Archive for the ‘Jazz Language’ 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.


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 Four: How to Speak the Jazz Language

Thursday, June 11th, 2015

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

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

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

The Anatomy of a Sound: Overcoming the Barrier of Music Theory

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

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

6 Common Chord Relationships that You Need to Know Now

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

“How do I connect chords when I’m soloing?”

You’re asking yourself this question in the practice room and you’re frustrated when there doesn’t seem to be an easy answer. But you’re not alone. This is a question that every improviser struggles with as they create solos over tunes.

Improvising over one chord is simple enough, however when you begin to play tunes with actual chord progressions, creating and connecting lines becomes a bit more challenging.

This musical obstacle goes to the heart of the skills you need as an improviser and the solution, like many obstacles we encounter in music, is simple in theory yet significantly more involved in implementation.

Imagine for a moment that you took away all the theory terminology, the voice leading rules, the maze of scales and the chord symbol jargon that you normally encounter as an improviser. What would you be left with? You’d be left with sound – that’s it!

Despite everything that our brains get caught up in as we try to create a solo, the harmonic aspect of improvisation boils down to sound: Individual sounds (chords) and the relationships between these sounds.

As an improviser a theoretical understanding and technical proficiency are the first steps when approaching these harmonic relationships, but your ultimate goal is melody. Can you create a seamless melody over these sounds and subsequent chord progressions?

Your ability to play melodies over a chord progression is directly related to how well you can hear the individual chords of a … Read More

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