Archive for the ‘Perspective’ Category

5 Skills You Won’t Learn in School, Skill One: How to Connect Your Ear to Your Instrument

Friday, March 20th, 2015

Skill one: how to connect your ear to your instrument

You’re a trumpet player.

You play the piano or the guitar. Maybe you’ve taken up the saxophone.

Out of a dozen different instruments, this is the one that you’ve chosen to amplify your musical voice.

You identify with it, you wield it with pride, and you strive to follow in the tradition of the fine players that paved the way before you.

You’ve collected etudes, method books, and instructional videos. You have hundreds of recordings by the masters of your instrument and each week you take lessons and faithfully practice.

Before you know it this instrument becomes the center of your musical and creative output. Your life as a musician starts when you pick it up and stops when you put it down.

But what would happen if you took away that instrument? What if I stormed into your practice room and snatched that instrument out of your hand?

Suddenly you’re standing there all alone in an empty room – are you still a musician?

Think about it…

Right now, as you’re reading this, think of a melody in your mind. Can you create these sounds without your instrument?

This probably sounds ridiculous, why would you do that? Well, I used to think the same thing…

Not so long ago I was a college music major intent on becoming a great improviser. Through school I had learned all of my scales, I was on top of my music theory, and I dedicated the majority of each day to practicing technique.… Read More

The 5 Key Skills You Won’t Learn in School: A Five Part Series

Friday, March 13th, 2015

five skills you won't learn in music school

School is great.

…but it won’t teach you everything.

Private lessons are awesome and downright necessary on your journey to becoming a better musician…yet that hour a week isn’t going to teach you every musical tidbit that you need to know.

You see a curious thing happens when you take music outside of the classroom, when you wander outside the safety of your private lessons and venture into the real world.

The moment you create music with other people and perform for an audience something subtle changes. Those notes on the page, those scales you memorized, and those fancy words that you use to describe them are suddenly transformed into something living.

No more sheet music and no more theory. What matters now is what you create with your instrument and the musicians around you – and this can be a wake up call.

But you already know this…

This time it’s for real

You’ve started a band with your friends.

You’ve sat in with some local musicians and you’ve called a tune at a jam session. You’re performing for a musical, for a church service or a wedding. You’ve found yourself on the spot and you have to play a solo without any music…

All eyes are on you, so you better not miss any notes!

In a matter of seconds you realize that performing music requires more than memorized facts. Suddenly you need to use the information you’ve learned in a creative and musical way and you don’t … Read More

The Secret Behind Every Solo that You Can’t Afford to Miss

Thursday, January 15th, 2015

There’s a secret hidden in every great solo.

You’ll find it in those old records of Louis Armstrong and those videos of Bird and Diz that you watch on YouTube. You can even hear it in the players of today like Terence Blanchard, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Tom Harrell and dozens of others.

It’s a secret that not many people even think about, let alone talk about. But it’s there if you really look for it.

Still guessing? Well I’ll tell you right now that it’s not a fancy scale, not a music theory trick, and it’s not the lick.

You might even think it absurd that there is anything more to a solo that the actual notes. I know I did until I started digging into the solos of my favorite improvisers.

But keep reading because this secret will change the way you approach improvisation…

Shhhhh!

The secret is this:

Behind one line of a great solo lies the weight of thousands of hours of practice. Years of listening. Dozens of transcribed solos. Decades of private instruction. Tough lessons picked up in jam sessions and revelations passed on by mentors.

…all in just a dozen notes.

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Think about it: all of the practice on technique, all of that work on sound, every gig and every hour of study led to that solo you just listened to. It’s all there hidden in those notes.

These notes could fly right by you if you’re not paying attention. You might hear it and … Read More

7 Crucial Lessons from History’s Greatest Improvisers

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015

I’m guessing you’ve heard of Miles Davis.

And you probably know Louis Armstrong and have listened to Charlie Parker and John Coltrane.

But have you ever stopped and wondered why you, sitting here in 2015, know these names?

Some of these masters have been gone for 40 years and some of these records are nearly 80 years old. So why are we still listening?

And why does an album like Kind of Blue become the best selling jazz album of all time?

There must be a mystery ingredient that makes some players or albums stand the test of time and become household names, while others are lost to obscurity, failing to connect with a wider audience.

While these musical masters couldn’t predict the future, they did have something in common. In fact they all shared some very specific qualities that allowed their music to travel the world and endure for years.

What’s more, these qualities are true of great people in various fields of work and these principles can be applied to more than just music.

So take note and pay attention to the greatest improvisers, if you’d like to share your music with more people and you’d like to reach a new level of artistry, learn these 7 lessons well.

1) Connect with your audience in a meaningful way

We love fireworks.

We’re drawn to technical flash, larger-than-life stage presence and shocking special effects. The high notes and fast tempos make us squeal with delight and the lure of … Read More

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

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