Archive for the ‘Perspective’ 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

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

7 Surprising Qualities of the World’s Best Improvisers

Sunday, April 13th, 2014

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

Why You Should Be Hearing Music in Your Mind

Wednesday, March 19th, 2014

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

Reality Check: Motivating Yourself to Better Musicianship

Sunday, February 9th, 2014

It’s been a few weeks since the new year when we posted articles on setting goals and making musical resolutions.

Did you make some resolutions this year? If so, how are they holding up?

Maybe you didn’t exactly make a conscious resolution, however you probably have some areas of your playing that you want to improve in the new year. Are you on track to achieve these goals or has your progress and ambition slowly come to a standstill?

Not to worry, if you haven’t stuck with those resolutions you’re definitely not alone. In fact you’re completely normal. Most resolutions and goals start out with excitement and determination, then slowly wither away after a few weeks.

Chances are you’re reading this article because you’re genuinely interested in improving your musical skill set, whether it’s ear training, improvising, music theory, or instrumental technique. That’s great, we want you to improve these skills and we want the information on this site to make a difference in your playing.

However, it’s going to take more than just reading an article to make this happen. The reality is that many people are going to read these articles and then…you guessed it, do nothing. I often did the same with the information I received from my lesson teachers, I would study my notes, make some goals in my mind, imagine getting better, and then never implement it into my daily routine.

With any type of large or life altering goals there seems to be … 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

What to do when You Crash and Burn on a Tune

Monday, December 16th, 2013

Tell me if this scenario sounds familiar:

You walk into a jam session ready to play a tune that you’ve been sounding great on. As the band finishes up a set you gather up your courage, walk up to the stage, and call this tune you’ve been working on memorizing all week. But at the last second someone suddenly jumps in and suggests a new tune.

All of the sudden you’re up there on the spot with the audience staring at you and this tune that you don’t even know is being counted off.

What key is it in? What is the chord progression? I don’t even know the melody…

You try to play by ear, you try to find a guide tone line, you try desperately to fake it, but nothing works. You go down in flames.

This is bound to happen to every musician at some point because in truth, no one knows every tune. At one point or another, if you’re pushing yourself to get out there and play, you’ll find yourself in a situation just like the one above.

You might be getting together with friends to play some standards and a tune will come up that you don’t know, or you may find yourself in a rehearsal and suddenly you have to solo on a tune in a weird key or chord progression.

In these situations, you’re on the spot and you have to perform something that you’re not comfortable with or worse, totally inexperienced … 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