February 14th, 2016

4 Tricks To Practicing Jazz lines In All Keys

Written by Forrest

Practicing Jazz Lines and Language In All Keys

Practicing lines in all keys is a must, but it’s not that easy or even clear why it’s so important in the first place…

Many years ago, I remember trying to take a ii V line through all keys on the saxophone and it was really difficult.

I’ve even had several decent players tell me they struggle with this skill.

After years of practice, it’s become effortless and it’s just second nature for me to take lines through all the keys.

So for today, here are the tricks that I’ve picked up over the years that will help you think and play in all keys.

Why play lines in all keys?

There are many benefits to playing lines in all keys. The most obvious one is that it gives you material for every key.

But there are a lot more benefits to it than that…

Playing lines in all keys improves your technical facility

Practicing every range and fingering on your instrument yields better technique, but, often we hang out in one register and fallback on our finger habits. By taking lines through all keys, we’re forced to hit every part of our instrument and work through tricky fingerings that we’d otherwise ignore.

Playing lines in all keys gives you mental dexterity

When you play lines in all keys, do not write them out. Do them in your mind. I will reiterate this point again and again because it’s so important. You must transpose the line in your mind. And … Read More

February 11th, 2016

How to Take the Guesswork Out of Jazz Improvisation…and Unlock Your Creativity

Written by Eric

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If you’re like me, you can picture it in your mind…

Walking on stage in front of an audience and jumping right into a solo. Knowing exactly what you want to play and confident that any note you hear will simply flow out with ease.

Sounds pretty good, right?

The only problem is getting these notes to come out of your instrument in real life.

No matter how hard you practice or study solos, improvising can often feel like an exercise where you’re taking your best guess at the right notes.

Staring at a set of chord progressions and choosing from a handful of scales or returning to the same old licks you play in every other solo…

And this can leave you feeling uncreative, like you’re not really improvising at all.

But before you get too frustrated, take a step back. The problem isn’t your musical or artistic abilities, the culprit is the way you’re approaching the creative process…

You’re more creative than you think

You might not realize it now, but you have more creative potential than you realize…

In fact, your brain is a problem solving machine that’s constantly processing information and looking for new options and avenues of expression.

The only catch is that you have to give it a chance to be creative.

You can’t overload the machinery. You can’t cram in every piece of music theory information out there and say “ok, improvise!

And this is where many players go wrong…

To … Read More

February 1st, 2016

The Jazz Musician’s Most Important Tool: How To Strengthen Your Musical Memory

Written by Forrest

A jazz musician's most important tool

What is a jazz musician’s most important tool?

Is it their ear? Their technique? The concepts at their disposal?

All of these are extremely important, but without this one specific tool, they’re all useless…

The jazz musician’s most important tool is their memory.

Harold Mabern used to drive this point home to us all the time.

Think about it.

You can have the best ear in the world, name any sound you hear, transcribe a progression with ease…

But if you can’t retain the information you’re learning in your mind and recall it for instantaneous use later, it’s not going to help you be a better improviser.

You can’t go on stage with a book of the things you know, the lines, the tunes, the concepts…everything has to be in your mind.

And really, that’s the only stuff you actually know.

Joe Henderson took this to the extreme in his teaching style.

Joe Henderson teaching style

In general, Joe didn’t allow the student to record the lesson or write down anything on staff paper. Everything had to be memorized right away.

So what exactly does a having a great memory in terms of playing jazz music mean?

And, how can we best develop this talent?

How to use your memory in jazz

In terms of jazz improvisation, memory means two things

  1. memorizing things with your ear
  2. memorizing things with your mind

Yes, technically memorizing something with your ear still is in your mind, but nevertheless, we’ll refer to this as the “ear part”…

There’s … Read More

January 27th, 2016

Why Giant Steps is Easier Than You Think… 4 Simple Steps to a Stellar Solo

Written by Eric

giant_steps_post

Most improvisers cringe when they hear the words “Giant Steps”…

Their hearts start pounding and they frantically try to remember the patterns they’ve worked out over the chord progression.

If you’ve ever tried to play over this tune, I’m sure you know the feeling…

Chords flying by at a breakneck speed, awkward changes, and fingers fumbling to keep up – not exactly the most musical experience.

And it’s even more frustrating when you turn on a recording of your favorite players for inspiration only to hear chorus after chorus of flawless lines:

YouTube Preview Image

How are you ever going to sound like that?

But what most players don’t realize is that Giant Steps is actually composed of the basic musical elements that you already know.

And today we’ll show you the 4 steps to making this tune much easier than everyone makes it out to be.

Let me explain…

What makes this tune hard?

The difficulties that most improvisers have with creating a musical solo over Giant Steps stems from three things:

  • The tempo
  • The rate that the chords change
  • The minor 3rd relationships

Many hopeful soloists jump right into the progression at a fast tempo and start fumbling around, hoping that something decent will come out. That’s not going to work…

To start making some progress, you need to take a close look at how the chords fit together in the tune as a whole and create a practice approach that will give you the tools you need.

We’ll take … Read More

January 22nd, 2016

10 Surprising Secrets to Jazz Phrasing I Learned From John Coltrane

Written by Forrest

John Coltrane Phrasing

John Coltrane is probably best known for Countdown and Giant Steps, or his earth-shattering intensity on A Love Supreme.

But often overlooked is the depth and beauty of his phrasing and lyricism.

When I first heard the album Kind of Blue, I was blown away.

And I still am to this day.

There is so much there. Every time I listen to it, I hear more.

One solo that has always hit me dead-center between the eyes is Coltrane’s solo on Blue in Green.

Bill Evans Quote Blue In Green

This solo transports me to another world…

But this is not the Trane that we think of. The one that’s pounding down the door, in your face, playing faster than what seems humanely possible!

No. It’s a different side of him, yet the intensity of his playing is still just as present.

And much of this intensity has to do with how he phrases.

What’s the secret behind Coltrane’s beautiful phrasing and how does he sound so lyrical?

Does Coltrane phrase like a pro?

Over five years ago, I wrote an article about how to phrase like a pro.

In that I shared four points about phrasing that pros do and amateurs do not:

  • Avoid starting phrases on beat 1
  • Break up the eighth notes
  • Connect one idea to the next
  • Play into beat 1 and beyond

They seem simple, right?

But, as many things go, the simpler they seem, the more difficult they are to put into practice.

Do pros … Read More

January 20th, 2016

How to Avoid the 4 Harmful Mindsets that are Sabotaging Your Practice Routine…

Written by Eric

4 Bad Practice MIndsets

If you’re serious about reaching your musical potential or stepping up your jazz improvisation game then the majority of your time as a musician should be spent in one place…

The practice room.

It’s where you’ll do the dirty work of pursuing your musical goals and where you’ll build your foundation as a performer. It’s no secret that consistent practice is one of the most important factors in determining your musical success this year.

But here’s the catch: Not all practice is “good practice

In fact, the way you define “practice” might actually be holding you back and in some cases, even doing you harm. And this can drastically impact your performance and creative confidence when you get in front of an audience.

Remember, good or bad, the time that you spend in the practice room will ingrain habits and it’s these habits that will determine how you perform, and the fun you have with music.

Sounds pretty serious, but don’t worry, you’re not alone on this journey…

It’s the same for all musicians

From the complete beginner and the music student toiling away in the practice room, to the professional walking onto stages all over the world…

Musicians encounter the same creative obstacles each day. The pressure to play a certain way, sudden nerves before a big performance, or unexpected setbacks that cause self-doubt. Being a musician isn’t easy and creating your own music takes more than just technique.

However, the only advice we often get when … Read More

January 10th, 2016

A Lesson With Bill Evans: 14 Techniques to Master the Minor ii V Progression

Written by Forrest

A Lesson With Pianist Bill Evans

What do you play over a minor ii V?

Minor ii Vs are notoriously tricky. As compared to their brother, the ii V in major, the ii V in minor adds quite a few more challenges.

First off, instead of a minor 7 ii chord, it has a minor 7 b5 ii chord. This causes a world of pain for most people. They simply don’t know what to play over this chord.

It’s actually not that difficult if you master the chord tones instead of thinking of scales all the time. Sure, you can do what everyone teaches you to do and think of the Locrian mode, but that will only get you so far. You need to get beyond that and not suck at half diminished chord.

Ok, so once you’ve learned how how not suck at half diminished chords it’s time to understand what’s going on with the dominant chord in a minor ii V…

As you’ll see, I simply label them as dominant chords and don’t add any alterations to the symbol. Why? Because alterations can be implied even on a standard V chord. Simplify your life by just thinking of them as a dominant chord with all sorts of flavors you can add to it or modify.

When you look at charts of jazz standards, you’ll see that the editors add in alterations to the V7 chord in a minor ii V, and in general, you’ll hear alterations at this point, however, who’s to say … Read More

January 7th, 2016

How to Play Outside Like a Pro: 4 Techniques That’ll Make the ‘Wrong’ Notes Sound Right

Written by Eric

how_to_play_outside

You’ve heard solos with wrong notes…

Unfortunate note choices that make you cringe, questionable scales that clash with the chords, and licks that sound forced and unnatural.

But I’m guessing you’ve also heard players that can make any note sound good over any chord, as if they can simply improvise whatever they want.

Here’s the interesting thing…

Those notes that sound like mistakes in one player are often the same exact notes that another player will use to get cheers from an admiring audience.

So what’s the secret? Why do some soloists sound hip when they play outside while others are stuck landing on wrong notes?

The answer goes back to the way you approach these “outside” notes and the process is simpler than you might think. Let me explain…

It all starts with your definition of wrong…

What exactly is a wrong note?

Theory books and music instructors will tell you that there are certain notes to avoid or treat as passing tones if you want your solos to sound good…

The 4th on Major 7 chords, the #11, the b9, the Major 7 on V7 chords…

However, if you take a quick listen to some of the great compositions and improvisers of our time you’ll hear that these rules were broken over and over again.

For some musicians these wrong notes led to new harmonic possibilities that transformed their musical approach.

“They may be the wrong notes for her, but they are the right notes for me!” ~

Read More
December 31st, 2015

Goal Setting 101 for the Jazz Musician

Written by Forrest

Goal Setting 101

Everyone wants to set goals, and many actually do set them, but only a handful of people achieve them.

And out of these people that achieve their goals, only a portion of them are truly satisfied with their accomplishment.

What is this exemplary group of people doing differently than everybody else and how can we join this satisfied achieving group?

When it comes to goal setting, I’m no stranger. Flashback to 5th grade, I can remember the guest speaker telling us the importance of goal setting and how it could get us anywhere in life. She was right!

Oh, and the guest speaker? My mom.

I’ve been goal oriented since day one. After dozens of questions seemingly going in circles, a recent personality test—a friend insisted I take it—classified me as “The achiever.”

This was no coincidence.

I spend much of my time thinking about what it is I truly want and how to best get there, all the while, doing my best to not ignore the beauty, joy, and happiness that’s right there in front of me, every single day.

Am I the best at it? Certainly not. I know tons of people that are better at putting into practice what I know in theory, but I’ll do my best to share with you what I’ve found works for me and what I see working for others.

We have one life (as far as we know) and we have the opportunity to architect it how ever we see fit.… Read More

December 29th, 2015

7 Musical Devices That Will Give Your Solos Irresistible Style

Written by Eric

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Open up a music theory book and you’ll likely find pages and pages of definitions…

Terms like Apogituras, retograde inversions, mordents, hemiolas, turns, etc.

Good information, but not exactly stuff that you’d want to put into your next solo. I mean what did stuffy old composers know about improvising anyway?

But before you dismiss all that tedious theory terminology, you should know this…

Some of the best improvisers have used these very musical devices to create their distinctive style that we love to listen to today.

And when it comes to your style, you should too…

Why style is important

There are a ton of solos out there that contain all the right notes and scales. But hardly any solos that have style.

That’s because much of jazz education has become centered around music theory and scales. What notes you play over a G7 chord, what scales to use on the bridge to rhythm changes…

And as a result you get a lot of solos that are fast, technical, and full of the “right notes.”

…but lacking personality and musical style.

However, take a listen to the most famous jazz records and you’ll notice something there that goes beyond the notes…

The elements of style

Great musical style doesn’t depend on a genre of music, a particular time period, or even a location.

It depends on the things you do in your solo to grab the ear of the listener. And there are certain devices that add this … Read More

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