April 22nd, 2010

How To Stay Sane While Pursuing Your Art

Written by Forrest

As a musician or any other creative individual, we get so wrapped up in what we are doing, that we often lose sight of everything else. Consequently, when something within our own little bubble is not going how we would like it to, our positivity plummets and our world comes crashing down. Here are some things that I’ve found have helped me to keep my sanity through these moments of turmoil.

Find Some Yin to Your Yang

When I was twenty-four, I stumbled upon some books on computer programming. The more I flipped through them, the more I felt compelled to understand what the authors were talking about. The next two years, I taught myself the basics of how to code.

During this time, I was  in grad school with very little time to spare, yet I found that my new interest in coding actually helped me be more focused, more creative, and feel more accomplished. I had found a counterbalance to my obsession with playing the saxophone, or as the heading says, some yin to my yang LOL.

It was an AHA moment! It was what I had been missing. Typically, if I was frustrated with some aspect of my playing, it would get me really down because I had no other serious undertakings to apply my creative energy to. When I started to have other passionate intellectual pursuits, where I could apply my intelligence and feel a sense of accomplishment, I quit giving such weight to my frustrations … Read More

April 21st, 2010

Learning Tunes

Written by Eric

It seems like jazz musicians are always thinking about tunes; knowing tunes, learning tunes, how does that one go again? Performing in different situations we are expected to know certain tunes that other musicians will call or even people in the audience will request. This can seem like a very daunting task at first and really it seems like there are always more tunes to learn, but by learning and practicing tunes in a structured way you can start to build a lasting repertoire.

Learn it by ear

Although at first learning a melody and changes to a standard in this way can seem more difficult than simply reading the music from a real book, the benefits of figuring out tunes by ear is much greater…actually it is not even close compared to reading from a page. When you try to memorize a tune out of a real book, you are taking your ears completely out of the equation. Visually you can see everything and mentally understand it, but unless your memory is photographic you won’t be able to remember the tune an hour from now let alone the next day.

Using your ears and instrument to figure out melodies and chord progressions physically connects you to the music and this along with repetition is the key to memorization. Take for example, all the language learning software out there today that are based upon this very concept. In these programs you hear a phrase in the language you are trying … Read More

April 20th, 2010

Getting More From Transcribed Solos

Written by Eric

Transcribe, transcribe , transcribe. It is what you’ve been hearing since you started to learn how to improvise…and for a good reason. Transcribing is one of the best ways to learn the stylistic language of jazz, improve your ear and in short, become a better all around improviser. The mere act of learning a solo by ear is so much more effective than reading any piece of music or exercise and done as a daily part of practice, the results in your improvising will be immediate. But, transcribing is not the end point in developing your own jazz vocabulary, it should be the first step in creating your personal sound. Try some of these exercises to go beyond just learning the notes:

Pick a part of a solo that catches your ear

Many times when we start learning a solo we feel that we have to learn the entire solo to get something out of it. Knowing the whole solo is great for looking at things like phrasing or motivic development, but you can get just as much from learning a line or pattern over a progression. Start with a line that really grabs your attention or a passage that is really fluid over a progression that you are having trouble with. Maybe you are looking for some more ideas to play over ii-V’s or want to figure out what Woody Shaw is doing on that really out line.

Analyze the musical aspects of the line

Once you’ve learned the … Read More

April 20th, 2010

3 Gems Harold Mabern Told Me

Written by Forrest
Harold Mabern | Jazz piano

If you don’t know who Harold Mabern is, it’s time you did. The legendary pianist has played with everyone and is on the records of Lee Morgan, Hank Mobley, and Freddie Hubbard, just to name a few. I had the great honor of studying privately with him for over a year. Not only is he an incredible musician, but he’s also one of the warmest, most vibrant, and positive people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.

Harold possesses great knowledge and he loves to share it. Sometimes he’d have a dozen students surrounding him listening intently to his incredible stories and words of wisdom. Here are three gems of knowledge that he repeated to me over and over during the time I spent with him.

1.) Your Ear Is Your Fakebook

Harold would constantly point to his ear while energetically expressing, “This is your fakebook! This is your fakebook!!!” He wanted to emphasize that you have to get tunes operating loud and clearly in your ear and to never be dependent on anything else. The same goes for everything. Get rid of your crutches and trust your instincts. Start to think of your ear as your fakebook and soon it will be.

2.) Be Greedy For The Music

He frequently said that you have to be greedy for the music like John Coltrane. Pursue all types of music. Anything you love, just absorb it. Figure it out and have fun doing it. Harold listens to and plays all types … Read More

April 18th, 2010

Practice Everything in All Four Directions

Written by Forrest

A significant part of practicing jazz improvisation consists of working on scales, chords, and patterns. Practicing them in a thorough manner will enable you to obtain the most benefit in the shortest amount of time. Unfortunately, we often get caught up in practicing this material in the same incomplete way everyday. For instance, we may run up a scale from the bottom of our horn, to the top, and back down again, like this:

Jazz scales full range of horn

Or, perhaps we will run up the scale in diatonic seconds and reverse it coming down. These are fine places to start, but eventually you’ll want to mix it up a bit. However you currently practice, start to practice everything in all four directions. Nearly every pro I’ve ever studied with emphasized this technique.

First direction: Up, Up

To illustrate the various directions and how to go about practicing them, I’ll use the major scales moving chromatically. Later, I’ll suggest other options that you’ll definitely want to try.

This first example depicts the “Up, Up” direction.

Jazz scale, up up

  1. Start as low as you can on your instrument (always practice full range).
  2. Play the scale one octave ascending.
  3. Then move up chromatically to the next scale and repeat.
  4. Continue in this manner until you’ve gone as high as you can.
  5. Now begin to descend in the same manner you ascended, root of scale ascending an octave, however now you will move down chromatically after each octave completion. See the example below:

Jazz Scales - Up, Up - Descending

Second Direction: Down, Down

This second direction shows … Read More

April 15th, 2010

3 Keys to Effective Practice

Written by Eric

1. Create your own space

As a musician, time spent working in the practice room is an important part of everyday in which you work to maintain or, better yet, improve musicianship and technique. When you practice you need to find an environment that is the most productive for you. Ideally, finding a place to shed where no one can hear you is the best; a place where you can concentrate on the areas of your playing that need the most work and not be afraid to sound bad or  self conscious about who is listening to you. This is not always easy to achieve though, especially in music college practice rooms and after seeing practice rooms in various colleges,  it seems like the same familiar scenario is happening for music majors everywhere…

After twenty minutes of searching for an open practice room, you finally find a tiny room with an out of tune piano. In the room next to you a tenor player is continuously playing the same three licks over Giant Steps as fast as possible and in the room on the other side of you, the lead trumpet player in the big band is trying to hit the highest note he can play, as loud as he can possibly play it. From somewhere at the end of the hall, for some reason you can hear a rock band rehearsing, even though the last time you checked there was no degree for rock bands at your school. Meanwhile, … Read More

April 14th, 2010

Visualization for Jazz Improvisation

Written by Forrest

Countless hours in the practice room and rhythm changes or a simple bridge to a tune still giving you a tough time? This is a familiar situation to everyone of all levels. I used to waste hours mindlessly practicing, thinking that there was some secret I was missing, or if I just kept improvising over the changes, I would eventually just get it. Or maybe it wasn’t the changes at all, but maybe it was something faulty with my equipment. Oh yes, that had to be it. If I could just get my hands on the right mouthpiece or that latest ligature then…that had to be it!!!

This attitude is completely delusional, yet many of us continue to think this way for years! Playing over a tune constantly, hoping that eventually you’ll play well over it is a mindless pursuit, as is blaming your equipment for your shortcomings as an improviser.

In actuality, the problem is not external. We hold in our mind what we will play before we even pick up our horn, therefore, to change what we are going to play, we have to change what’s stored in our mind. Sure, when you practice your instrument, your mind is altering its stored information, but what if you could simply go directly to your mind and start fixing the bugs? That is where visualization comes into the picture.

Defining Visualization

The dictionary defines visualization as the formation of mental images. For the purposes of this article, think of it … Read More

April 14th, 2010

Jazzadvice Begins

Written by Forrest

Welcome to Jazzadvice.com! The name says it all. Jazzadvice.com is a rapidly growing collection of the best advice we’ve picked up along the way on our never-ending path of musical devlopment. What ever it may be, no matter how seemingly simple or complex, it’s advice based on experience that will make you a better musician, a more creative individual, and a more motivated force pushing you towards your own goals. So pull up a comfortable seat and stay a while.

The Purpose of This Site

The main purpose of this site is to help you grow as a  musician and an individual. Specifically for the jazz-playing dorks like us, we are sharing with you things we have practiced or in many cases are practicing currently, that are helping us to improve as improvisers.

No worries if you aren’t a musician! Many of the ideas we discuss have universal applications and will benefit just about anybody who applies them to their field of expertise. You may want to skip over the ‘Practice Concepts’ category, however, cuz that’s more geared toward musicians, but perhaps it will inspire you to start playing and join the party!

Much of the advice we have was told to us directly from outstanding (and in some cases legendary) players. It is our sincere hope that the information on this site propels you to new heights and encourages you on your journey.

Get Some Advice

This site is here to help you. If you’re having trouble with a … Read More

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