January 1st, 2014

Happy New Year! 8 Musical Resolutions That Will Change Your Playing

By Eric

A new year is the perfect time to look back at what you’ve accomplished in the practice room and to look forward  to what you still wish to achieve as a musician. It’s also a great time to make a fresh start, to realign yourself musically, and to set some new goals. So, Happy New Year!

…now what are you going to do to become a better improviser?

A while back we posted 100 New Years Resolution Ideas for the Improviser. These resolutions are great to choose from for your daily or weekly practice routines, however there are some major points that are truly pivotal in making you a better improviser. If you focus intently on these key elements, you’ll be able to transform yourself musically.

Here are 8 musical resolutions for the new year that will make you a better improviser.

I) Work on Ear Training

The #1 area of your musicianship that will make you a better improviser is your ears. Your success as an improviser depends on your ability to hear and understand the sounds around you: melodies, chord progressions, intervals, time signatures, the other musicians in your band, etc.

All of this goes directly back to your ears.

It’s important to intellectually understand the theory and construction of the music, but to truly play it you must be able to hear it. This means working on ear training.

Here are some articles that you should check out to improve your ears:

If you’re serious about becoming a better musician, you should be serious about ear training.

II) Start Transcribing Solos

Still trying to improvise with scales? Having trouble connecting chords? Wish your solos were more musical?

These are all red flags that you need to start transcribing solos. Remember that jazz is a language that you must learn how to speak. You need to get with your favorite recording and spend some serious time learning the language of this music by ear.

This can sound like a daunting task, but don’t worry we’ve got you covered. Take a look at these posts to get started:

III) Master the ii-V-I chord progression

The ii-V-I chord progression is the harmonic backbone to nearly every standard that you’ll encounter as an improviser.

Therefore, the better you know the relationship between these three chords, the more successful you’ll be in your soloing. Here are a few resources to help you on your way:

IV) Develop some Jazz Piano Skills

The piano is a great tool for any musician trying to understand the basics of music theory or chord progressions. Anyone can produce a note on the instrument and with a little bit of practice you can greatly aid your study of harmony, tunes, solos, and much more in your daily routine.

Start with these 2 articles:

And what if you already play piano? Not to worry, start learning how to play the drums. Playing the drums is to time and swinging as learning the basics of piano is to jazz harmony.

V) Utilize Slow and Focused Practice

Most players are not practicing effectively when they get into the practice room. Why?

Simply because they rush through their scales, tunes, and exercises without focusing or spending the time to ingrain these techniques correctly. Hours are spent in the practice room glossing over dozens of areas, but nothing is actually learned. This is not only inefficient, it’s a huge waste of time and energy!

Don’t let this be you, a simple change can turn all of this around. Make sure you are 100% focused on the exercises that you’re practicing and go slow. Focus on one thing at a time and slowly repeat it until it’s ingrained. Sure, it takes some patience, but the results will be almost immediate. When you use your practice time effectively you’ll speed up your improvement ten-fold.

VI) Acquire Technique in all 12 Keys

If you haven’t mastered the basics of all 12 keys (scales, triads, arpeggios, 3rds, 4ths, etc.) it’s going to hold your playing back in a major way.

The good news is that the solution is simple, you need to spend time everyday working on some key exercises:

As an aspiring musician, you don’t want something as simple as a hard key or technique holding you back.

VII) Improve Your Sense of Time

When we first begin learning to improvise a dangerous pattern starts to take place, all of our focus is on the harmonic and melodic aspects of the music. Which notes to play, which scales to use, what chord tones to hit…

Without even realizing it we forget another equally important aspect of the music: time – the feel of the lines, swinging, accents, and articulation. These aspects of improvising are just as important as the notes you choose to play, yet they often get forgotten.

If you want to sound great as an improviser, don’t forget to focus on your time.

Remember you can be playing the hippest notes in the world, but if your time or articulation is off it won’t matter one bit.

VIII) Start Singing

You may not realize it, but your voice is an essential tool in improving as an improviser. (And no, this doesn’t mean that you have to start moonlighting as a jazz singer…but you’re welcome to try.)

Your voice connects the sounds in your ear to your physical body and in turn, this allows for a connection between your ear and your instrument. This connection is key to playing the sounds that you’re hearing in your head on your instrument and this will make the process of improvisation much more natural.

In your practice be sure to incorporate singing. Before you learn a melody, a solo, a tricky rhythm, or a scale pattern sing it!

Make a change this year

If you’re serious about improving as an improviser this year, make sure that you incorporate these 8 items into your daily practice routine.

  • Ear Training
  • Transcribing
  • ii-V-I
  • Jazz Piano
  • Slow & Focused Practice
  • Freedom in all 12 Keys
  • Develop a Sense of Time
  • Start Singing

These key areas can’t be mastered over night, but if you work on them everyday in the practice room a year from now you’ll be a different player. Here’s to your improvement!

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