May 21st, 2010

10 Jazz Improvisation Tips to Remember

By Forrest

1.) Think quality over quantity

Often we are in a hurry to ‘catch up.’ Where ever you are in your personal development as a jazz improviser, accept it. It’s okay if you only know a few tunes, or can barely blow over a blues. Don’t sweat it. Worrying about our own deficiencies causes us to frantically scramble to learn too much too quickly. Instead, commit to learning one thing really well.

2.) Rather than comparing yourself to others, use them to learn

When everyone around you is so good, it is tough not to compare yourself to others. Maybe your buddy can play way faster than you, or someone else just sounds so good, you just feel like nothing in comparison.

We are all individuals. Don’t be frustrated that other people are better than you. Feel fortunate to have them as a resource to learn. Believe me. Every one thinks about this stuff differently and most of the time, they enjoy sharing their knowledge.

Perhaps, you have some bit of knowledge you can give them as well. My friends and I are constantly sharing our latest concepts, lines, or thoughts with one another. You can learn a ton from your environment if you choose to.

3.) Never Sacrifice a beautiful sound

Sometimes when we practice, we get so caught up in what ever it is we are practicing, that we forget to play with a rich beautiful sound. The sound you play with during your exercises will carry over to your performances.

Your sound is number one. If you play with a crappy sound (everyone has their own definition of this. Record yourself and you be the judge), then no matter how hip your lines are, no one will care because music is about sound. There is no way around that. It is an aural art form.

4.) What goes in, comes out

Pretty self explanatory, but often overlooked. It’s the same idea as ‘You are what you eat.’ What people sound like, is what they put in. It did not get their magically.

5.) Go slower than you think you need to

A good rule of thumb: Put the metronome at a speed that you feel is correct,  and then subtract 15 bpm because we all tend to over estimate our ability.

6.) Listen, Transcribe, and absorb music that gets YOU Excited

The idea is that you will be attracted to things that mesh with you. Therefore, by immersing yourself in the music YOU love, you are getting closer to releasing your unique voice.

7.) Have an open mind

On the other side of the coin, do not ignore what people have to say about who to listen to or transcribe. Be open to new sounds, genres, artists, influences, ideas, or concepts. Point being, let your own heart guide you to what you love, but don’t shut down when people try to tell you to expand your view.

I used to be very adamant about the musicians I liked and didn’t like. I could tell you why I liked or didn’t like each one too. Forget that attitude. It’s difficult, but try not to judge something on whether you like it or not.

8.) Think big picture

You have your whole life to play music. At least we hope so ;-) No one practice session matters that much,  no one gig matters that much, no one tune…you get the idea.

9.) Use everything as an opportunity to improve as a musician

When I was in school, I had to take a lot of classes that did not directly have to do with playing jazz. At first this really bummed me out, but as I progressed through these classes, I realized that the things I was learning could improve my jazz playing and composition. For instance, in one class I had to study a Brahms Symphony for weeks. That one experience completely changed my outlook on composition and greatly increased my musical knowledge.

This concept is not limited to musical experiences either. For example, learning about typography and design has affected how I think about musical construction and form. Always being on the lookout for these connections can help you find some unexpected sources of inspiration.

10.) Remember why you play

If nothing else, remember why you play each day. There’s no substitute for loving what you do.