The most desired trombone improvisation skill

I recently sent a survey to my trombone playing subscribers in which one question asked, What aspect of your improvisation do you most wish to improve?

I’m writing a book called Trombone Improvisation Savvy. The answer to that question is pretty important for a book on improvisation. It turns out that the answers to that question have influenced a good bit of the book. In fact, I would probably not have included nearly as much harmonic theory in the book were it not for the fact that the greatest number of responses by a huge margin answered: Knowing how to associate the notes I play with the chord changes.

I realize that harmonic theory is valuable to a fundamental understanding of improvisation, but there are so many good books already written on the subject.  I am striving to create something different. Part of my motivation is the fact that I believe many improvisers have been overly influenced by scale theory. The result is too many young improvisers who confuse scales with melody.

I hope that this book will motivate players to think primarily in terms of melody, and I believe that better musicianship and improvisation will result.

Survey says…

40.6%  Knowing how to associate the notes I play with the chord changes

16%  Playing within the more difficult keys

10.4%  Knowing my scales

7.5%  Developing my own unique style

3.8%  Having a nice groove to my playing

2%  Playing melodically

Other answers included:

  • Playing more interestingly
  • Playing better over more complex harmonies and playing faster
  • Better at playing by ear
  • Being less handcuffed with ideas because of limited range and speed
  • All of the above – aaarrrrrgggghhhhh – where do I start?
  • I don’t know where to begin.
  • Creating longer and more melodic lines with coherent construction and development
  • Being more comfortable
  • Playing improv with more confidence.
  • More melodic
  • and many that wrote “all of the above

Yes, I see that “playing melodically” is dead last on the wish list, but I persevere. My hope is that trombone players will gain from this book because playing melodically will help them develop their own style, help them create a nice groove, help them be more comfortable and give them a good place to start – all things people said they want.

Feel free to give me your thoughts in the comments. I promise I’ll do my best to include your thoughts in the book.


  1. CJ on March 6, 2017 at 2:05 pm

    “Creating longer and more melodic lines with coherent construction and development”

    That was me! Proud to be in the 2%

    • Michael Lake on March 6, 2017 at 2:28 pm

      Love those 2 percenters!

      I really think you’ll appreciate the book. For people looking for something packed with chord theory and scale associations, they will find it disappointingly light. I’m developing some ideas for building the skill to create melodic lines over changes that, to my knowledge, has not yet been done. I’ve also come up with what I think is a good tune list for the analysis & play-along section.

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