Archive for the ‘Chords’ Category

How to Turn Boring Theory into Your Next Brilliant Solo…

Thursday, 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

Why Jazz Theory Is Easier Than You Think…

Thursday, 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

How To Create Your Own Jazz Exercises From a Transcribed Line

Monday, September 14th, 2015

Create your own jazz exercises from transcribing

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

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

Monday, April 20th, 2015

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

Use the Power of Visualization to Improve Faster than Ever. We’ll show you how in our New eBook…

Thursday, February 12th, 2015

Harness the Power of Visualization

Picture this…

You’re backstage before a big performance waiting for your turn to step into the spotlight. A few steps away from the curtain you can hear the murmur of the audience and your pulse starts to race.

You take a deep breath and confidently walk onstage. The heat of the lights hits you and you can feel the familiar weight of your instrument resting in your hand. As the first tune is being counted off you can see the first chord in your mind, you can hear it clearly in your head, and you know exactly what you’re going to play…

That mental picture sounds pretty good, right?

However, what you might not realize is that you’ve just practiced one of the most beneficial exercises in improving your performance – it’s called visualization.

Let me explain…

See it to believe it

Visualization is not some ancient mystical process or new age mumbo jumbo, it’s a very real technique that you can use everyday to improve your skills.

Simply put, visualization is the process of forming mental images. These images could consist of information that you are trying to memorize or a task that you are attempting to perform, it doesn’t matter. What does is that you mentally rehearse every aspect of that physical motion – seeing it, hearing it, and feeling it.

This is the same technique used by the top professionals in every field, from public speakers to professional athletes like Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan. And … Read More

3 Essential Improvisation Tools that You Need to Know

Monday, November 17th, 2014

Imagine that you’re a construction worker.

You’ve just pulled yourself out of bed at 4 a.m. and slipped on your steel-toed boots. As you stretch your tired legs you let out a sigh as another long day looms on the horizon. No worries, nothing you can’t do after a strong cup of coffee.

You arrive on site as the sun is rising, just in time to get a head start before the rest of your team shows up. You quickly unpack your gear and reach into your tool box when it suddenly hits you – you’ve forgotten your tools.


The best you can do now is just stand there and mumble some sorry excuse as you silently curse yourself for your stupidity.

Doesn’t sound like too much fun, right?

But then again it’s common sense. I mean who would show up to work without the one thing they need to do their job?

Well, it’s much easier than you think and if you’re a musician, you’re probably guilty of this very mistake. In fact most players out there struggling to improvise are showing up to solo without any tools. What’s worse, they don’t even realize it.

These hopeful soloists have their instruments and they’ve learned their scales. They’ve memorized the melody and the chord progression and they’ve stepped up to the mic. But when it comes to creating musical phrases in real time, they are stuck up there without any tools.

“*&$%#!” is right.

Think of it like

Read More

7 Reasons you’re not getting to the next level and what to do about it

Monday, October 13th, 2014
How to get to the next level in Jazz Improvisation

When you begin something new, there’s so much to learn. Improvement is quick and often, practice is exploratory and fun. But after doing anything for a while, you settle into a routine and your once explosive improvement tapers off. Wherever this may leave you, you can’t seem to get beyond this plateau.

Why are you stuck at this intermediate level and what can you do about it?

Fear not friend. The primary reasons people remain at the same level in jazz improvisation are generally the same across the board. Let’s dive into these roadblocks and detail exactly how to handle them so you can get to the next level asap!

1.) You’re using scales as a shortcut to understanding chords

A huge problem and possibly the reason most people get stuck at the same improvisational level for so long, is their constant reliance on scales to understand chordal structures.

When you want to play over an Eb-7 chord, do you have to think about what notes to play based upon scale relationships? If your thinking goes something like this…”hmmmm, Eb- is the ii chord of Db major, so I’ll play the notes in Db major, but starting on Eb,” then you’re in trouble.

Michael Jordan doesn't take shortcuts

"If you try to shortcut the game, then the game will shortcut you." ~Michael Jordan

This shortcut to chords through scales is a widely taught system for understanding chords in jazz improvisation; this system quickly gives you access to correct notes without knowing a lot about the harmonic structures. It's not a bad place to start and in the short-term, it helps you, but if you want to get to the next level, it’s time you ditch your shortcuts and start to understand what actually is going on around you... Read More

10 Easy Options for Expanding Your Dominant 7th Vocabulary

Sunday, January 5th, 2014

10 easy options for V7

What’s the most important chord progression that you need to know as a musician?

Well that’s a good question…

In the past we’ve explored some common chord relationships that you’ll encounter as an improviser, but there is one chord relationship that sticks out above the rest.

Any guesses?

It’s V to I.

The Dominant/Tonic relationship is at the foundation of Western music from Baroque concertos, to Mahler symphonies, to Louis Armstrong, to Coltrane, to the Beatles.

In nearly every standard that you’ll practice or perform as an improviser, you’re going to encounter the V7 to I chord relationship.

The Blues, Rhythm Changes, Stella by Starlight, Giant Steps, All the Things You Are…it all goes back to V7 resolving to I. If you haven’t already worked on this dominant to tonic relationship, now is the time to get started.

The Basics

For many players, the most common way to access the Dominant 7th to Tonic sound is with the Mixolydian mode:

or a Bebop Scale:

The other common rule that many players also fall back on for V7 to I is the natural voice-leading motion between these two chords. Coming from an analytical perspective, the voice leading “rules” of the V to I relationship are resolving the 7th of the V chord to the 3rd of the I chord:

(7-3 Resolution)

and the 3rd of V7 to the root of the I chord:

(3-1 Resolution)

This is a fine place to start conceptualizing … Read More

Happy New Year! 8 Musical Resolutions That Will Change Your Playing

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014

A new year is the perfect time to look back at what you’ve accomplished in the practice room and to look forward  to what you still wish to achieve as a musician. It’s also a great time to make a fresh start, to realign yourself musically, and to set some new goals. So, Happy New Year!

…now what are you going to do to become a better improviser?

A while back we posted 100 New Years Resolution Ideas for the Improviser. These resolutions are great to choose from for your daily or weekly practice routines, however there are some major points that are truly pivotal in making you a better improviser. If you focus intently on these key elements, you’ll be able to transform yourself musically.

Here are 8 musical resolutions for the new year that will make you a better improviser.

I) Work on Ear Training

The #1 area of your musicianship that will make you a better improviser is your ears. Your success as an improviser depends on your ability to hear and understand the sounds around you: melodies, chord progressions, intervals, time signatures, the other musicians in your band, etc.

All of this goes directly back to your ears.

It’s important to intellectually understand the theory and construction of the music, but to truly play it you must be able to hear it. This means working on ear training.

Here are some articles that you should check out to improve your ears:

Read More

The Philosophy of Learning Jazz Improvisation: Thinking like a Composer

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

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

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