May 11th, 2010
For a lot of musicians that are working to improve, it is easy to spend most of our practice time working on really complex harmonic and rhythmic concepts while fundamental skills, that we all basically know, are pushed to the back burner. This happens easily if you think about it; after progressing to and achieving an acceptable level of fundamental technique, we often turn our attention to areas that are more exciting or will make us sound hip when we are soloing.
This is probably a result of the way we learn things in the educational system. In situations like these, we are merely introduced to a concept and then find ourselves quickly moving on to the next concept without ever really mastering the first one. For example, just as we learn about ii-V’s we move on to altered dominants or tri-tone substitutions, our minds always two steps ahead of our technique. In an effort to catch up, the basics of our musicianship are often ignored as we focus solely on these new concepts. The fundamentals are the foundation of everything that we play and to not only maintain them, but improve to a higher level, we must focus on them everyday.
Here are four fundamental areas of your playing to focus on every time you get into the practice room :
Your sound is one of the most powerful tools of expression that you have and one of the first things that a listener will take away … Read More
May 2nd, 2010
As improvisers we are always looking to create new harmonic concepts or to find new ways of soloing over traditional changes that are innovative and creative. Actually, for the past sixty years jazz musicians have been playing the same basic set of standard tunes, each generation making their stylistic mark on the history of the music. This is a lot of development and after the innovations of Parker, Trane, Miles and countless others it seems like every possible way to play over these progressions has already been done…twice.
One area left to really explore, though, is chromatic improvisation and from listening to some of the great players today, it seems that this concept is becoming an essential part of the vocabulary for modern jazz musicians. Now, this is not just using chromatic scales or playing free jazz, but constructing lines, patterns, triads and arpeggios that move in different directions chromatically; a concept that has infinite possibilities. For example, look at the figure below of a very simple line using this structure:
In the above example, the line is composed of whole steps that descend chromatically. This same idea can be applied to larger intervals (fourths, sixths, tritones, etc.), triads (major, minor, diminished, augmented and inverted) and even chord progressions to create new possibilities for improvisation. Players today like Dave Liebman and George Garzone have explored these concepts in depth and have even developed their own methods for chromatic improvisation.
This trend really began with Miles in the mid-60′s when he … Read More
April 28th, 2010
Transcribing can be beneficial no matter how you do it. Often when I go to transcribe, I like to have a specific goal in mind of what I am aiming to accomplish, making for rapid improvement in areas that need the most work. It’s essentially a problem/solution approach:
- Identify what problems you’re having
- Find the solutions quickly by hearing them on records you’re listening to
- Transcribe them by ear and break ‘em down
Some Common Problems You Can Solve by Transcribing
Which of these problems can you identify with?
- I lack a jazz vocabulary of ideas on specific chords or common progressions
- I need assistance in creating my own ideas
- I can’t play in a specific style
- I need to develop new influences
- I can’t play on a small chunk of a tune
- I don’t hear things in my head to play
- I can’t play things that I hear in my head
Most likely, you can relate with all of these on some level. Lets look at each one of these problems in depth and how they can be solved by spending some concentrated time with recordings.
I lack a jazz vocabulary of ideas on specific chords & progressions
When you are learning a language, there are many words and phrases to learn that connect your original ideas. The same is true in jazz. We have all heard many of these “cliches” over an over, and I’m always coming across more. Learning these lines straight off the record, gives you … Read More
April 26th, 2010
For artists, athletes, musicians, writers or really anyone looking for a more inspired approach to life, trying to find the focus to be creative at the right time can be an elusive challenge. Everyday we encounter various distractions, obligations, and positive and negative experiences that impact the way we feel and the tasks that we are trying to accomplish.
Whether your goal is to compose a piece of music, write a short story, design your new home, improve your 10k time or just to have a focused and satisfied feeling at the end of the day, finding that inspired and creative part of yourself can sometimes seem impossible. But, we are all capable of finding this state, we just have to work on how to get there when we really need to.
The “Flow” concept
A book that really made an impact on my approach to focus and creativity and one that everyone should check out is “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” by the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (and no, I don’t know how to pronounce his last name either). He developed the concept of flow while doing research on what it is that makes people feel happy. After interviewing and studying people all over the world, he found that when people felt satisfied and happy they reported the same types of feelings and experiences across the board. In his book “Flow” he outlined some key points that are essential to creating a positive (or flow) experience:
April 22nd, 2010
As a musician or any other creative individual, we get so wrapped up in what we are doing, that we often lose sight of everything else. Consequently, when something within our own little bubble is not going how we would like it to, our positivity plummets and our world comes crashing down. Here are some things that I’ve found have helped me to keep my sanity through these moments of turmoil.
Find Some Yin to Your Yang
When I was twenty-four, I stumbled upon some books on computer programming. The more I flipped through them, the more I felt compelled to understand what the authors were talking about. The next two years, I taught myself the basics of how to code.
During this time, I was in grad school with very little time to spare, yet I found that my new interest in coding actually helped me be more focused, more creative, and feel more accomplished. I had found a counterbalance to my obsession with playing the saxophone, or as the heading says, some yin to my yang LOL.
It was an AHA moment! It was what I had been missing. Typically, if I was frustrated with some aspect of my playing, it would get me really down because I had no other serious undertakings to apply my creative energy to. When I started to have other passionate intellectual pursuits, where I could apply my intelligence and feel a sense of accomplishment, I quit giving such weight to my frustrations … Read More
April 21st, 2010
It seems like jazz musicians are always thinking about tunes; knowing tunes, learning tunes, how does that one go again? Performing in different situations we are expected to know certain tunes that other musicians will call or even people in the audience will request. This can seem like a very daunting task at first and really it seems like there are always more tunes to learn, but by learning and practicing tunes in a structured way you can start to build a lasting repertoire.
Learn it by ear
Although at first learning a melody and changes to a standard in this way can seem more difficult than simply reading the music from a real book, the benefits of figuring out tunes by ear is much greater…actually it is not even close compared to reading from a page. When you try to memorize a tune out of a real book, you are taking your ears completely out of the equation. Visually you can see everything and mentally understand it, but unless your memory is photographic you won’t be able to remember the tune an hour from now let alone the next day.
Using your ears and instrument to figure out melodies and chord progressions physically connects you to the music and this along with repetition is the key to memorization. Take for example, all the language learning software out there today that are based upon this very concept. In these programs you hear a phrase in the language you are trying … Read More
April 20th, 2010
Transcribe, transcribe , transcribe. It is what you’ve been hearing since you started to learn how to improvise…and for a good reason. Transcribing is one of the best ways to learn the stylistic language of jazz, improve your ear and in short, become a better all around improviser. The mere act of learning a solo by ear is so much more effective than reading any piece of music or exercise and done as a daily part of practice, the results in your improvising will be immediate. But, transcribing is not the end point in developing your own jazz vocabulary, it should be the first step in creating your personal sound. Try some of these exercises to go beyond just learning the notes:
Pick a part of a solo that catches your ear
Many times when we start learning a solo we feel that we have to learn the entire solo to get something out of it. Knowing the whole solo is great for looking at things like phrasing or motivic development, but you can get just as much from learning a line or pattern over a progression. Start with a line that really grabs your attention or a passage that is really fluid over a progression that you are having trouble with. Maybe you are looking for some more ideas to play over ii-V’s or want to figure out what Woody Shaw is doing on that really out line.
Analyze the musical aspects of the line
Once you’ve learned the … Read More
April 20th, 2010
If you don’t know who Harold Mabern is, it’s time you did. The legendary pianist has played with everyone and is on the records of Lee Morgan, Hank Mobley, and Freddie Hubbard, just to name a few. I had the great honor of studying privately with him for over a year. Not only is he an incredible musician, but he’s also one of the warmest, most vibrant, and positive people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.
Harold possesses great knowledge and he loves to share it. Sometimes he’d have a dozen students surrounding him listening intently to his incredible stories and words of wisdom. Here are three gems of knowledge that he repeated to me over and over during the time I spent with him.
1.) Your Ear Is Your Fakebook
Harold would constantly point to his ear while energetically expressing, “This is your fakebook! This is your fakebook!!!” He wanted to emphasize that you have to get tunes operating loud and clearly in your ear and to never be dependent on anything else. The same goes for everything. Get rid of your crutches and trust your instincts. Start to think of your ear as your fakebook and soon it will be.
2.) Be Greedy For The Music
He frequently said that you have to be greedy for the music like John Coltrane. Pursue all types of music. Anything you love, just absorb it. Figure it out and have fun doing it. Harold listens to and plays all types … Read More
April 18th, 2010
A significant part of practicing jazz improvisation consists of working on scales, chords, and patterns. Practicing them in a thorough manner will enable you to obtain the most benefit in the shortest amount of time. Unfortunately, we often get caught up in practicing this material in the same incomplete way everyday. For instance, we may run up a scale from the bottom of our horn, to the top, and back down again, like this:
Or, perhaps we will run up the scale in diatonic seconds and reverse it coming down. These are fine places to start, but eventually you’ll want to mix it up a bit. However you currently practice, start to practice everything in all four directions. Nearly every pro I’ve ever studied with emphasized this technique.
First direction: Up, Up
To illustrate the various directions and how to go about practicing them, I’ll use the major scales moving chromatically. Later, I’ll suggest other options that you’ll definitely want to try.
This first example depicts the “Up, Up” direction.
- Start as low as you can on your instrument (always practice full range).
- Play the scale one octave ascending.
- Then move up chromatically to the next scale and repeat.
- Continue in this manner until you’ve gone as high as you can.
- Now begin to descend in the same manner you ascended, root of scale ascending an octave, however now you will move down chromatically after each octave completion. See the example below:
Second Direction: Down, Down
This second direction shows … Read More
April 15th, 2010
1. Create your own space
As a musician, time spent working in the practice room is an important part of everyday in which you work to maintain or, better yet, improve musicianship and technique. When you practice you need to find an environment that is the most productive for you. Ideally, finding a place to shed where no one can hear you is the best; a place where you can concentrate on the areas of your playing that need the most work and not be afraid to sound bad or self conscious about who is listening to you. This is not always easy to achieve though, especially in music college practice rooms and after seeing practice rooms in various colleges, it seems like the same familiar scenario is happening for music majors everywhere…
After twenty minutes of searching for an open practice room, you finally find a tiny room with an out of tune piano. In the room next to you a tenor player is continuously playing the same three licks over Giant Steps as fast as possible and in the room on the other side of you, the lead trumpet player in the big band is trying to hit the highest note he can play, as loud as he can possibly play it. From somewhere at the end of the hall, for some reason you can hear a rock band rehearsing, even though the last time you checked there was no degree for rock bands at your school. Meanwhile, … Read More