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I learned all the chords and their inversions. I'm pretty slow with inversions yet but I'm trying as hard as I can!

Now I started to improvise with my right hand a little bit (omg this is so fun!). So I write a chord progression and try to play random notes and see if they fit together.

But after a couple of days I found out that it doesn't really help, I don't learn from it that much. So I started googling some "right hand fills" videos and found out some cool patterns like arpeggiating notes 1, 2, 3, 5 and 1, 2, 5 and then -1 (-1 means that if 1 was C then -1 is B, I don't know how to write it the other way. A half-step down).

Let's say I'm in a key of E Minor (only F is sharp). I made a progression: Emin, G, Bmin, D and I just play 4 times each chord in left hand.

Now, I try to pick notes with my right hand, limit them somehow so I don't use everything from the scale. Ofc I could just use the notes from the chord (in case of Emin it'd be E, G and A and higher notes, inverted etc) but this is boring and I want to add some notes that sound good too and are not in that chord.

Are there some patterns I can use here? I mean, maybe I should use notes from the chord Emin and G (if I'm gonna move from Emin to G in a moment)?

I know that this question may be broad, but do you have any suggestions of what should I do?

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There are a number of things you can do but the hardest is always best. First, since you know all your chords, explore the upper and lower neighbors of each chord tone. The basic C chord is CEG, so randomly experiment with the half step note below each of those notes, those are the lower neighbors. Then experiment with the upper neighbors which are a half step higher. Then experiment by mixing both. Then experiment with passing tones which are half step notes between two notes then mix them with the UN and LN's such as: B D Db B C F D D# E Ab F F# G. This is the foundation gambit of Oscar Peterson's improvisation.

Some people may tell you to target tension notes such as the flat fifth or something but there is a better way which is much more difficult but has the highest reward: Learn the ancient church modes. They are Ionian (you already know this one), Locrian, Aeolian, Mixolydian, Lydian, Phyrgian, Dorian. You can look them up AND LEARN THEIR HALF STEP WHOLE STEP delineations. There are many cheat methods to learn them but DON'T CHEAT because you won't actually "learn" them. For instance, one cheat is to start on C and play Db scale. That is Locrian but by doing that you don't really learn the Locrian notes. A second way is to start on any key and play a c scale, for instance, start on B and play a C scale and that is Locrian. All this does is teach you to superimpose a scale over another and when you are improvising you don't have time to think "I am playing a C scale and will superimpose an Ab scale." Well, that is not improvising, it is embellishing or playing licks or patterns. If you take the time to learn each mode fully and properly you will find yourself seamlessly playing bits and pieces of several modes.

The modes will also teach you rich harmonies such as play a C E Bb in your left hand and a Phrygian Eb Ab C in your right or maybe a Lydian D F# A or a Locrian Gb Bb Db. All the greatest jazz musicians use the modes but they are great because they didn't cheat. Again, don't learn the chords, learn the modes. Some people are taught to play a CEG then play the next triad on a D but only on white keys, then E, then F . . . . but what did you actually learn? Nothing. Cheating cheats yourself.

For more fun harmonic improvisation, experiment with sequences of three or six note chords made of fourths or fifths. This is a very bop style. Better yet, get a copy of the Monteverdi Madrigals (IV is my fave) and study how each note of every chord leads and melts into one another. Or, Lotti's CRUCIFIXUS:

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When you check most existing melodies, you'll find that some, at least, of the notes used in any bar are chordal notes. Think about it - if the notes and the chord didn't blend, or match, then either the notes or the chord (possibly both!) will be wrong!

The main note in any bar is generally the one on the first beat. Since that beat is more emphasised than the others, it carries more weight, more importance. So it makes sense, at least in the earlier stages, to use a chord tone there. If nothing else, it gives the poor listener a clue as to where things are in the music. So much so, that listening to a good improvisor, playing alone, one can feel/hear exactly where they are in the music. Which is so important.

The next place, for now, is the important beat 3 (in 4/4 time, of course!), so another landmark to use well. What goes in between is the experimental bit - but with a solid skeleton to build on, start with those. Keeping it simple for now - good luck.

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  • Hello Tim, thanks for the answer, it's really helpful! Can you clarify If you suggest to use one of the chord tones in beat #3 aswell?
    – Jacob
    Apr 2 at 16:57
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    It's a good start point, yes. Eventually you may wean yourself past that.
    – Tim
    Apr 2 at 17:30

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