December 28th, 2013

Hitting the Target: How to Accomplish Your Goals in Music and Anything Else

Written by Eric

On this site, we often talk about the specifics of learning improvisation: ear training, transcribing, chord progressions, language… But what about the big picture? How do you accomplish what you want to as a musician?

How do you get from the player you are today to the player that you want to become down the road?

It’s an important question for any aspiring musician to ponder and the answer is surprisingly simple, yet it’s one that many players forget as they head into the practice room.

The truth is, a lot of musicians are spending hours in the practice room, but few of these players are actually achieving their musical goals.

This doesn’t have to be the case. Here are three simple steps to turning this pattern around and accomplishing all of your goals, musical or otherwise:

I. Have a defined objective

Know what you want.

This is the first step to achieving a goal in music or anything else. You need to know why you’re doing something and what you want to get out of it.

Think about your musical practice as a journey that you’re about to embark upon. If you begin your travels with no clear destination, you’ll spend months wandering around aimlessly. By chance you might get closer to your goal or you may even be going in the completely wrong direction, you’ll never know.

However, if you know exactly where you’re headed you can easily find the best route to get there. … Read More

December 16th, 2013

What to do when You Crash and Burn on a Tune

Written by Eric

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

November 27th, 2013

Overcoming Mental Limitations in Music

Written by Eric

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

October 30th, 2013

Write Jazz Tunes Like a Pop Star

Written by Forrest

Write Jazz Tunes Like a Pop Star

I love John Mayer. There, I said it. My secret is out. I’d totally go to one of his concerts if I could stomach being one of many in a herd of screaming fourteen year old girls. I’m not about to be a part of Bye Bye Birdie, so sorry John, not sure when I’ll be showing my support.

But I love him not for his dreamy eyes, or his perfect hair. Oh no no. I love him for his ability to craft a tune. Not write. Craft.

There’s so much we can learn about writing tunes simply by listening to pop music. So while you’re improving your ear through pop music, pay attention to these 3 key points, and the next time you go to write a tune, it just might be a keeper.

Write a great hook

In pop music writing, they talk about hooks all day. Write a great hook is their credo, yet in the jazz composition universe, we rarely if ever talk about it.

Wikipedia offers a pretty good definition:

“A hook is a musical idea, often a short riff, passage, or phrase, that is used in popular music to make a song appealing and to catch the ear of the listener. The term generally applies to popular music, especially rock music, R&B, hip hop, dance music, and pop. In these genres, the hook is often found in, or consists of, the chorus. A hook can be either melodic or rhythmic, and

Read More

October 22nd, 2013

The Philosophy of Learning Jazz Improvisation: Thinking like a Composer

Written by Eric

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

October 1st, 2013

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

Written by Eric

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

September 15th, 2013

Jazzadvice Needs You!

Written by Forrest

A note from Forrest and Eric

To our beautiful readers,

Jazzadvice has been around for several years now. During that time we’ve made it a point to provide you with the best possible content in a mostly ad-free environment, completely free of charge.

The response has been overwhelming. We receive daily emails filled with praise and generous donations. We’re thrilled that you’ve shared and recommended Jazzadvice to as many people as you have.

But we need your help. Don’t worry, we’re not asking for money. We’re asking you to help even more people enjoy the fruits of our labors.

We have thousands of people visit the site every day, but there are a lot more people that could benefit from Jazzadvice that have still not heard about it. This is our fault. When we started Jazzadvice, we never thought it would be as big as it has become, and we never thought that people would appreciate our service as much as they have.

We didn’t start a Facebook page or a Twitter page, as we thought these things would just distract from what we wanted to do: give great content on a subject that we care deeply about. Well, we’ve accomplished that and we promise to continue. But now it’s time to spread the word.

We just launched our Facebook and Twitter pages with the hopes that you’ll become a fan and follow us. These outlets will prove to be yet another valuable resource for you. We’re not going to tweet about what we had … Read More

September 11th, 2013

How to Use Pop Tunes to Improve Your Ear

Written by Eric

Admit it.

You listen to pop tunes. You probably even like them.

But hold on a second, aren’t you’re supposed to be a serious musician?

It’s OK, everyone listens to pop tunes. Just because you turn on the radio and check out the top 40 every now and then it doesn’t make you less of a musician.

Traditionally the repertoire of the improvising musician has been comprised of popular songs: All of Me, How High the Moon, All the Things You Are…and today you hear Radiohead tunes and Dilla beats. Everyone from Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis to Michael Brecker, Brad Mehldau and Robert Glasper have incorporated pop elements into their musical conception.

The beauty of jazz is that it’s naturally inclusive of any style of music and influence. All the way from the diverse musical melting pot of New Orleans to the infusion of Latin music or Hip Hop today, improvisers have been including a wide array of musical influence in their approach.

Anything is fair game for an inspired improviser and pop tunes are no exception. Remember, at one time jazz was the pop music of it’s day.

The “standards” that we spend time learning today are essentially the pop tunes of a bygone era. Part of being an improvising artist is absorbing and commenting on your current surroundings. Today, even though we don’t exactly have Irving Berlin or Richard Rogers churning out tunes anymore, we can still use pop tunes to our advantage.

Ear-candy

If you … Read More

September 4th, 2013

The Anatomy of a Sound: Overcoming the Barrier of Music Theory

Written by Eric

From the moment we are born, the world tends to have a container already built for us to fit inside: A social security number, a gender, a race, a profession, an I.Q. I ponder if we are more defined by the container we are in, than what we are inside. Would we recognize ourselves if we could expand beyond our bodies? To be authentically ‘un-contained’ would we still be able to exist?

~Paige Bradley

Expansion                                                                                                                                                                                   Bronze, electricity and mixed media

Music is sound.

We take in this sound with our ears and produce sound on our instruments.

Everything that you need to know about improving as an improviser originates from these two phrases. When you approach improvisation with the big picture in mind the entire process becomes much simpler. Coming to this realization can even change the way you improvise today.

Now I know what you’re thinking…”So I don’t have to worry about those scales, chords and theory ever again?” Not exactly.

You need to know your chords and scales, but you mustn’t stop there. Your creativity shouldn’t be limited to music theory alone, however this is much easier said than done. In the practice room analyze each chord, learn the names for each scale degree, and learn the rules for creating melodies and chord progressions, but when it comes to performing strive to move past the theory.

Remember, in the end music theory is just a method to describe sound with words. No matter what you’re thinking when … Read More

August 28th, 2013

Becoming a Musical Character

Written by Eric

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