February 14th, 2011

Never Forget a Tune Again

Written by Forrest

Never forget a tune again

Ever spend a lot of time learning a tune, only to realize that you’ve completely forgotten it a few weeks later?

When you’re not achieving your desired results in pretty much anything, check your methods. What’s your process? What’s your approach? After detailing your current methods, you can then easily modify them to realign yourself with your goals.

If your current method of learning a tune is: find the Aebersold play-along track, flip it on, read the written music and go on like that for hours, days, or even years hoping for the best, just stop now. While there are countless ways to use play-alongs effectively, this is not one of them.

I’m not going to dwell on this point because I say it in nearly every article: learn the tune from the recordings. I know it’s difficult. I know it takes time. I know sometimes you can’t hear what chord it is or what the bass player is playing.

For any given tune, dozens of recordings exist. On any given track, dozens of courses go by. There are plenty of opportunities to figure out what’s going on harmonically, rhythmically, and melodically in virtually any tune.

This article could end here. It could end here because if you spent a significant time to learn a tune off the record in this manner, you would have the ability to easily recall that tune. Sure, you may have to think about it for a minute, or clear your mind and hear … Read More

February 10th, 2011

Navigating Altered Dominants: Strategies for the V7#9 Chord

Written by Eric

A reader recently asked:

I was wondering about how to play over altered dominant chords. What are some strategies for playing over Dominant 7 #9 chords, specifically.

This question comes up frequently for many improvisers. It seems like everyone has a “fail safe” scale or lick that they use exclusively every time they see an altered dominant chord. With all this conflicting information flying around, trying to understand what actually works can be especially confusing.

Whether it is a V7#9, a V7#11, or a V7 Alt., you ultimately need to study the ins-and-outs of these chords in order to develop your own approach.

Traditionally, the V7#9 chord or altered dominant chord occurs in a minor ii-V progression. Instead of the ii-V7 of a major progression, a minor ii-V contains a half-diminished ii chord and an altered V7 chord (b9, #9, b13, or #11 depending on the voicing). For example, look at a minor ii-V in C minor:

Improvisers, however, have been altering V7 chords in all progressions, major and minor alike, for quite some time now. Therefore, any dominant chord that you come across, whether it is part of a ii-V or standing alone, is pretty much fair game for alteration. The first step to navigating this chord is to familiarize yourself with it’s unique character.

Be able to identify the sound

The V7#9 chord is a very versatile sound, meaning that you can take one of many harmonic approaches to play over it. In order to fully utilize the … Read More

February 7th, 2011

How to Play the Blues In All Keys

Written by Forrest
blues A recent question from a reader inquired about the blues in all keys:
I'm a sax player and have been working through the blues in all keys for the past few months, and was wondering if you guys had any tips, tricks, or any advice?
We've all heard it time and time again: Learn the blues in all keys. It seems like a daunting task, but with these tips, you'll be well on your way.

Understand and Visualize the components of a Blues

Before you even learn to play on a blues in one key, it helps immensely to understand all the components of a blues. What do I mean by components? By components, I'm pertaining to the harmonic building blocks of the progression. For a typical blues, they consist of:
  • I dominant
  • IV dominant
  • ii V
  • iii Vi
  • iii Vi ii V (which is essentially covered by the previous 2 components, but lets be thorough)
The next step is to visualize each one of these components in relation to its tonic, in all keys. Here's the process...Read More
February 3rd, 2011

How to Acquire Useful Language: The Building Blocks of Your Solo

Written by Eric

Jazz Building Blocks

Learning how to improvise can be overwhelming.

There is an enormous gap in knowledge that you must overcome as soon as you decide that you want to play jazz. Before you even improvise a single note, you have to contend with over 100 years of musical history, from Louis Armstrong all the way up to the innovators of today. Hundreds of tunes to learn, dozens of masters to study and transcribe, famous solos to memorize and internalize, etc., all just to get to a proficient level. Where does one even begin with what seems like endless information?

One amount of information that is finite, however, are the four basic types of chords that you’ll encounter most frequently: Major, Minor, Dominant, and Half-diminished. If you think about it, these four chords are the building blocks of the majority of standards that you’ll come across. Dominant 7th chords comprise the harmonic body of blues tunes and the bridge to rhythm changes, Major 7 chords begin and end the chord progressions of countless standards, while minor and half-diminished chords are the first piece to the ever present ii-V progression.

You can quickly see how beneficial it is to focus intently on these sounds. If you can develop language over these four basic chords in all 12 keys, you will have improvisatory material for all occasions. Of course, there are many other types of chords (Major7#11, V7#5, sus chords, minor-major 7, diminished, augmented, etc.), but these are all essentially variations … Read More

February 1st, 2011

How Play-Alongs Are Wasting Your Practice Time And What To Do About It

Written by Forrest

Wasting Time

It’s Saturday. You’ve got plenty of time. You’re excited  to spend some quality time practicing. You meander into your practice room, grab the first play-along record that sparks your interest, pop it in, and off you go. Sound familiar?

As fun as it is to “just play,” it’s a habit to get under control right now.

The problem: We love to play our instruments and want to let loose every time we pick up our horn. Unfortunately, not only does soloing over and over with a play-along waste your valuable practice time in which you could be improving, but it also reinforces the player that you already are. You’re repeating the same language you already know, making the same mistakes on specific chords that have always given you trouble, and playing with the same feel that you do now.

So, if you love everything about your playing and you’re content with staying at your current level for the rest of your life, feel free to let your desire to “just play” consume you.

For everyone else, it’s time to get this habit under your discretion.

A Common misconception: Shouldn’t I get better the more I play?

A common misconception plagues many, which consequently, leads them to put a play-along record on loop and solo over the same tune for hours. Many of us, and I catch myself still doing it once in a blue moon, believe that the more they practice soloing over a tune with a play-along, the better … Read More

January 28th, 2011

50 Jazz Interviews to Get You Inspired

Written by Forrest

50 Jazz Interviews

Herbie Hancock & Wayne Shorter

John Coltrane

An Interview in Japan from 1965 Coltrane interview with August Blume in 1958 ...Read More
January 27th, 2011

Mastering Sus Chords: Adding Options to Your Arsenal

Written by Eric
A reader from Colorado writes:
I would love it if you wrote an article on what to play over a sus chord. I played at a jam last night and played Maiden Voyage and would like to get a few more ideas on how to tackle it.
I can recall the first time I saw a sus chord and being stumped as what to play. I remember thinking to myself: "Ok, this is not a normal dominant chord, I have to figure out a new scale to play over this...and what is up with the the third of the chord, am I allowed to play it or not?" After studying and transcribing solos of some of my favorite players over tunes that include sus chords, I have come to realize that sus chords actually have a great number of harmonic possibilities, rather than a chord that restricts what you can play. A huge misconception about sus chords is the mentality of avoiding the 3rd of the chord. This is simply not true. Just because the fourth of the chord is included in the voicing of a sus chord, does not mean that the third is an avoid note or even a "wrong note." In reality, many pianists and guitarists even include the third of the chord in their V7 sus voicings. ...Read More
January 24th, 2011

How to Use ii Vs to Activate Static Progressions

Written by Forrest

Activate Static Progressions

ii Vs comprise the bulk of jazz chord progressions. They define a sense of tension and release that prevails throughout all western music. A key to understanding how to give your lines a sense of harmonic motion, lies in knowing where to insert a ii V into a static progression.

Activating static measures in a blues using ii Vs

When most people go to blow over a blues, they improvise on changes that look something like the example below.

Basic Blues

This is pretty basic and strictly playing these changes will limit your lines tremendously.

Most jazz charts notate a blues with some added chords that I’m sure you’re familiar with. The chords typically added to most blues charts give the progression much more forward motion. See how the inserted chords push harmonically forward, resolving to a target chord?

More Active Blues Chords

Yes, in most cases these changes are written in charts as I’m sure you’re aware of, however, understanding this concept is crucial to understanding how to insert ii Vs in specific places that are not written in charts, giving a sense of harmonic motion to rather stagnant progressions.

Before moving on, understand that:

  • The added ii Vs aim for a target chord (E -7b5  A7 is headed for D- etc.)
  • You can insert and play over these progressions regardless of whether the rhythm section plays these changes.
  • You must play a line over these inserted changes that expresses their harmony. Keep it simple.

Ok, looking at the previous example of typical blues changes … Read More

January 21st, 2011

The Music of Thelonious Monk: 10 Tunes You Need To Know

Written by Eric

There are certain composers in the jazz tradition…

Ones that have such a uniquely personal style that their compositions seem to take on a life of their own, becoming part of the jazz pantheon long after the lifetime of the writer.

Composers like Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, Wayne Shorter, and especially Thelonious Monk come immediately to mind. Monk’s tunes, exceptionally unique at the time – not unlike the man himself, have become beloved and frequently played jazz standards with the passage of time.

Everyone has probably played Straight No Chaser or Blue Monk at one time or another, but the music of Thelonious Monk runs much deeper than these frequently called blues heads.

Many of the compositions of Monk are now standards and as numerous musicians continue to play his music, more tunes are being rediscovered and added to the standard songbook of the modern jazz musician.

If you are serious about jazz, the musical contribution of Monk is one that can not be ignored…

Like many of the innovators in this music, Monk’s music spanned across generations of musicians, even as the music underwent drastic changes.

Today, his music continues to inspire and captivate musicians and listeners alike from all parts of the world. If you’ve just discovered the music of Monk, the best thing to do is to immerse yourself in his records and absorb the distinct style of this musical innovator.

And if you don’t already have the albums below, do yourself a favor by clicking on … Read More

January 19th, 2011

10 Visualization Exercises To Boost Your Chord Progression Recall

Written by Forrest


If I asked you to name a iii VI ii V in the key of F#, how quickly could you conjure up the answer? If the time it takes you to think through that progression in your mind takes more than a millisecond, chances are you’re going to have a hell of a time playing over it. Common progressions like iii VI ii Vs must be so ingrained into your brain, that you don’t have to think to name them. You just know them. Visualizing these progressions daily will greatly improve your recall of common chord progressions, making it easier to think and play in all keys.

For the following 10 exercises, visualize just the chord symbols. Keep the chord symbol as simple as possible, for instance, do not visualize the “7” in a minor seventh chord or any alterations on dominants. This will help you “see” more quickly in all keys without cluttering the progression in your mind’s eye.

The goal is to clearly see in your mind’s eye a concise picture of the chord symbols for each progression in all keys.

1.) ii V I I

Start with a simple two-five progression, resolving to the tonic for two measure. Do the key of C, then move down in half steps until you’ve visualized the chord symbols in all the keys.

Two Five One

2.) ii V I

Now do a one-measure two-five resolving to the tonic for a bar. It should be easy after exercise #1. Continue through all the keys.… Read More

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