August 27th, 2015

How to Train Your Ears Like a Jazz Musician

Written by Forrest

Jazz Ear Training

A reader wants to know “What makes jazz ear training different from just general ear training?”

That’s a great question and I definitely had to think to arrive at an answer. They both focus on intervals, chords, root movement and have other common ground, but how are they actually different?

Over the years, I’ve taken quite a few general ear training classes and had both positive and negative experiences. I will say though, no formal ear training class gave me the ear training tools and techniques I truly needed to develop as an improviser.

And really, it’s not their fault. First off, the specific aspects that make jazz ear training different than general ear training are rarely talked about, or even given thought to, so most people teaching ear training typically teach ear training in one general way.

And secondly, ear training isn’t really meant for the classroom.  It’s something you do everyday on your own: a daily practice, pushing your ear forward, building upon your current aural knowledge while continually strengthening your fundamentals.

It’s not difficult or magical. It’s simple and repetitive, taking the sounds you want to get familiar with and ingraining them on a deeper and deeper level until they click.

A deeper level than general ear training

In many general ear training choruses, the goal is simply identification. If you can guess the correct interval or chord, then…ding ding ding! We have a winner! That is correct says Chris Farley.

Chris Farley - That is correct

Nothing in ear training should … Read More

August 20th, 2015

The Secret to Getting Good Fast at Jazz Improvisation

Written by Forrest

How to get good fast at jazz improvisation

Trust the process. Keep going and you’ll get there. Anything worth doing takes time…

We hear these things over and over when we’re learning and it’s all good advice…

But what they don’t tell you is that there’s one key thing that separates those who excel quickly, from those who get mildly better at a much slower rate.

So what is it? How do you get good fast at jazz improvisation, something that seems nearly impossible when you realize how much information there is to know?

In a hurry to go nowhere

It’s late. I grab my horn and brave the cold to get to the practice rooms. Another solitary night in the practice room. I need to get there. I need to get there fast. There’s so much to know. What am I going to work on tonight? I’ve got to learn that tune, I think I printed out a chart. And perhaps I’ll work out of that transcription book a bit or maybe that new Bergonzi book I just got. And maybe I’ll spend some time on that new scale I just heard about.

This was me when I was 18. Frantically racing from one topic to the next, approaching them all in the wrong way. Printing out charts instead of learning tunes from records. Using transcription books instead of using my ear and transcribing solos. Buying literally every new book on improvisation, desperately hoping that it revealed the secrets I was missing.  And doing endless … Read More

August 17th, 2015

Jazz Improvisation is Hard…and Why That’s a Good Thing!

Written by Eric

Jazz Improvisation is Hard

Think about this for a moment. Your favorite musicians.

Michael Brecker

Freddie Hubbard

Chick Corea

Sonny Rollins

Each and every one of them started at the bottom. Every single one of them began without any musical knowledge or technique on their instrument. And all of them toiled for years before anyone knew their names.

It’s hard to imagine now listening to their records and reading about their musical accomplishments…

But in the beginning they had to start with their first notes. They listened intently to the records of their heroes and wondered in disbelief “#$@*!, how am I ever going to play like that?” They had to go into the practice room everyday and do their best to improve.

And the truth is, you’re no different.

Steve Coleman

Learning to improvise is a challenge

There’s no way around it.

Setting out on a path to create music – your own music – is not easy.

It means getting up on stage in front of people and sharing something personal. Taking a chance with no guarantee that you’ll be successful. And spending hours alone in a practice room sharpening your skills.

That’s difficult for anyone performing a skill in front of an audience, let alone someone that’s improvising on the spot! But what you might not realize is that this challenge is crucial to your development. It’s the one barrier standing between you and your musical goals.

By pushing yourself to confront these difficult areas in your playing, you are setting … Read More

August 6th, 2015

The Real Reason You Should Start Transcribing Jazz Solos

Written by Eric

Real Reason to Transcribe Jazz Solos

Here’s a thought…

What if you could go back in time and take a lesson with John Coltrane?

Yes, that John Coltrane.

I mean drive up to his home in Dix Hills, knock on the door, politely say hello to his wife, and walk in past the stacks of staff paper and saxophone mouthpieces into his personal practice room.

Imagine if you could learn first hand his approach to improvisation. To see music from his point of view, directly from the source…

Here’s the thing: you can.

I know that probably sounds crazy, so let me explain…

You don’t know a man until you walk a mile in his shoes

The main struggle for anyone trying to learn to improvise today, in 2015, is that you’re attempting to learn a music that’s mostly living on recordings.

If you think about it, many of the most influential musical masters have been gone for 30 years or more. So how do you, sitting here reading this, learn to improvise?

Sometimes the closest you can get to your favorite musicians is a biography, a collection of their transcribed solos, a stack of recordings or a text book with an academic analysis of their harmonic techniques.

But until you get inside their music, until you connect with them personally, you’re not even scratching the surface…

Harper Lee quote

Casually listening to a recording is one thing. But like an outside observer, you’re just taking your best guess at what’s happening. If you want to get the secrets, … Read More

July 22nd, 2015

3 Simple Steps to a Productive Practice Routine

Written by Eric

3 steps to productive practice

Time in the practice room doesn’t equal improvement.

Hey, wait a second…

That’s right, you read that correctly.

It’s time spent practicing the right things that leads to improvement.

And this isn’t always the case with most players’ routines, especially when it comes to jazz improvisation…

There’s a well-loved myth out there that if you practice, practice, practice you’re going to reach your goals as a musician. You’ll perform at Carnegie Hall and gain the praise of the musicians around you.

All because you put yourself in a practice room with your instrument.

But is this accurate?

The painful truth is that there are many musicians out there practicing like maniacs, spending multiple hours of the day locked in a practice room…

And who nonetheless are still struggling to achieve their basic musical goals.

Don’t let this be you. Here are 3 simple steps to improving the productivity of your practice routine starting today:

Step 1: Avoid bad practice

You know the feeling…

You’re in the practice room and nothing seems to be working.

You can’t get your sound locked in, you keep flubbing the same fingering in that line, and you don’t know what to play over that chord.

But you’re determined to keep plowing ahead, no matter what.

One more time through that etude, one more push for those high notes, and another run through that tricky chord progression.

You’ve got to finish and you’re on the verge of frustration…

Sound familiar?

This is where bad practice begins. … Read More

July 6th, 2015

The 5 Skills You Won’t Learn in School, Skill Five: Ear Training for Jazz Improvisation

Written by Eric

Ear Training for Jazz Improvisation

What exactly is ear training?

You’ve heard musicians talk about it. Your teachers have recommended it. And if you’re a regular to Jazzadvice you’ve seen it pop up in more than a few posts…

But I’m guessing the thing that’s made the biggest impression on you was being in the presence of a musician with truly amazing ears.

That gifted player that can pick out the melody to any tune in a matter of seconds. That can simply grab their instrument and solo in any key without a second thought. That can improvise over an unfamiliar chord progression in the blink of an eye.

Somehow these players have trained their ears to become finely tuned sound processing machines.

But what does the term “ear training” mean for the rest of us and how exactly are you going get your ears to that level?

Is it a class that you take?

Is it learning that an interval like the perfect 4th sound like “Here Comes the Bride?”

Or is it something more…

The truth about ear training

Ear Training and Jazz Improvisation

If you look at how most schools approach the subject of ear training you’ll find the same few topics:

Interval recognition, sight singing, rhythmic dictation, solfege…

All good information to know and useful for the musician that is going to be reading or even sight reading music.

But is this practical for an improviser?

Is this enough training for someone that wants to get onstage and perform music on the spot? To create solos … Read More

June 11th, 2015

5 Skills You Won’t Learn in School, Skill Four: How to Speak the Jazz Language

Written by Eric

How to Speak the Jazz Language

Imagine that you’ve just stepped off a plane in a foreign country…

You grab your suitcase and step onto the soil for the first time and suddenly you’re filled with a sense of excitement and anticipation.

What new sights, new sounds, unusual food, and interesting people await you in this strange new place?

Your mind races with possibilities and you can barely wait to get out there and start exploring.

But after a few days you begin to notice something odd…

At each stop on your journey everyday conversation seems to elude you.

The sound of laughter fills the air from jokes that you don’t understand, menus at restaurants don’t make any sense, and each interaction with the locals becomes a confusing struggle.

Desperately you hold on to the few phrases you’ve hastily learned from your guidebook, but at the end of the day you finally have to admit it – without speaking the language, you’re all alone in a bubble.

You can’t connect with other people, you’re isolated, and you’re frustrated.

Sound familiar?

Frustrated and confused…

This is exactly how most musicians feel the moment they try to improvise a solo.

They get put on the spot by their teachers, they find themselves with a solo in big band, and they wander into a jam sessions.

Just like stranded tourists they feel lost, unable to speak the language, and frustrated that they can’t communicate their ideas with the outside world.

You’ve probably felt this way yourself trying to navigate … Read More

May 4th, 2015

5 Skills You Won’t Learn in School, Skill Three: The Secret to Great Time

Written by Eric

The Secret To Great Time

Ever feel like something is missing from your solos?

You spend hours learning tunes and transcribing solos from your favorite recordings, you’ve memorized the chord progressions and diligently practiced the tricky fingerings, but when you listen back something is off.

And it’s frustrating because you can’t quite place your finger on the problem…

You’re playing the same songs, the same chords, and even the same notes, yet that player on the recording sounds shockingly better.

Each musical phrase is confident, each note makes you tap your foot, however your own playing sounds flat and unexciting.

The problem isn’t your grasp of music theory, it isn’t your note choices, and it’s not your sound. So what is it?

The culprit is your time.

One of the most ignored aspects of musicianship, especially for struggling improvisers, is what we call “time” – swinging, rhythmic feel, and groove. In fact, the core of modern jazz education is centered around an intellectual approach to harmony – scales, chords, and harmonic progressions…

Thelonious Monk quote

All of those classes and lessons essentially teach you how to count. You play four beats in a measure, you learn about dividing each bar into quarter notes, eighth notes, triplets, 16th’s…

But improvising isn’t just about playing the right notes at the right time, it’s about sharing a message, telling a story through music. To do this you need to develop the rhythmic element of your playing.

However, time often gets overlooked because unlike harmony, it’s hard to place into words or … Read More

April 20th, 2015

5 Skills You Won’t Learn in School, Skill Two: How to Turn Music Theory into Music

Written by Eric

Turn Music Theory Into Music

Have you ever thrown your hands up in frustration trying to understand music theory?

Have you ever found yourself lost and panicking in a solo as you search for the right scale or chord to play?

Many frustrated musicians run into this wall every time they try to take a solo.

From the outside improvising looks easy. You just pick up an instrument, call a tune, and play the music you’re hearing in your head…

However, the moment you try to create a solo yourself or improvise in a difficult key you quickly realize it’s a little more complicated.

So you look in text books, you take lessons, and you sign up for classes. Before you know it your head is overflowing with music theory information, but for some annoying reason it’s not coming out in your solos.

So let’s stop and think about all of this in more practical terms…

How exactly do you turn that music theory in your mind into music on your instrument?

Learning practical music theory

There are two sides to music theory.

On one side is the music theory you learn about in books and school. The construction and building blocks of music, the theory behind scales, chords and tunes, and the flood of musical terminology.

And then there’s the theory that you actually use when you’re performing. The tools you have for navigating chords and progressions, the artistic tools you have for sharing a musical message with the listener.

Music theory information is

Read More
March 20th, 2015

5 Skills You Won’t Learn in School, Skill One: How to Connect Your Ear to Your Instrument

Written by Eric

Skill one: how to connect your ear to your instrument

You’re a trumpet player.

You play the piano or the guitar. Maybe you’ve taken up the saxophone.

Out of a dozen different instruments, this is the one that you’ve chosen to amplify your musical voice.

You identify with it, you wield it with pride, and you strive to follow in the tradition of the fine players that paved the way before you.

You’ve collected etudes, method books, and instructional videos. You have hundreds of recordings by the masters of your instrument and each week you take lessons and faithfully practice.

Before you know it this instrument becomes the center of your musical and creative output. Your life as a musician starts when you pick it up and stops when you put it down.

But what would happen if you took away that instrument? What if I stormed into your practice room and snatched that instrument out of your hand?

Suddenly you’re standing there all alone in an empty room – are you still a musician?

Think about it…

Right now, as you’re reading this, think of a melody in your mind. Can you create these sounds without your instrument?

This probably sounds ridiculous, why would you do that? Well, I used to think the same thing…

Not so long ago I was a college music major intent on becoming a great improviser. Through school I had learned all of my scales, I was on top of my music theory, and I dedicated the majority of each day to practicing technique.… Read More

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