The Importance of Good Time in Your Improvisation

by Denis DiBlasio

Date Posted: March 08, 2017

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The Importance of Good Time 

Time, time is very important. In fact, being able to control your time when you’re improvising can make or break anything you do. Whether you use pentatonics, blues scales, bebop scales, fourths, flipped triads, super-imposed changes, melodic minor scales, whatever you want to do, if your time is not good you can’t make any of that stuff work. So keeping one ear on the time is really important. Let’s get an F dorian, concert F dorian, and I will play all the notes in the F dorian. Here’s concert F dorian (plays saxophone). I’ll play those notes, they’re harmonically correct, but without good time, it won’t sound good. I’ll give you an example, this is painful to do because you practice so hard to try and not do this but, here are the right notes with bad time. Okay.

Plays saxophone

I smell Grammy!

Continues playing saxophone

Okay so enough of that. But harmonically,I’m playing all the notes in the scale, so when people teach improvisation or if you’re learning improvisation and someone says, “Here’s the scale, improvise!” Well, the scale is about 10% of what we do, the other 90% is how we work the scale and how we concentrate on time. So what you can do is look at time like it’s a target. The beats are like targets, (sings several beats) and what you want to do is aim what you play at these beats like an archer would aim for a bullseye, or a marksman would aim for a target. I’m aiming for the time, but in order to aim for the time I have to keep one ear on the time. So this is a Jamey Aebersld play-along, these are kind of fun to use, volume 24. It’s nice because it will park in one scale for a while. So let’s look at this as if they were targets, the beats.

Plays backing tracks

Those are your targets. (Sings beats and demonstrates rhythms) Now I’m going to place my notes right on the beat. I’ll be simple, but I’m going to agree with the beat.

Plays saxophone with emphasized rhythm

So that’s an example of really paying attention to where the beats are, and all of a sudden, the scale kind of makes some sense. No matter what you use, always keep one ear on where the time is because if you get unglued from that, it might not work. Oh gosh, every great player has really good control of the time. Sonny Rollins, whew, ya know, he’s just fantastic with it. There’s a CD called Midnight Express, Jimmy Smith, where you hear Stanley Turrentine playing this medium blues where he just clocks these quarter notes, they’re just so, they feel so good because he’s lining up with the time. So what I’m going to do here is I will play, let me see if I can do this, I’ll try and play four bars thinking about the time, and then four bars just not paying any attention to it, and you’ll hear the difference. I’ll try and point this way (points to his left) when I’m thinking about the time and I’ll point this way (points to his right) when I’m not. All right, so you’ll get an example, you’ll hear it get unglued right away. Here we go.

Demonstrates on saxophone alternating directions he is playing

So there it is, always keep one ear on the time no matter what device you’re using, and it’ll help you stay in place. There you go.


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