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I have been trying to improvise on bebop standards (on guitar) for almost 20 years now, and it still feels completely out of reach. Why is it so hard for me?

Well, a typical standard has about 24 bars with roughly a different chord per bar. For each one of these chords, you need to choose a scale/mode/arpeggio, think of a melodic idea, and express it within the "shape" that corresponds to this scale. Even harder, you need to choose guide tones for each one of these chords and make sure that your phrase will reach this target note in a smooth way, precisely on time. Of course, while all of that is happening, you need to choose rhythmic ideas, dynamics, articulation, etc.

So I have spent countless hours memorising scales and arpeggios, and I played the right arpeggio up and down on each chord, and I tried to reach target tones,etc. But it is all so effortful that I always end up sounding like I'm playing an exercise. In stark contrast, when I'm playing a single pentatonic scale over a blues progression, I can just hear a melody in my head and (approximately) play it on the guitar.

And so I'm very curious: what's going through your mind when you improvise over a bebop tune? Did you manage to get dozens of chord/scale/mode/arpeggio shapes ingrained to the point that it is completely effortless to implement the process above? Or are you taking any shortcuts?

Any thoughts/comments would be greatly appreciated.

  • One stage of practice (which I've called stage 3) is to try integrating a lick, extending it, connecting it to other ideas, modifying it, etc. MattL & ggcg have shared good advice on how to support this stage. Transcribing, listening to many versions of the same song, & playing bebop heads give you a more complex vocabulary & rich examples of how to link together melodic devices in interesting ways. Extending licks to different key centers, stripping down chord progressions, & keeping a journal help your ideas become more intuitive and more seamlessly integrated with the rest of your playing. – jdjazz May 28 at 16:01
  • There are lots of good techniques to help you learn this, and you can find the ones you like the best. But when you think about your practice routines and categorize how you spend your practice time, reflect on which stage of development your practice supports. If our practice consists entirely of playing arpeggios over each chord, or surrounding chord tones, etc., then we are only practicing stage 1 (practicing our techniques in heavily planned & non-integrated ways), and we'll never move to stage 4 (full integration). Use this lens to evaluate your practice routines & examine their efficacy. – jdjazz May 28 at 16:06
  • In addition to the examples they give, here's another great way to extend your licks and thereby become more flexible in the way you can use them: once you find a lick you like (or you can do this with a lick from a bebop head), add extra approach notes, or arpeggios, or enclosures, etc. By inserting these in the middle of the existing lick, you'll delay resolutions, hear the lick occurring at new parts of the measure, etc. Other things you can do are change the rhythms of the lick, change which beat it starts on, etc. – jdjazz May 28 at 16:08
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    I was a musician for about ten years, but as I was never classically trained and didn't understand a word you just said, that's probably why I had no problem improvising. Other than the one time I stuck a drumstick in my eye, what was usually going through my head was how the music felt. – Mazura May 28 at 16:23
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    You're kind of supposed to eventually select one of the answers as the "accepted" one that somehow provided the conclusive breakthrough for you. :) – piiperi Reinstate Monica May 31 at 13:49
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Others here know about actual jazz and have given elaborate answers, but I'll add one perspective. I have no idea about bebop, just pop.

First of all, why jump straight in at the deep end, bebop, and with songs where the written chords given to you change rapidly? Take a different approach: start with something very simple, something with simple chords that change slowly, and try to jazz that up. That's done by playing different chords. Remember, whatever note or notes you play, add something to the harmony (and rhythm). Even if you play single notes over a drum beat, you're implying something about a set of possible harmonic changes.

When thinking about solos, I'm always thinking about chords, and they're my chords. What can I turn the harmony into by adding something? How much space is there? For example if the backing chord is a Dm, what can you make it? Almost anything! What happens if you play an A major chord over it, what does it become? What happens if you play an ... Eb major over it - where does it tilt the harmony? How about a series of alternating Dm and C#dim7. (Which is a bit like Barry Harris's "sixth diminished" thing where you can kind of vamp alternating between tonic and dominant, without really going anywhere)

Here's a simple chord progression, Dm - Dm - Gm - A (repeat). Elevator music in Dm. I try to deliberately play different chords over the backing progression to show how to add imagined harmonic changes. I'm not strictly playing the backing chords - I'm playing around them and tilting them to different directions. (No idea about any bebop stuff, but I think the chords at least make it jazzier)

Those chords are something I'd be thinkin about when playing single-note lines. I would outline or imply some of those chords. It's not bebop, but it's not pentatonic over blues either.

Instead of trying to do the extremely difficult thing in one go, try this:

  • Take a simple song you know well. Simple, not complicated. Few chord changes. Slow changes. Simple chords.
  • Add one extra trick to it. One trick. Just one. For example, make the harmony of a song that's in a minor key a little bit Dorian by playing a major sixth on the tonic minor chord, whenever you can.
  • Repeat that one trick in every song you can imagine. And then some. Play the trick all over so that you're tired of the whole thing already.
  • Then take another extra trick.

I don't know what steps bebop masters took, but I suspect they learned it all one trick at a time, starting from something simple. How to eat an elephant, etc.

An example trick might be: whenever there's a chord change of a fifth down (fourth up) - which is one of the most basic chord changes, make the motion stronger by playing a dim7 rooted on the third of the starting chord. For example, if there's a chord change from C to F, play an Edim7 over the C before it goes to F. That's one trick. Do that one trick in every possible place in a large number of songs, and in different keys. Don't try to learn many new things at the same time. Just one.

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  • Brilliant answer. Thank you! – JazzDreamer May 29 at 6:59
  • This is probably how people like Bird and Diz invented it. Keep in mind that what we call Jazz was Pop in the 40s or whenever. They were taking pop tunes and "complexifying" them with extensions and other additions. That is music, not going the other way around. +1 – ggcg May 29 at 13:58
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"For each one of these chords, you need to choose a scale/mode/arpeggio, think of a melodic idea, and express it within the "shape" that corresponds to this scale."

I hate to be the bearer of bad news but this has never been true of any type of improvisation. I think you have a common misconception that Jazz is an analytical pursuit. One in which you use strict theory to reduce your options to only one or two allowed actions.

"Even harder, you need to choose guide tones for each one of these chords and make sure that your phrase will reach this target note in a smooth way, precisely on time. Of course, while all of that is happening, you need to choose rhythmic ideas, dynamics, articulation, etc."

What does that even mean? Why do you have to "smoothly" reach a "target note" "on time"? Any note can serve as an extension to the chord you are moving to so why not just let the note you land on BE that note?

"So I have spent countless hours memorising scales and arpeggios, and I played the right arpeggio up and down on each chord, and I tried to reach target tones,etc. But it is all so effortful that I always end up sounding like I'm playing an exercise."

Well I am truly sorry that in 20 years you spent your time this way. I would flip this over on you and ask you the following.

Have you spent countless hours LISTENING to bop?

Have you spent countless hours TRANSCRIBING your favorite bop solo?

Have you spent countless hours WRITING your own set of licks?

These are the three keys to understanding any musical style, Listen, Transcribe, and Write.

If you actually read through some of the transcriptions of great Jazz and Bop players you might find that more often than not they are not following these alleged rules you have listed. You are describing one of several approaches to improv that focuses on note movement within a progression and calls on classical multi voice homophonic harmony. It is not that the features you described are NOT useful or important but they are not necessarily used as a formula for developing ideas. By the same token, if you look at the sheet music for a lot of standards you will also find that your "rules" are not strictly adhered to. We use music theory as a guide and often describe certain things that work, when they do, but the doesn't mean we only do those things and nothing else. We seldom apply a template like this to build musical ideas from scratch.

There is one way to realize a flaw in the logic. The fact that you are "following chords" means you are giving precedence to the chord as the foundation of music, as the primary element. The fact is that the chord progression represents a secondary element to music from a classical point of view, and probably also from a historic point of view. The elements of Western music are Rhythm, Melody, and Harmony. Chords represent the third part, a supporting role. One can have meaningful ideas with only rhythm, and only rhythm and melody. Rarely if ever do you see Harmony without the other elements. What's the point? What I teach my students, and it was taught to me, is that we don't "follow chords", we lead them. They follow us (to be fair it's more of a mutual understanding in which we circle each other, like Bagua Zhang, but you need to understand the natural cycles in music to appreciate it). In reality there isn't much to a chord progression. The chords don't usually just randomly meander about all over the place but follow a pattern and that pattern is found in the circle progression and the circle of fourths.

I --> IV --> vii --> iii --> vi --> ii --> V --> I

Every bit of a Bop or Jazz tune can be pulled from here whether it's the main progression or just a cycle extension, even a key modulation. In addition to this circle are common chord substitutions and concepts from functional harmony. There is a natural movement within the group of chords {I, IV, V} that is embedded in the circle progression. Via application of the substitutes one can write this as follows.

I --> IV --> V --> I --> I --> IV --> V --> I

Much simpler. And easier to put ideas over. The fact is that one rarely needs or even wants to target key tones for EVERY chord in the progression but rather for those chords that occur at the end of a phrase, which might be 4 or 8 bars. Thus your musical idea could "conflict" with the chords in the progression but line up at the end and this would produce the feeling of resolution you want. In fact it is a more natural approach. We don't treat every chord in isolation but groups of chords as a single unit of "change". So one doesn't pick a different mode over the ii, the V, and the I but treats the {ii, V, I} and a single musical idea and builds up a phrase to play on it. Again, that phrase does not have to match chord tones on strong notes for each and every chord but at least have a feeling of resolution as we come to the end.

Another way to realize the error in thinking is that for a given melody one could have dozens of different chord progressions supporting it. What makes the one you see on the paper special? It might be crap! Rarely are lead sheets consistent with original scores and most are loaded with unneeded cycle extensions. Another thing I teach my students is to (1) write their own progressions for a melody and (2) learn to reduce those in the Real Book to the bare essentials by getting rid of cycle extensions (I call it cycle contraction). What you are left with may not be as interesting but it works and it's easier to follow. Then the student can play on easier harmonic terrain for a while and start adding complexity to a simple progression. In the process of doing this you start to hear the cycle extensions naturally and are inclined to include them even when they are not there.

Once you realize that most of these progressions are all the same and think that the formula works, the more interesting question is "How does anyone ever get an original solo idea?" Again, I would suggest that melody comes first. Some will criticize this (and have in the past) by saying that sometimes people come up with a riff first then add a melody line. I am not trying to pigeon hole the creative process but stating what is more often the case based on my experience. It turns out that there is a natural "movement" of melodic ideas in the Western music and the common chord progressions, like the I-IV-V and the circle represent that same common movement. So it should be possible to capture that.

Here are some pointers for getting past the barrier you seem to have encountered.

  1. Practice voice leading over simple, very simple, two chord vamps. Try just "walking" over the I --> V7 --> I for several minutes. Starting by capturing one note per chord, then two, then more. Try FORCING a chord tone only on the beat at first to get the limited number of options in your inner ear then let yourself walk more freely "out" of the chord but always trying to bring yourself back. There is a very nice series of books called Complete Rhythm Changes for Guitar by Frank Vignola that takes you through a set of written solos. They start from the simplest 1-2 note per chord ideas then move into more complex lines. IMO, it is better to do this on your own, by ear.

  2. Learn Heads! This is what the great bop masters, and creators, did. Don't just follow chords putting scales and arpeggios over them. Learn the melodic ideas of great songs. Improv is variation on a theme and it stands to reason that the best place to get ideas is the actual song itself. Commit the heads to memory and play them in all keys. Be as playful as you can by mixing and matching parts of songs. Since they all have similar progressions they are interchangeable. You will hear greats "quote" other heads and solos in their improv. This is part of the culture.

  3. Listen, listen, listen. If you are practicing more patterns than actually listening to bop then there is something wrong. Listen to Parker and Diz, Pat Martino, etc. Listen to what they do. After a while you will start to realize that they reuse a lot of the same licks, just like blues and rock. Some are old cliches that go back to Benny Goodman or Duke Ellington, or even earlier, and some are "composed" licks that are signatures of the player. Point is that these guys are not "following chords" they are creating unique melodic flow that fits into the natural cycles of Western music.

  4. One of the best pieces of advice for me came from a book by Jerry Coker called Pattern for Jazz. He talks about creating Licks and melodic lines without reference to a progression. Keep a journal of these licks. He recommends creating a few every day for the rest of your life. Get an idea that you really like or think is cool. Then take the basic pattern and rewrite in other modes, keys etc. If it is a Major scale idea rewrite it in minor or melodic minor. You can do this with melodic ideas from heads of famous tunes. Take a few licks from Ornithology and playing them in E minor instead of G major. See what happens! The last step is then to take your own unique ideas and try to fit them over chord changes. They will fit over some and not others. As you explore you will get it in your ear and muscle memory. You can also take YOUR IDEA and turn it into a diatonic sequence, thus allowing it to become a long melodic phrase that passes through several chords.

  5. Take a song you really like and completely rewrite it. Learn by example what the structures of the song are by deconstructing it and rebuilding it. This will teach you a lot about music, the interplay between melody and chords and produce improv ideas. The problem IMO with the formulaic approach to chord scale matching is that it is too reductionist without the synthesis part coming after. Perhaps if you attend Jamey Abersold's Jazz camp one summer you will get both parts. But I suspect that, like many of us, you picked up a book or play along CD or attended a short master class and have not seen the big picture. If I'm wrong please let me know. As an example of this I might suggest All Of Me. This has a very distinct 3 note theme that is walked back and one can easily apply chord subs to rewrite the C Maj progression in A min (without transcribing the notes). Since C maj is harmonically compatible with A min, why even bother laying a C maj line over it! Just go to A min. Pat Martino does this a lot, he calls it "minorizing" the tune. Once you do this you find it more natural to default to fast repetitive minor Blues patters.

  6. Keep trying and if something isn't working try something new. This is a long process that can get frustrating. The idea is to eventually relax into a groove, a flow, and ride the music. It can feel like playing catch up with the chords but with a better understanding of what the chords are supposed to do you will free yourself of the need to chase them with modes and just play melodic ideas.

Above all else, don't give up. I'd say if you do not have more bop on your iPod (or whatever) than anything else then get some. Listening is the key to understanding every style of music. To answer the question in the title directly, Nothing. Nothing is going through my mind when I solo.

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First of all, it's important to realize that you've set yourself a very difficult goal. But from what I read in your question, I think you could improve on the way how to approach that goal. As you know, bebop is usually played at fast tempos, and the melodies and improvisations have a tendency to be complex. So bebop standards are usually not a good starting point for learning jazz improvisation. Even though you've played for 20 years, I wouldn't shy away from practicing easy jazz standards that are played at slow tempos and that have relatively simple progressions. Use those to improve your vocabulary, your intuition on the guitar, and - and that's often neglected - to improve your ears. While improvising you don't have time to think of scales and arpeggios. Instead, you must be able to let your ears do the work for you. Of course, this takes years of practice and you need to know about scales, arpeggios and chords, but you must let your ears activate that knowledge when you improvise.

A few tips:

  1. Don't think in chords per bar and the related chord scales but think in tonal centers. Even the most complex tunes don't change tonality in each bar, and the basic scale also doesn't change that quickly. Most of the time you just need to alter one or two notes temporarily before coming back to the parent scale.

  2. The themes of Charlie Parker tunes are a great source of bebop vocabulary. You could set yourself the goal to learn (the theme of) a Charlie Parker song each week for a few weeks. Try to understand how the notes relate to the underlying progression. This will very quickly improve your own improvisations.

  3. Work on standard progressions that are used in many tunes. Think of a jazz blues progression (e.g., Billie's Bounce) or rhythm changes. The material used in those progressions is applicable in many different tunes.

And this is what I do for myself and also with students to learn a specific tune:

  1. Listen to many version of the same piece. Try to hear the progression, sing along with solos, etc. Start in the middle of the piece and make sure you know where in the progression you are. Sing the main melody (theme).

  2. Learn to play the chords by heart. Don't learn them as you'd learn a phone number by heart, but let your ears help you. Learn to recognize 2-5-1 progressions and all other standard harmonic devices, such as IV minor (in a major key), IV7 (for that bluesy sound), secondary dominants, diminished approach chords, etc. Be aware of all those devices while playing through the chords.

  3. Play the theme, and be able to relate it to the chords. Play it on one or two strings, in one position, etc. Play it in different keys and learn to play it intuitively by just thinking about how the next note sounds. If you always think in scales and patterns you won't build up sufficient intuition on the guitar to be able to face more complex musical situations. It helps to come up with a simple chord-melody arrangement, so that you literally have to see and hear the chords that go with the melody.

  4. Compose a simple and musical solo over the changes. Don't construct it using your knowledge of chord scales, but again let your ears guide you. Learn it everywhere on the neck.

  5. Learn a solo of an artist you enjoy listening to. Transcribe it yourself, and don't necessarily choose a guitar player but choose a different instrument. If possible, play it in different octaves.

  6. Be creative and find exercises that address your specific problems and shortcomings.

Of course, this sounds like a lot of work and it is a lot of work. But note that you'll get better and faster at it after having worked out a few tunes the way I've just described it, because you'll become a better player and musician with each song that you work on, and you'll notice that many of the same harmonic and melodic devices are used in different tunes.

Playing jazz, or, more specifically, bebop, is a hugely complex task and it takes many years to become a decent player. But I think it's definitely worth your time.

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    Great answer. You say "it takes a lifetime to maybe come close", but some masters were already very confident in their 20's or early 30's. – mkorman May 28 at 8:35
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    @mkorman: Yes, sure, but what I meant was that you never stop learning and that there's always lots of room for improvement. And let's face it, those masters have (or had) so much more talent than most others, so for most people it does take lots of time. – Matt L. May 28 at 8:47
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    Confidence = That feeling you have just before everything goes to crap! I have that on a T-shirt. Confidence in a 20 yo is probably based on different experiences than cautious optimism in a 40 yo or comfortable doubt in a 60 yo. As we learn more we realize we'll never learn it all. But to others it appears that we've mastered it. – ggcg May 28 at 14:58
  • Many thanks, Matt! This is very helpful. – JazzDreamer May 29 at 18:08
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A friend who studied with Bill Charlap (renowed jazz pianist and teacher) once told me that Bill said this:

You think while you practice so that you don't have to think while you play.

With any new lick or technique, the goal is for our practice to move us through this natural progression:

  1. Initially, we plan out how and where to use the lick or idea during our improvisation.
  2. Slowly, we begin to use the lick in unplanned ways, but it is very forced, and it doesn't integrate well (or at all) with our other ideas.
  3. We become more flexible and start using the lick in new ways. We play it in different bars, with new rhythms, or starting on different beats. We try to connect it with other ideas in novel ways.
  4. Eventually, we use the lick without doing it consciously or without even realizing it.

As you can see, if we only practice straight arpeggios, we'll never move past stage 1-2. So instead, find 10 different ways that Charlie Parker modifies an arpeggio to make it interesting--or 10 ways that he connects an arpeggio to another melodic device. Then practice those techniques.

The way we practice trains our ear. If we don't practice integrating new ideas and techniques, then we'll never reach the stage where it happens seamlessly. To aid with stages 3-4, it's crucial to listen and transcribe bebop solos. This will further develop your ear and guide your work.

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  • "Think while you practice" -- absolutely. Jazz improv can seem improvised but it ain't necessarily so (... I'm sorry...). Improvisation happens but not necessarily live on stage, rather when we practice. There are of course gods/esses out there who truly can improvise great music under concert conditions... but I can recommend Michael Ondaatje's Coming Through Slaughter as an excellent impression of what jazz musicians do with the other 99% of their time. – mrblewog May 29 at 14:17
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    @mrblewog, we may disagree on this point. While it's true we practice improvising, I still think it is very spontaneous and most jazz musicians do genuinely improvise when they take a solo. Very few people write out their solos and play them note for note. Once we reach a certain level of proficiency, there is no separation between the ideas we have and the notes we play. It would be surprising not to have new ideas while performing on stage, especially considering that we hear and respond to our bandmates' solos, we respond to the rhythm section, we focus more on developing an idea, etc. – jdjazz May 29 at 14:54
  • We may disagree less than you think. For instance: "it would be surprising not to have" -- I agree entirely. My point is that the thought process happens elsewhere too. And besides, nothing I said implied -solo- practice exclusively... – mrblewog May 29 at 14:55
  • @mrblewog, maybe it's valuable to clarify the type of thought. An analogy to speech is useful: when we talk, we don't think about which words are nouns, verbs, etc. We simply speak and think about the meaning of what we say. The same is true of improvising. When we practice improvisation, we think about chord tones, approach tones, arpeggios, etc. so that it becomes ingrained. Then, when we improvise, our brain is free to operate at a higher level of musical thought--one where we listen to the band, react, and activate our creativity and ideas without being bogged down technically, etc. – jdjazz May 29 at 15:02
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    That's a great quote ;) – ex nihilo May 30 at 23:40
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All the theory out there should serve to improve your "hearing" skills. The reason you succumb to scale shapes, choosing modes, thinking about passing notes etc. is because you can't (yet) hear what you are going to play in your head, before you play it. So you approach it like a computer algorithm and hear the notes you play only after you played them (hoping that it sounds good). This is backwards.

And you have experience with this, you know how it feels: you can improvise over a blues using pentatonic scale already. You say you can hear the notes before you play them.

An accomplished improviser does the same, it's just that they have more advanced "hearing" and more advanced knowledge of their instrument (ability to transfer what they hear to the notes on their instrument). It's just like how you play the blues, just that the chops necessary for what you want is an order of magnitude harder to build, but it is possible if you train right. Getting out of the mindset that you need to be methodic (choosing scales, patterns etc. to produce sound) is essential. They are essential for your training but not for your playing. While you are playing, you'll hear what you want to play in your head, and play it without thinking any of the theory.

Can you imagine, hum, whistle a convincing melody over whatever changes you want to improvise with? This is the litmus test. You need to be able to do this (this is primarily related to your ear / hearing skills). Humming, whistling, imagining will not lend themselves to thinking about theoretical constructs, only your intuitive distillations of those to the sound world. You probably can do this, but it will be elementary. Over time, you'll be able to imagine more complex elaborations of the changes through melodies because you'll be able to "hear" more flexibly. The sounds / notes that don't intuitively come to your mind will be there because your ears will already be trained for it. Then the next challenge will be between your hearing and your instrument - translating what you hear into your instrument effortlessly.

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Sounds like you invested lots of time in the mechanics (execution of arpeggio, scale, etc) and the theoretical aspect (what to play over a particular chord) but how much time did you spend training your ears? When I am immersed in improv I’m hearing in my head the melody I should play. This has taken me decades of work. Getting very serious about ear training (intervals, chords, progressions) was key to making the pieces fall in place (mechanics, theory, tune memorization)..before that I was trying to play music that I was incapable of hearing. Can’t be done, well, not convincingly (will sound contrived, like an exercise).

Hal Galper talks about this: “Hal Galper's Master Class - The Illusion of An Instrument”.

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First I’d like to say some critical analytical thoughts and remarks about licks and tricks and what I have observed when listening to amateur improvisers:

  • if you have some good licks and are able to transpose them in any key they may fit maybe in 50% of any situation.
  • Play very fast, so fast that the listeners have no chance to analyze what you have played. If the final note fits everything goes.
  • If you realize there was a big mistake ... just repeat it, play it twice or more that everyone will think it must have been like this, and look proud and self confidently, don’t give any sign that you’ve been mistaken.

I can’t see any fundamental difference between improvisation and classical variations or embellishments of baroque music. So you can play and improvise using change notes, passing tones, chord tones and scales. Of course in jazz you have more extended chords, blue notes and chromatic approaches, the tritone substitution ... and especially in be-bop: the rhythm!

I agree with almost everything that has been said in other answers, before all: begin with simple tunes.

Here my personal advices to develop and build your repertoire of ideas for improvising.

Very important: don’t play the instrument, just humming or singing your variations, you can do this in a very slow speed:

  1. take simple tune, children song, blues or spiritual
  2. make it jazzy by doubling (triplets etc.) the melody notes with a swing
  3. add change notes and passing tones, triads
  4. mix the elements you’ve developed until now to a varied song, notating all elements you have found.
  5. use more accidentals, chromatic approaches, write a chord lead sheet (which you later can extend by more colored harmonies.
  6. before varying the chords try to vary the rhythm in different stiles - not only in bebop.

Mind that improvised variation of the chords is difficult and limited when you play with others. Some agreements and planning (lead sheet) will be comfortable.

Knowledge of scales, modes, arpeggios and transposition in all keys must be practiced on your instrument: There is one special, important scale you have to know and practice: the scales for the dim.7 chords: whwhwhwh... and for V7 #5 you can also use the whole tone scale: wwwwww

By this way you will develop your own, personal and individual style of improvisation.

And this way will be: singing, listening, writing, playing, transferring, improvising.

Btw. : that’s what I’m doing with any piece in my mind,(like a little prelude by Bach, a Sonata or concerto by Beethoven or Mozart or any Popsong I’ve heard in the radio: it becomes an ear worm, turning in my brain, and variated as a Boogie, bop, Waltz or a March.

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I have been where you are. Many years ago. The mental challenge was one of the reasons I wanted to start playing jazz.

And the single advice I'd give you is: "transcribe solos". If you do that, you'll see very effective ways to cope with chords, and you'll also make the phrases "your own", because you have heard them, you have transcribed them, you have understood them, and you can repeat them!

One of the cool things about transcribing is the fact that you can start out with your favourite musicians solos! You can get right in there and reproduce the sounds that you like the most!

Copying is the way to learn any trade, mind you. Eventually, you'll put together everything you have worked on in your own, personal way.

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