Archive for the ‘Time’ Category

3 Easy-to-Fix Mistakes that are Making Your Solos Suffer

Saturday, March 29th, 2014


Have you ever made these sounds when you’ve listened to a solo?

You know, one of those solos where you hear a couple of unsavory phrases and that’s it…no more! For the love of God, please make it stop!

If you listen to a good amount of music, I’ll bet you have.

But what exactly was it about this particular solo that turned you off so much?

The scales the soloist was using? The type of instrument they were playing?

No? Well it must be something…

You might be surprised, but a lot of what makes a solo sound bad doesn’t have anything to do with the notes or scales.

Harmonic tunnel vision

When you first start learning to improvise it’s all about the notes. All about the notes…

Major scales, minor scales, modes, arpeggios, chord tones, blues scales, bebop scales, the 3rd’s and 7th’s, dominant 7th chords, Major 9 chords, ii-V7-I, and on and on.

There’s so much theory to think about that you end up getting harmonic tunnel vision.

All you can see are chords and scales, scales and chords – every other aspect of the music becomes invisible.

You desperately want to play the right note at the right time so you clutch onto music theory like a stranded swimmer hanging onto a life preserver.

As a result, you forget about some very important parts of musical expression…

Remember, improvising isn’t just about which notes you play, it’s about how you play them.

And this is … Read More

Happy New Year! 8 Musical Resolutions That Will Change Your Playing

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014

A new year is the perfect time to look back at what you’ve accomplished in the practice room and to look forward  to what you still wish to achieve as a musician. It’s also a great time to make a fresh start, to realign yourself musically, and to set some new goals. So, Happy New Year!

…now what are you going to do to become a better improviser?

A while back we posted 100 New Years Resolution Ideas for the Improviser. These resolutions are great to choose from for your daily or weekly practice routines, however there are some major points that are truly pivotal in making you a better improviser. If you focus intently on these key elements, you’ll be able to transform yourself musically.

Here are 8 musical resolutions for the new year that will make you a better improviser.

I) Work on Ear Training

The #1 area of your musicianship that will make you a better improviser is your ears. Your success as an improviser depends on your ability to hear and understand the sounds around you: melodies, chord progressions, intervals, time signatures, the other musicians in your band, etc.

All of this goes directly back to your ears.

It’s important to intellectually understand the theory and construction of the music, but to truly play it you must be able to hear it. This means working on ear training.

Here are some articles that you should check out to improve your ears:

Read More

10 Exercises to Practice When You’ve Run Out of Ideas

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

We often get a ton of great questions from our readers about what to practice. These inquiries range from players that are stuck in a daily musical rut to aspiring improvisers that simply don’t know the next step to take in the practice room.

The truth is, every musician encounters frustrating days on their instrument where nothing seems to be working. You become bored with the same old exercises, frustrated with your rate of progress and confused as to the next step to take…and some days you just don’t feel like practicing at all.

These feelings are natural for anyone trying to improve, however this is not an excuse to give up on a perfectly good practice session. Every single day, no matter what the obstacles, you can accomplish something to improve your musicianship.

Many times a roadblock in your practice is the result of being overwhelmed. The root of the problem can even come down to a simple lack of motivation. Too many projects, not enough focus and a lack of musical drive and inspiration. This is a recipe for frustration and musical inertia.

When this happens to you, stop, reset and focus on one small task and master it. Here are 10 practice ideas for those times when you’re simply out of things to practice.

1) Learn the melody to a standard

One of the best things you can do when you’re stuck in a rut is to learn something by ear. It could be a melody, 4 … Read More

How to Phrase Like a Pro

Friday, October 7th, 2011

Phrase like a pro

Amateurs phrase in a way that sounds boring and boxy. In contrast, professionals phrase in a way that gives excitement and forward motion to their playing.

In this article I’ll explore some tendencies that I’ve observed in the recordings of my heroes. Of course, your personal observations would result in different conclusions, which is why I highly suggest you transcribe and find tendencies that you observe. One thing to remember as well: These are not rules. They’re just things to be aware of and experiment with.

To illustrate the techniques, I’ll use the following example:

original line

This is not a “bad” line and you will find similar lines throughout the jazz vocabulary, however, what we’re concerned with today is how to phrase in an exciting way and this line in isolation, as depicted, is quite boring. If you were to tag on an idea in front of it, or connect it to something else, immediately it would take on a new life, and that’s exactly what we’ll be talking about: how to take the ordinary and use it like a pro.

Avoid starting phrases on beat one

Amateurs constantly start phrases on beat one. This common way of starting a line allows the listener to easily predict where the next line will start. Consequently, there’s no interest to hold their attention and they stop listening.

Pros, while occasionally starting phrases on beat one, will more often than not start phrases on beats other than one. Instead of the original line, they … Read More

Developing a Concept of Swing

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011


A reader writes:

It seems like everyone is taught the standard “off beat” articulation of swing eighth notes, but I feel that swing is really much more complicated. Why is it that some players seem to swing so hard while others do not? What’s the secret to swinging hard?

Yes, everyone is taught the standard “off beat” articulation of swing eighth notes, and you’re right, swing is much more complicated than that. It’s not even that it’s more complicated. It’s that swing cannot be defined by anything that you can write down.

Let’s try to write some swing down

Listen to Cannonball and Trane play over Grand Central: Cannonball swings so hard! He even comes right out of the gates with an incredible swinging line. Here it is notated below: Cannonball

No matter what you do to better notate this example, add any articulation marking you like, there’s no way it will ever resemble the hard-swinging-in-your-face concept performed on the recording. The magic of swing is an aural experience and that’s where it will stay. Trying to write down swing and learn it from paper, or trying to learn it from concepts and exercises described in a book is a fruitless pursuit.

Variables in swing

Listening to different players swing, you can observe a number of variables that each player uniquely expresses with respect to their style of swing:

  • The ratio between the lengths of adjacent notes.
  • The accent of specific notes.
  • The articulation of adjacent notes.
  • The precise placement
Read More

Four Ways to Reinvigorate the Practice of Technique

Thursday, September 8th, 2011

We often get stuck in a rut when it comes to practicing technique.

In the practice room we cover the same bases in our efforts to improve our overall technique. We run our major and minor scales in all 12 keys, we practice them in thirds and fourths and fifths, we use jazz articulation, we play with different dynamics, and on and on. These are all essential for improvement, but the problem here is that we often continue practicing these same technical exercises in an identical way, even after we’ve mastered them.

Note: If you aren’t challenging yourself – you’re not going to be improving.

Once you’ve got your scales and patterns together in all 12 keys and have even worked on getting them up to speed, it’s time to take your technique to the next level. Don’t keep playing those same patterns, thinking that they’ll lead you to a new level of technique! Start incorporating articulation, rhythm, time, larger intervals, and chromaticism into the mix to expand your musicianship along with your technical facility.

Technique isn’t only limited to how fast you can push your fingers down on your instrument. Just as important are the technique of rhythm, articulation, and time. When you can combine all of these ideas musically and creatively, you’ll be playing much more interesting lines.

Instead of practicing the same patterns with the same rhythms and articulations over and over again, as you’ll find in many improvisation books, simply alter your approach to these … Read More

Using Polyrhythms in Improvisation

Monday, July 18th, 2011

As melodic improvisers, we are naturally focused on the harmonic aspect of what we are playing. After all, there’s nothing worse than playing wrong notes, right? Our minds are so concerned with what key a tune is in, what note choices work well over a specific chord, and how to navigate a difficult progression, that other aspects of musicality tend to be ignored.

As a result, the rhythmic aspect of our improvised lines tend to be the first thing that is thrown to the wayside as we solo. It’s goes without saying that notes and chords are important in creating a great solo, but your time and rhythmic conception are just as essential to expressing yourself musically.

For non-drummers, developing an advanced sense of rhythm can be quite an undertaking. To go from the perspective of only worrying about keeping time in 4/4, to playing successfully in odd meters or even using polyrhythms in your solos takes some serious practice. A reader recently wrote in on this subject:

I’d like to get deeper into rhythmic displacement. I’ve practiced three against four and five against four. It works so far, but I don’t get it to the point that it sounds musical and not just mathematical. I would greatly appreciate learning about some approaches to rhythmic displacement.

Master the basics

The key to progressing at any skill is to first master the basics. This proves to be true whether you are working on instrumental technique, playing over chord changes, or are … Read More

Exploring Space

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

Exploring Space

Music is the space between the notes-Claude Debussy

The use of space is what defines our lines. Learning how to control our use of space allows us to define our lines precisely how we want to. To gain this control, we must focus our attention on where we rest.

Most of our practice time is spent playing and not resting. For many, it’s actually difficult not to play. It’s difficult simply because we haven’t spent time on it. The following exercises will focus on three areas of the use of space:

  • Using space after a line
  • Using space before a line
  • Using space within a line

Diligently practicing using space in these three different ways will expand the way you hear and play.

Using space after a line

The simplest use of space is the use of space directly after a line. Space after a line gives the idea definition and provides a logical breaking point for your next idea to begin; it gives the idea room to breathe and echo in the mind of the listener.

Sometimes we get so carried away playing idea after idea that every line runs into the next, making it sound like a run-on-sentence and then you add more material and maybe you add more  and no there will not be any space or even a comma just more more more material that runs and goes and bleeds into the next idea and..

We do not want to sound like that. Using space … Read More

Develop a Stronger Sense of Time: Using a Metronome on 2 & 4

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

Strong sense of time

The harmonic and melodic aspects of practicing jazz improvisation take up the bulk of our time. Consequently, developing a strong sense of time falls by the wayside. I’m as guilty as anyone else, thinking that somehow, it would just take care of itself. Unfortunately, things don’t work that way.

The people who have “great time” did not arrive there by chance. They focused intently on achieving a deep understanding and a working knowledge of time through hours of dedicated practice. Use the following steps and you’ll be well on your way.

Step 1: Learn to hear metronome clicks as 2 and 4

Set your metronome to 60 bpm. After a click goes by say out-loud, “1.” So, it will go something like this: “click”…”1”. This forces your ear to hear the next click of the metronome as beat 2.

Next, try verbalizing all the beats. After a click, say “1” and then during the next click say “2.” Then say “3,” followed by saying “4” in unison with the click of the metronome. Looks like this: Hear a click…then say “1”, Hear a click while simultaneously saying “2”…Say “3”…Hear  a click while simultaneously  saying “4.”

Once you get confident verbalizing with the clicks, move the voice to your mind. So, instead of saying each beat number, hear the numbers and clicks in your mind. Practice hearing the beat numbers and clicks in your mind until it is second nature to hear the clicks on 2 and 4.

Gradually, increase the … Read More

Fast Tempos Made Easy

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

fast tempos

Here’s a recent query from a reader struggling with fast tempos:

Hi, I’m a saxophone player in Toronto. What might you recommend in terms of practice techniques to play on blistering fast tempos?

When it comes to fast tempos, we could all be better. Want to play fast? Start slow.

Slow over fast tempos

No matter how counter-intuitive it seems, you must first learn how to play slow melodic lines over fast tempos. These slow melodic lines consist primarily of half-notes and quarter-notes. Even when you’re not playing over fast tempos, resist the temptation to work more on playing fast than slow. Do not make the mistake of thinking that fast notes are more important than slow notes.

To play interesting slow melodic lines over fast tempos, think in larger units of time. Hearing in larger chunks of time will help you relax. How do you typically feel playing fast tunes? Frantic? Up-tight? Behind? To play confidently over quick tempos, you want to feel comfortable and relaxed.

Supposing we’re in 4, Rather than feeling every beat (1-2-3-4), feel just beat 1 of every measure. As each measure flies by, think to yourself “1…1…1…1…”

Or if the tune is really burning, think in even larger groups; feel only beat 1 every two measures. So for four measures where normally you’d feel 1-2-3-4  1-2-3-4  1-2-3-4  1-2-3-4, you would feel just 1 – – – – – – – 1 – – – – – – – .

Listen to Bud Powell play … Read More

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