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

August 20th, 2013

How One Note Can Open Up Your Ears and Spark Your Musical Creativity

Written by Eric

Can one note really change your ears and improve your musical creativity?

The answer is yes and I’ll show you how.

A few years ago I took a lesson with the great trumpet player, improviser and composer Ingrid Jensen. As we started the lesson, instead of the usual warm-up exercises and scale patterns I was expecting, she turned on a drone machine, a little black box that emitted a single constant tone.

For the next 10 minutes or so we played a number of different exercises along with this background tone – long tones, scales, trumpet etudes, intervals, etc. For some reason these familiar exercises that I had done hundreds of times before were transformed into something different with the accompaniment of the drone. The effect even changed the way I approached chords and tunes in my practice years later.

She later explained that she often uses a drone machine as a practice tool to enable creativity, musical freedom and focus at the beginning of her practice sessions. To clarify, a drone machine is basically an electronic synthesizer that sustains a single note, but the same effect can be achieved with other instruments or recorded tracks.

The idea of focusing on a sustained pitch is something that has been practiced for thousands of years. A drone is used in meditation (om mantra) and is played using instruments like Tibetan Singing Bowls or the Tanpura in Indian music.

The drone has been used as a calming element and focusing tool … Read More

July 28th, 2013

How to Learn Jazz Standards with the Piano

Written by Eric

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

July 17th, 2013

Critical Vs Creative Thinking: How Initial Judgments Can Cripple Your Learning

Written by Forrest

Critical Vs. Creative

That’s really good. And that’s bad. That’s ugly. And that’s pretty. I like that. But I hate that. That sucks. But that’s great.

Our first instinct upon experiencing something, whether it’s hearing something, seeing something, or meeting somebody new, tends to be that of judgment. We are creatures of classification, often subconsciously fitting everything around us into an understandable compartment – judging quickly and efficiently has its purpose.

But is judging everything we experience the most beneficial initial response for our creative output?

Initial judgment can lead to learning nothing

I recently read the book Black Swan, by Nassim Taleb. The book discusses the simple idea that one rare event can have a huge unforeseen impact, and in hindsight, we tend to rationalize why it makes sense that it happened.

At one point, Taleb discusses a neuroscientist named Yevgenia Nikolayevna Krasnova and her book A Story of Recursion, that became an international best seller. Not knowing who she was, I of course googled her name instantly. Page after page, readers express their disdain for Taleb. “How could he possibly make up this character!?” and “I guess we can’t trust anything he says.”

Review after review of the book, people tear apart all sorts of things Taleb discusses, which made me stop and think. I learned quite a lot from the book; concepts that I can take and actually apply. I could throw out everything in the book because of my initial judgments about some of his content, or I … Read More

July 10th, 2013

The Improviser’s Tipping Point

Written by Eric

When exactly do I become good at improvising? Is there a single point that occurs where I can finally play like I want to?

These are questions that inevitably pop up and hover at the back of your mind as you begin learning to improvise. Is all the work you’re doing now really going to pay off in the future?

If you were anything like me, when you first started learning to improvise you imagined a point in the not so distant future where you would suddenly “get it.” Sometime a year from now or maybe 5 years from now… It would be a sort of musical promised land or an instant melodic awakening where everything would fall perfectly into place.

It only had to be a matter of time, it had to be! After so many years spent toiling away in a practice room you were bound to hit that place where the odds fell in your favor and improvisation became easy.

However, this mythical point of enlightenment that contains all the answers sadly doesn’t exist. In reality there isn’t one single tipping point or exhilarating moment of insight that makes you an improviser. Rather, reaching your goal with improvisation is the culmination and collaboration of a number of different areas in your playing.

The greatest improvisers I’ve met never felt like they arrived at a destination – they were always searching for the next level and striving to improve.

Improvisation is not a destination, but a journey with … Read More

June 18th, 2013

The Art of Teaching and Being Taught

Written by Forrest

The Art of Teaching and Being Taught

Acrobatics is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen. The physical prowess needed to do even the most basic maneuvers is on par with that of the Incredible Hulk, while the necessary flexibility exceeds even that of a ballerina.

Upon seeing my first live cirque performance in Montreal, La Clique, I knew that someday, I wanted to try it.

Several years after seeing this performance, I found myself at a crossing, where the traditional gym environment and workout just wasn’t exciting me anymore.

By shear chance, in cocktail conversation, a newly acquainted friend of mine started talking about circus training centers, where acrobats and aerialists dedicated countless time to their craft. Apparently, these training centers existed throughout the country, and the one she had been attending happened to be right next to where I was living!

What better time to attempt acrobatics than now? Eagerly, I enrolled in several months worth of classes.

As the months went by, I could feel myself getting stronger and more flexible. Being a rock climber my body was not exactly ripe for acrobatics, but it was getting better. Gradually, I went from absolutely horrible, to terrible. A step in the right direction! And after several more months I felt myself go from terrible to simply bad. And that’s where I remained. Bad. Better then when I started, but still bad.

This can be a tough place to be. It’s not a plateau, but more of a never-ending abyss. A black hole … Read More

May 27th, 2013

Jazz Contrafacts and Reharmonization: A Creative Approach to Jazz Standards

Written by Eric

Creativity in its most basic form is simply the act of taking something old and making it new.

Whether you’re a novelist, an architect, an engineer or an improviser, artistic creation stems from a desire to make something new within the existing confines of your craft. To put a personal stamp on your art form and to have your voice heard in some way.

For musicians this revolves around our personal interpretation of the fundamentals of music: sound, melody, rhythm and harmony.

However, creative inspiration doesn’t just appear out of the blue like a bolt of lightning, instead it slowly reveals itself through the diligent study of previous generations and the mastery of established skills. Schools of thinking must be studied, styles are to be imitated, and techniques will need to be ingrained.

“Creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.”~Albert Einstein

The study of jazz improvisation is a perfect example of the progression of creating the new from the old. This idea of continual reinvention and self expression is prevalent throughout the history of this music and you’d be hard pressed to find a lasting piece of music or style that didn’t have a direct line back to the creative work that came before it.

Take the process of transcribing a solo for instance: starting with the musical language from a previous generation, learning it slowly and eventually making it your own. An old musical language ingrained and interpreted into new musical language.

However, this concept of … Read More