How exciting ! I'm about to reveal the two "big secrets" that will allow you to improvise effortlessly over the changes of a new tune:
1. Play the melody over, and over, and over...
Turn on the metronome (read this: The Metronome) and play through the melody as many times as you can. Explore different fingerings, different positions, different registers even. Be as thorough as possible. Once you feel that you can really play the original melody with no mistakes, you will find that you will want to gradually take some musical liberties with it: you might start to phrase it differently, or a little more loosely. Pretend that you are singing it, so be expressive ! You will start embellishing it, developing it, editing it... You are, well... you are improvising !
Remember though: make sure you can play that melody accurately before you start experimenting with it. The variations will come naturally only after you have played the original melody enough times-- so be patient !
2. Play the chord changes over, and over, and over...
Don't start to improvise over a chord progression too soon: The best way to familiarize yourself with a new tune is to just play the chord changes for a long time-- and I mean a looooooooooong time ! Turn on the metronome again (did you read this: The Metronome ?) and pretend now that you are comping for an imaginary soloist. Do it for 20-30 minutes without stopping (really !). As an extra bonus, you will find that out of boredom, you will be starting to treat each chorus differently: walking bass lines, 2-feel, higher voicings, lower voicings, etc. Explore it all ! After that you will really know the form of the tune, and you will be amazed at how well you can hear those changes. It will make your soloing so much more intuitive.
OK. I know what you are thinking: those "secrets" don't quite sound like the great revelations you were expecting-- right ? I bet that you even heard some of that same advice in various forms before ? Sorry if I disappoint you. The moral of this story, though, is that we need to show a lot of patience if we want to become better improvisers. There are no real short-cuts... just a lot of time, but well-spent.
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