Finding a Fresh Approach to Playing the Same Old Tunes

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 and repeatedly approach the chord changes with the same licks and worked out harmonic tricks. Even on gigs I would play the melodies to those tunes in the same way and use the same devices in my solos.

This can be a frustrating hurdle to overcome. If the above description sounds like your practice routine, don’t despair, this is something that you can change today. Because we frequently encounter the same set of tunes in the standard jazz repertoire, it is important to avoid the trap of playing those standards in the same ...

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