November 6th, 2011

Applying the Pareto Principle to Learning Jazz Improvisation

Written by Forrest

Pareto Principle and Jazz Improvisation

The commonly known Pareto Principle states that 80% of the effects of something, come from 20% of the causes. In terms of learning, this means: figure out where the largest gains can be made and focus on those.

For some reason in learning most anything, we tend to give equal weight to everything. We give equal weight to everything because we just don’t know what’s more important, so we deem everything important.

A visual that comes to mind is something I see at the gym all the time: a huge overweight guy doing fore-arm exercises. Now don’t get me wrong. It’s awesome that he’s decided he wants to make a change and he’s taken action by going to the gym. The problem is that he’s focused on something so small that he will never yield the results he so desires.

Many people have documented what they believe to be the high value exercises one should do to see maximum gains in strength and weight-loss. By researching what these are and spending the majority of his time on these things, this man could actually get to where he wants to go.

Similarly in improvisation, people work on all sorts of things that have little benefit to their skill as an improvisor. Why work harder if you can work smarter? Stop wasting your time and put all your time into the 20% of stuff that will cover the 80% of everything you’ll ever need.

Two Fives

Learning how to play over ii … Read More

November 4th, 2011

Repetition: The Missing Link to Your Success

Written by Eric

Do you find yourself having trouble remembering the solos you’ve transcribed?

Have you ever memorized the melody to a tune only to forget it a week later?

Do you have trouble recalling the chord progressions to your favorite standards?

If you are screaming “Yes, that’s me!”at the computer screen, then the solution to your problems can be summed up in one word: repetition. It’s not your lack of intelligence, your lack of motivation, or bad luck, it’s simply because you are not spending enough time to ingrain those things that you’re trying learn.

Now you might be saying, “Wait a minute, I repeat stuff in my practice all the time!” Yes, maybe for five or ten minutes, but are you repeating those lines, techniques, and progressions to the point that they are permanently ingrained in your brain and muscle memory? Will you be able to remember them a week or a month from now?

The underlying problem here is that we get bored very easily and the second we hear a hip sound, we can’t wait to jump ship and figure it out. This is a trap that every musician falls into at one point or another. We learn a new tune, pick up a new ii-V line, or work on our technique, and once we’ve got the basic idea we abandon it for the next best thing.

This simply won’t work if you want to make meaningful improvement as an improviser. The deceptive thing about the unfocused practicing … Read More

November 1st, 2011

Ingraining Jazz Language Through Visualization

Written by Forrest

Visualize lines

We talk a lot about ingraining language. It’s vital to have an array of ideas at your fingertips for any given harmonic situation. And these ideas should be so ingrained that you can easily make them your own with little effort. Visualization can speed up the process of ingraining language tremendously.

Can’t visualize it, can’t play it

If you’ve ever seen the B-rate movie Only the Strong, you know that if you can’t ginga, you can’t fight. Just like Capoeira, in improvisation, if you can’t visualize it, you can’t play it.

Visualization is the key to playing anything. It’s an unconscious step that we all must go through to be able to play what we have in our mind. This mental image precedes everything you play whether you like it or not.

The people that seem to have everything at their fingertips are simply excellent visualizers: they can perfectly imagine what it’s like to play something before they play it, almost without even thinking.

The stuff that is easy for you to play is the stuff that is easy to visualize. In terms of easiness, aim to get anything you’re working on as easy to visualize as it is to visualize one note.

Now you’re probably thinking, “Well I don’t practice visualizing anything, so why can I play what I play?” The answer is: your body taught your mind how to visualize the line through repetition. You repeat something over and over enough, your mind “gets it,” … Read More

October 31st, 2011

8 Steps to Finding Your Voice as an Improviser

Written by Eric

There aren’t many things that we can all agree on when it comes to discussing the history of jazz, but one thing that we can come to a consensus on is that all the masters of this music had their own voice. Each and every one sounded unique and accomplished in their own way. Every time that you put on a great record, you hear distinct personalities coming through the speakers loud and clear.

We all want to create an original voice in jazz and hope to someday become an innovator, but this is not an easy task and few in the music have achieved both. However, you can do some very simple things to put you on the track to crafting your individual style. Here are eight ways to help you discover your very own musical direction and develop your voice as an improviser.

I) Listen to everything

To become a successful improviser and especially an original improviser, you need to expand your musical palate. Listening to Charlie Parker and Coltrane on repeat is great, but if you don’t explore other types of music you’re going to develop a very limited musical outlook. Worse yet, you could turn into yet another third-rate musical clone. Don’t fall into this trap.

Parker loved to listen to Stravinsky and Bartok. Coltrane studied Indian music. Not all jazz masters listened exclusively to jazz. In fact, jazz musicians have a long history of exploring all genres of music. Bach, Ravel, Debussy, Schoenberg, African music, … Read More

October 28th, 2011

Transcribing Whole Solos Is More Than You Thought

Written by Forrest

Transcribing Solos Is More Than You Think

In my article on Monday I talked about why you’re not getting the results you want from transcribing whole solos. For the most part, that article was written with respect to language: how to make useful language from a whole solo.

While gathering, understanding, and implementing language is one of the most important aspects of learning to play at your best, there is a ton more information other than language that you can gleam from transcribing a whole solo.

Now no one’s saying you have to learn whole solos. This is JazzAdvice, not JazzRules, so figure out what works for you. But for those of you working on whole solos, here’s a few things to sink your teeth into…

What does it feel like to be John Coltrane?

You will never know what it feels like to be me. Likewise, I will never know what it feels like to be you. Our entire sense of the world could be completely different, yet neither one of us will ever get to see, hear, smell, taste, and feel from the other’s perspective.

What if you could crawl into somebody’s head and feel like what it’s like to be them? Transcribing a whole a solo by someone should feel like that if you’re doing right: you’re copying every subtle nuance you hear and hearing from their angle.

Of course, when you do this, what you’re actually getting is your perception of what it feels like to play like Coltrane, not precisely how … Read More

October 26th, 2011

Resetting Your Mindset About Jazz Improvisation

Written by Eric

The funny thing about learning a new skill is that we often carry our first experiences around with us for years. You might try drawing or you may try learning a new language and without realizing it, the outcome of this first attempt, good or bad, will greatly influence your future mindset.

We all make these subconscious mental notes about a skill when we first try it, but different people deal with these obstacles in different ways. Some welcome the prospect of a challenge and set out to master difficult things, while others accept the outcome as fate and define themselves personally.

For instance, if someone has difficulty attempting drawing, they quickly arrive at the conclusion “I can’t draw!” Rather than putting in the effort to dispel this notion, they make this assumption their reality. This defeatist attitude is the culprit that is stopping us from reaching our full potential.

Thinking about jazz

As musicians, we make the same subconscious mental conclusions about improvisation on a daily basis. The musical skills that are initially difficult we define in our minds as “hard” and the ones that are natural and quickly acquired are, you guessed it: “easy.” In the same fashion, we define ourselves according to these initial experiences.

For example, if reading music proves to be difficult, we label ourselves as bad readers. If at first, learning melodies by ear is challenging, we accept that we have terrible ears and avoid learning anything in this manner. If this task is … Read More

October 23rd, 2011

Why Transcribing A Whole Solo Has Gotten You Nowhere

Written by Forrest

Getting nowhere

So you finally transcribed your first solo, but unfortunately, you don’t feel like you’re improving at the rapid rate you’d hoped for. Where did you go wrong?

This is a common situation. I know people that have transcribed hundreds of solos, but little to none of it translates into their playing.

Transcribing whole solos is a lot of work and if you do it right, you can learn a ton. On the other hand if, if you don’t approach it right, you can waste a whole lot of time.

Transcribing is not enough

The main problem people encounter with transcribing whole solos is that they play the solo over and over without pulling it apart. Breaking up the solo to understand its parts is essential.

Imagine you’re a knock-off shop that makes imitation iphones and that your reproductions are so good, that no one can tell the difference. To do that, your shop would have to disassemble many iphones to get into the inner workings of how everything fits together.

That’s the attitude you need to have when transcribing. It’s an attitude of reverse engineering, of disassembling, of understanding how the parts create the whole, and how even smaller elements create the parts.

It’s not notation and analysis, but that can play a role in your process if you like. If it helps you to write it out to understand what’s going on, there’s nothing wrong with that.

I think people’s caution about writing solos down is that people will … Read More

October 21st, 2011

Putting on the Pressure: How to Motivate Yourself in the Practice Room

Written by Eric

Remember those times in school, where you were assigned a huge project and given a deadline to finish it by? You know, the ones where the teacher threw an enormous assignment at you as soon as you walked into the classroom: “Write a 15 page paper on the history of the French revolution and give a presentation in front of the class…”

In situations like this, you immediately become stressed out. There is this huge sense of urgency with this due date now looming on the horizon and you can’t relax until it’s over. We set out to finish ahead of time, but despite our best efforts, we usually end up procrastinating and doing the work right before the deadline.

With time running out we stay up all night and push ourselves to focus. Out of nowhere comes this incredible work ethic and drive to finish the project on time. At the end, we always end up completing the project and surprising ourselves along the way that we were capable of doing this much work in that little time.

Even though we dread these big projects and frequently put them off until the last minute, there is something very valuable that we discover about ourselves in the process. When we are faced with the pressure of completing a project and there are some serious consequences, we become intently focused and highly motivated.

Goals that at first seemed too big and intimidating, we surprisingly push through and complete. Imagine if you … Read More

October 19th, 2011

I’m Bored With Everything I Play: Keys To Being Excited About What You’re Playing

Written by Forrest

Being bored with your playing

As you progress, you feel more confident. You have more language. You can play well over more and more tunes. And you can approach different types of tunes with ease. Still, no matter how much you improve, you will always feel like you’re trying to reach the next level. This is just how it goes.

To me, that’s the best part though. That you get to keep improving. That there is more to learn and explore. That’s the fun of it. It’s like the best novel you ever read that keeps growing in length as you’re reading it. You read the first ten chapters, now there’s twenty, you read twenty, now there’s forty.

It’s the gift that keeps on giving. For many people, this is not so much a gift but a curse. They want to reach a point of closure. A point of termination??? Unfortunately, no matter where you are in your development, you ultimately will always end up at a place where you think to yourself, “Gosh, I’m really bored with everything I’m playing.” The important thing to realize is that this doesn’t just happen to beginner and intermediate players. It happens to everybody, even great players.

We receive countless emails from readers saying that they do transcribe, and they do learn tunes…but that they are bored with what they are currently playing.

Knowing full-well that you’ll be encountering this situation countless times among your journey regardless of your skill level, you need to be ready to handle … Read More

October 17th, 2011

Learning Improvisation the Hard Way

Written by Eric

Learning the hard way??

You thought you came here to find an easier way to learn improvisation, right? Well to be honest, the easier way is not always the best way and if you’re in something for the long run, getting things right from the start can save you a lot of time and years of frustration.

Don’t let the title throw you, it’s not actually learning the hard way, it’s just learning, period. Over the years, the term “learning” has slowly come to mean something else. Instead of actually studying and mastering a skill, “learning” has evolved into memorizing the main facts and pieces of a skill; in other words, the goal is proficiency rather than mastery.

When we learn something today, we find the shortcuts that give us the desired results with the least amount of effort. We start with a guide book, an outline, a list of definitions, a cheat sheet, and we can even look up the answers if we get lost. Whatever the task is, we want to be able to perform it well right away. The actual skill is not as important as the end results.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, and in many cases it’s the most efficient way to learn things. If you want to pass an exam in school, memorize the formulas, the definitions, and the dates, and you’ll pass the test. Traveling to another country? Get a guide book, learn a few key phrases in the native … Read More