At a time when so many are questioning the widespread "play this scale over this chord" approach to learning to improvise, Randy Hunter offers a more harmony based approach to maneuvering through the changes of a tune. The concept seems to be to quickly train the ear, mind and fingers to instantly know the harmony of a tune, and know exactly how to get from one chord to the next smoothly. This serves as a starting point to bring in other elements.
I tried the following of Randy's lessons:
The Arpeggio Circle part 1, and 2 (2 lesson set)
Guiding the HarmonyandThe Flat Nine (2 lesson set),
Randy includes a video with animated illustrations and verbal instructions, and Randy blowing, and accompanying pdf with explanatory text and written exercises with each lesson.
What I liked about Randy's approach is that it is pretty clear and concise. Its apparent that he thought carefully about how to introduce the topic and exactly what the student needs to practice to make the material his own. For example, in his Arpeggio Circle series, the student is lead through a progressive series of exercises that ultimately culminates in his or her ability to improvise accurately over the changes of the song. He doesn't just illustrate the concept, he gives exercises, that if practiced, will allow you to own the concept. Although I already knew the theory involved in the lesson, I felt practicing through Randy's specific exercises helped my fingers to know that theory.
I asked Randy why he doesn't recommend using a playalong in his lessons, and he replied that he usually preferred to have his students use a metronome alone to force them to hear the harmony better, and alter it as they learn without being locked into the repetitions of a recording.
One of the features I liked the most is that Randy centers each lesson around a specific tune in the jazz repertoire (in the Arpeggio Circle, for example, its "You Stepped out of A dream"). So closely following his instructions forces you to immediately apply everything you learn, and you expand your knowledge of tunes while you learn the new concepts. Teachers take note: I don't think you just stumble on this kind of efficiency. To me, this seems like an approach that has been refined over solid years of education and playing experience, and reading through Randy's background confirms this.
Randy illustrates his concepts by blowing over the examples, showing you what these concepts can sound like when the work is done. It was cool to hear how creative you could be with only chord tones, or one which used only certain guide tones or patterns.
The Arpeggio Circle focuses you on being able to play the arps through a tune (almost like a piano or guitarist comping) and freely combine them in ways that lock the knowledge of the chord tones and progression in your ears and fingers.
Guiding the Harmony trains you to immediately know and hear the third and seventh of a song (in this case "There will never be another you") and how to connect them to the following chord, gradually adding complexity until you are just taking a solo over the song.
The Flat Nine (good name for a jazz club, no?) is a more advanced lesson about how to use the flatted ninth as a leading tone to resolve to the next chord, one of the common "ways of moving" in bebop. He introduces several patterns and how they are used to make this technique work.
A cool follow up to these four lessons (if you are listening, Randy) would be a collection of examples and patterns from the masters that are illustrations of these ways of moving through a tune.
Each 2 lesson set costs about 10 bucks on Randy's site. A no brainer when you consider how simply and carefully they were put together, and how directly this method will take a student towards the goal of fluidly playing through any changes. Even after you know this stuff, you should be referring to this material for a long time. I really enjoyed these lessons, and am learning a good deal from them. Highly recommended.
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