August 17th, 2011

Thoughts On Learning Tunes

Written by Forrest

Thoughts on learning tunes

We practice long tones. We work on two-five progressions until our fingers bleed. We work on new ideas and concepts. The work is mostly enjoyable, sometimes frustrating, and hopefully productive. But what is all this diligent dedication for?

Tunes. What else is there?

Everything we do is to play tunes in the way we so desire. Think about it. Nobody cares how great you sound on a G7 chord, but if the G7 is part of a tune, then it matters. It sounds so simple yet I’m not convinced that most people have connected the dots on this subtle fact: All the hard work we do is for the purpose of playing music in the form of tunes.

The standard way of thinking about tunes is that they are this separate entity, a chore, a task in isolation to tackle, just like anything else we practice. From this mindset, people transcribe a solo, they practice the hell out of licks, they even work on developing their own vocabulary…but…they never connect all these things with the tunes they are working on.

If the ideas and techniques you’re practicing are not available to you when you go to perform a tune, what’s the point of practicing them? The goal is to have everything available to you, as if every single thing you’ve ever worked on is a piece of ammo at your disposal ready to be fired at will when you perform a tune.

Everything is connected

Why for most of us … Read More

August 15th, 2011

Why You Should Share Your Musical Knowledge

Written by Eric

There exists a hidden trap on the path of learning improvisation.

One that you can fall into without even realizing it.

In music school practice rooms, jam sessions, and even in the performance hall, the art of improvisation can frequently devolve into a petty competition. Rather than sharing information and focusing on musicality, some musicians aim to “cut” other players or show off their technical or harmonic prowess.

Instead of an atmosphere of mutual learning and musicality, it becomes every man or woman for themselves. As a result, other musicians squander musical information and keep their ideas to themselves because they feel it will put them ahead in the game, when in fact it does just the opposite.

What they’re missing

If you keep your musical knowledge and discoveries hidden away in the hopes of staying one step ahead of the competition, you are setting yourself up for disaster. Not only are you promoting musical stagnation, but you are effectively stunting your own growth as an improviser.

When someone relies on a “secret lick” to sound hip or a trick technique to wow the crowd, the search for new ideas and influences comes to a standstill. Instead of continually learning, transcribing and experimenting with new harmonies, you return again and again to these stale ideas.

Because so much attention is paid to holding onto these licks and preventing the success of rival players, nothing is left to focus on finding new information. This is not a recipe for success.

If … Read More

August 12th, 2011

6 More Mistakes You’re Making In Learning to Improvise

Written by Forrest

6 Improvisation Mistakes

In 6 Disastrous Mistakes You’re Making In Learning To Improvise, we detailed some pitfalls that cause people to waste tons of time and cause years of frustration. Here’s six more that will hinder success if you let them:

1.) Ignoring the fundamentals

Why are you trying to superimpose Giant Steps changes over a 7/8 tune in F# while playing hexatonics in groupings of five, when you have trouble with ii Vs in all keys?

It’s terribly tempting to skip over the fundamentals and practice all these esoteric concepts that you think all the hip and modern players of today are implementing, but the truth is that you’ll sound much more modern if you have strong fundamentals. Why? Because the so-called “advanced” concepts are simply slight variations of simple fundamental concepts.

For example, take tritone substitution. In theory, it’s very simple. You just substitute a dominant chord with a dominant chord a tritone away, yet how many people sound great when they do this?

It’s not easy because to do it effectively you have to be super solid over regular ii Vs, which comprise more than 80% of jazz standard chord progressions. That being said, if you were strong on ii Vs, uber confident, and sounded great on them, then tritone-subs would take very little time to add to your arsenal.

Get back to those fundamentals. You’ll be glad you did.

2.) Forgetting to develop a clear swing-feel

I can hear the voice of a typical jazz-education-model for swing echoing … Read More

August 9th, 2011

Don’t Sound Like A Jazz Robot: 5 Steps To Sound More Natural

Written by Forrest
Don't sound like a robot Ever feel like you sound mechanical, predictable, and boring like a robot? Nobody wants to sound like a robot. We're human. We have thoughts, ideas, emotions...and we want to express these things in our music. How do we break out of this rigid playing style and feel free when we play? Here are 5 steps of actions you can take to sound more natural.

1.) Surrender to the moment

"Jazz is about being in the moment"Herbie Hancock

Everything you practice. Lines. Chords. Concepts. The second you go to perform jazz you must free your mind from all of this and let the music emerge naturally. If you've done your homework, it will show. Be prepared by internalizing the harmony of the tunes you're performing, listening and transcribing what your heroes played on them, learning language, training your ear...but when it comes time to play, listen more intently than you ever have. Lead the rhythm section and at the same time, respond to their playing....Read More
August 8th, 2011

Learn to Hear More Music with Selective Listening

Written by Eric

“Hey, did you just hear that? Look, did you just see that? Wait, can you feel that? What’s that smell?”


On a daily basis our senses are bombarded with information.

Sights, sounds, smells, and tactile sensations come at us from every angle, vying for a precious scrap of our cognitive awareness.

Despite our best efforts, we simply can’t take in all of this information. It’s true that we can experience a multitude of stimuli at once, but focusing our mind and differentiating between these stimuli requires a very special skill – attention.

The famed psychologist William James describes attention as such:

Everyone knows what attention is. It is the taking possession by the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seem several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought. Focalization, concentration, of consciousness are of its essence. It implies withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others, and is a condition which has a real opposite in the confused, dazed, scatterbrained state which in French is called distraction, and Zerstreutheit in German.

Attention is essential for taking in information, but it comes at a cost: we can only focus our attention on one piece of information at a time. It’s only by ignoring other streams of incoming information that we can actually process the small piece of information that we’re focusing on.

Think back to the last time you were in a crowded room at a loud party. Groups of colorfully … Read More

August 4th, 2011

Dealing With Non-standard Progressions

Written by Forrest

Non-Standard Jazz Progressions

Recently we received a question about non-standard progressions, specifically the type of progressions you see in Wayne Shorter and Joe Henderson tunes:

When we’re learning, we go through a lot of bebop progressions and ii-Vs. But when it comes to playing more modern tunes (such as some Joe Henderson and Wayne Shorter tunes), I feel like a good amount of my bop language starts to break down. By this I mean how do you connect distantly (if at all) related chords while still being melodic?

Dealing with these seemingly different chord progressions presents a challenge to those who have not encountered things of this sort before. Thankfully, upon further investigation you’ll understand how to use what you already know to effortlessly glide through these changes.

The chords make sense at close examination

In general, chord progressions have to have some sort of logic behind them to make them sound the particular way that they do. Upon first hearing, it may be difficult to understand how these less familiar progressions are constructed, however, work to simplify them and they’ll become clear.

Listen to Wayne Shorter’s Nefertiti:

Here’s the first eight measure of Nefertiti:

Nefertiti Excerpt

Confusing? Let’s take a closer look. The first two chords are simply progressing in cycle movement. The qualities of the chords, major 7b5 and sus, and Herbie’s unique voicings are what give them their unique sound, but other than that, nothing out of the ordinary.

Measures 3 and 4 consist of a minor ii V progression … Read More

August 2nd, 2011

Time Management for the Improviser

Written by Eric

One of the most frequently asked questions that we get concerns finding time to practice or improving with a limited amount of practice time. “What should I do if I don’t have enough time to practice everyday? I want to practice more, but I don’t have time to.”

If you haven’t already, at some point you are going to be confronted with a limited amount of time to get into the practice room. Getting busy and struggling to find time to practice is a fact of life. Rather than trying to solve the problem of dwindling time, learn to adapt your schedule to make the most of the time you do have.

We all wish we had more time to practice, but the truth is that we never get as much as we want. This doesn’t mean that we have to give up and settle for mediocrity, however. You can accomplish your goals despite a busy schedule. Here are seven ways to optimize your time in the practice room:

1) Define your goals and make a plan

Without ambition one starts nothing. Without work one finishes nothing. The prize will not be sent to you. You have to win it.~Ralph Waldo Emerson

When you have a limited amount of time to begin with, aimless and unfocused practicing is something that you can’t afford. If you’re used to going into the practice room and picking out exercises at random or turning on a play-a-long track and calling it a day, … Read More

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

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