IMPROVISE AROUND THE THEME – VIDEO 4/6 Etude for the Standard “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love”




Dear reader,

Especially last week I couldn’t post anything on the blog, because my daughter was born two weeks ago! However, I’ll be back this week with a new video and its explanations and I intend to continue to post a week on this blog dedicated to jazz violin! Hoping that being a mother gives me time…

In this series of six progressive videos to learn to play a standard, you have already had two exercises to learn to play the theme while swinging: the video 2/6 which shows how to play the theme with ghost notes, and the video 3/6 where we learn how to mix ghost notes with other elements (legatos, long notes). The two videos that follow (4/6 and 5/6) will cover improvisation.

To begin to improvise over changes, you often have to worry about looking at the chords and wanting to go through all the arpeggios and all the scales, which is very useful and even essential for learning the progression! But sometimes you can’t find pleasure in doing it at first sight, and you feel very stuck, you would like to be able to feel more freedom in this music which precisely advocates the free creation of music in the moment… But we can’t find a way to feel this freedom by focusing directly on harmony, chords, arpeggios and scales of the piece… You can feel some frustration!

So I want to give you something that is really great and is used by great musicians in their improvisations. In addition, this tip will certainly please you since you practice a melodic instrument, and therefore it will give you a satisfaction to be able to improvise by ear and without thinking too much about the chords! And I also think that this process can be the first exercise to do to improvise on a standard, to develop the more intuitive side of a chorus, before leaning on arpeggios and scales.

First tip for improvising on a standard

The principle is very simple: since you have already practiced the videos with the exercises to play the theme, now we are going to use the theme to improvise! Indeed, if you try to improvise using the notes that are in the theme, you are sure not to go wrong, it is very logical! It’s really a very important step for learning a piece. So you have to start by memorizing the theme by ear, and then “stitch” around this melody to gradually move away from it. If you have the theme in your ear, the way to embroider around this theme will be logical in relation to the harmony.

Here is the video that illustrates this exercise:

5-step process to learn how to improvise around the theme

: 1. Memorize the theme. Play it several times while reading it, or even better by listening to it (see my article on reading it!). Work on it with the ghost notes like on the videos 2/6 et 3/6.

2. Play the notes of the theme but modify the rhythm

3. Play the notes of the theme, but changing the order of the notes

4. “Embroider” around the theme by changing the rhythm and order of the notes, and start to add other notes by trusting your ear.

5. Wander further and further away from the theme, to reach a stage where you improvise without really distinguishing the theme as precisely as when you play it.


If you work on this, you can be sure to start on a good basis for learning a standard and improvising over the changes of a tune. I think this is a crucial step in the development of improvisation, and it is also an easier procedure to start!

Many great musicians use this process in their choruses, in particular to set up the first solo over the chorus, before developing more complicated patterns in the choruses that follow. I hope this little article and this video will help you progress in learning the jazz violin or another instrument! I am very happy to see that musicians who play other instruments are also following my advice! So feel free to share this video-article if you find it useful for other people! See you soon for a new article!

If you found this article useful, you can download the SUMMARY of it in the box below with THE STANDARD SHEET “I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE”, and you will also receive the next articles and updates by e-mail.

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