Archive for the ‘Transcribing’ Category

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

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

What, Why, Where, Who, When, and How to Transcribe

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

What, Why, Where, Who, When, and How to transcribe

Every day we receive countless variations of what, why, where, who, when, and how to transcribe questions in our inbox.

Should I transcribe lines or whole solos? Do I need to transcribe from the recording or can I just use a transcription book? Who should I transcribe? Do I have to transcribe Charlie Parker? Can I transcribe modern players? Is it okay to slow down the music I’m transcribing? What’s the process of transcribing? Did the great players of this music transcribe?

All of these and the others that come up are all great questions because they deal with something that is so necessary to learn how to play jazz and improvise the way you want: transcribing.

What should I transcribe?

What should I transcribe? Should I start somewhere in particular or just jump in head first? Should I do a whole solo or single lines?

Knowing what to transcribe can be difficult. There’s so much out there and you could literally do any of it. The best place to start is with the basic units and forms of jazz. So what does this mean? It means you start with something as simple as a major chord. Transcribe one line over a major chord and you’re on your way; acquiring useful language over these building blocks is essential.

The basic units and forms I’m talking about are: single chords (major, minor, dominant, half-diminished, etc.), ii Vs, minor ii Vs, blues, rhythm changes, and super common standards.

Does this mean you … Read More

V7 to I: 10 Options for Expanding Your Dominant 7th Vocabulary

Sunday, January 5th, 2014

What’s the most important chord progression that you need to know as an improviser?

That’s a good question! Previously we explored some common chord relationships that you’ll encounter as an improviser, however the most important chord relationship that you need to know is V to I.

The Dominant/Tonic relationship is at the foundation of Western music from Baroque concertos, to Mahler symphonies, to Louis Armstrong, to Coltrane, to the Beatles. In nearly every standard that you’ll practice or perform as an improviser, you’re going to encounter the V7 to I chord relationship.

The Blues, Rhythm Changes, Stella by Starlight, Giant Steps, All the Things You Are…it all goes back to V7 resolving to I. If you haven’t already worked on this dominant to tonic relationship, it’s time to get started.

The Basics

For many players, the most common way to access the Dominant 7th to Tonic sound is with the Mixolydian mode:

or a Bebop Scale:

The other common rule that many players also fall back on for V7 to I is the natural voice-leading motion between these two chords. Coming from an analytical perspective, the voice leading “rules” of the V to I relationship are resolving the 7th of the V chord to the 3rd of the I chord:

(7-3 Resolution)

and the 3rd of V7 to the root of the I chord:

(3-1 Resolution)

This is a fine place to start conceptualizing these chords in your mind and your ear, however … Read More

Happy New Year! 8 Musical Resolutions That Will Change Your Playing

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014

A new year is the perfect time to look back at what you’ve accomplished in the practice room and to look forward  to what you still wish to achieve as a musician. It’s also a great time to make a fresh start, to realign yourself musically, and to set some new goals. So, Happy New Year!

…now what are you going to do to become a better improviser?

A while back we posted 100 New Years Resolution Ideas for the Improviser. These resolutions are great to choose from for your daily or weekly practice routines, however there are some major points that are truly pivotal in making you a better improviser. If you focus intently on these key elements, you’ll be able to transform yourself musically.

Here are 8 musical resolutions for the new year that will make you a better improviser.

I) Work on Ear Training

The #1 area of your musicianship that will make you a better improviser is your ears. Your success as an improviser depends on your ability to hear and understand the sounds around you: melodies, chord progressions, intervals, time signatures, the other musicians in your band, etc.

All of this goes directly back to your ears.

It’s important to intellectually understand the theory and construction of the music, but to truly play it you must be able to hear it. This means working on ear training.

Here are some articles that you should check out to improve your ears:

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

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

10 Exercises to Practice When You’ve Run Out of Ideas

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

We often get a ton of great questions from our readers about what to practice. These inquiries range from players that are stuck in a daily musical rut to aspiring improvisers that simply don’t know the next step to take in the practice room.

The truth is, every musician encounters frustrating days on their instrument where nothing seems to be working. You become bored with the same old exercises, frustrated with your rate of progress and confused as to the next step to take…and some days you just don’t feel like practicing at all.

These feelings are natural for anyone trying to improve, however this is not an excuse to give up on a perfectly good practice session. Every single day, no matter what the obstacles, you can accomplish something to improve your musicianship.

Many times a roadblock in your practice is the result of being overwhelmed. The root of the problem can even come down to a simple lack of motivation. Too many projects, not enough focus and a lack of musical drive and inspiration. This is a recipe for frustration and musical inertia.

When this happens to you, stop, reset and focus on one small task and master it. Here are 10 practice ideas for those times when you’re simply out of things to practice.

1) Learn the melody to a standard

One of the best things you can do when you’re stuck in a rut is to learn something by ear. It could be a melody, 4 … Read More

Becoming a Musical Character

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

Have you ever seen a movie where a certain character stuck with you long after the film was over? Or what about a piece of artwork that kept popping up in your mind’s eye?

Maybe you’ve witnessed a speech that had the same lasting effect or attended a concert where the performer played their instrument in such a way that it altered your own musical approach.

We’ve all experienced these moments, but what was it about these performances or experiences that stuck out for us?

In any field there are certain people that stand out and there are certain voices that rise above the masses. Nonchalantly, we often say that these individuals have character…but what exactly is character?

A quick glance at a dictionary will give you the following definition: The combination of qualities or features that distinguishes one person, group, or thing from another.

And a character is a person who embodies these distinguishing features.

A character is someone that stands out from the crowd. A character has immediately distinguishable traits. A character has a unique way of speaking or a specific vocabulary. A character has a unique sense of style. A character grabs your attention and sticks in your mind. And a character has a story to tell.

Characters of all types catch your attention and connect with you in a personal way and in an art like improvisation, this is an essential tool in developing your voice and connecting with the listener.

Musical Characters

Characters in … Read More

How to Learn Jazz Standards with the Piano

Sunday, July 28th, 2013

Learning tunes should be fun. If ever there was a secret to expanding your repertoire of tunes this would be it.

You’re more likely to pursue an activity that’s exciting, interesting, and challenging rather than one that feels like an annoying chore. At the end of a long day you’re going to put the hours into a pursuit that’s an extension of the activities that you already enjoy.

For musicians, one of the most enjoyable things you can do with music is listening. If you’re reading this right now and are serious about improving as an improviser, chances are you’re already listening to records as much as you can.

Listening truly is the starting point for your musical improvement and your growth as an improviser.

One misconception surrounding musical improvement however, is that you can only practice if you’re in a practice room with your instrument in hand. This is simply not true. The learning process can happen anywhere, instrument or no instrument, as long as your ears are open and you’re focused on improvement.

Below I’ll show you how to turn your next listening session into some time spent learning tunes – a two birds one stone approach. You may not realize it now, but you can actually figure out and memorize tunes at the same time you’re checking out your favorite records.

How is this possible? The answer lies at the piano. The piano or keyboard is one of the greatest tools we have in learning … Read More