I want to be in every flower and bird my mind is sending lovely waves with the wind

for you, my love, for you I'm feeling lonely since you're out of my way nights are so long and days are too grey my heart is sending orange and blue to you, my love, to you Vocalizing with Scat Syllables Vocalizing with scat syllables is a musical interpretation of the melody that doesn't consider the lyrics but uses modification of rhythm and melody instead. To begin with, I recommend using the syllables ba and da for consistent time values, held notes, and syncopations. For note values in staccato, try the syllables dat or dab. In Example 5 the original melody (lower stave) is maintained as a reference within the improvisation (upper stave), though greatly ornamented. Scat-singing Scat-singing is the highest form of musical interpretation for jazz singers. Here the human voice is completely transformed into an instrument and has the possibility to "pull out all the stops." Examine Example 6 for a comparison of a sample scat improvisation (upper stave) and the original melody (lower stave). Scat-singing develops via ornamenting and modifying rhythm, melody, and harmonies; using onomatopoetic syllables (often jumbled); incorporating human sounds such as sighing, groaning, or screaming; and by playing with different tone qualities to fit the intended interpretation of the singer. It is impossible to notate all these elements on paper, but a study of Example 7 will illustrate many of the concepts discussed so far.