November 17th, 2014

3 Essential Improvisation Tools that You Need to Know

Written by Eric

Imagine that you’re a construction worker.

You’ve just pulled yourself out of bed at 4 a.m. and slipped on your steel-toed boots. As you stretch your tired legs you let out a sigh as another long day looms on the horizon. No worries, nothing you can’t do after a strong cup of coffee.

You arrive on site as the sun is rising, just in time to get a head start before the rest of your team shows up. You quickly unpack your gear and reach into your tool box when it suddenly hits you – you’ve forgotten your tools.

“*&$%#!”

The best you can do now is just stand there and mumble some sorry excuse as you silently curse yourself for your stupidity.

Doesn’t sound like too much fun, right?

But then again it’s common sense. I mean who would show up to work without the one thing they need to do their job?

Well, it’s much easier than you think and if you’re a musician, you’re probably guilty of this very mistake. In fact most players out there struggling to improvise are showing up to solo without any tools. What’s worse, they don’t even realize it.

These hopeful soloists have their instruments and they’ve learned their scales. They’ve memorized the melody and the chord progression and they’ve stepped up to the mic. But when it comes to creating musical phrases in real time, they are stuck up there without any tools.

“*&$%#!” is right.

Think of it like

Read More
October 13th, 2014

7 Reasons you’re not getting to the next level and what to do about it

Written by Forrest
How to get to the next level in Jazz Improvisation

When you begin something new, there’s so much to learn. Improvement is quick and often, practice is exploratory and fun. But after doing anything for a while, you settle into a routine and your once explosive improvement tapers off. Wherever this may leave you, you can’t seem to get beyond this plateau.

Why are you stuck at this intermediate level and what can you do about it?

Fear not friend. The primary reasons people remain at the same level in jazz improvisation are generally the same across the board. Let’s dive into these roadblocks and detail exactly how to handle them so you can get to the next level asap!

1.) You’re using scales as a shortcut to understanding chords

A huge problem and possibly the reason most people get stuck at the same improvisational level for so long, is their constant reliance on scales to understand chordal structures.

When you want to play over an Eb-7 chord, do you have to think about what notes to play based upon scale relationships? If your thinking goes something like this…”hmmmm, Eb- is the ii chord of Db major, so I’ll play the notes in Db major, but starting on Eb,” then you’re in trouble.

Michael Jordan doesn't take shortcuts

"If you try to shortcut the game, then the game will shortcut you." ~Michael Jordan

This shortcut to chords through scales is a widely taught system for understanding chords in jazz improvisation; this system quickly gives you access to correct notes without knowing a lot about the harmonic structures. It's not a bad place to start and in the short-term, it helps you, but if you want to get to the next level, it’s time you ditch your shortcuts and start to understand what actually is going on around you... Read More
October 6th, 2014

Why You Should be the Worst Player in the Room

Written by Eric

If you’re reading this I’m guessing that you want to be the best.

You want to walk into a room with your instrument and completely smash the competition. To tackle every chord progression, every tune, and every challenging technical passage with effortless mastery. To have every other player’s jaw drop as they look on in utter awe.

…unfortunately this isn’t always the case.

You see, the reality is that sometimes you’ll try your best and end up in the middle of the pack and at other times, you’ll end up in that dreaded spot at the bottom – you’re the worst player in the room.

It happens.

When you find yourself in these situations it can suddenly feel like music isn’t fun anymore. You get discouraged, you might even want to quit, and you can’t wait to run back to the safety of your comfort zone.

But wait a second! Being the worst player in a group of musicians isn’t necessarily a bad thing…it’s actually a good thing.

You might not realize it now, but you’re in the perfect place to improve.

Ugh, I’m the worst…

Tell me if this sounds familiar:

You’ve walked into a jam session and don’t know any of the tunes. You’re in a lesson with a great teacher and suddenly become aware of your musical weak spots. Or maybe you’ve signed up for a new class or took a chance and auditioned for a new group.

If it does, then I’m betting you know what … Read More

September 8th, 2014

4 Reasons Why You Should Start Recording Yourself Today

Written by Eric

There are perks to being a musician.

You get to step out into the spotlight and be the star of the show. You get to experience the exhilaration of creating music in the moment with other musicians. And you get to share your music with family, friends, and complete strangers.

But there’s one thing you don’t experience while you’re wielding your instrument: You don’t get to listen to yourself.

As a performer you’re too busy producing sound, keeping time, and listening to your fellow musicians to truly hear the sound that’s coming from your own instrument.

But what would it be like to be a listener at your own show? What if you could pull up a chair and really focus on each note of your solo as it happens – What would you sound like?

More importantly, would you be happy with what you’d hear?

Well there’s no need to guess, you can listen to your own concert, rehearsal, or practice session and it’s easier than you think. Here are 4 important reasons you should be recording yourself as a musician.

I) Wait…I sound like that?!

Let me ask you a question.

Have you ever heard a recording of your own voice?

I’m sure you have and if you’re anything like me you were probably caught off guard. The first time you hear your recorded voice coming from a speaker you can’t help but be surprised. How could that strange voice possibly be mine?

In seconds you realize an … Read More

August 7th, 2014

6 Practice Essentials for Every Improviser

Written by Eric

6 Improvisation Essentials

You walk into your practice room.

You sit back in your favorite chair and mentally prepare to play your first note of the day.

You glance at your stack of etude books, the half transcribed solo sitting on your music stand, and your growing list of tunes to learn and you let out a heavy sigh.

What are you going to practice today?

Sound familiar? Thought so.

Every musician knows this feeling well. Each time you pick up your instrument you’ve got to make a decision: Which type of practice is actually going to make you a better improviser?

Sure, we’ve all heard about the basic stuff, but in the back of our minds we’re secretly hoping to find that one perfect exercise or method that’s going to solve all of our improvisational woes.

However, it’s not that simple. The more you study and perform this music, the more you’ll realize that there isn’t a magic method for learning improvisation. The truth is each player has a personal way of approaching their time in the practice room that allows them to reach their goals.

So how do you sort through all of these methods to find the one that works for you?

Well the good news is that you don’t have to! You see, it isn’t one single method or practice plan that makes a player succeed, it’s the actual content of what’s happening in the practice room.

Take a closer look and you’ll see that every great practice routine … Read More

April 20th, 2014

Why Your Search for the Perfect Equipment is Not Making You a Better Musician

Written by Eric

You’re searching for the perfect sound.

You want to play long improvised lines with ease.

You want to have effortless high range, to play swinging phrases with a stellar tone, and to sound great on any jazz standard.

And to get there you just need that perfect instrument.

That vintage Martin Committee trumpet, that mint condition Mark VI, the perfect ride cymbal, that Slant Signature Otto Link, a Steinway Grand

Check it out!

It’s the same horn that John Coltrane, Joe Henderson, Mark Turner, and Seamus Blake play on:

Look no further…” the only thing between you and the sound of your dreams is $10,000!

As you can see, it’s way too easy to get caught up in the quest for the perfect equipment.

Believe me.

It’s fun to search for and buy new instruments and it’s all too easy to envision yourself squashing any musical obstacle with this brand new horn.

Before you know it, you’re spending more time on eBay and scouring the internet then you are practicing and listening to the music.

But wait a second, is this new instrument really going to change you as a musician?

We’re all obsessed with equipment

Visit an online music forum, attend a music conference, or strike up a conversation with your fellow musicians.

It’ll only be a matter of minutes until the topic turns to equipment.

What kind of horn do you play? Check out this new mouthpiece. Do you know what reeds Read More

April 13th, 2014

7 Surprising Qualities of the World’s Best Improvisers

Written by Eric

Wow.”

You’re sitting in the audience at a sold out concert and your favorite musician has just taken the stage.

Flawless technique, impeccable sound, and endless creative musical lines flow from the stage and fill up the concert hall.

Unbelievable,” you think. “This musician must be super-human!

They just might be, but have you ever wondered what this master musician is like in person?

What would it be like if you struck up a conversation after the show? What if you could see inside his/her practice room?

I’m sure your imagination could run wild with the possibilities, but be careful…

What you’re expecting isn’t always what you get. In fact, your perception of great players can often be completely wrong.

I’ve been pretty lucky to come in contact with some of the best musicians in the world and after each encounter, I always walk away surprised by what I find.

Here are seven qualities and habits of the best musicians that will catch you off guard.

1) It’s all about the fundamentals

It never ceases to surprise me.

I finally snag a lesson with a big name improviser and immediately envision an hour of life-changing insights, new harmonic possibilities, and secret licks that will transform my playing. However once I show up at the lesson, it’s all about the fundamentals.

Long tones, breathing, articulation, a single chord progression, time, scales, a standard tune…

Why? Well it’s no secret, the fundamentals of musicianship are … Read More

April 2nd, 2014

What, Why, Where, Who, When, and How to Transcribe

Written by Forrest

What, Why, Where, Who, When, and How to transcribe

Every day we receive countless variations of what, why, where, who, when, and how to transcribe questions in our inbox.

Should I transcribe lines or whole solos? Do I need to transcribe from the recording or can I just use a transcription book? Who should I transcribe? Do I have to transcribe Charlie Parker? Can I transcribe modern players? Is it okay to slow down the music I’m transcribing? What’s the process of transcribing? Did the great players of this music transcribe?

All of these and the others that come up are all great questions because they deal with something that is so necessary to learn how to play jazz and improvise the way you want: transcribing.

What should I transcribe?

What should I transcribe? Should I start somewhere in particular or just jump in head first? Should I do a whole solo or single lines?

Knowing what to transcribe can be difficult. There’s so much out there and you could literally do any of it. The best place to start is with the basic units and forms of jazz. So what does this mean? It means you start with something as simple as a major chord. Transcribe one line over a major chord and you’re on your way; acquiring useful language over these building blocks is essential.

The basic units and forms I’m talking about are: single chords (major, minor, dominant, half-diminished, etc.), ii Vs, minor ii Vs, blues, rhythm changes, and super common standards.

Does this mean you … Read More

March 29th, 2014

3 Easy-to-Fix Mistakes that are Making Your Solos Suffer

Written by Eric

“Uggh…ouch…”

Have you ever made these sounds when you’ve listened to a solo?

You know, one of those solos where you hear a couple of unsavory phrases and that’s it…no more! For the love of God, please make it stop!

If you listen to a good amount of music, I’ll bet you have.

But what exactly was it about this particular solo that turned you off so much?

The scales the soloist was using? The type of instrument they were playing?

No? Well it must be something…

You might be surprised, but a lot of what makes a solo sound bad doesn’t have anything to do with the notes or scales.

Harmonic tunnel vision

When you first start learning to improvise it’s all about the notes. All about the notes…

Major scales, minor scales, modes, arpeggios, chord tones, blues scales, bebop scales, the 3rd’s and 7th’s, dominant 7th chords, Major 9 chords, ii-V7-I, and on and on.

There’s so much theory to think about that you end up getting harmonic tunnel vision.

All you can see are chords and scales, scales and chords – every other aspect of the music becomes invisible.

You desperately want to play the right note at the right time so you clutch onto music theory like a stranded swimmer hanging onto a life preserver.

As a result, you forget about some very important parts of musical expression…

Remember, improvising isn’t just about which notes you play, it’s about how you play them.

And this is … Read More

March 19th, 2014

Why You Should Be Hearing Music in Your Mind

Written by Eric

I have a vivid memory of the first time I tried to play in an early jazz group. I was in school and was asked to play the trumpet part in an ensemble that met each week studying the music of Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, and other significant early players.

Cool, building my jazz history foundation right? How hard could it be to go back and pick up these styles?

However, once that first rehearsal began I quickly discovered that there was a huge hole in my playing. I could make it through each melody decently, but every time it was my turn to solo I hit a wall. My mind suddenly became blank and I had nothing to play – no melodic ideas, no rhythmic inspiration, and no idea where to even begin crafting a solo.

The music was just not in my mind, plain and simple. The style was unfamiliar, I wasn’t hearing the rhythmic elements of the music, and my sound and articulation weren’t fitting in with the group’s sound.

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To be honest, I had never really seriously listened to anything before Bird, Dizzy Gillespie or the big bands of the 1930’s and ’40’s. Up to that point I was used to playing modern jazz standards, ii-V-I’s, and aiming for the upper structures of chords, but none of that worked over this style – in fact it sounded terrible.

Like many other musicians, I’ve encountered this exact feeling in other areas of my playing as well. … Read More