September 3rd, 2015

27 Ways to Get Inspired to Play Music Again

Written by Forrest

Get Inspired to Play Music

It’s been a while since you’ve picked up your horn, sat down to the piano, or even thought about practicing. As time goes by, it gets more and more difficult to get that spark going again. Ok, time to get out of this rut and do something about it.

Here are 27 ideas to get you inspired to play and practice again.

Pick One. Do it.

Yes, that’s it. Just one at a time. Then, when you feel a sense of accomplishment and have begun to improve again, pick another.

Here we go:

1.) Find some new things to listen to

Everything you play right now is largely based upon what you’ve listened to up to this point. Whether you’ve studied it or just put it on in the background, everything you listen to affects what you play and how you conceptualize music.

Finding new music to listen to is easier today than it’s ever been. My father tells me all the time that the reason he has certain records is because when he went down to the record shop, that’s all there was! He had a few dozen jazz albums to choose from, so that’s what he bought. Lucky for him, he’s got some great recordings in there.

Go on Spotify. Explore Youtube. Look up any artist you’ve ever been remotely interested in but never took the time to check out. The music doesn’t have to be new. It just has to be new to you.

Ever … Read More

August 31st, 2015

10 Brilliant Jazz Solos And What You Can Learn From Them

Written by Eric


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

YouTube Preview Image

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

August 27th, 2015

How to Train Your Ears Like a Jazz Musician

Written by Forrest

Jazz Ear Training

A reader wants to know “What makes jazz ear training different from just general ear training?”

That’s a great question and I definitely had to think to arrive at an answer. They both focus on intervals, chords, root movement and have other common ground, but how are they actually different?

Over the years, I’ve taken quite a few general ear training classes and had both positive and negative experiences. I will say though, no formal ear training class gave me the ear training tools and techniques I truly needed to develop as an improviser.

And really, it’s not their fault. First off, the specific aspects that make jazz ear training different than general ear training are rarely talked about, or even given thought to, so most people teaching ear training typically teach ear training in one general way.

And secondly, ear training isn’t really meant for the classroom.  It’s something you do everyday on your own: a daily practice, pushing your ear forward, building upon your current aural knowledge while continually strengthening your fundamentals.

It’s not difficult or magical. It’s simple and repetitive, taking the sounds you want to get familiar with and ingraining them on a deeper and deeper level until they click.

A deeper level than general ear training

In many general ear training choruses, the goal is simply identification. If you can guess the correct interval or chord, then…ding ding ding! We have a winner! That is correct says Chris Farley.

Chris Farley - That is correct

Nothing in ear training should … Read More

August 20th, 2015

The Secret to Getting Good Fast at Jazz Improvisation

Written by Forrest

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

August 17th, 2015

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

Written by Eric

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

August 6th, 2015

The Real Reason You Should Start Transcribing Jazz Solos

Written by Eric

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

July 22nd, 2015

3 Simple Steps to a Productive Practice Routine

Written by Eric

3 steps to productive practice

Time in the practice room doesn’t equal improvement.

Hey, wait a second…

That’s right, you read that correctly.

It’s time spent practicing the right things that leads to improvement.

And this isn’t always the case with most players’ routines, especially when it comes to jazz improvisation…

There’s a well-loved myth out there that if you practice, practice, practice you’re going to reach your goals as a musician. You’ll perform at Carnegie Hall and gain the praise of the musicians around you.

All because you put yourself in a practice room with your instrument.

But is this accurate?

The painful truth is that there are many musicians out there practicing like maniacs, spending multiple hours of the day locked in a practice room…

And who nonetheless are still struggling to achieve their basic musical goals.

Don’t let this be you. Here are 3 simple steps to improving the productivity of your practice routine starting today:

Step 1: Avoid bad practice

You know the feeling…

You’re in the practice room and nothing seems to be working.

You can’t get your sound locked in, you keep flubbing the same fingering in that line, and you don’t know what to play over that chord.

But you’re determined to keep plowing ahead, no matter what.

One more time through that etude, one more push for those high notes, and another run through that tricky chord progression.

You’ve got to finish and you’re on the verge of frustration…

Sound familiar?

This is where bad practice begins. … Read More

July 6th, 2015

The 5 Skills You Won’t Learn in School, Skill Five: Ear Training for Jazz Improvisation

Written by Eric

Ear Training for Jazz Improvisation

What exactly is ear training?

You’ve heard musicians talk about it. Your teachers have recommended it. And if you’re a regular to Jazzadvice you’ve seen it pop up in more than a few posts…

But I’m guessing the thing that’s made the biggest impression on you was being in the presence of a musician with truly amazing ears.

That gifted player that can pick out the melody to any tune in a matter of seconds. That can simply grab their instrument and solo in any key without a second thought. That can improvise over an unfamiliar chord progression in the blink of an eye.

Somehow these players have trained their ears to become finely tuned sound processing machines.

But what does the term “ear training” mean for the rest of us and how exactly are you going get your ears to that level?

Is it a class that you take?

Is it learning that an interval like the perfect 4th sound like “Here Comes the Bride?”

Or is it something more…

The truth about ear training

Ear Training and Jazz Improvisation

If you look at how most schools approach the subject of ear training you’ll find the same few topics:

Interval recognition, sight singing, rhythmic dictation, solfege…

All good information to know and useful for the musician that is going to be reading or even sight reading music.

But is this practical for an improviser?

Is this enough training for someone that wants to get onstage and perform music on the spot? To create solos … Read More

June 11th, 2015

5 Skills You Won’t Learn in School, Skill Four: How to Speak the Jazz Language

Written by Eric

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

May 4th, 2015

5 Skills You Won’t Learn in School, Skill Three: The Secret to Great Time

Written by Eric

The Secret To Great Time

Ever feel like something is missing from your solos?

You spend hours learning tunes and transcribing solos from your favorite recordings, you’ve memorized the chord progressions and diligently practiced the tricky fingerings, but when you listen back something is off.

And it’s frustrating because you can’t quite place your finger on the problem…

You’re playing the same songs, the same chords, and even the same notes, yet that player on the recording sounds shockingly better.

Each musical phrase is confident, each note makes you tap your foot, however your own playing sounds flat and unexciting.

The problem isn’t your grasp of music theory, it isn’t your note choices, and it’s not your sound. So what is it?

The culprit is your time.

One of the most ignored aspects of musicianship, especially for struggling improvisers, is what we call “time” – swinging, rhythmic feel, and groove. In fact, the core of modern jazz education is centered around an intellectual approach to harmony – scales, chords, and harmonic progressions…

Thelonious Monk quote

All of those classes and lessons essentially teach you how to count. You play four beats in a measure, you learn about dividing each bar into quarter notes, eighth notes, triplets, 16th’s…

But improvising isn’t just about playing the right notes at the right time, it’s about sharing a message, telling a story through music. To do this you need to develop the rhythmic element of your playing.

However, time often gets overlooked because unlike harmony, it’s hard to place into words or … Read More

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