Archive for the ‘Jazz Education’ Category

Stop right there! Don’t Touch Your Instrument until You Do these 4 Simple Exercises

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

All practice is not created equal.

There’s the practice that’s fun. You’re in a room with your instrument and maybe a few friends and you just start playing. The minutes fly by, but you’re not exactly working…

Then there’s the practice that feels like homework. You’ve got a lesson or a concert coming up so you force yourself to learn scales, to play etudes, and to review the music for your upcoming performance. You keep looking at the clock, waiting to escape…

And then there’s the kind of practice that’s different. The practice where you begin with a goal and a list of items to focus on. When it’s over you feel like you’ve improved, you’re motivated and even inspired

This type of practice has purpose and direction. It’s productive and fulfilling, and it’s connected with the reason you chose to play music in the first place.

Sounds pretty good, right?

The only problem is this type of practice seems to be elusive for so many players. So much of the time we find ourselves going between the “fun” practice and the practice that feels like homework, either jamming with our peers or forcing ourselves to slog through exercises.

But how do you consistently create this third type of practice, the practice that the best players seem to have down to a science?

Well I thought I’d share 4 things that have helped me grow as a musician, 4 exercises that have shaped the direction I want to take as … Read More

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

Monday, October 13th, 2014
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

Why You Should be the Worst Player in the Room

Monday, October 6th, 2014

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

6 Practice Essentials for Every Improviser

Thursday, August 7th, 2014

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

Creating the Perfect Practice Environment

Sunday, February 23rd, 2014

I’ve practiced my instrument huddled inside a closet, surrounded by dirty laundry. I’ve worked out scales after dark sitting in the back seat of my car. I’ve practiced classical etudes in secluded corners of Central Park. I’ve done my warm-up routine in hotel bathrooms and I’ve played into pillows after midnight to run through tunes.

Over the years I guess I’ve practiced in some pretty weird places. Now I didn’t exactly select these locations because I liked them or thought they would be a fun change of pace, it often came down to a simple choice: practice or don’t practice.

If you’re serious about music, you’ve probably encountered this exact situation in your daily quest to find practice time. You truly want to get some practicing done, yet despite your best efforts you’ve nowhere to do it.

You might be traveling, working late, staying at a friend’s house, or living in an apartment building where the neighbors have a strict quiet policy. Or you might just find yourself in a place where you don’t want to bother anyone.

As a musician you’ll encounter many obstacles on your journey to perfecting your craft, but there is a simple, yet important issue that can affect your playing in a big way: your practice environment.

While most people think about practice in terms of content (scales, etudes, technical exercises, tunes, etc.), it’s equally important to consider the quality of your practice time, specifically the physical location and the mental … Read More

Why You Shouldn’t Be a Real Book Player

Sunday, January 26th, 2014

Take a peek into a high school jazz band rehearsal or grab a seat at a college jazz combo concert. Better yet, walk into your local jam session or take a close look at the jazz trio playing the next time you’re at a wedding. What do you see?

In each case you’ll find the “Real Book player.”

The Real Book player is the musician that learns tunes out of a fake book, practices in front of a fake book, and performs using a fake book. Like a ball and chain, the book is always there. No book = no music.

For years I used to be a real book player. I looked at lead sheets to memorize tunes, I practiced improvisation by staring for hours at written out chord progressions, and I relied on the book like a life preserver at gig after gig.

From my perspective, this all seemed to work out just fine, however after a few years a problem slowly began to emerge. I was performing standards from a book all the time, but I wasn’t actually learning any of these tunes that I was playing night after night.

Even worse, I wasn’t improving at all as an improviser. Week after week I was basically rehashing the same old material in the same exact way without having any musical progress to show for it.

The problem was not that I wasn’t trying to improve as an improviser, it’s that I was trying to use a fake … Read More

Hitting the Target: How to Accomplish Your Goals in Music and Anything Else

Saturday, December 28th, 2013

On this site, we often talk about the specifics of learning improvisation: ear training, transcribing, chord progressions, language… But what about the big picture? How do you accomplish what you want to as a musician?

How do you get from the player you are today to the player that you want to become down the road?

It’s an important question for any aspiring musician to ponder and the answer is surprisingly simple, yet it’s one that many players forget as they head into the practice room.

The truth is, a lot of musicians are spending hours in the practice room, but few of these players are actually achieving their musical goals.

This doesn’t have to be the case. Here are three simple steps to turning this pattern around and accomplishing all of your goals, musical or otherwise:

I. Have a defined objective

Know what you want.

This is the first step to achieving a goal in music or anything else. You need to know why you’re doing something and what you want to get out of it.

Think about your musical practice as a journey that you’re about to embark upon. If you begin your travels with no clear destination, you’ll spend months wandering around aimlessly. By chance you might get closer to your goal or you may even be going in the completely wrong direction, you’ll never know.

However, if you know exactly where you’re headed you can easily find the best route to get there. … Read More

Overcoming Mental Limitations in Music

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

I can’t.

We’ve all said these fateful words at one point or another.

Fill in the blank for your own situation. “ I can’t (____)”…draw, run long distances, wake up early, stop eating cheesecake.

Everyday there are literally dozens of things that we convince ourselves that we simply cannot do, and playing music and improvising are no exception. From the tasks in the practice room that feel like too much work, to the skills that we have no experience with, to those dreaded moments that strike fear into our hearts, it’s all too easy to say I can’t and give up.

It seems natural, easy, and even trivial to say these words, but have you ever stopped to ask yourself: Is this really true?

At the moment these statements just might be true — you gave it a try, you failed, and it just didn’t work out. However, the consequences of hanging onto this limiting mindset can run deeper than you might expect, especially as a musician, and I’ll show you why.

Over the years, I’ve taught at various jazz camps and workshops and instructed hundreds of students in private lessons. A curious thing that I’ve noticed about new students is that many come in with a preset belief about themselves or performing music.

Young, old, beginner, comeback player, weekend player – it doesn’t matter. There seems to be this burdening belief that all players carry around with them about some aspect of their playing.… Read More

The Philosophy of Learning Jazz Improvisation: Thinking like a Composer

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

Composition is selective improvisation…~Igor Stravinsky

In 15 seconds the difference between composition and improvisation is that in composition you have all the time you want to decide what to say in 15 seconds, while in improvisation you have 15 seconds.~Steve Lacy___________________________________________________________________________________________

Learning to improvise is a big undertaking. Not only must you become proficient on an instrument, you also need find something musical to play on that instrument. That’s no small task!

But don’t get discouraged just yet, many musicians have learned to improvise before you and many more will in the years to come. Having the correct mindset as you start your journey, however is vital in realizing your goals. In this day and age you can have all the study materials and learning aids in the world, but if you don’t know how to use them, they’re useless.

So where are you going to find this mindset?

In your musical journey so far you might have noticed that improvisation is often compared to musical composition, and for good reason. Creating a solo over a chord progression is essentially composing music in the moment.

As you improvise, you’re using your ears, instrumental technique, and musical language to create new melodies in real time. All of the skills that are essential for composition are also necessary for improvisation. You must create a theme, develop that theme, follow the contours of the harmony, and send a musical message to the listener.

Therefore it’s only … Read More

The Anatomy of a Sound: Overcoming the Barrier of Music Theory

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

From the moment we are born, the world tends to have a container already built for us to fit inside: A social security number, a gender, a race, a profession, an I.Q. I ponder if we are more defined by the container we are in, than what we are inside. Would we recognize ourselves if we could expand beyond our bodies? To be authentically ‘un-contained’ would we still be able to exist?

~Paige Bradley

Expansion                                                                                                                                                                                   Bronze, electricity and mixed media

Music is sound.

We take in this sound with our ears and produce sound on our instruments.

Everything that you need to know about improving as an improviser originates from these two phrases. When you approach improvisation with the big picture in mind the entire process becomes much simpler. Coming to this realization can even change the way you improvise today.

Now I know what you’re thinking…”So I don’t have to worry about those scales, chords and theory ever again?” Not exactly.

You need to know your chords and scales, but you mustn’t stop there. Your creativity shouldn’t be limited to music theory alone, however this is much easier said than done. In the practice room analyze each chord, learn the names for each scale degree, and learn the rules for creating melodies and chord progressions, but when it comes to performing strive to move past the theory.

Remember, in the end music theory is just a method to describe sound with words. No matter what you’re thinking when … Read More