Playback: a good way to practice improvising
Today I published the 6th video of the series “Study of the standard I can’t give you anything but love” which is a playback to practice improvisation. It’s exactly the same playback that I used in the other videos in the series, which will allow you to do the same exercises!
So I take this opportunity to talk to you about the use of playbacks when you practice the violin or another instrument and you want to work on improvisation .
Why use a playback?
There are several reasons that for me make playback an excellent practice tool. It is obvious that the ideal is to do rehearsals with a group or with another musician, for example to find a pianist or a guitarist who accompanies you, that you can rehearse with him every day. Unfortunately, this scenario is not always possible. The use of playbacks is in my opinion an excellent alternative, even if musically it is not always optimal! It remains a work tool, a means of doing exercises, in order to better prepare for its performances which will be with real musicians!
3 good reasons to use backing tracks
– It’s a way to play
To learn to play jazz, you have to.. play, play, play! Great musicians like Stéphane Grappelli or Django Reinhardt come from a time when they had the opportunity to play in public every day and from an early age. By playing continuously, their ear was formed, their sense of rhythm, as well as their technique. They played with experienced musicians and learned a lot through mimicry.
Times have changed, and we have come to a time where we can find all the information we want on the internet… So we can continue to learn by imitation, if by chance we manage to to sort out among the infinity of information given to us… But to play it’s more complicated! You have to move around, find musicians who are also willing to travel, and available… Schedules have to match.. It’s not that simple! So, if you can’t play with real musicians, the playback is always faithful to the job… Especially since some playbacks are made by excellent musicians, such as the Aebersolds. Even if we can’t have any interaction, these playbacks are still very interesting musically.
Indeed, when you use a backing track at home, you are more relaxed than in the middle of a concert. On stage, even if the ideal is to be completely in the music and not to think about anything, you still often have all sorts of things to concentrate on: the bowing, the left hand, ghost notes, sound, how to make this or that note sound, how to stay in rhythm, etc… And very often, it makes us tense and stresses us out. But playing quietly with a playback at home allows you to anticipate this nervousness and get used to playing relaxed; in this way, we will be more relaxed on stage.
– Testing what you are working on alone
Playing along to a backing track allows you to test out things you’re working on, new elements you’ve chosen to introduce into your improvisation, without stress and tension. You can repeat them as many times as you want to integrate them into your playing! If for example there is a pattern you want to explore on the II-VI, it is sure that if you do it continuously with a guitarist and you ask him to do a II-VI a hundred times so that you can practice on it, after a while he will be fed up and he may not come back the next day… Whereas with playback, any number of repeats you need are possible!
Where to find backing tracks?
Personally, I regularly use gypsy jazz or jazz backing tracks. You can also make your own backing tracks yourself by recording the accompaniments, which I also did, especially at the beginning of my apprenticeship, not having at the time the access that we can have to playbacks via the internet like today… Obviously, to record a playback, it’s easier with a harmonic instrument like the guitar or the piano, but it’s is also possible on the violin. There are several ways to accompany on the violin, and in a future article I will explain how to do it.
Below, I’ll give you three sources of playbacks that you can already access.
3 sources where you can find backing tracks
On this platform, you can find all kinds of playback styles: jazz, gypsy jazz, funk, soul… Just type in the track you want, then “playback” or “play-along”. For example for gypsy jazz, if you type Minor swing playback, you will find excellent playbacks like those of Clément Reboul, who also has a blog called Learning Gypsy Jazz! Go check it out, his advice is great! I also recommend the playbacks of Denis Chang, Gonzalo Bergara, or Gael Rouilhac…
– Jamey Aebersold
These playbacks which are purely jazz are made with real musicians of excellent level. This alternative is really great musically speaking for jazz with drums. On the other hand, the tempos are sometimes too fast when you start jazz. In this case, the solution would be to use the Transcribe program, which also allows you to take notes by slowing down the music. So you can set your playback to the tempo you’re most comfortable with, then gradually increase to the original speed.
Personally, I used volume 24 a lot, which includes tracks that only stay on one chord, in the 12 major and minor keys. Volume 65 isn’t bad either because the tempi aren’t too fast. I also like the 67 where each piece is transposed in all keys, as well as the volume dedicated to II-V-I and which gives phrases to work on these cadences.
– Programs and apps
Another option that I also use are programs such as Band in the Box or Irealbook. I used Band in the Box a lot at the beginning of my journey and now I use Irealbook. It is with IRealbook that I made the playback in the video attached to this article.
The benefits of these programs:
you can choose or modify the tempo, tone and accompaniment style, as well as the volume of each accompaniment instrument
you can create your own pieces yourself. For example, if I have a composition that I want to work on, I can create the grid in iRealBook!
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You can also download the ABSTRACT (in French) below.