Archive for the ‘Jazz Education’ Category

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

The Art of Teaching and Being Taught

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

The Art of Teaching and Being Taught

Acrobatics is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen. The physical prowess needed to do even the most basic maneuvers is on par with that of the Incredible Hulk, while the necessary flexibility exceeds even that of a ballerina.

Upon seeing my first live cirque performance in Montreal, La Clique, I knew that someday, I wanted to try it.

Several years after seeing this performance, I found myself at a crossing, where the traditional gym environment and workout just wasn’t exciting me anymore.

By shear chance, in cocktail conversation, a newly acquainted friend of mine started talking about circus training centers, where acrobats and aerialists dedicated countless time to their craft. Apparently, these training centers existed throughout the country, and the one she had been attending happened to be right next to where I was living!

What better time to attempt acrobatics than now? Eagerly, I enrolled in several months worth of classes.

As the months went by, I could feel myself getting stronger and more flexible. Being a rock climber my body was not exactly ripe for acrobatics, but it was getting better. Gradually, I went from absolutely horrible, to terrible. A step in the right direction! And after several more months I felt myself go from terrible to simply bad. And that’s where I remained. Bad. Better then when I started, but still bad.

This can be a tough place to be. It’s not a plateau, but more of a never-ending abyss. A black hole … Read More

Learning Tunes Your Way

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

On this site we’ve frequently written about learning tunes. This is no coincidence – learning tunes goes hand in hand with improving as an improviser.

Whether you’re practicing, performing, or simply listening to a few records with some friends you’re dealing directly with tunes. Keeping this in mind, building a solid repertoire of tunes should be near the top of your practice list as a serious musician.

If you haven’t done so already, be sure to check out some of the these articles to help you get started with building your repertoire:

These articles are a good place to begin when you want to start building a solid base of tunes that you’ll feel confident performing, but what’s your next step?

If you’ve learned a handful of tunes and have a solid grasp of chord progressions, the answer is simple – you just need to learn more tunes.

However, this simple solution isn’t as easy as it sounds. As soon as you get into the practice room things begin to look a little different. The prospect of picking out one tune to learn from the hundreds upon hundreds of standards out there can be an overwhelming and even depressing process.

Where do I even begin? Why choose one tune and not another? Read More

Connecting to the Music…Wherever You Are

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

Music is meant to be heard live.

There is no substitute for the visceral experience of sitting in an audience and soaking up a great live performance. Not only hearing the music, but feeling the physical vibrations of those melodies, chords and rhythms. Seeing the interaction between musicians as they collectively create music in the moment and experiencing the excitement of the audience.

This is what improvisation is all about.

As a performer, experiencing a great live performance is like a shot of adrenaline for your musical motivation. When you witness music at its highest level, you can’t help feeling like you need to rush into the practice room. Your inspiration is immediately renewed and you suddenly have a new focus for your musical direction.

Any way you look at it, there is no substitute for the atmosphere of an intimate live music venue. You can rub shoulders with the greats and be in an environment where people not only love jazz, but are often serious about pursuing it themselves.

All of this live music sounds great, but what if you don’t live in New York City, the jazz capital of the world? What if you don’t even have a venue for live jazz within a 100 mile radius of your home? Are you just out of luck when it comes to experiencing this music?

Of course not! It’s 2013 and the world is a much more connected place. Thanks to the web, there are some key resources to utilize … Read More

Know the Rules then Break the Rules

Sunday, February 24th, 2013

broken-glass_1

“You have to know the rules before you can break them.”

You’ve probably heard this well-intentioned phrase before. It’s as common and overused as “Practice makes perfect” or any of the countless other sayings that we encounter when it comes to learning a musical instrument.

As students of the music we get bombarded by these catch phrases on a daily basis. Teachers show us their personal philosophy for musical improvement, we take away quotes from masterclasses, books and videos, and even our friends give us helpful pointers.

Despite our best efforts, most of this information flies by us unnoticed without any tangible impact on our playing. But you don’t have to stop there, just dig a little deeper and you’ll discover that there’s some valuable truth behind those words:

“You have to know the rules before you can break them.”

If you find yourself stuck with improvising, this phrase can be a game changer. However to create growth, you have to begin by reading between the lines. What exactly are the “rules” and what does it mean to “know” them?

Anyone can hear this statement and think, “yeah, that makes sense,” but to take that message to heart and then apply it to your own playing takes a completely different kind of person.

What does it mean to Know?

Before I started high school I attended a week long jazz camp with about 30 other aspiring improvisers. Five days of big band and combo rehearsals as well … Read More