May 21st, 2010

10 Jazz Improvisation Tips to Remember

Written by Forrest

1.) Think quality over quantity

Often we are in a hurry to ‘catch up.’ Where ever you are in your personal development as a jazz improviser, accept it. It’s okay if you only know a few tunes, or can barely blow over a blues. Don’t sweat it. Worrying about our own deficiencies causes us to frantically scramble to learn too much too quickly. Instead, commit to learning one thing really well.

2.) Rather than comparing yourself to others, use them to learn

When everyone around you is so good, it is tough not to compare yourself to others. Maybe your buddy can play way faster than you, or someone else just sounds so good, you just feel like nothing in comparison.

We are all individuals. Don’t be frustrated that other people are better than you. Feel fortunate to have them as a resource to learn. Believe me. Every one thinks about this stuff differently and most of the time, they enjoy sharing their knowledge.

Perhaps, you have some bit of knowledge you can give them as well. My friends and I are constantly sharing our latest concepts, lines, or thoughts with one another. You can learn a ton from your environment if you choose to.

3.) Never Sacrifice a beautiful sound

Sometimes when we practice, we get so caught up in what ever it is we are practicing, that we forget to play with a rich beautiful sound. The sound you play with during your exercises will carry over to … Read More

May 18th, 2010

How to Not Suck at Half-Diminished Chords

Written by Forrest

Half diminished chords are generally overlooked. They are the neglected daughter of a V7 chord in a minor two-five, that never gets the attention she deserves. The result: we suck at them. Think about it. Are you as comfortable on Bb half diminished as Bb major? I’m guessing not. But there really is no reason you can’t be.

Common ways we get through them now

Part of the reason we do not perform as well over these type of chords as we would like is that we have adopted standard ways to get through them and have not moved past our tried and true methods. These techniques sound correct, were played by the masters, and are legitimate, the only problem being…they get boring.

This is what I call the  ‘harmonic minor scale trick.’ You simply play the harmonic minor of the minor tonic you are headed to over the minor two-five. Bird used this concept constantly and you probably do too.

Harmonic Minor Scale - Over Half Diminished Chords

Another common way people get by on half diminished chords is by arpeggiating the chord. Again, not a bad place to start, but at some point you’re going to want to move beyond this.

Half Diminished Arpeggio

Always knowing a few sure-fire ways of getting through a chord or set of chords is important, but it is just a starting point. The goal is freedom. If you are truly free over chords, then you are not limited by the number of phrases you know that ‘work’ over them. In other words, you … Read More

May 17th, 2010

Using Triads in Your Solos

Written by Eric

After playing a tune for a while, it can seem like you are playing the same ideas or licks over the changes every time. For example, you see a D minor chord and think “okay D minor, I can play a D dorian scale or a D harmonic minor scale or arpeggiate from the third..”and after awhile, it can see like there is nothing new to play or that you are going down the same path on this chord every time.

One thing you can do in this situation is to find a completely new way to approach those familiar changes, forcing yourself to try a new technique so you avoid playing those same old licks. One option is to approach those common chords, on which you would normally play scales, with triads or groups of triads to create a new harmonic sonority.

There are endless ways of combining triads harmonically, rhythmically and melodically to create new ideas for improvisation. Check out this live clip of Chris Potter playing with Dave Holland to get an idea of the possibilities of using triads (and fourths) in a solo.

Okay…thank you Chris, now that we all want to quit our instruments. But seriously, that video was an example of what can happen when you explore new approaches to chords and really master the technique behind them. Here are some ideas on how to start incorporating some triads into your playing…

Diatonic Triads

The first way to utilize these triads is to use … Read More

May 11th, 2010

Don’t Forget the Basics

Written by Eric

For a lot of musicians that are working to improve, it is easy to spend most of our practice time working on really complex harmonic and rhythmic concepts while fundamental skills, that we all basically know, are pushed to the back burner. This happens easily if you think about it; after progressing to and achieving an acceptable level of fundamental technique, we often turn our attention to areas that are more exciting or will make us sound hip when we are soloing.

This is probably a result of the way we learn things in the educational system. In situations like these, we are merely introduced to a concept and then find ourselves quickly moving on to the next concept without ever really mastering the first one. For example, just as we learn about ii-V’s we move on to altered dominants or tri-tone substitutions, our minds always two steps ahead of our technique. In an effort to catch up, the basics of our musicianship are often ignored as we focus solely on these new concepts. The fundamentals are the foundation of everything that we play and to not only maintain them, but improve to a higher level, we must focus on them everyday.

Here are four fundamental areas of your playing to focus on every time you get into the practice room :

1. Sound

Your sound is one of the most powerful tools of expression that you have and one of the first things that a listener will take away … Read More

May 2nd, 2010

Improvising With Chromaticism

Written by Eric

As improvisers we are always looking to create new harmonic concepts or to find new ways of soloing over traditional changes that are innovative and creative. Actually, for the past sixty years jazz musicians have been playing the same basic set of standard tunes, each generation making their stylistic mark on the history of the music. This is a lot of development and after the innovations of Parker, Trane, Miles and countless others it seems like every possible way to play over these progressions has already been done…twice.

One area left to really explore, though, is chromatic improvisation and from listening to some of the great players today, it seems that this concept is becoming an essential part of the vocabulary for modern jazz musicians. Now, this is not just using chromatic scales or playing free jazz, but constructing lines, patterns, triads and arpeggios that move in different directions chromatically; a concept that has infinite possibilities. For example, look at the figure below of a very simple line using this structure:

In the above example, the line is composed of whole steps that descend chromatically. This same idea can be applied to larger intervals (fourths, sixths, tritones, etc.), triads (major, minor, diminished, augmented and inverted) and even chord progressions to create new possibilities for improvisation. Players today like Dave Liebman and George Garzone have explored these concepts in depth and have even developed their own methods for chromatic improvisation.

This trend really began with Miles in the mid-60’s when he … Read More

April 28th, 2010

Transcribe With A Purpose

Written by Forrest

Transcribing can be beneficial no matter how you do it. Often when I go to transcribe, I like to have a specific goal in mind of what I am aiming to accomplish, making for rapid improvement in areas that need the most work. It’s essentially a problem/solution approach:

  1. Identify what problems you’re having
  2. Find the solutions quickly by hearing them on records you’re listening to
  3. Transcribe them by ear and break ’em down

Some Common Problems You Can Solve by Transcribing

Which of these problems can you identify with?

  • I lack a jazz vocabulary of ideas on specific chords or common progressions
  • I need assistance in creating my own ideas
  • I can’t play in a specific style
  • I need to develop new influences
  • I can’t play on a small chunk of a tune
  • I don’t hear things in my head to play
  • I can’t play things that I hear in my head

Most likely, you can relate with all of these on some level. Lets look at each one of these problems in depth and how they can be solved by spending some concentrated time with recordings.

I lack a jazz vocabulary of ideas on specific chords & progressions

When you are learning a language, there are many words and phrases to learn that connect your original ideas. The same is true in jazz. We have all heard many of these “cliches” over an over, and  I’m always coming across more. Learning these lines straight off the record, gives you … Read More

April 22nd, 2010

How To Stay Sane While Pursuing Your Art

Written by Forrest

As a musician or any other creative individual, we get so wrapped up in what we are doing, that we often lose sight of everything else. Consequently, when something within our own little bubble is not going how we would like it to, our positivity plummets and our world comes crashing down. Here are some things that I’ve found have helped me to keep my sanity through these moments of turmoil.

Find Some Yin to Your Yang

When I was twenty-four, I stumbled upon some books on computer programming. The more I flipped through them, the more I felt compelled to understand what the authors were talking about. The next two years, I taught myself the basics of how to code.

During this time, I was  in grad school with very little time to spare, yet I found that my new interest in coding actually helped me be more focused, more creative, and feel more accomplished. I had found a counterbalance to my obsession with playing the saxophone, or as the heading says, some yin to my yang LOL.

It was an AHA moment! It was what I had been missing. Typically, if I was frustrated with some aspect of my playing, it would get me really down because I had no other serious undertakings to apply my creative energy to. When I started to have other passionate intellectual pursuits, where I could apply my intelligence and feel a sense of accomplishment, I quit giving such weight to my frustrations … Read More

April 21st, 2010

Learning Tunes

Written by Eric

It seems like jazz musicians are always thinking about tunes; knowing tunes, learning tunes, how does that one go again? Performing in different situations we are expected to know certain tunes that other musicians will call or even people in the audience will request. This can seem like a very daunting task at first and really it seems like there are always more tunes to learn, but by learning and practicing tunes in a structured way you can start to build a lasting repertoire.

Learn it by ear

Although at first learning a melody and changes to a standard in this way can seem more difficult than simply reading the music from a real book, the benefits of figuring out tunes by ear is much greater…actually it is not even close compared to reading from a page. When you try to memorize a tune out of a real book, you are taking your ears completely out of the equation. Visually you can see everything and mentally understand it, but unless your memory is photographic you won’t be able to remember the tune an hour from now let alone the next day.

Using your ears and instrument to figure out melodies and chord progressions physically connects you to the music and this along with repetition is the key to memorization. Take for example, all the language learning software out there today that are based upon this very concept. In these programs you hear a phrase in the language you are trying … Read More

April 20th, 2010

Getting More From Transcribed Solos

Written by Eric

Transcribe, transcribe , transcribe. It is what you’ve been hearing since you started to learn how to improvise…and for a good reason. Transcribing is one of the best ways to learn the stylistic language of jazz, improve your ear and in short, become a better all around improviser. The mere act of learning a solo by ear is so much more effective than reading any piece of music or exercise and done as a daily part of practice, the results in your improvising will be immediate. But, transcribing is not the end point in developing your own jazz vocabulary, it should be the first step in creating your personal sound. Try some of these exercises to go beyond just learning the notes:

Pick a part of a solo that catches your ear

Many times when we start learning a solo we feel that we have to learn the entire solo to get something out of it. Knowing the whole solo is great for looking at things like phrasing or motivic development, but you can get just as much from learning a line or pattern over a progression. Start with a line that really grabs your attention or a passage that is really fluid over a progression that you are having trouble with. Maybe you are looking for some more ideas to play over ii-V’s or want to figure out what Woody Shaw is doing on that really out line.

Analyze the musical aspects of the line

Once you’ve learned the … Read More

April 20th, 2010

3 Gems Harold Mabern Told Me

Written by Forrest
Harold Mabern | Jazz piano

If you don’t know who Harold Mabern is, it’s time you did. The legendary pianist has played with everyone and is on the records of Lee Morgan, Hank Mobley, and Freddie Hubbard, just to name a few. I had the great honor of studying privately with him for over a year. Not only is he an incredible musician, but he’s also one of the warmest, most vibrant, and positive people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.

Harold possesses great knowledge and he loves to share it. Sometimes he’d have a dozen students surrounding him listening intently to his incredible stories and words of wisdom. Here are three gems of knowledge that he repeated to me over and over during the time I spent with him.

1.) Your Ear Is Your Fakebook

Harold would constantly point to his ear while energetically expressing, “This is your fakebook! This is your fakebook!!!” He wanted to emphasize that you have to get tunes operating loud and clearly in your ear and to never be dependent on anything else. The same goes for everything. Get rid of your crutches and trust your instincts. Start to think of your ear as your fakebook and soon it will be.

2.) Be Greedy For The Music

He frequently said that you have to be greedy for the music like John Coltrane. Pursue all types of music. Anything you love, just absorb it. Figure it out and have fun doing it. Harold listens to and plays all types … Read More

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