Archive for the ‘Transcribing’ 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

10 Brilliant Jazz Solos And What You Can Learn From Them

Monday, August 31st, 2015


There is a secret that all great musicians have in common…

You won’t hear it on their recordings or even in their live performances. And some may even deny it that it ever happened at all.

But look back even further you’ll find it…

The truth is that every great musician started out as a musical apprentice. And the history of this music is full of countless examples.

Miles Davis moving to New York to seek out the new music of Charlie Parker, a young Frank Sinatra absorbing the performances of Billie Holiday and Ethel Waters, Lee Morgan learning the musical language of Clifford Brown…

In each and every case, imitation was the key that unlocked the door to creativity. And if you want to improve as a musician, the same must be true for you.

As a musician today, this apprenticeship is done by imitating the style and sound of your favorite musicians – transcribing solos.

If you haven’t transcribed a solo before or found the entire process frustratingly difficult, not to worry – it’s time to start fresh! Here are 10 Brilliant Jazz solos and what you’ll learn from them…

1) Miles Davis, Blues by Five

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When you begin improvising it’s easy to become obsessed with each and every chord…

You want to play the right notes and you want to sound good in front of your fellow musicians. So you start focusing on individual chords, scales and individual notes . And this will put your creativity … Read More

The Real Reason You Should Start Transcribing Jazz Solos

Thursday, August 6th, 2015

Real Reason to Transcribe Jazz Solos

Here’s a thought…

What if you could go back in time and take a lesson with John Coltrane?

Yes, that John Coltrane.

I mean drive up to his home in Dix Hills, knock on the door, politely say hello to his wife, and walk in past the stacks of staff paper and saxophone mouthpieces into his personal practice room.

Imagine if you could learn first hand his approach to improvisation. To see music from his point of view, directly from the source…

Here’s the thing: you can.

I know that probably sounds crazy, so let me explain…

You don’t know a man until you walk a mile in his shoes

The main struggle for anyone trying to learn to improvise today, in 2015, is that you’re attempting to learn a music that’s mostly living on recordings.

If you think about it, many of the most influential musical masters have been gone for 30 years or more. So how do you, sitting here reading this, learn to improvise?

Sometimes the closest you can get to your favorite musicians is a biography, a collection of their transcribed solos, a stack of recordings or a text book with an academic analysis of their harmonic techniques.

But until you get inside their music, until you connect with them personally, you’re not even scratching the surface…

Harper Lee quote

Casually listening to a recording is one thing. But like an outside observer, you’re just taking your best guess at what’s happening. If you want to get the secrets, … 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

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.

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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

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

6 Practice Essentials for Every Improviser

Thursday, August 7th, 2014

6 Improvisation Essentials

You walk into your practice room.

You sit back in your favorite chair and mentally prepare to play your first note of the day.

You glance at your stack of etude books, the half transcribed solo sitting on your music stand, and your growing list of tunes to learn and you let out a heavy sigh.

What are you going to practice today?

Sound familiar? Thought so.

Every musician knows this feeling well. Each time you pick up your instrument you’ve got to make a decision: Which type of practice is actually going to make you a better improviser?

Sure, we’ve all heard about the basic stuff, but in the back of our minds we’re secretly hoping to find that one perfect exercise or method that’s going to solve all of our improvisational woes.

However, it’s not that simple. The more you study and perform this music, the more you’ll realize that there isn’t a magic method for learning improvisation. The truth is each player has a personal way of approaching their time in the practice room that allows them to reach their goals.

So how do you sort through all of these methods to find the one that works for you?

Well the good news is that you don’t have to! You see, it isn’t one single method or practice plan that makes a player succeed, it’s the actual content of what’s happening in the practice room.

Take a closer look and you’ll see that every great practice routine … Read More

What, Why, Where, Who, When, and How to Transcribe

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

What, Why, Where, Who, When, and How to transcribe

Every day we receive countless variations of what, why, where, who, when, and how to transcribe questions in our inbox.

Should I transcribe lines or whole solos? Do I need to transcribe from the recording or can I just use a transcription book? Who should I transcribe? Do I have to transcribe Charlie Parker? Can I transcribe modern players? Is it okay to slow down the music I’m transcribing? What’s the process of transcribing? Did the great players of this music transcribe?

All of these and the others that come up are all great questions because they deal with something that is so necessary to learn how to play jazz and improvise the way you want: transcribing.

What should I transcribe?

What should I transcribe? Should I start somewhere in particular or just jump in head first? Should I do a whole solo or single lines?

Knowing what to transcribe can be difficult. There’s so much out there and you could literally do any of it. The best place to start is with the basic units and forms of jazz. So what does this mean? It means you start with something as simple as a major chord. Transcribe one line over a major chord and you’re on your way; acquiring useful language over these building blocks is essential.

The basic units and forms I’m talking about are: single chords (major, minor, dominant, half-diminished, etc.), ii Vs, minor ii Vs, blues, rhythm changes, and super common standards.

Does this mean you … Read More

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