August 8th, 2011

Learn to Hear More Music with Selective Listening

Written by Eric

“Hey, did you just hear that? Look, did you just see that? Wait, can you feel that? What’s that smell?”


On a daily basis our senses are bombarded with information.

Sights, sounds, smells, and tactile sensations come at us from every angle, vying for a precious scrap of our cognitive awareness.

Despite our best efforts, we simply can’t take in all of this information. It’s true that we can experience a multitude of stimuli at once, but focusing our mind and differentiating between these stimuli requires a very special skill – attention.

The famed psychologist William James describes attention as such:

Everyone knows what attention is. It is the taking possession by the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seem several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought. Focalization, concentration, of consciousness are of its essence. It implies withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others, and is a condition which has a real opposite in the confused, dazed, scatterbrained state which in French is called distraction, and Zerstreutheit in German.

Attention is essential for taking in information, but it comes at a cost: we can only focus our attention on one piece of information at a time. It’s only by ignoring other streams of incoming information that we can actually process the small piece of information that we’re focusing on.

Think back to the last time you were in a crowded room at a loud party. Groups of colorfully … Read More

August 4th, 2011

Dealing With Non-standard Progressions

Written by Forrest

Non-Standard Jazz Progressions

Recently we received a question about non-standard progressions, specifically the type of progressions you see in Wayne Shorter and Joe Henderson tunes:

When we’re learning, we go through a lot of bebop progressions and ii-Vs. But when it comes to playing more modern tunes (such as some Joe Henderson and Wayne Shorter tunes), I feel like a good amount of my bop language starts to break down. By this I mean how do you connect distantly (if at all) related chords while still being melodic?

Dealing with these seemingly different chord progressions presents a challenge to those who have not encountered things of this sort before. Thankfully, upon further investigation you’ll understand how to use what you already know to effortlessly glide through these changes.

The chords make sense at close examination

In general, chord progressions have to have some sort of logic behind them to make them sound the particular way that they do. Upon first hearing, it may be difficult to understand how these less familiar progressions are constructed, however, work to simplify them and they’ll become clear.

Listen to Wayne Shorter’s Nefertiti:

Here’s the first eight measure of Nefertiti:

Nefertiti Excerpt

Confusing? Let’s take a closer look. The first two chords are simply progressing in cycle movement. The qualities of the chords, major 7b5 and sus, and Herbie’s unique voicings are what give them their unique sound, but other than that, nothing out of the ordinary.

Measures 3 and 4 consist of a minor ii V progression … Read More

August 2nd, 2011

Time Management for the Improviser

Written by Eric

One of the most frequently asked questions that we get concerns finding time to practice or improving with a limited amount of practice time. “What should I do if I don’t have enough time to practice everyday? I want to practice more, but I don’t have time to.”

If you haven’t already, at some point you are going to be confronted with a limited amount of time to get into the practice room. Getting busy and struggling to find time to practice is a fact of life. Rather than trying to solve the problem of dwindling time, learn to adapt your schedule to make the most of the time you do have.

We all wish we had more time to practice, but the truth is that we never get as much as we want. This doesn’t mean that we have to give up and settle for mediocrity, however. You can accomplish your goals despite a busy schedule. Here are seven ways to optimize your time in the practice room:

1) Define your goals and make a plan

Without ambition one starts nothing. Without work one finishes nothing. The prize will not be sent to you. You have to win it.~Ralph Waldo Emerson

When you have a limited amount of time to begin with, aimless and unfocused practicing is something that you can’t afford. If you’re used to going into the practice room and picking out exercises at random or turning on a play-a-long track and calling it a day, … Read More

July 29th, 2011

Jazz Is A Language….Or Is It?

Written by Forrest

Jazz language

The idea that jazz is a language can be quite confusing and ambiguous. We often make this statement, as do many teachers and professionals, but it takes time to understand what this phrase actually means and what it doesn’t mean. We’re used to a language being something like English; a body of words, phrases, grammar rules…And in jazz, the same is true, however it’s not as cut and dry.

How jazz is a language

Jazz has a vocabulary that’s been built upon since its inception. It’s an always evolving entity, passed down aurally from generation to generation. At any point during the history of the music, performers looked to what came before them to develop what they were creating; they learn this vocabulary, this language, of their predecessors and then expand it based upon their own preferences, experiences, and ideas.

For example, Charlie Parker revolutionized the music, but to do it, he absorbed the phrases, the sound, the articulation, the vibe, and the feel…of Lester Young. This “stuff” he focused on was the language of Lester Young, the language of jazz at the time.

Similarly, Lester Young built upon the language of the players that came before him. In effect, each generation passes down their language aurally to the next generation, so the language of jazz is a living entity, constantly being passed down.

Why are chords and scales not the language of jazz? Chords and scales are used in all western music. Moreover, the same chords, scales, and … Read More

July 27th, 2011

Slash Chords Made Simple

Written by Eric
A reader recently sent in this question:
I was wondering if you could explain to me how to interpret slash chords for soloing. It seems like different sources have conflicting information. Also, what would I do if I encountered a chord like C/Db, in which the top and bottom are not related diatonically?

Slash chord notation

One of the trickiest parts of dealing with slash chords is deciphering the notation. When you're used to reading standard chord changes and you come across a slash chord, it can be confusing as to what is going on. If you're like me, the first time you saw a slash chord you were probably asking yourself "Which chord is on top? Are both of the notes chords? How do you play over these sounds? It's a lot simpler than you think. Here's the deal: When you see a slash chord, the bottom note indicates a bass note and the top note indicates a triad in some inversion. For example, the chord symbol D/C implies a D triad over a C bass note: Unless marked otherwise, the D is just a triad (with chord tones doubled or in inversion) and the C is just a bass note. It's as straight forward as that....Read More
July 25th, 2011

Harness the Power Of Opposites

Written by Forrest

Harness Power  of Opposites

Things are not always what they appear to be. Sometimes the standard advice does not get you where you want to go. Here’s an idea: approach what you’re trying to achieve by doing the opposite. Now, this won’t work for everything, but it very well may solve the nagging problems you just can’t seem to figure out.

Here’s just a few examples of how to harness the power of opposites.

To play loud, play soft

Our first inclination when wanting to play loud is to blow our brains out and pump as much air as humanly possible through the horn in hopes of producing a loud sound. This wildly unfocused column of air will have a difficult time activating your instrument and making it resonate at its full capacity.

Instead of approaching loud playing this way, use the opposite tactic: practice playing softly.

How can practicing softly teach you how to play loudly? Using the saxophone as an example, playing loud is not a pure function of how much air you input into the instrument. In fact, it has more to do with how you focus your air.

First practice reducing your volume to a faint whisper and learning to focus your air stream like a laser beam. Then, gradually increase the volume while you keep this focus.

Through this process of learning to play loud by playing soft, you’ll notice a dramatic change in the way you put air through your horn, yielding much more volume and more control.… Read More

July 22nd, 2011

How To Practice Twice The Amount In Half The Time

Written by Eric

If you think about it, the elements of your practice routine are like the different sections of a well-structured work-out plan. You’ve got your warm-up/stretching, cardio, strength training, resistance work outs, and the list goes on… Every exercise has a specific role and develops a specific muscle group. When you put them together you have a complete work-out that will allow you to function at your peak and feel great.

It’s the same story when it comes to practicing our instruments. A “complete” jazz practice routine is set up the same way and each time, covers the same areas: warm-up, technique, scales/chords, ear training, etudes, articulation, learning tunes, transcribing, and developing language in all 12 keys. Everyday we try to achieve a well balanced practice session that covers these key areas of musicianship.

However, this neatly structured routine works a lot better in theory than it does in reality. Some days we skip a few parts of our routine and on others, we spend all of our time trying to master one exercise. Occasionally, we can’t even find the time to get into the practice room at all.

Because of our limited time and life’s endless complexity, covering every area of musicianship every time we get into the practice room is rarely feasible. This can be difficult because the things that make the most difference in our playing such as transcribing, inevitably take the most time. Therefore, to make way for these primary activities, other topics like technique are … Read More

July 20th, 2011

Getting the Most Out of Jazz Improvisation Articles

Written by Forrest

Make th most of Jazz Articles

We receive countless emails expressing gratitude for and we greatly appreciate the thousands of people that visit each and every week. It’s because of you (our awesome readers) that we continue to write on a weekly basis and find new ways to communicate things, striving to be clearer and clearer. To our readers, a sincere thank you.

But as a reader, it’s not easy. There’s so much here and it’s growing all the time. On top of that, you have many resources that you draw from for your daily practice as well, including books, dvds, teachers, and friends.

With all this direction, how can you get the most out of an article, while staying focused, and not feeling overwhelmed?

Understand the core thesis and where it comes from

Any article, jazz or not, has a main point or central objective. In general, this can be gleamed from the title. While you read any article about jazz improvisation, constantly ask yourself how each section connects to this core thesis.

Once you grasp the concept the article is discussing, determine what kind of article it is. Is it about ear training? Is it a harmonic concept? Or is it just some thoughts to think about?

Why classify an article like this? By classifying everything you read about learning jazz improvisation into categories, you’ll soon realize that most of what you learn fits into only a handful of topics. Consequently, you’ll feel less overwhelmed because with every new thing you read, you’ll … Read More

July 18th, 2011

Using Polyrhythms in Improvisation

Written by Eric

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

July 14th, 2011

Choosing a Music School That’s Right For You

Written by Forrest

Choosing a music school

If you’ve read through Should I Go To Music School, and after some serious thought have arrived at the notion that you’d like to go to music school, the next step is finding one that’s right for you. Depending on your level of commitment, current level of musicianship, other areas of interest, personal goals, and budget, there are a vast number of options to choose from.

College versus exclusive music school

A primary decision to make is whether you want to attend a program that is part of a larger university, or whether you’d prefer a program that’s at a school solely dedicated to music. They both have their benefits and visiting a program at both will give you a better idea about what you like.

A large part of attending college is to grow and mature as an individual. You hear people ambiguously call this the “college experience.” When I was looking at places for my undergrad, I wanted to attend a place that could offer me such an experience.

Not to say that you couldn’t potentially gain this experience at a small exclusive music school, however, a program that’s part of a general university will offer you much more in terms of extra curricular activities, thereby promoting a wider variety of experience. There’s often weekly campus events, dozens of clubs and organizations to get involved in, and diverse people from all over the world to interact with.

Moreover, a general university will provide you with many chances … Read More

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