November 30th, 2015
Ever wonder how the best players seem to improvise brilliant lines without any effort?
All while you’re struggling to make even the simplest chord tones sound good…
If you’re like most players you know this frustration. However, the solution doesn’t lie with a hidden secret or advanced music theory – it all goes back to the musical foundation that you already know.
By now you should be able to visualize the root and chord tones of any chord.
But knowing this information is only starting point. The trick lies in making music out of these harmonic building blocks.
So how do you start with the basic notes of a chord and turn them into a solo that sounds good? How do you transform a few boring triads into music that people actually want to listen to??
As you’ll soon see, the gap between memorized theory and musical solos is closer than you think – you just need to know a few tricks.
It’s all about your approach…
Many of the complex lines that you hear in your favorite solos aren’t based on fancy scales.
Or even complex chords…
They are rooted in the basic structures found in every common chord: the root, 3rd, 5th and 7th.
One way improvisers create complex lines with limited material is through the use of chromatic approach notes.
For example listen to the opening of Dizzy Gillespie’s arrangement of Blue n’ Boogie:
Without the ornamentation or 16th notes the line … Read More
November 22nd, 2015
Contrary to what many people think…
…great solos don’t just happen by chance.
They aren’t a lucky run of notes that happen to sound good or a sudden stroke of divine inspiration that hits once you walk on stage.
If only it were that easy!
The ability to get up and improvise in front of an audience takes some guts and creativity, but it also requires something much more concrete: planning.
Despite what it looks like from the audience, improvisation isn’t magic and it’s not all spontaneous…
What the best improvisers know all too well is that there’s a process that leads to every great solo.
Let me explain…
The secret of the prepared improviser
Think of your favorite solo.
Miles Davis’ solo on So What immediately pops into my mind.
What most musicians forget is that this stellar solo started before Miles put the trumpet to his lips.
It started before he showed up to the gig or recorded Kind of Blue. It began taking shape back in the practice room weeks, months, even years before…
And this is exactly what many players miss when they set out to learn jazz improvisation. Improvising seems like a spur of the moment activity, however there is a process that leads to every great solo.
If you’re unhappy with the way you’re soloing right now, don’t get frustrated with that last concert and don’t blame the tune or how your instrument felt that day.
The process that lead to that solo … Read More
November 11th, 2015
“What solo should I transcribe?”
You’ve probably asked yourself this question. And you’ve probably searched far and wide for answers.
If you look in the Aebersold Jazz Handbook you’ll find a list with over 100 historically significant recordings to choose from…
Search the internet and you’ll see page after page of important players. For instance trumpet players have to deal with Louis Armstrong and Clark Terry, Miles and Dizzy, Lee Morgan, Kenny Dorham, Freddie Hubbard.
And that’s just scratching the surface…
So where do you begin with all of those options? How do you choose the solo that’s going to make you sound better?
Maybe you could start with just one player, like Clifford Brown. There’s his solo on Joy Spring or Cherokee or Sandu or Stompin’ at the Savoy or Jordu or Pent Up House…”
Suddenly you’re overwhelmed and right back where you started. Before you’ve even set out on your journey to learn the jazz language, you’re already falling behind…
Why less is more in learning jazz improvisation
What most people aren’t telling you is that you don’t have to transcribe hundreds of solos to start speaking the jazz language…
But you do have to learn a few of your favorite solos. Extremely well.
And that’s the key to getting started. Realizing that it’s OK to start at square one and understanding that you don’t have to rush to play catch-up with every jazz solo under the sun.
As a musician looking to improve quickly, picking one
… Read More
November 5th, 2015
You may think you know music theory…
And you’re probably willing to bet good money that you know the chords to your favorite tunes.
Most musicians would…
Hell, a few years ago I would’ve looked you straight in the eyes and said without a doubt that I knew all the music theory that I need to know.
But here’s the thing – As a performing musician knowing this stuff isn’t good enough…
To create your own music in front of an audience, you have to transform this mental knowledge into living and breathing sound. You need to be able to play it on your instrument.
You need to be able to improvise with it.
And to get there you must do some very specific things…
How to learn anything in 3 steps
In our last post, we uncovered the essential elements of jazz theory that you need to know.
But this information is only useful if you can do something with it in your solos.
Today we’re going to show you how to transform those elements of jazz theory or those tunes you’re learning into usable knowledge. To get you from the point of “knowing it” to the point of improvising with it.
And this process has 3 steps…
For anything that you want to learn the steps are the same: Memorization, Repetition and Visualization.
It could be a scale that you’re learning in your private lessons, a tricky chord in a jazz band chart, or the changes to … Read More
October 29th, 2015
Let me guess…
You’re smart. You know your stuff. And you have a sparkle in your eyes when you talk about music.
You take lessons and you play in a band, and when you find a few free minutes you’re practicing your instrument.
But when you improvise it doesn’t sound like you at all.
No matter how hard you try, you’re always stuck at square one thinking about the right notes to play.
You copy licks and insert scales into your lines — but now your solo sounds lame. You try yet another new melodic concept. That’s even worse.
The problem isn’t your effort or even your talent…
It goes back to the same thing that’s stopping many fine players from getting the music that’s inside their minds out of their instruments.
I’m talking about the trap of music theory.
What exactly is music theory?
Music theory means many things to many different people…
To some it’s a confusing mess of letter names and scales. Each solo is a struggle to make sense of F#’s and Ab7’s, melodic minor scales, dorian modes, circles of 4ths and 5ths…
To others it’s a class that they begrudgingly take filled with dry text books and rules about every aspect of a musical line.
And for some it’s a system of notes and chords that they hold on to for dear life so they can play the “right notes” in a solo.
But if you step back for a moment you’ll see that … Read More
October 8th, 2015
You’re waiting by the stage…
In a few moments it’ll be your turn to walk into the spotlight to take a solo.
And your heart is beating a mile a minute…
But there’s just one problem – you don’t know the key of the song and you don’t know the chords.
All you know is that you need to start your solo as soon as the melody ends…
You keep thinking “Can I pull this off?” Well it all depends on one question: How good are your ears?
It’s one thing to talk about ear training and connecting your ears to your instrument.
…but it’s another thing entirely to get on stage with the confidence that you can hear anything that comes your way.
Sure, you might have an ear training class under your belt and you may be able to identify each interval on a quiz, but are you ready to start improvising with your ear alone?
Most players have never asked themselves this question and they get the answer at the worst possible time: on stage in front of an audience.
So think about your own ears – would they pass the test in live performance?
Don’t wait until it’s too late to find out…
Let’s start with a test
Take the tune Trane’s Blues from the Miles Davis album Workin’.
Here’s your test:
- Press play on the video below
- Listen to the melody until Miles solo starts (:20 sec)
- Now sing the root of
… Read More
September 22nd, 2015
Nearly every day we get asked, “What should I practice?”
…And, this is not an easy question to answer. In fact, it’s pretty complicated.
So, in an attempt to help everyone who has always wondered what to practice and what professionals practice, I began to put together what I had thought would be a quick short presentation.
But, as I got going, the depth of this question got more and more prevalent. It’s not that there’s so much to practice, although there is, but it’s the relationship between everything and the fact that learning how to improvise well is not a linear process.
I did my best in this presentation to illustrate this complex relationship and to showcase how you can make use of everything we talk about to architect your daily and weekly practice plans to effectively improve at jazz improvisation.
Keep in mind that the shared perspective is through how a professional might tackle things. There are no shortcuts here, just down and dirty methods of figuring out what you want to know and determining the best route there.
I sincerely hope you enjoy this presentation and if you like it, share it! Click the share icon in the lower left of the viewer to share it on your favorite social network or you can even embed the presentation on your own website!
You can Download the presentation here.
September 18th, 2015
Let’s say this:
You’re a 25 year old guitar player, serious and passionate about what you do. Each day after work you come home and head into the practice room, learning songs, practicing your technique, and dreaming about getting onstage. But despite all of this effort you’re still not seeing the progress you want.
Or maybe this:
You’re a successful attorney, with a wife and kids and a busy work schedule. But underneath all of that your real passion is music. You’ve taken some piano lessons and even got pretty good, but it’s been years since you’ve played. Now that instrument is just sitting there, gathering dust and staring at you.
Or how about this:
On the weekends you play in a band for fun and every now and then you have a gig, but deep down you know you can do more with music. Maybe write your own compositions or even someday start your own band. You’ve bought some theory books and started taking some lessons, but you keep wondering the same thing…
I’ve met all of these players and many more just like them, and in each case the burning question is the same: Do I have what it takes to be a musician?
Am I studying the right method? Are the things I’m practicing actually going to pay off? Can I – at my age, with my schedule, and my skill level – really do it?
If you’re like me these questions have popped up in your … Read More
September 14th, 2015
You hear it over and over…
Just transcribe. You want to get better? Transcribe. You want to have a better sound. Transcribe. Can’t seem to play over Rhythm Changes? Transcribe.
And yes, when people tell you this, they’re correct. You can learn pretty much anything you want from transcribing. But, what they don’t tell you is that you need to use what you transcribe to inspire your own creativity.
Last week we talked about running from your own creativity, and today we’re going to show you how to combine your own creativity with what you’re transcribing to create your very own jazz exercises.
Why create your own exercises?
When I was 16, I had the privilege of meeting and talking to saxophonist Sam Rivers. You likely don’t know who he was, but he was pretty awesome and had a very unique way of playing and composing.
I’ll never forget what he told me about his own musical journey. He said:
“Eventually I realized I had to make my own exercise book.”
Say what? Your own exercise book? Yes. Your own exercise book. Hearing this was a huge revelation. Not one I fully understood until over a decade later. And, not one that I’ve implemented even half as well as I should have, but nonetheless, this concept is a big deal.
By creating your own exercises, you apply your own creativity, you cultivate what is yours, you develop things in your own way, you move closer toward your … Read More
September 10th, 2015
Can you hear that?
Underneath the thoughts about your credit card bill and next Tuesday’s dinner plans…
Past the anxiety about that upcoming job interview and the frustration with your painfully slow progress in the practice room.
A faint murmur bubbling up in your subconscious. A voice trying to break through the noise of your everyday life. I’m talking about your creative voice!
The same inner voice that you’ve had since you were a child…
The one that daydreamed. That saw things differently and wasn’t embarrassed to be original. The voice that’s honest and heartfelt and out to discover new possibility.
Take it or leave it, this creative voice is the key to coming into your own as a musician.
More than technique, a shiny new instrument, or even years of schooling it’s the one thing that makes you unique.
And that’s exactly why you need to start listening to it…
Hey listen up!
We’ve all got an inner voice.
The only problem is that not everyone hears it.
Some people just ignore it, some are afraid of risking it, and some let the voice get drowned out by the details of daily life. However, for the ones that take a plunge into the unknown and trust their intuition the possibilities are endless.
This creative voice is what led Beethoven to his 5th symphony, it’s the impulse that made Miles Davis keep searching for new sounds, and the calling that pushed Coltrane to make A Love … Read More