Nearly every day we get asked, “What should I practice?”
…And, this is not an easy question to answer. In fact, it’s pretty complicated.
So, in an attempt to help everyone who has always wondered what to practice and what professionals practice, I began to put together what I had thought would be a quick short presentation.
But, as I got going, the depth of this question got more and more prevalent. It’s not that there’s so much to practice, although there is, but it’s the relationship between everything and the fact that learning how to improvise well is not a linear process.
I did my best in this presentation to illustrate this complex relationship and to showcase how you can make use of everything we talk about to architect your daily and weekly practice plans to effectively improve at jazz improvisation.
Keep in mind that the shared perspective is through how a professional might tackle things. There are no shortcuts here, just down and dirty methods of figuring out what you want to know and determining the best route there.
I sincerely hope you enjoy this presentation and if you like it, share it! Click the share icon in the lower left of the viewer to share it on your favorite social network or you can even embed the presentation on your own website!
You’re a 25 year old guitar player, serious and passionate about what you do. Each day after work you come home and head into the practice room, learning songs, practicing your technique, and dreaming about getting onstage. But despite all of this effort you’re still not seeing the progress you want.
Or maybe this:
You’re a successful attorney, with a wife and kids and a busy work schedule. But underneath all of that your real passion is music. You’ve taken some piano lessons and even got pretty good, but it’s been years since you’ve played. Now that instrument is just sitting there, gathering dust and staring at you.
Or how about this:
On the weekends you play in a band for fun and every now and then you have a gig, but deep down you know you can do more with music. Maybe write your own compositions or even someday start your own band. You’ve bought some theory books and started taking some lessons, but you keep wondering the same thing…
I’ve met all of these players and many more just like them, and in each case the burning question is the same: Do I have what it takes to be a musician?
Am I studying the right method? Are the things I’m practicing actually going to pay off? Can I –at my age, with my schedule, and my skill level – really do it?
If you’re like me these questions have popped up in your … Read More
Just transcribe. You want to get better? Transcribe. You want to have a better sound. Transcribe. Can’t seem to play over Rhythm Changes? Transcribe.
And yes, when people tell you this, they’re correct. You can learn pretty much anything you want from transcribing. But, what they don’t tell you is that you need to use what you transcribe to inspire your own creativity.
Last week we talked about running from your own creativity, and today we’re going to show you how to combine your own creativity with what you’re transcribing to create your very own jazz exercises.
Why create your own exercises?
When I was 16, I had the privilege of meeting and talking to saxophonist Sam Rivers. You likely don’t know who he was, but he was pretty awesome and had a very unique way of playing and composing.
I’ll never forget what he told me about his own musical journey. He said:
“Eventually I realized I had to make my own exercise book.”
Say what? Your own exercise book? Yes. Your own exercise book. Hearing this was a huge revelation. Not one I fully understood until over a decade later. And, not one that I’ve implemented even half as well as I should have, but nonetheless, this concept is a big deal.
By creating your own exercises, you apply your own creativity, you cultivate what is yours, you develop things in your own way, you move closer toward your … Read More
Underneath the thoughts about your credit card bill and next Tuesday’s dinner plans…
Past the anxiety about that upcoming job interview and the frustration with your painfully slow progress in the practice room.
A faint murmur bubbling up in your subconscious. A voice trying to break through the noise of your everyday life. I’m talking about your creative voice!
The same inner voice that you’ve had since you were a child…
The one that daydreamed. That saw things differently and wasn’t embarrassed to be original. The voice that’s honest and heartfelt and out to discover new possibility.
Take it or leave it, this creative voice is the key to coming into your own as a musician.
More than technique, a shiny new instrument, or even years of schooling it’s the one thing that makes you unique.
And that’s exactly why you need to start listening to it…
Hey listen up!
We’ve all got an inner voice.
The only problem is that not everyone hears it.
Some people just ignore it, some are afraid of risking it, and some let the voice get drowned out by the details of daily life. However, for the ones that take a plunge into the unknown and trust their intuition the possibilities are endless.
This creative voice is what led Beethoven to his 5th symphony, it’s the impulse that made Miles Davis keep searching for new sounds, and the calling that pushed Coltrane to make A Love … Read More
It’s been a while since you’ve picked up your horn, sat down to the piano, or even thought about practicing. As time goes by, it gets more and more difficult to get that spark going again. Ok, time to get out of this rut and do something about it.
Here are 27 ideas to get you inspired to play and practice again.
Pick One. Do it.
Yes, that’s it. Just one at a time. Then, when you feel a sense of accomplishment and have begun to improve again, pick another.
Here we go:
1.) Find some new things to listen to
Everything you play right now is largely based upon what you’ve listened to up to this point. Whether you’ve studied it or just put it on in the background, everything you listen to affects what you play and how you conceptualize music.
Finding new music to listen to is easier today than it’s ever been. My father tells me all the time that the reason he has certain records is because when he went down to the record shop, that’s all there was! He had a few dozen jazz albums to choose from, so that’s what he bought. Lucky for him, he’s got some great recordings in there.
Go on Spotify. Explore Youtube. Look up any artist you’ve ever been remotely interested in but never took the time to check out. The music doesn’t have to be new. It just has to be new to you.
There is a secret that all great musicians have in common…
You won’t hear it on their recordings or even in their live performances. And some may even deny it that it ever happened at all.
But look back even further you’ll find it…
The truth is that every great musician started out as a musical apprentice. And the history of this music is full of countless examples.
Miles Davis moving to New York to seek out the new music of Charlie Parker, a young Frank Sinatra absorbing the performances of Billie Holiday and Ethel Waters, Lee Morgan learning the musical language of Clifford Brown…
In each and every case, imitation was the key that unlocked the door to creativity. And if you want to improve as a musician, the same must be true for you.
As a musician today, this apprenticeship is done by imitating the style and sound of your favorite musicians – transcribing solos.
If you haven’t transcribed a solo before or found the entire process frustratingly difficult, not to worry – it’s time to start fresh! Here are 10 Brilliant Jazz solos and what you’ll learn from them…
1) Miles Davis, Blues by Five
When you begin improvising it’s easy to become obsessed with each and every chord…
You want to play the right notes and you want to sound good in front of your fellow musicians. So you start focusing on individual chords, scales and individual notes . And this will put your creativity … Read More
A reader wants to know “What makes jazz ear training different from just general ear training?”
That’s a great question and I definitely had to think to arrive at an answer. They both focus on intervals, chords, root movement and have other common ground, but how are they actually different?
Over the years, I’ve taken quite a few general ear training classes and had both positive and negative experiences. I will say though, no formal ear training class gave me the ear training tools and techniques I truly needed to develop as an improviser.
And really, it’s not their fault. First off, the specific aspects that make jazz ear training different than general ear training are rarely talked about, or even given thought to, so most people teaching ear training typically teach ear training in one general way.
And secondly, ear training isn’t really meant for the classroom. It’s something you do everyday on your own: a daily practice, pushing your ear forward, building upon your current aural knowledge while continually strengthening your fundamentals.
It’s not difficult or magical. It’s simple and repetitive, taking the sounds you want to get familiar with and ingraining them on a deeper and deeper level until they click.
A deeper level than general ear training
In many general ear training choruses, the goal is simply identification. If you can guess the correct interval or chord, then…ding ding ding! We have a winner! That is correct says Chris Farley.
Trust the process. Keep going and you’ll get there. Anything worth doing takes time…
We hear these things over and over when we’re learning and it’s all good advice…
But what they don’t tell you is that there’s one key thing that separates those who excel quickly, from those who get mildly better at a much slower rate.
So what is it? How do you get good fast at jazz improvisation, something that seems nearly impossible when you realize how much information there is to know?
In a hurry to go nowhere
It’s late. I grab my horn and brave the cold to get to the practice rooms. Another solitary night in the practice room. I need to get there. I need to get there fast. There’s so much to know. What am I going to work on tonight? I’ve got to learn that tune, I think I printed out a chart. And perhaps I’ll work out of that transcription book a bit or maybe that new Bergonzi book I just got. And maybe I’ll spend some time on that new scale I just heard about.
Think about this for a moment. Your favorite musicians.
Each and every one of them started at the bottom. Every single one of them began without any musical knowledge or technique on their instrument. And all of them toiled for years before anyone knew their names.
It’s hard to imagine now listening to their records and reading about their musical accomplishments…
But in the beginning they had to start with their first notes. They listened intently to the records of their heroes and wondered in disbelief “#$@*!, how am I ever going to play like that?” They had to go into the practice room everyday and do their best to improve.
And the truth is, you’re no different.
Learning to improvise is a challenge
There’s no way around it.
Setting out on a path to create music – your own music – is not easy.
It means getting up on stage in front of people and sharing something personal. Taking a chance with no guarantee that you’ll be successful. And spending hours alone in a practice room sharpening your skills.
That’s difficult for anyone performing a skill in front of an audience, let alone someone that’s improvising on the spot! But what you might not realize is that this challenge is crucial to your development. It’s the one barrier standing between you and your musical goals.
By pushing yourself to confront these difficult areas in your playing, you are setting … Read More
We are Forrest and Eric. We’ve learned from a ton of great musicians (Mulgrew Miller, Rich Perry and many more). We are sharing anything that continues to inspire us as musicians and creative individuals alike. Enjoy.
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