June 1st, 2016

How to Think Like a Pro Jazz Musician: Michael Brecker and The Power of Simplicity

Written by Forrest

Think like a pro jazz musician

It sounds so complex. So difficult. So advanced…

Great jazz musicians sound as though they’re implementing highly complex and difficult concepts that mere mortals could never hope to access, but in reality, professionals think simpler than you’d ever imagine.

It’s the beginners and intermediates who study the pros and abstract what they think is going on in a convoluted and complex way.

Jazz improvisation is a real-time activity. This means there’s no time to think.

And even in the practice room where you do have infinite time, simplicity is your best friend because when the heat of the moment comes and you’re on stage, it’s the simple stuff that will be there with you.

Professionals use simple concepts.

They use them effectively and they disguise them…

Michael Brecker and simplicity

When you think Michael Brecker, you probably don’t think simple.

He plays so fast. So effortless. So perfect.

But, when you closely study what he’s playing and take away the lightening speed that he’s known for, you’ll see many simple concepts you’re familiar with.

Listen to his solo on Giant Steps with saxophonist Bob Mintzer, from the album Twin Tenors.

A lot of what he’s playing sounds extremely angular and complex, but it’s actually not at all. He utilizes some very simple techniques, but knows exactly how to get the most mileage out of them.

Complexity = Disguised Simplicity

Studying music theory and analyzing jazz solos defines how we view what we discover. It’s a catch-22. Without knowledge … Read More

May 27th, 2016

Why These 8 Jazz Standards Should Be Your New Practice Etudes

Written by Eric

why these 8 standards should be your practice etudes

Every musician has spent time in the practice room working on etudes…

Diligently running through exercises that cover various techniques like articulation, the altissimo range, or diminished arpeggios.

This is a good start for most players, but where does the jazz musician turn to develop the techniques that are essential for improvisation? After all jazz is a music that you learn by ear, not from a dusty book of exercises…

Well the answer can be found in an unlikely place: the repertoire of jazz standards that we’re all expected to learn.

By using jazz standards as your etudes, you’ll kill two birds with one stone: learning tunes and developing the techniques necessary for jazz improvisation.

Below we’ll show you how to turn 8 jazz standards into the daily practice etudes that will transform your skills as an improviser.

Before you get started, listen to the YouTube clip of each tune. You can either learn the melody from the recording (a great way to work on ear training!) or find the sheet music. For each tune we’ll:

  • Give you an excerpt of the first 8 measures
  • Show you what you’ll learn and what to focus on as you practice
  • And highlight unique practice ideas specific to each melody

Ready to go? Awesome, time to meet the 8 jazz standards that are your new practice etudes…

1) Moving from Major to minor: Ornithology

One of the first bebop tunes many players learn is Charlie Parker’s Ornithology, a 32 bar melody … Read More

May 19th, 2016

Thinking About Transcribing a Jazz Solo? Here are 3 Things You Should Know…

Written by Eric

thinking about transcribing a solo

Transcribing is the single most effective method of learning how to improvise.

…or so everyone says.

The only problem is it can be a mystery figuring out what the transcription process actually entails. You have your instrument and a collection of your favorite recordings – now what?

The standard jazz resources are good at teaching the theory and technique of improvisation, but when it comes to acquiring jazz language it gets a little foggy…and the truth is, it took me years to figure out what transcribing was and how to use it to improve my playing.

I’m guessing you don’t have years to waste in the practice room. You need to go from guessing at the notes of your favorite solos to quickly acquiring language that you can use every time you improvise.

Before you jump into the practice room to start transcribing your next solo, here are the 3 things you need to know

I) Is transcribing really transcribing?

If you ask a hundred different musicians to define transcribing, you’ll probably hear responses like: writing the notes down, memorizing lines, analyzing solos, or stealing language from records.”

But what actually happens in the practice room when you’re “transcribing”? This is the question you should be asking yourself…

Before you pick out a solo or write down a single note you need to know exactly what’s involved in the transcription process, down to the nitty-gritty details. For starters, check out this post:

Transcribing is not Transcribing: Read More

May 11th, 2016

8 Techniques Mark Turner Uses to Dominate the Blues

Written by Eric

8 Techniques Mark Turner Uses

If you’ve ever listened to Mark Turner you’ve probably wondered the same thing as me…

“What the hell is he playing?”

Rather than coming from the mind of an improviser, his solos sound like the work of an ambitious architect. Complex structures reaching into the stratosphere, lines with impossibly wide leaps, columns of arpeggios, and winding phrases that arch over the chords…

So as a musician, where do you begin when you want to discover the techniques behind his unique sound? For starters, you need to find a solo over a standard that you know inside and out.

And that’s why exactly why we’ve chosen the blues

These days you’ll hear more and more players imitating Mark Turner’s distinctive sound. But it’s not the actual notes in his solos that will make you a better player, it’s the concepts behind them…

The solo

The Mark Turner solo we’ve chosen comes from a live recording he did with the OAM Trio. Give it a listen:


On your first pass it probably sounds modern, innovative or even abstract, but underneath everything he plays lies the 12 bar blues form.

And it all works because he has a deep understanding of this form.

One thing to note about this particular version: Instead of the standard I – IV – I progression in the first 4 bars of the tune, this blues utilizes the following substitution:

The result is a minor 3rd relationship that leads to the B7, serving as … Read More

April 25th, 2016

20 Practice Hacks for the Busy Musician

Written by Forrest

20 practice hacks for the jazz musician

Time is the only thing we really have in life and there never seems to be enough of it…

But whether your goals are to just play for fun or to become a professional musician, there are techniques you can start using today to make use of your time more effectively to become the musician you want to be, despite your limited time.

And if you have all the time in the world, you should still apply these strategies because things won’t always be that way.

As life goes on, you tend to accumulate more and more responsibility, so it’s best to form the habits to deal with limited time right now…

Invest in the right tools

Hack 1 for jazz musicians

The right tools matter more than ever when you’re trying to save time. The right tools could mean anything from the right software to the best instrument you can afford. The point is, use your money to save you time.

We recommend a bunch of things, not just because they help support Jazzadvice and keep it alive, but because they can help anybody get to where they want to go, faster.

It took me a long time to realize that spending a little money on the right tool could improve my listening experience, my transcribing process, and my skill as an improvisor much more rapidly than if I didn’t have these tools.

The right tools give you a huge advantage.

Spend some time thinking about what would make it easier for you … Read More

April 21st, 2016

10 Surprisingly Effective Warm-Ups for Jazz Improvisation

Written by Eric

warm-ups for jazz improvisation

You’ve been thinking about it all day…

As you ate breakfast. On your commute to work. And while you were sitting at your desk watching the seconds tick by.

You need to practice.

You need to start making progress and achieving your musical goals. And you need to do it right now!

But before you jump right into an hour long practice session there is something that you should know.

Something that can make your practice much more effective…

Time to stretch your musical muscles

We’re talking about warming up.

Sure, we all practice certain exercises to polish our technique and improve our sound – a few minutes spent running through scales, etudes and long tones…

But what about a warm-up for the art of jazz improvisation?

A way to get the creative juices flowing. A process for getting your mind and body limbered up for the demands of an improvised solo.

Think about it. Wouldn’t it be great to jump into a solo at your creative peak….without the struggle of not having any ideas.

Below we’ve collected some of the best warm-up exercises we know that’ll make a difference in the way you approach improvisation. The best part? For many of them you don’t even have to be inside the practice room.

Here are 10 effective warm-ups for jazz improvisation that will benefit every improviser…

#1)  The scale workout that works

Chances are you’re practicing scales in your warm-up.

But to improvise effectively these scales need to … Read More

April 12th, 2016

How To Create the Perfect Solo: A Lesson With Herbie Hancock

Written by Eric


Herbie Hancock is one of the greatest living improvisers…

From his work with the great Miles Davis Quintet to his own musical explorations, he has spent decades evolving and pushing musical boundaries.

But the thing that stands out most is his ability to craft a musical moment for the listener. To transport them out of their daily routine and expectations and into the music itself.

This is the mark of a master musician in any style of music. The ability to create magic with the simplest of tools – rhythm, harmony and melodic statements.

Transcending the details of notes and scales to create a musical message on the spot. And this is a skill that you should start thinking about in your own playing.

For the best players, every solo is an opportunity to create a new musical idea. To make a statement, to interact with other musicians, and to see where the music will go in that split-second…

Remember, not every solo has to be full of double time lines, memorized licks, and theory devices. The secret of a great solo lies creating music in the moment.

Herbie Hancock’s solo on Ceora:

A masterful example of this concept is Herbie Hancock’s solo on Ceora from the Lee Morgan album Cornbread.

Take a listen below (the solo starts at 4:05):


The chord progression to the tune is relatively simple – 32 bars in the key of Ab

You’ll find ii-V’s to the I … Read More

April 8th, 2016

10 Diminished Patterns That Will Transform Your Next Jazz Solo…

Written by Eric


What comes to mind when you hear the word diminished?

A chord? A scale?

“Wait, is it whole-steps and half-steps…or the other way around?”

If you’re like most players, the diminished sound often creates more questions than answers…

But it’s a sound that the greatest players – from John Coltrane to Michael Brecker and beyond – have used to add harmonic complexity and melodic interest to their solos.

And it’s one that you can use in your solos as well…if you have the know-how.

You see, the premise of a diminished chord or pattern is simple, but when you start applying this sound to your solos, the details can get complex very quickly.

And this is exactly what we’re going to look at today…

Stacking minor thirds…

Before we start digging in to these diminished patterns, you need to start with an understanding the structure of the diminished chord.

And luckily it’s pretty straightforward, a fully diminished chord is simply a stack of minor 3rds…

Diminished structure

Because the construction of these chords is symmetrical, there are only 3 diminished options: a stack of minor 3rds from C, from C#, and from D. That’s it – the pattern just repeats itself.

The most common way you’ll use this sound in your solos is over dominant chords. Applying this diminished structure over a V7 sound is an easy way to access the altered notes of a dominant chord in a logical way.

And again, since the construction of the structure is symmetrical … Read More

April 1st, 2016

5 Steps to Becoming A Lyrical Master With Altered Dominants: A Lesson With Stan Getz

Written by Forrest

Playing Lyrically Over ALtered Dominant Chords

Alterations are at the heart of jazz…

In no other genre of music can you freely alter chords in a such a fluid and flexible manner. As chords whiz by, the soloist has the freedom to add all sorts of chord alterations to their melodic lines.

But it requires a sense of how these altered chord tones behave and a certain kind of know-how to use them effectively.

The best place to start experimenting with alterations is over the dominant chord because that’s where you have the most options. But, if you’ve ever tried to alter a dominant chord before, you know that it’s not that easy.

Here’s the situation…

You’re about to play over a dominant chord. You see this on a lead sheet, or you know a tune by heart…


… and your thought process might go something like this…

Which scale should I play

Your initial reaction? Scales. You think to yourself…

“What scale am I going to play if I want to alter the dominant chord?” Clearly not the boring old Mixolydian and after a moment of thought, you now believe you have several options to approach dominant alterations, and then even more scales come to mind…

More scale options

So now that you have your scale choices, you think you’re all good. But then when you go to play, why do things not sound right? Why does it sound mechanical? Why does it sound forced?

What are professionals doing that makes their use of alterations sound so good and how can I do Read More

March 29th, 2016

The Reason You Need to Start Thinking About Jazz Language Right Now…

Written by Eric


Michael Brecker talked about it…

Mulgrew Miller mentioned it time and again in masterclasses…

And if you’ve spent any time on Jazzadvice, you’ve seen multiple articles about the importance of learning it.

But why should you start thinking about jazz language?

You’re already practicing technique, running scales, and listening to a ton of your favorite players…and you’ve even noticed some progress in your ability to create solos.

So why should you add one more item to your already packed practice list?

It’s a good question…and one that many players shrug off.

But not so fast! Language is the key that can take you from the player that’s frustrated with scales and chords to a soloist with unlimited creative ideas.

You just have to approach it the right way in the practice room.

Let me explain…

The 3 stages of learning jazz improvisation

Musicians of all levels are drawn to jazz improvisation.

Because we all want a chance to step into the spotlight to take a solo…

But no matter what your skill level is, every player encounters the same struggles when it comes to finding their voice on an instrument.

Mulgrew Miller

You see, we don’t get a guide book for learning how to improvise. And finding an effective practice routine can sometimes be a big mystery.

Just because you’re spending time practicing doesn’t mean that you’re automatically going to get to the next level. To improve as a soloist, you’ve got to practice the right things.

And this is where … Read More

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