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

July 1st, 2011

Getting Started With Transcription

Written by Forrest

Getting Started Transcribing

We get questions all the time on how to go about transcribing. Often, the people that write in say that they tried transcribing, but it just didn’t work for them, or it was just too hard. Yes, transcribing is not easy, but the problem does not lie in the inherent difficulty of this activity, but in the selection and approach by the practitioner.

The way to start transcribing is by starting small. You needn’t tackle a full solo or even a full chorus. No reason to be intimidated. It’s a much easier process than you might think.

Finding something to transcribe

When you get in your car, what jazz album do you grab? Who do you listen to when you get home from work? What player do you wish you sounded like the most? The answers to these simple questions will tell you who you should transcribe.

If your answers are all modern players, then you need to do some homework. Rather than jumping to transcribe them, figure out where they came from. Read interviews, ask your friends, listen more closely. Who influenced them and helped them become the player they are today?

Despite what you may think, they stole language and built upon it just as you’re doing. Mark Turner strikes me as one of the most innovative musicians around today. He sets himself apart from many other tenor players, playing with his own sound and concept that varies greatly from the norm.

But in this New York Time … Read More

June 27th, 2011

Finding a Fresh Approach to Playing the Same Old Tunes

Written by Eric

Repetition. It’s one part of learning to improvise that’s par for the course. We practice scales over and over again until the technique is securely in our fingers, we spend hours repeatedly working out ii-V7 lines that we’ve transcribed, and we memorize the melodies and chord changes to numerous tunes until we can play them in our sleep.

The great part about all of this repetition is that when we finally have something ingrained into our ears and fingers, we can play it anywhere, especially under pressure.

However, the one drawback with this type of practice is that it’s extremely easy to get stuck in a rut. If you aren’t continually incorporating new language into your playing and searching for new creative approaches to those familiar progressions, you’ll be left with your same old musical approach – and this can be a problem.

In the past I would find myself frustrated, bored, and completely out of ideas on the standards I was practicing. It seemed like I couldn’t think of any new ideas to use over the chord progressions and that I was playing the same stuff over and over again. Although, this didn’t happen without reason. Looking back, the way I approached these tunes mentally and technically contributed significantly to how I played over them.

In the practice room I would play a melody, reading from a page in the real book, the same exact way every time. Instead of getting out the recording, I would turn on play-a-longs … Read More

June 24th, 2011

10 Ways to Make a Line Your Own

Written by Forrest

make your own

So you’ve transcribed some lines and you’re learning them in all keys. You’ve even started to apply them to tunes you’re working on, but after several weeks, the line you transcribed which started out as sounding magical to you, now sounds boring. And on top of that, you’re playing that same line everywhere.

Don’t fret. If you’re familiar with this described situation, you’re on the right track. However, it’s at this point that most people stop.

Once you’re comfortable with the line in all keys and are using it in your playing, it’s time to take the line to the next level: transitioning the line from a simple and uncreative cut-and-paste-element, to something you truly own. Something that inspires your creativity within. It’s time to make it your own.

Making a line your own

“The creative act does not create something out of nothing. It uncovers, selects, reshuffles, combines, synthesizes already existing facts, ideas, faculties, [and] skills.”Arthur Koestler

Copying a line from one of your heroes and reproducing it is just a starting point to learning the jazz language. The goal: to hear, understand, and build upon these lines, combining them with other lines and concepts to produce something your own.

Making lines begins just from playing them over and over. There are some lines I’ve learned that sound completely different when I play them than when I listen to the original source of where they came from. These differences are the result of my sound, articulation, time concept, … Read More

June 22nd, 2011

Scales Are Not the Secret Short-Cut to Jazz Improvisation

Written by Eric

When you first began to learn how to improvise, if you studied out of a book on jazz improvisation or took a lesson on how to solo over chord changes, chances are the first thing you encountered were scales. Memorizing lists of scales from Major and minor to diminished and octatonic. Knowing which scales work with which chords. It can seem like the practice of scales never ends. This philosophy has become so entrenched within the art of learning improvisation that it is hard to avoid thinking about scales.

Numerous jazz education resources today highlight scales as the method to mastering how to play over chord progressions and improvising like your heroes. Because of this, many students believe that studying scales alone is the answer to reaching their goals. You may have even thought to yourself as I often did: “If I only get all my scales together, then I’ll solve my difficulties with improvisation.”

We get a lot of questions about practicing scales and how they relate to improvisation all the time: How should I use scales when I’m soloing? What’s the best way to practice scales? Do I even need to know my scales in order to improvise?

If you’ve read any of the articles on this site, you know that thinking about a major, minor, or any other type of scale while you’re improvising is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to the musicianship and harmonic understanding that go into creating a great solo.… Read More

June 17th, 2011

How Thoughtful Off Time Can Help You Become The Player You Wish To Be

Written by Forrest

Taking Time Off

Daily practice is the key to growing into the player you wish to become. Everyday, building upon the knowledge you learned the previous day, moving forward, getting closer and closer…that’s the goal.

But what if with each day, you’re just more and more frustrated? What if you’re simply bored with your sound and most everything you play? We’ve received dozens of emails about people feeling this way, unmotivated and uninspired.

While daily practice is a must, practicing with such a negative mindset  will cause more damage than improvement. You’ll be ingraining a sound you don’t like, with lines you’re not fond of, playing in a manner that is simply not you.

Want to play the way you want to play, playing with a sound and vocabulary that constitutes your ideal? If done thoughtfully and intentionally, taking time away from your instrument can actually help you achieve this. It can give you the much needed time to stop and reflect on what you truly want to sound like. And when you return to daily practicing, you can start with a clean slate, as if you reset yourself, starting anew and feeling re-energized.

Taking time off

Should you really take time off? For how long? If you do, won’t you lose everything you’ve worked on? These are all valid questions and things to think about before you decide to put down your horn for a bit. As with everything having to do with learning this music, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer.

From my … Read More

June 15th, 2011

Before You Transcribe or Learn Tunes…

Written by Eric

“Learn tunes. Transcribe solos.”

The instructions for aspiring jazz musicians are pretty much the same everywhere you go.

You want to play longer lines and master tricky chord progressions?

“Learn tunes and transcribe solos.”

Need more technique and better ears?

You get the idea.

We receive this advice from our teachers, friends, and from our musical heroes in master classes and interviews. Hearing these instructions repeatedly, we try to shape our practice sessions around these four words. It’s good advice, but how exactly do you transcribe and what is the best method to learning tunes?

As I started out with these instructions myself, I immediately went out and got a real book and some books of transcribed solos and got to work on becoming a jazz star. The only problem is that how you go about these tasks is gravely important. My idea of transcribing solos and learning tunes was not exactly accurate and this led to years of frustration.

Along with knowing that we should transcribe and learn tunes, we need some instruction on how to achieve these tasks and what skills are involved. Before you rush into the practice room with these words fresh in your mind, take a second to think about how you are going to go about completing these two tasks and more importantly, why you are transcribing and learning tunes in the first place.

Before you learn tunes

Make sure you’re clear on what “knowing” a tune actually entails. Do you have the notes … Read More

June 13th, 2011

Learn New Material by Total Immersion

Written by Forrest

full immersion

One thing you always want to be doing is learning new material. New lines, new tunes, new concepts…there’s always something new to learn.

We preach the mantra Quality Over Quantity in practically everything we write. So, while it’s true you always want to learn new things, the idea is to judiciously select what you want to learn and truly master it, rather than attempting to learn a ton, in a half-assed manner.

The way we approach practicing is closely tied to successfully integrating new material and techniques into our playing.

Breaking new material into smaller tasks

The first step to learning something new is breaking this new thing into smaller tasks that you can easily conceptualize and approach. I always use this tactic when learning tunes.

Take a tune and rather than trying to tackle the entire 32 bars, instead tell yourself, “I’m just going to learn the first 8 measures, and really get to know them inside and out.” That’s all you worry about. The first 8 measures.

You pretend that, for now, the rest of the tune doesn’t exist. Once you master those 8 bars over a period of several hours, days, or even months (it doesn’t matter how long it takes. What matters is true ownership), then you move onto the next 8 bars.

The nice thing about most jazz standards is that they are comprised of only two distinct sections: the A and B sections. This makes it very simple. Once you’ve mastered the first 8 … Read More

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