While we typically focus on ways to improve, this article is all about how to be mediocre. Now, chances are you don’t want to be mediocre, so while many of these listed points are tongue-in-cheek, they will provide you with insight into what not to do, if you wish to be better than mediocre.
So, here we go…let’s learn exactly how to be mediocre!
Mediocre tip #1: Avoid transcribing at all costs
Convince yourself that great players never transcribed and choose to believe that they invented everything they played, straight from their own mind. When teachers or friends suggest that you transcribe, act like you’re above it and reply, “I’m looking to do my own thing.”
Perhaps if you’re in music school though, you’re required to transcribe for an assignment. Make sure you don’t transcribe in the manner we refer to here, but rather just try to write the notes down on paper as quickly as possible. That way you’ll avoid learning any of the language or concepts in the solo, while still being able to talk about what the soloist is doing.
If you really feel the urge to know what someone is playing, search frantically for a transcription of the solo. If you can’t find it online, you could always purchase a book of transcriptions. These are great tools to help you avoid transcribing all together, ensuring you never rise above mediocre.
Mediocre tip #2: Always learn tunes from fake books
Act like it’s impossible to learn tunes off records. Argue that you must learn the authoritative version of the tune: the one that’s written down on a lead sheet. If by chance someone tells you you’re playing a wrong chord, pull out your fake book and show them what the real changes are. That will teach them!
Mediocre tip #3: Don’t ever learn lines
Take the attitude that learning lines that your heroes played is copying and unoriginal. You know for a fact that the professionals never did this; they learned their scales and arpeggios rearranged these notes on the spot into beautiful melodies.
Mediocre tip #4: Don’t ever learn anything in all keys
One key is good enough. Really, who plays Rhythm Changes in anything other than Bb?
Mediocre tip #5: Don’t waste your time on easy tunes
Never waste your time with easy tunes. Easy tunes are for wimps. These include blues, rhythm changes, and most standards. The only tunes worth spending any time are Monk, Joe Henderson, and Wayne Shorter tunes, so you should jump straight to these. That way when you’re at a jam session, you can impress everyone because you can almost approximate the melody to Inner Urge. Don’t worry about soloing over it. I mean, the head is hard enough, right?
Mediocre tip #6: Never play over the original changes
If by chance you have to play a standard for a school assignment or some sort of requirement, reharmonize all the chords so you can barely hear the original changes. Who needs to hear another two-five progression? You don’t need to play over another two-five in your life. That’s old-hat.
If you don’t have time to work out the mathematics of your reharm (You wouldn’t dare do this by sound. You should base your reharm on theory), superimpose as many things as you can. Write these new changes on the lead sheet to ensure you play them during performance.
Mediocre tip #7: Ear training. Who needs it?
You need to focus on your fingers. Not your ears. Enough said.
Mediocre tip #8: If you’re not getting the results you want, get new equipment
You know all your scales and arpeggios. You even wrote down a Coltrane solo once. you’ve played chorus after chorus with play-along tracks, so the problems couldn’t possibly lie with you. Use this reasoning to always blame your equipment. Spend at least an hour a day, preferably more, searching for new mouthpieces or other equipment on Ebay, or trying to figure out what equipment your hero plays on. Know that if you just get the right equipment, you’ll be the next Trane.
Mediocre tip #9: Work on scales and arpeggios until you’re blue in the face
You know that the jazz-theory-model of playing has proved that mastering all your scales and arpeggios results in perfect improvisation. So keep on truckin’. Eventually, they will magically turn into the the half-assed melodies you’ve always dreamed of.
When you don’t seem to be able to get through a two-five, learn a new scale choice so you feel like you’re working towards your goal. When this new scale doesn’t help you, rave about how it is helping you, and that you’ve finally found the sound you’ve been after.
If anyone suggests you learn any language at all instead of practicing scales and arpeggios so much, yell at them, “That’s stealing!” and run out of the room as quickly as you can.
Mediocre tip #10: Only do the minimum amount of work
Just do the bare minimum. Your goal is to not play wrong notes. That’s it. If you get through a whole chorus with no wrong notes, you’re killin’ it!! All your work should go into this one goal because that’s what matters: no wrong notes.
Mediocre tip #11: Don’t worry about chord progressions
Chord progressions are just suggestions. They’re just written symbols after-all. It’s not like they are sounds. Instead of trying to understand the progression, just look for general tonality, then find the major scale that fits over it and go to town!!!
Mediocre tip #12: Never ever play with a metronome
You’re not going to perform with a metronome, so why practice with one? If your teacher makes you play with one, avoid playing with it on 2 and 4, as that might improve your time-feel above mediocre.
Mediocre tip #13: Always use play-alongs
Why use recordings of your heroes when the soloist is in the way all the time?! Purchase every play-along you can and make them the only thing you practice. Open the book, put the back-up track on and see what comes out. You are your own hero. Don’t let anyone on the recording get in your way. Play chorus after chorus, close your eyes, and move your fingers. Eventually something great has to come out, right?
Mediocre tip #14: Learn as many tunes as you can
You know that the more tunes you learn the better because then when you go to a jam session, you won’t feel dumb when you don’t know a tune. Who cares how you sound on it, as long as you know it and someone else doesn’t. Make sure to make fun of the person who doesn’t know the tune by saying, “Really, you don’t know this tune?”
And your definition of learning is memorizing the melody and the chord sequence on the lead sheet. That should be enough to get you to your goal of not playing wrong notes, and if by chance you hit a few wrong ones, just blame it on the fact that you love playing “outside.”
You can be mediocre!
Good news! With little effort, you can become mediocre! If this list reads like your modus operandi, then you can be sure, you’ll reach your goal of playing mediocre in no time. Don’t change a thing. Avoid anyone who suggests you do anything different than what you’re currently doing and seek others who feel the same way you do about everything. You’re on the path of mediocrity and loving it, so keep going!
Now, for the rest of you, I would hope the majority of people reading this, get a good laugh from reading this article, become aware of any habits that you’re currently doing that will produce mediocre results, and change them today. There’s nothing wrong with aiming for mediocrity, unless of course that’s not what you want. Want great results? Stop trying to be mediocre.