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What I’m Thinking About When I Improvise

Welcome to episode 292 where today we listen to a recording of me improvising over a popular jazz standard and try to understand what I’m thinking as I improvise. Improvisation can be a mysterious thing, and it can feel difficult to connect the dots between the scales, licks, and patterns you are practicing to actually improvising great solos. This episode will give some insight into how pro and advanced jazz musicians think.

Listen to episode 292

Now the art of improvising and playing great jazz solos tends to be a mysterious thing for those on the outside looking in. 

Like what are the advanced and pro-level jazz musicians thinking about when they improvise? How are they able to spontaneously create things? 

Are they thinking about scales? Are they thinking about chord tones? Are they thinking about licks that they’ve learned? Are they thinking about a particular emotion when they are playing? What is creating this ability to create spontaneously and great improvisations? 

Well, in today’s episode, I’m going to actually uncover that in myself to see if we can get inside of what I’m actually thinking when I’m improvising so that hopefully, you can take that information and that knowledge and apply it to your solos so that you do create great improvisations.

In this episode:

1. Improvisation is connecting the subconscious to the conscious

2. Great improvisers have often played what they are improvising before

3. It’s important to practice things we want to play so that we develop our own “isms” that feel natural to us

Important Links

1. LJS Inner Circle Membership

2. Free Guide to learn standards by ear: Learn Jazz Standards the Smart Way

Brent Vaartstra
Brent Vaartstra
Brent Vaartstra is a professional jazz guitarist and educator living in New York City. He is the head blogger and podcast host for which he owns and operates. He actively performs around the New York metropolitan area and is the author of the Hal Leonard publication "Visual Improvisation for Jazz Guitar." He's also the host of the music entrepreneurship podcast "Passive Income Musician."


  1. This is great, thnks for putting it together. my takeaway is that you have put in the directed-practice over a period of time, and it eventually just clicks together. almost every line of yours was: I did this in practice and it turned out this way in my improv. it reminds me of a quote I came across when training Kung-Fu: “Sweat more in training, bleed less in Battle”.

    and also Bruce Lee’s quote about muscle memory that you always talk about:
    “Before I studied the art, a punch to me was just like a punch, a kick just like a kick. After I learned the art, a punch was no longer a punch, a kick no longer a kick. Now that I’ve understood the art, a punch is just like a punch, a kick just like a kick. The height of cultivation is really nothing special. It is merely simplicity; the ability to express the utmost with the minimum.”

  2. Nicely done Brent. Very interesting and helpful to watch and analyze a solo in progress. It reinforces that there’s no easy road and that prep is important, as well as letting the subconscious do it’s thing.


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