Archive for the ‘Perspective’ Category

The Inconvenient Truth About Becoming a Better Improviser…

Friday, October 7th, 2016


Making progress as an improviser is tricky business…

I’m not talking about the baby steps along the way like learning a new tune, transcribing a solo, or even practicing a few scales.

I’m talking about finding musical breakthroughs. Arriving at creative revelations and actually playing the ideas you’re hearing in your head.

But I’m guessing you already know this…I’m even willing to bet that somewhere, deep down you know you have more musical potential than you give yourself credit for.

You know that you can play a better solo, that you can dust off that old instrument and start practicing again, that you do better than the same old tunes, the same old lines, and the same predictable solos.

But how do you get over this hump? How do you unleash the creative musician buried deep inside of you?

Well if you listen to most people, you’d lock yourself in a practice room for the foreseeable future. But here’s the catch:

Practice alone isn’t good enough…

It’s time to get uncomfortable

As musicians we have a collective mindset that’s ingrained in us from an early age – that practice makes perfect.

It’s true that practice is necessary to be a competent musician, but it’s not the most important thing you can do to improve as a creative musician.

The same routine, the same exercises, and those hours spent playing licks with Aebersolds isn’t going to make you the next Miles Davis. If you want to reach the level of your … Read More

8 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Practicing Jazz Improvisation

Tuesday, August 9th, 2016

8 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Practicing Jazz Improvisation

Let’s be completely honest…

My amazing teachers did tell me many of the things that I’m about to tell you…I just didn’t listen!

Why didn’t I listen?

I don’t know. Immaturity. Stubbornness. The belief that there had to be something else. Something more important. Something more complex. Something better, that mattered more…

But these 8 pieces of advice matter more than I ever could have known and I continue to rediscover their importance time and time again.

Whenever I veer of course, it’s usually one of these things that I’m ignoring.

And hopefully, by sharing them with you today, you’re inspired to continue to grow and develop your musical potential in the direction you want to take it…

1.) Listening to jazz is the most important thing you can do

I know you think you listen, but do you really listen?

When you get in the car, do you turn the pop hits of today on– I’m guilty of this too, and I swear they’re the same 5  computer-generated songs playing on every single radio station. Do bands even exist anymore?!– or are you listening to Bird, Trane, or supporting the local jazz station?

Each day do you feel the need to listen to jazz? Are you truly compelled?

Do you, in fact, listen to jazz every single day? And not because you feel you should, but because you love it?

Don’t underestimate the power of listening to jazz.

So much of what we play and who we become as … Read More

How Thinking Like a Writer Will Make You a Better Jazz Improvisor

Tuesday, June 21st, 2016

Think like a writer

Sometimes a change in perspective is all you need…

Jazz improvisation is a demanding pursuit, one that combines intellect, feeling and expression.

It’s easy to grasp the music theory side of things, but it’s much more difficult to grok the more dubious concepts…things like strong phrasing, connecting ideas, having a unique musical perspective, or the concept of “telling a story.”

The thing that nobody ever thinks about is that you’re not limited to the confines of jazz or music to draw inspiration from to help clarify these more esoteric concepts.

In fact, there’s inspiration all around you, from the books you read to the people you meet and the places you go.

But one of the most obvious and most effective places to draw inspiration from you’re already highly familiar with: the craft of writing.

Drawing inspiration from writing

Jazz is a language, but because it’s a musical language it’s difficult to define exactly what that means.

By turning to an actual spoken language and understanding the precise use of syntax and strategies skilled writers use to shape this language, you can gain a whole new perspective on how to think about improvising a solo.

This idea comes from one of the greatest tenor saxophonists to ever live: Joe Henderson.

Joe Henderson Quote

“I try to create ideas in a musical way the same as writers try to create images with words. I use the mechanics of writing in playing solos. I use quotations. I use commas, semicolons. Pepper Adams turned

Read More

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

Monday, August 17th, 2015

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

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

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

The Secret Behind Every Solo that You Can’t Afford to Miss

Thursday, January 15th, 2015

There’s a secret hidden in every great solo.

You’ll find it in those old records of Louis Armstrong and those videos of Bird and Diz that you watch on YouTube. You can even hear it in the players of today like Terence Blanchard, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Tom Harrell and dozens of others.

It’s a secret that not many people even think about, let alone talk about. But it’s there if you really look for it.

Still guessing? Well I’ll tell you right now that it’s not a fancy scale, not a music theory trick, and it’s not the lick.

You might even think it absurd that there is anything more to a solo that the actual notes. I know I did until I started digging into the solos of my favorite improvisers.

But keep reading because this secret will change the way you approach improvisation…


The secret is this:

Behind one line of a great solo lies the weight of thousands of hours of practice. Years of listening. Dozens of transcribed solos. Decades of private instruction. Tough lessons picked up in jam sessions and revelations passed on by mentors.

…all in just a dozen notes.

Think about it: all of the practice on technique, all of that work on sound, every gig and every hour of study led to that solo you just listened to. It’s all there hidden in those notes.

These notes could fly right by you if you’re not paying attention. You might hear it 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

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