July 29th, 2011

Jazz Is A Language….Or Is It?

Written by Forrest

Jazz language

The idea that jazz is a language can be quite confusing and ambiguous. We often make this statement, as do many teachers and professionals, but it takes time to understand what this phrase actually means and what it doesn’t mean. We’re used to a language being something like English; a body of words, phrases, grammar rules…And in jazz, the same is true, however it’s not as cut and dry.

How jazz is a language

Jazz has a vocabulary that’s been built upon since its inception. It’s an always evolving entity, passed down aurally from generation to generation. At any point during the history of the music, performers looked to what came before them to develop what they were creating; they learn this vocabulary, this language, of their predecessors and then expand it based upon their own preferences, experiences, and ideas.

For example, Charlie Parker revolutionized the music, but to do it, he absorbed the phrases, the sound, the articulation, the vibe, and the feel…of Lester Young. This “stuff” he focused on was the language of Lester Young, the language of jazz at the time.

Similarly, Lester Young built upon the language of the players that came before him. In effect, each generation passes down their language aurally to the next generation, so the language of jazz is a living entity, constantly being passed down.

Why are chords and scales not the language of jazz? Chords and scales are used in all western music. Moreover, the same chords, scales, and … Read More

July 27th, 2011

Slash Chords Made Simple

Written by Eric
A reader recently sent in this question:
I was wondering if you could explain to me how to interpret slash chords for soloing. It seems like different sources have conflicting information. Also, what would I do if I encountered a chord like C/Db, in which the top and bottom are not related diatonically?

Slash chord notation

One of the trickiest parts of dealing with slash chords is deciphering the notation. When you're used to reading standard chord changes and you come across a slash chord, it can be confusing as to what is going on. If you're like me, the first time you saw a slash chord you were probably asking yourself "Which chord is on top? Are both of the notes chords? How do you play over these sounds? It's a lot simpler than you think. Here's the deal: When you see a slash chord, the bottom note indicates a bass note and the top note indicates a triad in some inversion. For example, the chord symbol D/C implies a D triad over a C bass note: Unless marked otherwise, the D is just a triad (with chord tones doubled or in inversion) and the C is just a bass note. It's as straight forward as that....Read More
July 25th, 2011

Harness the Power Of Opposites

Written by Forrest

Harness Power  of Opposites

Things are not always what they appear to be. Sometimes the standard advice does not get you where you want to go. Here’s an idea: approach what you’re trying to achieve by doing the opposite. Now, this won’t work for everything, but it very well may solve the nagging problems you just can’t seem to figure out.

Here’s just a few examples of how to harness the power of opposites.

To play loud, play soft

Our first inclination when wanting to play loud is to blow our brains out and pump as much air as humanly possible through the horn in hopes of producing a loud sound. This wildly unfocused column of air will have a difficult time activating your instrument and making it resonate at its full capacity.

Instead of approaching loud playing this way, use the opposite tactic: practice playing softly.

How can practicing softly teach you how to play loudly? Using the saxophone as an example, playing loud is not a pure function of how much air you input into the instrument. In fact, it has more to do with how you focus your air.

First practice reducing your volume to a faint whisper and learning to focus your air stream like a laser beam. Then, gradually increase the volume while you keep this focus.

Through this process of learning to play loud by playing soft, you’ll notice a dramatic change in the way you put air through your horn, yielding much more volume and more control.… Read More

July 22nd, 2011

How To Practice Twice The Amount In Half The Time

Written by Eric

If you think about it, the elements of your practice routine are like the different sections of a well-structured work-out plan. You’ve got your warm-up/stretching, cardio, strength training, resistance work outs, and the list goes on… Every exercise has a specific role and develops a specific muscle group. When you put them together you have a complete work-out that will allow you to function at your peak and feel great.

It’s the same story when it comes to practicing our instruments. A “complete” jazz practice routine is set up the same way and each time, covers the same areas: warm-up, technique, scales/chords, ear training, etudes, articulation, learning tunes, transcribing, and developing language in all 12 keys. Everyday we try to achieve a well balanced practice session that covers these key areas of musicianship.

However, this neatly structured routine works a lot better in theory than it does in reality. Some days we skip a few parts of our routine and on others, we spend all of our time trying to master one exercise. Occasionally, we can’t even find the time to get into the practice room at all.

Because of our limited time and life’s endless complexity, covering every area of musicianship every time we get into the practice room is rarely feasible. This can be difficult because the things that make the most difference in our playing such as transcribing, inevitably take the most time. Therefore, to make way for these primary activities, other topics like technique are … Read More

July 20th, 2011

Getting the Most Out of Jazz Improvisation Articles

Written by Forrest

Make th most of Jazz Articles

We receive countless emails expressing gratitude for Jazzadvice.com and we greatly appreciate the thousands of people that visit each and every week. It’s because of you (our awesome readers) that we continue to write on a weekly basis and find new ways to communicate things, striving to be clearer and clearer. To our readers, a sincere thank you.

But as a reader, it’s not easy. There’s so much here and it’s growing all the time. On top of that, you have many resources that you draw from for your daily practice as well, including books, dvds, teachers, and friends.

With all this direction, how can you get the most out of an article, while staying focused, and not feeling overwhelmed?

Understand the core thesis and where it comes from

Any article, jazz or not, has a main point or central objective. In general, this can be gleamed from the title. While you read any article about jazz improvisation, constantly ask yourself how each section connects to this core thesis.

Once you grasp the concept the article is discussing, determine what kind of article it is. Is it about ear training? Is it a harmonic concept? Or is it just some thoughts to think about?

Why classify an article like this? By classifying everything you read about learning jazz improvisation into categories, you’ll soon realize that most of what you learn fits into only a handful of topics. Consequently, you’ll feel less overwhelmed because with every new thing you read, you’ll … Read More

July 18th, 2011

Using Polyrhythms in Improvisation

Written by Eric

As melodic improvisers, we are naturally focused on the harmonic aspect of what we are playing. After all, there’s nothing worse than playing wrong notes, right? Our minds are so concerned with what key a tune is in, what note choices work well over a specific chord, and how to navigate a difficult progression, that other aspects of musicality tend to be ignored.

As a result, the rhythmic aspect of our improvised lines tend to be the first thing that is thrown to the wayside as we solo. It’s goes without saying that notes and chords are important in creating a great solo, but your time and rhythmic conception are just as essential to expressing yourself musically.

For non-drummers, developing an advanced sense of rhythm can be quite an undertaking. To go from the perspective of only worrying about keeping time in 4/4, to playing successfully in odd meters or even using polyrhythms in your solos takes some serious practice. A reader recently wrote in on this subject:

I’d like to get deeper into rhythmic displacement. I’ve practiced three against four and five against four. It works so far, but I don’t get it to the point that it sounds musical and not just mathematical. I would greatly appreciate learning about some approaches to rhythmic displacement.

Master the basics

The key to progressing at any skill is to first master the basics. This proves to be true whether you are working on instrumental technique, playing over chord changes, or are … Read More

July 14th, 2011

Choosing a Music School That’s Right For You

Written by Forrest

Choosing a music school

If you’ve read through Should I Go To Music School, and after some serious thought have arrived at the notion that you’d like to go to music school, the next step is finding one that’s right for you. Depending on your level of commitment, current level of musicianship, other areas of interest, personal goals, and budget, there are a vast number of options to choose from.

College versus exclusive music school

A primary decision to make is whether you want to attend a program that is part of a larger university, or whether you’d prefer a program that’s at a school solely dedicated to music. They both have their benefits and visiting a program at both will give you a better idea about what you like.

A large part of attending college is to grow and mature as an individual. You hear people ambiguously call this the “college experience.” When I was looking at places for my undergrad, I wanted to attend a place that could offer me such an experience.

Not to say that you couldn’t potentially gain this experience at a small exclusive music school, however, a program that’s part of a general university will offer you much more in terms of extra curricular activities, thereby promoting a wider variety of experience. There’s often weekly campus events, dozens of clubs and organizations to get involved in, and diverse people from all over the world to interact with.

Moreover, a general university will provide you with many chances … Read More

July 11th, 2011

Taking Advantage of Technology in Your Practice Routine

Written by Eric

Since the time of Art Tatum and Charlie Parker, the practice tools of the jazz musician have consisted of three basic things: a room, your instrument, and  a record player. If you wanted to get some work done in the shed, that’s all you needed.

Nearly 70 years later, things are still the same for today’s modern jazz musician. Wherever we are, we just need to get into a room with our instruments and a record player to practice this music. However, for many of us, that record player has transformed into a computer, and you can do a lot more than just play recordings on it.

To get the most out of your time in the practice room you should make use of the tools and technology available. Instead of banging your head against a wall in frustration while trying to figure out a solo from a record, there are some programs and software that will make your job a lot easier. Here are a few ways to use technology to your advantage in your quest to improve as improviser.

Online Resources

Gone are the days of searching far and wide for an elusive recording or waiting for a CD to arrive in the mail in order to learn a tune that you’ve been wanting to add to your repertoire. In seconds you can download virtually any recording you want to directly onto your hard drive.

You probably are already checking out your favorite players on YouTube and … Read More

July 7th, 2011

Should I Go To Music School?

Written by Forrest

Music School

Figuring out what college to attend and what your major will be is quite a task. Recently we received a question asking specifically about how to choose a music school that is right for you:

Could you  tell me about the process of finding a music school? Could you give some tips on auditioning? I think it could be something really helpful to high school musicians like me.

Because going to college is such a major event in one’s life, this is a fairly important matter, and should be treated as such. When I chose the schools I attended, it was primarily coincidence that they ended up being a good fit for me; the schools kind of fell in my lap so to speak, in a path of least resistance type way. Lucky for me, these academic situations turned out well, however, there are many things I would have thought about prior to going to music school, if I would have known about them.

I’ll tackle this question in two articles. This first article will deal with the simple question, “Should I go to music school?” And the second article will elaborate on that, answering the question, “Which music school is right for me and how can I raise my chances of getting accepted?”

So, the big question at hand–should I go to music school?–starts with some deep reflection on what you truly want to spend your time doing. And I’m going to start off by telling you a number … Read More

July 6th, 2011

Following the Path of Least Resistance

Written by Eric

The path of least resistance. You don’t have to be an enlightened Buddhist to appreciate this idea. Simply look around you. The elements of the natural world intrinsically follow this concept. The water flowing in a river follows the easiest path, birds fly the most direct route to their destination, and even people follow patterns that create the least amount of work. Energy of all types follows the path of least resistance.

Resistance in all its forms, drains energy of momentum and eventually stops the flow of motion.

Think about how this applies to your own physical motion. When you play a sport or exercise, you are a lot more successful if you are relaxed and confident with your movements. When you add tension to the mix, either mentally or physically, you end up straining to produce movement. By thinking too much, you create tension and inhibit movement, eventually developing a negative feeling or fear towards that activity.

The same holds true of the physical aspects of playing a musical instrument. For example, air flow is vital to producing sound on a wind instrument. If you restrict the path of the air flow or create unneeded tension in your body, your sound will noticeably suffer. Or, regardless of instrument, if you’re trying to play a tune at an extremely fast tempo and tense up, it’s much more difficult to play than if you are calm and relaxed. The struggle to overcome resistance just adds more work to an already difficult … Read More

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