Is Modal Improv "Old Hat"? If so, what's the alternative?
by Eddie Landsberg Ed.M
It is true that modal improv is one approach that seems to have been disproportionately overrepresented in the Jazz improv realm, often at the expense of other useful methodologies. This doesn't mean that it is "old hat" (even though it has been enormously popular since the heyday of modern Jazz education in the '70s and but methods that give students the impression that all of the great Jazz masters were modal improvisers and that modal improv should be the automatic approach bias students towards a method based on a specific trend in Jazz teaching, not actually the facts of how musicians teach.
The fact is, modal improv is important, but so too are a plethora of other approaches including methods that are lick and chord based, liner and those based on the goal note method.
So, how should this effect the way students are taught?
In general, it is important to recognize that there are three basic elements to all Jazz improv: Melody, Rhythm and Harmony.
In my own approach, students are asked to constantly ask three questions:
It is here that we can begin to explore different approach to improvisation and what fits best.
Here's a typical exercise I teach my students fairly early on in their playing.
This method allows the student to establish the basic feel of the tune, then consider what works up top to compliment the moment.
Five approaches that are then considered in relation to this include:
As students explore tunes, they begin to develop solo ideas based on these elements, and going well beyond as well.
As for "leaning towards", ideally speaking students will have a whole bag of ideas to choose from, but through their training the vocabulary that becomes them will be much more open than overdoing their training one way or another.
Burnt out on modes... ready for something different. Feel free to get in touch to share your hopes and experiences!