Archive for the ‘Jazz Education’ Category

What Should I Practice? The 3 Essential Pieces to Practicing Jazz Improvisation: A Free Presentation

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2015

What to Practice

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.


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

Monday, July 6th, 2015

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

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

Monday, May 4th, 2015

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

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

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

Friday, March 20th, 2015

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

The 5 Key Skills You Won’t Learn in School: A Five Part Series

Friday, March 13th, 2015

five skills you won't learn in music school

School is great.

…but it won’t teach you everything.

Private lessons are awesome and downright necessary on your journey to becoming a better musician…yet that hour a week isn’t going to teach you every musical tidbit that you need to know.

You see a curious thing happens when you take music outside of the classroom, when you wander outside the safety of your private lessons and venture into the real world.

The moment you create music with other people and perform for an audience something subtle changes. Those notes on the page, those scales you memorized, and those fancy words that you use to describe them are suddenly transformed into something living.

No more sheet music and no more theory. What matters now is what you create with your instrument and the musicians around you – and this can be a wake up call.

But you already know this…

This time it’s for real

You’ve started a band with your friends.

You’ve sat in with some local musicians and you’ve called a tune at a jam session. You’re performing for a musical, for a church service or a wedding. You’ve found yourself on the spot and you have to play a solo without any music…

All eyes are on you, so you better not miss any notes!

In a matter of seconds you realize that performing music requires more than memorized facts. Suddenly you need to use the information you’ve learned in a creative and musical way and you don’t … 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

7 Crucial Lessons from History’s Greatest Improvisers

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015

I’m guessing you’ve heard of Miles Davis.

And you probably know Louis Armstrong and have listened to Charlie Parker and John Coltrane.

But have you ever stopped and wondered why you, sitting here in 2015, know these names?

Some of these masters have been gone for 40 years and some of these records are nearly 80 years old. So why are we still listening?

And why does an album like Kind of Blue become the best selling jazz album of all time?

There must be a mystery ingredient that makes some players or albums stand the test of time and become household names, while others are lost to obscurity, failing to connect with a wider audience.

While these musical masters couldn’t predict the future, they did have something in common. In fact they all shared some very specific qualities that allowed their music to travel the world and endure for years.

What’s more, these qualities are true of great people in various fields of work and these principles can be applied to more than just music.

So take note and pay attention to the greatest improvisers, if you’d like to share your music with more people and you’d like to reach a new level of artistry, learn these 7 lessons well.

1) Connect with your audience in a meaningful way

We love fireworks.

We’re drawn to technical flash, larger-than-life stage presence and shocking special effects. The high notes and fast tempos make us squeal with delight and the lure of … Read More

Stop right there! Don’t Touch Your Instrument until You Do these 4 Simple Exercises

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

All practice is not created equal.

There’s the practice that’s fun. You’re in a room with your instrument and maybe a few friends and you just start playing. The minutes fly by, but you’re not exactly working…

Then there’s the practice that feels like homework. You’ve got a lesson or a concert coming up so you force yourself to learn scales, to play etudes, and to review the music for your upcoming performance. You keep looking at the clock, waiting to escape…

And then there’s the kind of practice that’s different. The practice where you begin with a goal and a list of items to focus on. When it’s over you feel like you’ve improved, you’re motivated and even inspired

This type of practice has purpose and direction. It’s productive and fulfilling, and it’s connected with the reason you chose to play music in the first place.

Sounds pretty good, right?

The only problem is this type of practice seems to be elusive for so many players. So much of the time we find ourselves going between the “fun” practice and the practice that feels like homework, either jamming with our peers or forcing ourselves to slog through exercises.

But how do you consistently create this third type of practice, the practice that the best players seem to have down to a science?

Well I thought I’d share 4 things that have helped me grow as a musician, 4 exercises that have shaped the direction I want to take as … 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
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