Jazz improvisation can be a tricky subject so I understand a beginners concern, especially when they are required to improvise but they're not ready. Personally I found the idea of learning to improvise a challenge so instead of backing down I took every opportunity I could to improvise. This led to me getting the first tenor parts even though there were older more experienced students around. In my journey I discovered a lot of things, but I found that most methods of learning jazz improvisation just didn't help a beginner. Often times your told read the cords, use scales, play notes that fit, transcribe the greats and so on. These are helpful for learning to improvise in jazz, but just plain overwhelming for a beginner. What scales do you use, what notes fit the chords, how can I transcribe the greats when they play so fast? These are challenges and questions that beginners have. To get through these challenges a beginning saxophonist just needs to simplify things. That's what I did in high school and it worked wonders. Let me explain.
In high school I was reading a lot of jazz charts. So many in fact that I never had time to truly learn the chord progressions. What I ended up doing was looking at the key signature of the chart, and figuring out what key the piece was in. I would then look to see if the chart had any accidentals that showed up frequently. Then when it came time to improvise I would just use the major or minor scale that fit the key signature as my base. If the tune had accidentals I would add those too. From there I just played by ear. When I started doing this I no longer had to worry about the chords, or what scales to use, or even what notes to choose. This technique worked great for me and it gave me so much more freedom. Instead of having to think about a million things all at once. I was able to focus on creativity and music. So in a nut shell here is the technique that I recommend beginners use as a starting point to learning to improvise jazz.
- Use the songs key signature as a basis of finding what scale or scales you should use in your improvisation
- See if the tune has frequent accidentals. If so use those accidentals in your jazz improvisations.
- Play and have fun.