Archive for the ‘Tips’ 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

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 Secret to Getting Good Fast at Jazz Improvisation

Thursday, August 20th, 2015

How to get good fast at jazz improvisation

Trust the process. Keep going and you’ll get there. Anything worth doing takes time…

We hear these things over and over when we’re learning and it’s all good advice…

But what they don’t tell you is that there’s one key thing that separates those who excel quickly, from those who get mildly better at a much slower rate.

So what is it? How do you get good fast at jazz improvisation, something that seems nearly impossible when you realize how much information there is to know?

In a hurry to go nowhere

It’s late. I grab my horn and brave the cold to get to the practice rooms. Another solitary night in the practice room. I need to get there. I need to get there fast. There’s so much to know. What am I going to work on tonight? I’ve got to learn that tune, I think I printed out a chart. And perhaps I’ll work out of that transcription book a bit or maybe that new Bergonzi book I just got. And maybe I’ll spend some time on that new scale I just heard about.

This was me when I was 18. Frantically racing from one topic to the next, approaching them all in the wrong way. Printing out charts instead of learning tunes from records. Using transcription books instead of using my ear and transcribing solos. Buying literally every new book on improvisation, desperately hoping that it revealed the secrets I was missing.  And doing endless … 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

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.

YouTube Preview Image

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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