March 21st, 2016

5 Simple Ways to Escape the ‘Diatonic Trap’ in Your Jazz Solos

Written by Eric


You want to play exciting solos…

Ones that will make the audience sit on the edge of their seats, that’ll make you stand out from every other musician in the room.

…except when you improvise everything ends up sounding exactly the same.

Many musicians share this frustration and for many it goes right back to the standard approach to improvisation that you find in most books. The mentality that each chord has a designated scale:

  • Major scales for major chords
  • Dorian for minor chords
  • Mixolydian for V7 chords

This is a fine place to start, but if you limit your harmonic and melodic approach to these 3 scales you’ll end up feeling trapped inside of a musical box.

However, listen to some of your favorite solos and you’ll notice that the best players aren’t always following these “rules.” In fact, everyone from Charlie Parker to Brad Mehldau has used non-diatonic notes in their solos.

Notes that don’t belong in the chord, notes that don’t fit into any particular scale, yet they still sound good…

And the same can be true for you, if you know the right way to use them.

You’re too creative to settle for the same old scales in every solo! Here are 5 ways to escape the diatonic trap and start thinking outside of the box when it comes to jazz improvisation…

1) Learn to alter V7 sounds

The most common place you’ll find non-diatonic notes in the solos of great players is on the V7 Read More

March 7th, 2016

What’s the Difference Between an Amateur and a Pro??

Written by Eric


Mastering jazz improvisation seems simple in theory…

At least every great player makes it sound that way.

And on paper it all looks pretty straight forward.

Memorize the chords, learn a few scales, and listen to the masters. With a little practice and transcription you’re good to go – you can almost hear the dazzling solos you’re destined to play!

But when you actually try improvise…it’s not that simple.

And the truth is, it’s not simple for anybody.

But as time goes by certain players start to sound remarkably different, almost as if they’ve found a secret that makes the entire process easy. While everyone else is left struggling in the practice room with the same old exercises.

So what are these great players doing differently from everybody else?

What exactly is it that makes the difference between a polished pro and another amateur hacking away at a tune?

Today we’ll look at the 5 ways you can start approaching improvisation like a pro…

I) It all starts in the practice room

Practice like a pro

I know what you’re thinking – every musician practices.

Big deal.

But the best musicians approach the idea of ‘practicing‘ and the process of learning in a unique way. And this subtle shift can make a world of difference in your playing.

You see, most players get pushed into the practice room by external forces. Parents, teachers, peers, or even a nagging sense of duty and obligation as a musician. After all, you’re supposed to practice … Read More

February 24th, 2016

4 Steps To Attaining Freedom With Jazz Language

Written by Forrest

4 Steps to Freedom with Jazz Language

Becoming fluent with jazz language is the key to unlocking your musical freedom when you improvise.

It’s the missing piece of the puzzle. The lost ship. The thing everyone ignores…

And it’s totally counter-intuitive…

  • You copy, to sound original.
  • You practice the same line over and over, to be creative.
  • You use limitation, to find freedom.

If you’re already confused, that’s okay. We’ll get there…

The 4 steps to jazz language fluency

Jazz is a language and acquiring useful jazz language is essential.

The whole process of learning the jazz language can seem overwhelming and ambiguous as there’s so much to focus on.

But, just by becoming fluent with one piece of jazz language you can begin seeing results today.

When you’re fluent with a piece of language, say a dominant 7 piece of language, you now have a line and a concept of how to approach a dominant 7 chord.

You have more than a lick, you have an understanding, a visceral intuitive knowledge that allows you to play musically over a sound, instead of having a purely intellectual concept of how to go about things rooted in music theory.

With fluency in jazz language, music theory supplements and supports your knowledge, ear training practice becomes more applicable, and jazz improvisation starts to make sense.

Here are the four steps of becoming fluent with a particular piece of jazz language:

4 steps to jazz language fluency

And what do each of these steps entail? What information do they hold?

Jazz language details

The line you’re transcribing and … Read More

February 22nd, 2016

7 KIller Turnarounds for Your Next Jazz Solo

Written by Eric


If you’ve spent any time practicing jazz improvisation, chances are you’ve heard of the turnaround…

Those little two bar chord progressions that pop up at the ends of tunes or in the middle of your solo, leading you back to the top of the form.

But what you might not realize is that these turnarounds can become one of the most important tools in your musical arsenal.

You just need to practice them in the right way…

“[Turnarounds] were a series of chord changes that progressed eloquently back to the main theme of a song. They were important because they let you extend a song without making it sound like you were repeating it. From a listeners’ standpoint, they created anticipation and made you want to hear the main part again.” ~Yusef Lateef

There are places in any chord progression that have the potential to create harmonic motion and melodic interest to your lines. And this is a technique that many great players have spent time developing in the practice room.

Tadd Dameron

The beautiful thing about improvisation is that you don’t have to feel chained to the written chord progression. You don’t have to play the same scale over every chord or the same chord changes in every chorus.

And one way to do this is by implying chords or melodic substitutions within an existing progression – turn backs and turnarounds.

Below we’ll show you 7 killer turnarounds that you can use in your next solo…

1) The standard “jazz”

Read More
February 14th, 2016

4 Tricks To Practicing Jazz lines In All Keys

Written by Forrest

Practicing Jazz Lines and Language In All Keys

Practicing lines in all keys is a must, but it’s not that easy or even clear why it’s so important in the first place…

Many years ago, I remember trying to take a ii V line through all keys on the saxophone and it was really difficult.

I’ve even had several decent players tell me they struggle with this skill.

After years of practice, it’s become effortless and it’s just second nature for me to take lines through all the keys.

So for today, here are the tricks that I’ve picked up over the years that will help you think and play in all keys.

Why play lines in all keys?

There are many benefits to playing lines in all keys. The most obvious one is that it gives you material for every key.

But there are a lot more benefits to it than that…

Playing lines in all keys improves your technical facility

Practicing every range and fingering on your instrument yields better technique, but, often we hang out in one register and fallback on our finger habits. By taking lines through all keys, we’re forced to hit every part of our instrument and work through tricky fingerings that we’d otherwise ignore.

Playing lines in all keys gives you mental dexterity

When you play lines in all keys, do not write them out. Do them in your mind. I will reiterate this point again and again because it’s so important. You must transpose the line in your mind. And … Read More

February 11th, 2016

How to Take the Guesswork Out of Jazz Improvisation…and Unlock Your Creativity

Written by Eric


If you’re like me, you can picture it in your mind…

Walking on stage in front of an audience and jumping right into a solo. Knowing exactly what you want to play and confident that any note you hear will simply flow out with ease.

Sounds pretty good, right?

The only problem is getting these notes to come out of your instrument in real life.

No matter how hard you practice or study solos, improvising can often feel like an exercise where you’re taking your best guess at the right notes.

Staring at a set of chord progressions and choosing from a handful of scales or returning to the same old licks you play in every other solo…

And this can leave you feeling uncreative, like you’re not really improvising at all.

But before you get too frustrated, take a step back. The problem isn’t your musical or artistic abilities, the culprit is the way you’re approaching the creative process…

You’re more creative than you think

You might not realize it now, but you have more creative potential than you realize…

In fact, your brain is a problem solving machine that’s constantly processing information and looking for new options and avenues of expression.

The only catch is that you have to give it a chance to be creative.

You can’t overload the machinery. You can’t cram in every piece of music theory information out there and say “ok, improvise!

And this is where many players go wrong…

To … Read More

February 1st, 2016

The Jazz Musician’s Most Important Tool: How To Strengthen Your Musical Memory

Written by Forrest

A jazz musician's most important tool

What is a jazz musician’s most important tool?

Is it their ear? Their technique? The concepts at their disposal?

All of these are extremely important, but without this one specific tool, they’re all useless…

The jazz musician’s most important tool is their memory.

Harold Mabern used to drive this point home to us all the time.

Think about it.

You can have the best ear in the world, name any sound you hear, transcribe a progression with ease…

But if you can’t retain the information you’re learning in your mind and recall it for instantaneous use later, it’s not going to help you be a better improviser.

You can’t go on stage with a book of the things you know, the lines, the tunes, the concepts…everything has to be in your mind.

And really, that’s the only stuff you actually know.

Joe Henderson took this to the extreme in his teaching style.

Joe Henderson teaching style

In general, Joe didn’t allow the student to record the lesson or write down anything on staff paper. Everything had to be memorized right away.

So what exactly does a having a great memory in terms of playing jazz music mean?

And, how can we best develop this talent?

How to use your memory in jazz

In terms of jazz improvisation, memory means two things

  1. memorizing things with your ear
  2. memorizing things with your mind

Yes, technically memorizing something with your ear still is in your mind, but nevertheless, we’ll refer to this as the “ear part”…

There’s … Read More

January 27th, 2016

Why Giant Steps is Easier Than You Think… 4 Simple Steps to a Stellar Solo

Written by Eric


Most improvisers cringe when they hear the words “Giant Steps”…

Their hearts start pounding and they frantically try to remember the patterns they’ve worked out over the chord progression.

If you’ve ever tried to play over this tune, I’m sure you know the feeling…

Chords flying by at a breakneck speed, awkward changes, and fingers fumbling to keep up – not exactly the most musical experience.

And it’s even more frustrating when you turn on a recording of your favorite players for inspiration only to hear chorus after chorus of flawless lines:

How are you ever going to sound like that?

But what most players don’t realize is that Giant Steps is actually composed of the basic musical elements that you already know.

And today we’ll show you the 4 steps to making this tune much easier than everyone makes it out to be.

Let me explain…

What makes this tune hard?

The difficulties that most improvisers have with creating a musical solo over Giant Steps stems from three things:

  • The tempo
  • The rate that the chords change
  • The minor 3rd relationships

Many hopeful soloists jump right into the progression at a fast tempo and start fumbling around, hoping that something decent will come out. That’s not going to work…

To start making some progress, you need to take a close look at how the chords fit together in the tune as a whole and create a practice approach that will give you the tools you need.

We’ll take … Read More

January 22nd, 2016

10 Surprising Secrets to Jazz Phrasing I Learned From John Coltrane

Written by Forrest

John Coltrane Phrasing

John Coltrane is probably best known for Countdown and Giant Steps, or his earth-shattering intensity on A Love Supreme.

But often overlooked is the depth and beauty of his phrasing and lyricism.

When I first heard the album Kind of Blue, I was blown away.

And I still am to this day.

There is so much there. Every time I listen to it, I hear more.

One solo that has always hit me dead-center between the eyes is Coltrane’s solo on Blue in Green.

Bill Evans Quote Blue In Green

This solo transports me to another world…

But this is not the Trane that we think of. The one that’s pounding down the door, in your face, playing faster than what seems humanely possible!

No. It’s a different side of him, yet the intensity of his playing is still just as present.

And much of this intensity has to do with how he phrases.

What’s the secret behind Coltrane’s beautiful phrasing and how does he sound so lyrical?

Does Coltrane phrase like a pro?

Over five years ago, I wrote an article about how to phrase like a pro.

In that I shared four points about phrasing that pros do and amateurs do not:

  • Avoid starting phrases on beat 1
  • Break up the eighth notes
  • Connect one idea to the next
  • Play into beat 1 and beyond

They seem simple, right?

But, as many things go, the simpler they seem, the more difficult they are to put into practice.

Do pros … Read More

January 20th, 2016

How to Avoid the 4 Harmful Mindsets that are Sabotaging Your Practice Routine…

Written by Eric

4 Bad Practice MIndsets

If you’re serious about reaching your musical potential or stepping up your jazz improvisation game then the majority of your time as a musician should be spent in one place…

The practice room.

It’s where you’ll do the dirty work of pursuing your musical goals and where you’ll build your foundation as a performer. It’s no secret that consistent practice is one of the most important factors in determining your musical success this year.

But here’s the catch: Not all practice is “good practice

In fact, the way you define “practice” might actually be holding you back and in some cases, even doing you harm. And this can drastically impact your performance and creative confidence when you get in front of an audience.

Remember, good or bad, the time that you spend in the practice room will ingrain habits and it’s these habits that will determine how you perform, and the fun you have with music.

Sounds pretty serious, but don’t worry, you’re not alone on this journey…

It’s the same for all musicians

From the complete beginner and the music student toiling away in the practice room, to the professional walking onto stages all over the world…

Musicians encounter the same creative obstacles each day. The pressure to play a certain way, sudden nerves before a big performance, or unexpected setbacks that cause self-doubt. Being a musician isn’t easy and creating your own music takes more than just technique.

However, the only advice we often get when … Read More

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