Archive for the ‘Myth’ Category

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

Sunday, April 20th, 2014

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

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 Improviser’s Tipping Point

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

When exactly do I become good at improvising? Is there a single point that occurs where I can finally play like I want to?

These are questions that inevitably pop up and hover at the back of your mind as you begin learning to improvise. Is all the work you’re doing now really going to pay off in the future?

If you were anything like me, when you first started learning to improvise you imagined a point in the not so distant future where you would suddenly “get it.” Sometime a year from now or maybe 5 years from now… It would be a sort of musical promised land or an instant melodic awakening where everything would fall perfectly into place.

It only had to be a matter of time, it had to be! After so many years spent toiling away in a practice room you were bound to hit that place where the odds fell in your favor and improvisation became easy.

However, this mythical point of enlightenment that contains all the answers sadly doesn’t exist. In reality there isn’t one single tipping point or exhilarating moment of insight that makes you an improviser. Rather, reaching your goal with improvisation is the culmination and collaboration of a number of different areas in your playing.

The greatest improvisers I’ve met never felt like they arrived at a destination – they were always searching for the next level and striving to improve.

Improvisation is not a destination, but a journey with … Read More

Is Improvising Really Improvising?

Monday, April 9th, 2012

If there is one thing about playing jazz that’s shrouded in mystery, it is improvisation.

Improvisation exists in other types of music, even in musical traditions from the far reaches of the globe, but in jazz it goes much deeper. It is somehow vitally tied to the spirit of the music, and it’s not just musicians who recognize the power of the improvised solo. This essence has been captured in everything from literature to movies to pop culture.

There is something alluring about the idea of the jazz musician; a creative soul channeling the intangible through their instrument, essentially creating something out of nothing.

However, despite all of the attention, we still can’t seem to define this creative endeavor. You can get a degree in jazz studies, you can study the philosophy behind improvisation and creativity, and you can even scan the brains of improvising musicians to discover the secret pathways of the mind in its most creative state, but there still seem to be more questions than answers.

Alas, improvising continues to remain an elusive mystery.

As musicians hard at work developing this skill in the practice room, we often get lost in the music. It can be all too easy to lose the ability to look at the music objectively from an outside perspective and after some time, we’re no longer able to hear music with a naive untrained ear.

We become part of the music and suddenly we see the world in a different way. It’s … Read More

Going Against The Grain

Monday, September 26th, 2011

Against the grain

In learning most anything, there’s an accepted and standard way of approaching the material. There exists a typical method that emerged over the course of many years. In many disciplines, this method came about through trial and error, meticulously analyzing what techniques have worked best to allow an individual to excel as quickly and efficiently as possible toward their desired goal.

Unfortunately, in jazz improvisation, this did not happen. In jazz, the standard method of learning today arose not from understanding how the masters of the music learned this art, but instead from the world of academia. These academic studies focused on the results of what the jazz legends produced and ignored in entirety their process of how they learned.

By studying and analyzing commonalities among the end product (great solos), these studies drew formal conclusions and neatly packaged them in a digestible way, making the world of jazz improvisation available to everyone, but watering it down for those who wish to learn it on a deeper level.

Ok, so it’s not quite as bad as I’m making it sound. No, there’s not this corrupt agency out to destroy the world of jazz and all its practitioners…although it would make an interesting plot for a movie. There’s not necessarily one group of people that created this watered down version of learning jazz that I’m labeling as “the academics.”

Nonetheless, this false paradigm does exist, it was created in an academic setting, and it does stagnate the learning process of those … Read More

4 More Myths About Jazz Improvisation

Monday, September 19th, 2011

When your goal is to improve at a skill like improvisation, you will stop at nothing to gather as much information as you can. Your search leads you in every direction: out of print books, the method books that the masters studied, seeking out jazz gurus and famous teachers, and searching for bootleg recordings. Along the way you pick up stories and legends, “jazz folklore” if you will.

Some of the stories are surprisingly true and others are mere exaggerations. Some stories have been stretched and altered to the point, that when they finally reach you, there’s not one ounce of truth left in them. Sometimes we only get a small piece of a story, a half-truth, and we set out to follow this example, only to find out later that this goal that we set out trying to attain was in fact, an urban legend.

Because these stories can have a powerful effect on us as we set our personal goals and head into the practice room, it’s important to separate fact from fiction. A simple misguided, but well-intentioned belief, can lead us in the completely wrong direction and cost us valuable time and effort in learning how to improvise.

In Mythbusting the Top 5 Myths about Jazz Improvisation, five common misconceptions about learning to improvise were discussed in detail. Here are four more jazz myths to keep in mind as you head into the practice room and onto the stage.

1) All the practice you need is

Read More

Harness the Power Of Opposites

Monday, July 25th, 2011

Harness Power  of Opposites

Things are not always what they appear to be. Sometimes the standard advice does not get you where you want to go. Here’s an idea: approach what you’re trying to achieve by doing the opposite. Now, this won’t work for everything, but it very well may solve the nagging problems you just can’t seem to figure out.

Here’s just a few examples of how to harness the power of opposites.

To play loud, play soft

Our first inclination when wanting to play loud is to blow our brains out and pump as much air as humanly possible through the horn in hopes of producing a loud sound. This wildly unfocused column of air will have a difficult time activating your instrument and making it resonate at its full capacity.

Instead of approaching loud playing this way, use the opposite tactic: practice playing softly.

How can practicing softly teach you how to play loudly? Using the saxophone as an example, playing loud is not a pure function of how much air you input into the instrument. In fact, it has more to do with how you focus your air.

First practice reducing your volume to a faint whisper and learning to focus your air stream like a laser beam. Then, gradually increase the volume while you keep this focus.

Through this process of learning to play loud by playing soft, you’ll notice a dramatic change in the way you put air through your horn, yielding much more volume and more control.… Read More

Why You Need Your Whole Brain to Improvise

Friday, May 13th, 2011

You’ve probably heard of the popular theory that when it comes to thinking, people are either left brained or right brained; they’re either analytically predisposed or intuitively creative. The rationale is that artistic proclivity originates from the right hemisphere, whereas logic and reasoning skills arise from the left hemisphere. This philosophy has influenced educational methods, test preparation, psychology, and even the self-help industry.

A cut and dry method, it makes it very easy to classify people. You’re either technically oriented or artistically inclined. No in-betweens. Great artists must be right brained and great scientists and mathematicians must be left brained, right?

Well, not really. It’s simple to put things into black and white for the purpose of the theory, however the human mind is anything but simple. Many of the great discoveries and achievements in the sciences as well as the arts were facilitated by people that utilized and combined both ways of thinking.

Would Leonardo da Vinci’s artwork be possible if he had no technical or analytical faculties? Would his engineering feats and inventions exist without a forward thinking imagination? Would Einstein have come up with his theory of relativity if he relied on facts and figures alone?

As musicians and artists, we’re supposed to be right-brained-creative and intuitive, but is this the only way that we are capable of thinking? More and more, it’s becoming clear that the skills expected of modern improvisers require the qualities and colaboration of both sides of the brain.

Right brain vs. left

Read More

Mythbusting the Top 5 Myths About Jazz Improvisation

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

Jazz Myth

In no particular order, here are five myths we’re going to dispel for you right now:

Myth #1
When it comes to improvising, you either got it or you don’t

This is complete bullsh*t, yet I’ve heard countless people claim this fallacy. The ability to improvise is a skill, just like anything else you want to excel at. It takes focus, passion, and understanding of how to improve.

Don’t buy into the idea that being great at improvising is a skill only permissible by a lucky and privileged few. The people that sound great put in years of focused practice every day, striving to improve. Sure, some people have more natural talent to begin with than others, but as one progresses, talent subsides and pure perspiration takes over. There’s no substitute for perseverance.

Myth #2
You need to know 1000 tunes

Check out a dozen recordings by the same performer and you’ll soon realize they have their favorite jazz standards that they’ve recorded time and time again. Miles Davis recorded many of the same standards over and over throughout his career, including: In Your Own Sweet Way, Tune Up, Bye Bye Blackbird, and Four.

It’s better to be able to sound exquisite on 10 standards than to simply know and get through 100 tunes. What’s the point of “knowing” a bunch of tunes if you can’t sound how you want to sound on them? Aim to Know 10 tunes to the point where you would feel comfortable recording them and … Read More