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Advice and articles on how to be a better improviser
Once you start progressing as a musician it’s easy to play to your strengths and neglect weaker skills. So you become a good ear player who struggles to read a melody; or a keen sight-reader who avoids improvising. Or maybe your eyes and ears are strong, but writing music takes you much longer than you feel it should.
Imagine you had the skills to face any musical challenge with quiet confidence. That means you can sight-read, play by ear and transcribe equally well. So you feel comfortable in any playing situation, whether it’s a jam session, recording studio, function gig, or theatre pit.
It all boils down to having a strong connection between eyes, ears, voice and fingers.
Previously there wasn’t an easy way to achieve this gradually, especially when you are concentrating on mastering your instrument. Bart Noorman’s Fundamentals fixes that by progressively training eyes, ears and fingers in a coordinated way that gets results fast.
Suppose you start with singing, to test your recognition of basic intervals, chords and rhythms. After just a few sessions you find your sight singing ability has improved. Now you can begin using your instrument to repeat short and long phrases, by ear and by sight.
Fundamentals can noticeably improve your musicianship in a few weeks. But don’t just take our word for it. Read what fellow musicians and teachers say. Then watch the videos and see how musicians improve their ability to play by ear within just a few sessions using the Fundamentals.
I simply love the Fundamentals DVD. It is made with a lot of patience and the clear information on the DVD really helps you to grow quick as a musician. It is easy, and light, and challenging at the same time. The seemingly endless amount of exercises to practice to are an investment that I would deeply recommend. This DVD is just plain good and it works! The cut-out-and-take-along-scalewheel took my heart away and I keep it with me all the time. Thanks, Bart, your effort is a big support!"
- Malon Bakker, singer/songwriter and pianist from Utrecht, The Netherlands
Order Fundamentals from Jazzwise today and we aim to dispatch your copy by the next business day. Click here to visit the product page and place your order now. Or to find out more about this product, please read on and watch the videos below.
Introduction to the software | 3:72
Fundamentals uses audio and vdeo combined with a smart use of colours and explanatory notes. So you hear exactly how the notes written on paper should sound, and work out how to replicate what you hear.
Guitarist magazine commented, "Fundamentals is a very active way of learning, since you are always playing, reading or writing". While Akkoord magazine said, "Getting to work to become a more complete musician with this well-organized DVD is enticing."
Sing magazine described Fundamentals as like having "a teacher who is available 24/7." A further endorsement from Music Maker magazine concluded with a simple instruction: "Recommend these packages to your teacher! - I could not do without them".
Click here to visit the product page and place your order now. Or to find out more about this product, please read on and watch the videos below.
Sing What You See video | 3:25
If you can sight sing, it helps you to hear how sheet music should sound inside your head. Sight singing is so much easier once you understand the function of the notes. The exercises in Fundamentals use colour coding and written hints to teach this.
I've been working with the offbeat exercise from the Play What You See pages. It is terribly confronting, but it really helps. After two weeks of daily surrender to this intensive brainwash, my timing has improved tremendously."
- Stelios Chatzikaleas, trumpeter from Thessaloniki, Greece
Click here to visit the product page and place your order now. Or to find out more about this product, please read on and watch the videos below.
Ear training with the Harmony Trainer | 1:44
I use Fundamentals every day. The exercises are really helpful, and even fun to do. The choice of elements to study and practice, as well as the informative videos makes the Fundamentals an excellent complement to my trumpet lessons. I think the Fundamentals is a huge value for my money." - Raoul Wirtz, trumpeter from Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Click here to visit the product page and place your order now. Or to find out more about this product, please read on and watch the videos below.
The Play What You Hear trainer | 9:30
I am addicted the Play What You Hear trainer, it is really great. It is fun to replay the melodies and it helped me to play on my instrument as if I were using my voice."
- Marieke Samson, alto saxophonist from Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Fundamentals is also a big hit with teachers. All the materials are laid out for you, in a clear, accessible modular way. So it's easy to incorporate short segments into your lessons and marvel as your students get motivated to go away and improve results in their own time.
I have a couple of students who got completely addicted to some of the trainers. They practice more and improve their playing tremendously and fast. Fundamentals does what is says: it lays a strong foundation on several musical layers. A great inspiration!
- Peter Ganz, saxophone teacher from Paderborn, Germany
I finally got our boy students enthusiastic about sight reading. Each week we spend 30 minutes with the reading and writing exercises. Because the explanation and working strategy is explained so clearly, they are concious about the notes and their function. After half a year I could put much more complex material on the repertoire. This system really works!
Deborah Maclaglan, choir conductor from Blackpool, UK
This program saves so much time in my lessons: I hardly have to spend time on explaining the basic musical vocabulary, apart from answering an occasional question. Independently some of my students use the program for working on their timing, their playing by ear, and a few even got into the dictations. I can really use that time because I already have my hands full on learning them how to blow the horn properly.
Patrick Vandenberge, brass teacher from Brussels, Belgium
Fundamentals is a true eye opener for my students. Guitarists usually aren't so keen on sight reading, but since some of them wanted to prepare for a music education they knew they had to get into sheet music. They told me that they never thought it was that simple once you grab the idea. That's the power of this program: it unravels everything to its essence, and then you realize that it's not so hard at all. The guys I mentioned all passed the entrance exam!
Jonathan Carter, guitar teacher from Cardiff, UK
Educational concepts in the software - for teachers | 5:06
Click here to visit the product page and place your order now.
Easy Jazz Guitar Comping in 3 steps
I recently had a conversation with a frustrated guitarist looking for an easy way to learn jazz chords on guitar. He’d tried several books and even some lessons from reputable teachers, but it didn’t help. “To be honest,” he said, “I am totally bewildered and fed up with it.”
“Oh dear,” I said, trying to think of something positive to say.
Let’s face it. Jazz comping is a tough thing to learn. It’s not helped by the fact that many standard texts on the topic are totally bewildering and scant help to newcomers.
So where do you start if you want to learn to play ‘Summertime’ or ‘Autumn Leaves’ on guitar? You don’t need ridiculously long fingers or extraordinary dexterity. You definitely don’t need hundreds of advanced chord shapes – most players rely heavily on the same few shapes.
So this is what I said to the frustrated guitarist: “Your goal is not to learn a million chords, but to know a few voicings, and their inversions, and know how to use them effectively in two or three standard progressions or songs.”*
I went on, “Once you have the voicings and inversions under your fingers, the next step is to introduce a handful of simple jazz rhythms. Again, your aim is not to learn every possible jazz rhythm, but to know a few commonly played patterns and how to vary them.”
I recommended Mike DeLiddo’s new play along Easy Jazz Guitar Voicings and Comping – A Guitarists Primer to Jamey Aebersold’s Play Along Volume 54 ‘Maiden Voyage’ . He bought it, still a little sceptical.
Guess what. A few weeks later the frustrated guitarist called again happy to report that he could now play several standards. He thanked me for the tip off and promptly ordered Mike De Liddo’s sequel book Vol. 54 Maiden Voyage Guitar Voicings.
* In fact, this gem of advice originates from Ted Greene’s Chord Chemistry – one of those classic texts containing thousands of chord shapes you probably won’t need to know.Buy Now
Why ambition is important for musicians
Mark Levine introduces the brilliant Jazz Theory Book with a very simple idea: that ‘ambition’ is the most important quality for becoming a good jazz musician. Not in the sense of wanting to become a star, he adds, but in ‘having the will, desire and stamina to practice’.
A student who is hungry to improve can make remarkable progress. One of the Jazzwise Summer School tutors had a motivating story about this. He described how once a returning student surprised all the tutors by jumping from the beginner group to the most advanced combo.
Of course everyone wanted to know how she did it. She explained, that she left the course with so many things to practise that she knew it would be impossible to digest everything straight away. So she decided to return the following year, and in the meantime selected 12 relevant topics and covered one topic per month.
Her desire to return as a better musician combined with the ability to focus on a few relevant practice areas meant that in just one year she went from the beginner group to improvising alongside musicians that had been studying and performing for years.
How a four year old stole the show
My sister told another great story recently about how Arthur, a 4 year old beginner, made a surprise hit at his first concert at primary school. Many of the performers at the concert were reception class beginners performing simple pieces, such as locating and hitting middle C four times (‘The Bells’). A few performed more complex songs, having benefitted from a year of lessons. They invariably played with fierce concentration, furrowed brows, and tongues protruding from the corner of their mouths.
Towards the end of the show a boy stepped up to the piano and performed a different piece with unusual ease and confidence. He stepped down from the stage to a big round of applause. The head teacher congratulated Arthur saying, “Well done Arthur – I didn’t know you could play the piano”. Arthur’s mum revealed after the concert, “No one was more surprised than me. There’s no piano at home and Arthur hasn’t had a single lesson!”
It seems that Arthur saw all the other children step up to the piano and decided unprompted that he wanted to have a go too. For him that decision, without any instruction, produced one of the most positive audience responses of the concert.
Decide what you want and the rest will follow
This recalls a phrase popular with motivational speakers and life coaches: ‘Decide what you want and the rest will follow’. Deciding for yourself what you want from your music can be the most powerful source of motivation in your practice and playing.
Start by allowing yourself to dream big. Sometimes we look to teachers or parents to tell us what to do, or to grade our ability. Other times we keep a lid on what we’d secretly love to achieve. Instead of actively chasing our own dreams, we compare ourselves negatively to others, and repeat self-limiting beliefs or say “yes, but it’s never going to happen”. We imagine that we are not good enough compared to those with more talent, instruction or experience so therefore we don’t have permission to enjoy making our own music. Tommy Tedesco, one of Hollywood’s busiest session guitarists throughout the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s once described his secret for success as: “Think big, talk small and thank God”.
This chimes with Stephen Covey’s second habit from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:Habit 2 is based on imagination - the ability to envision in your mind what you cannot at present see with your eyes. It is based on the principle that all things are created twice. There is a mental (first) creation, and a physical (second) creation. The physical creation follows the mental, just as a building follows a blueprint. If you don’t make a conscious effort to visualize who you are and what you want in life, then you empower other people and circumstances to shape you and your life by default.
Why children and amateurs are important
Whether today is your first or your 20,000th day as a musician it is equally important that you learn to enjoy making your own music for its own sake. Don’t wait for instructions. In this vein, British composer Vaughan Williams argued passionately about encouraging “humble music makers”, with children and amateurs being the most important. After all, tomorrow’s audiences, music lovers and virtuosi can only grow from today’s children and amateurs.References and Further Reading
The Jazz Theory Book by Mark Levine (Sher Music Co. 1995)
Vaughan Williams on Music by Ralph Vaughan Williams (Oxford University Press, 2008)
Coda – Beneath the Pinnacle in the Musical Pyramid by Mark Small http://www.berklee.edu/bt/143/coda.html
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey (Simon & Schuster 2004)
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I first heard the ‘good musicians borrow, great musician steal’ quote from Corey Christiansen during a master class at the Jazzwise Summer School. Corey was talking about how musicians develop vocabulary by imitation. The first step is to reproduce a phrase from a favourite recording. But don’t stop there; you want to aim for complete ownership. Get that phrase down so well that your version becomes the definitive one.
Think of what Ray Charles did when he recorded ‘Georgia’ compared to Hoagy Carmichael’s original recording. Or look at how Aretha Franklin stole Otis Redding’s 'Respect' and made a number one hit with her version. Jimi Hendrix reinvented Bob Dylan’s ‘All Along Watchtower’ so that even Dylan began playing it Hendrix’s way.
There is a great quote from Clark Terry which is the epigraph of Hal Crook’s How To Improvise: ‘Imitate, assimilate, innovate’. Too often we begin the imitation stage but lose interest before we complete the process of assimilation. But the real creativity comes once you take ownership of your material. Only then can you recast it in a different setting where it can have enough resonance to eclipse the original source.
Take ownership in three easy steps
Step 1: Map it out
Before you start working on specific vocabulary, choose a particular song form to focus on e.g. a standard song, a blues, or minor blues. Having chosen your form, you need to break it up into manageable chunks. Start by writing the chords out in a grid, 4 bars to a line as (as Lionel Grigson and Conrad Cork recommend). If you don’t have the chords already, use a computer program like Transcribe! to figure them out. Or search for a fakebook or play along which has the chord changes for your song.
Once you have the chord progression written out in a grid you can add to your roadmap by writing roman numerals over the chord to identify the harmonic building blocks of each 2 or 4 bar section (see Hearin' The Changes and Insights In Jazz for example roadmaps). Most standard songs are built using three types of short or long phrases:minor, dominant or major chord vamps (1 to 4 bars)
major or minor II-V vamps (1 or 2 bars)
major or minor II-V-I (2 or 4 bars)
Step 2: Steal away
This is the fun part: gather as many recordings of your chosen song form as possible by your favourite artists and keep listening until you find the phrases you want to steal. Do this outside the practice room, anytime you get a moment to listen to music. Be selective. Go through your song roadmap phrase by phrase, until you identify at least one phrase to learn for each section of the song. Also consult transcribed solos and books of jazz patterns and licks for inspiration. Only work on phrases you want to keep.
Step 3: Do the Frankenstein
Now for the spadework. Use Transcribe! to learn your phrases until you can reel them out on cue in a few different keys. Then test yourself with a play along recording. If your phrase occurs in bars 5 to 6, play nothing before and after your phrase. See if you can come in on cue in the right place. Repeat this several choruses in a row as the play along repeats. Resting is as important as playing. While you wait, aim to deliver each phrase with all the confidence and apparent spontaneity of a stand up comedian answering a heckler. It may be a stock phrase, but confidence, timing and delivery is everything.
Consider starting from the end of your roadmap and work back non-sequentially over 2 choruses, leaving 4 bar gaps. This will give you opportunity to cover the whole song form but also rest and listen to the context before you play each phrase. Eventually, you end up with a ‘Frankenstein’ solo made up from stitching together your favourite phrases.
Now you are ready to think about the ‘innovate’ part of the process. It’s time to play with your phrases, apply them to new situations, and use them as a springboard for developing your own melodic lines.
This method for learning vocabulary is based on Corey Christiansen’s approach developed in the Essential Jazz Lines series. Each book includes transcribed phrases grouped by type plus excellent play along tracks to help you learn them using the above method.
More tips for imitating
Have fun when you are imitating. Be irreverent and don't be afraid to play around with it. Think of a young child imitating a parent or teacher. They don't worry if it will be good enough. They cheekily copy what they hear. They do this instinctively without hesitation. They also play around with it - both exaggerating and distorting impressions, and deviating from the original catchphrase.
Tips for assimilating
Eventually you need to know your material by ear independent of key. So it's also helpful to know what chord tones the phrase start and end on, as well as the harmonic context (eg short II-V). Try clapping and singing material before learning it on your instrument. You might try playing it on a different instrument. Once you start to absorb it, test yourself by choosing a recording at random and seeing if you can use any of your new phrases by ear. There is a sliding scale for nailing new material based on how many people are listening. You might play it great in your own room with no one listening. But can you play it just as well for a teacher, examiner, audition, small audience, large audience, recording session, live radio or tv broadcast?
Of course there are caveats with this copycat approach. Above all, keep your wider goals in mind and remember that this is an exercise for the practice room not the stage. Imitating and stealing is a means to an end. Use it to open your ears, increase your vocabulary, and find your own voice.
No one is really interested in a straight copy, however convincing. So learning to express yourself authentically, and finding something new to say is ultimately more important than perfecting the art of imitation. The point of stealing material is to make it better. Put it in a new context and use it express your own individual aesthetic. As T.S. Eliot once wrote:One of the surest tests [of the superiority or inferiority of a poet] is the way in which a poet borrows. Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different than that from which it is torn; the bad poet throws it into something which has no cohesion. A good poet will usually borrow from authors remote in time, or alien in language, or diverse in interest.
T.S. Eliot, 'Philip Massinger' The Sacred Wood, (New York: Bartleby.com, 2000)Thanks to Nancy Prager for this quote and for researching this source of the 'great poets steal' quote.Buy NowWe Also Recommend
The KISS principle (Keep It Simple Stupid) is well known among engineers and software developers. It strikes a chord because there is a natural human tendency to overcomplicate, even when the most effective or aesthetically pleasing solution is more straightforward.Making the simple complicated is commonplace. Making the complicated awesomely simple, that’s creativity - Charles Mingus
The same theme crops up again and again in music. Beginner musicians are often in a hurry to tackle flashy techniques. But advanced musicians understand the importance of nailing the fundamentals. Their total command of the basics is what makes them sound so impressive. As Leonardo da Vinci put it, ‘simplicity is the ultimate sophistication’.
Most great jazz solos are built with surprisingly simple vocabulary. Listen to John Coltrane’s solo in ‘Giant Steps’ and you’ll hear that much of this famously complex solo consists of repeating a very simple 1-2-3-5 pattern. Analyse the note choices in other famous solos and you’ll find that most of the content is based around guide tones (thirds and sevenths) and common chord tones (1, 3, 5, 7, 9).
What will make most difference to your playing? Beginners may spend hours trying to shoehorn advanced concepts into their solos. More experienced players will focus on the fundamentals. They work on guide tones, chord tones, and a small portion of simple vocabulary. They focus on assimilating and owning this material. Once you’ve achieved this you are well placed to expand and embellish it.
10 tactics for keeping it simple
For practice to work you need to keep it fun and rewarding. Please, don’t punish yourself, and avoid injury! Set the bar at a sensible level so you can enjoy the satisfaction of clearing your goal in the foreseeable future. Learning to solo 12 choruses circular breathing at 320bpm is not a smart goal for beginner or intermediate players. So start where you are now. Break any complex or longterm goals down into smaller, manageable chunks that you can tackle right now, within your current range of ability.
1. Long Tones
Playing long tones is simple enough. The hard part is trying to stay awake. Keep boredom at bay by playing guide tones (3rds and 7ths) around the cycle of fourths. Jamey Aebersold play alongs vol. 24 Major and Minor and vol. 84 Dominant Seventh Workout contain useful play along tracks to help you practise this. Next try the same exercise over standard chord progressions (eg Autumn Leaves, All The Things You Are) starting on different chord tones (1, 3, 5, 7, 9). Finally, try gradually interrupting the long tones with very simple jazz rhythms such as the Charleston.
2. One Step At A Time
Compulsive multi tasking is on the increase. Don’t let it take over your practice. If you feel overwhelmed by the impossibility of learning a gazillion things at the same time, try a ‘one step at a time’ approach as Hal Crook recommends in How To Improvise. For the next year, think small and choose just one focus each month for in depth study. This could be a chord tone (the 9th), an interval (eg 3 to b9), a jazz rhythm (the Charleston), a pattern or lick (Cry Me A River lick), triads, a chord type (min7b5), a mode or scale (locrian), or eventually an entire song.
3. Love Your Sound
It’s easy to forget that sound is the first thing to impress an audience: not technique, speed, or note choice. A great sound turns heads every time. So focus on this as you practise. If you don’t identify and love your sound, how will your audience? Get your sound clear inside your head first. Start by imagining who you would like to sound like. Choose 5 recordings as reference tracks for your ideal sound, isolate the easy bits then copy the sounds in your practice. Record yourself and compare results to your reference tracks.
4. Get good time with simple jazz rhythms
After sound, developing ‘good time’ is the next big thing to practice. We instinctively respond to rhythm before harmony or note choice. Everybody loves performers who swing hard with total rhythmic confidence. Mastering a strong swing feel, together with two or three basic jazz rhythms such as the Charleston will pay immediate dividends.
5. Resist the Cult of Speed
Practise slow. Speed comes from accuracy. Never underestimate how slow you need to practise something new in order to get it right. Once you play it perfect at slow tempos, speed can follow all by itself. Do not reinforce errors by playing faster than you are able. Start by practising the elements of a difficult phrase out of tempo, with no set pulse. When you are ready, practice the phrase with a slow metronome beat and focus on perfecting the sound, rhythm, phrasing and articulation. Finally, keep the tempo slow and work on technique and economy of movement – reduce tension, apply minimum pressure, move fingers minimal distance.
6. Learn a small amount of vocabulary
Mastering a handful of jazz vocabulary is one of the simplest ways to get soloing. This is the way most players get started. You only need a few phrases, but you have to be in complete command of your material. You need to totally own it, independent of key, and know its context in relation to the background harmony, so that it just bursts out of you whenever you hear that harmonic situation. Owning 10 phrases completely is much more useful than reading through 100 licks. Jerry Coker's Elements of the Jazz Language is a great place to start.
7. Embellish triads with basic jazz soloing techniques
Once you own a small amount of vocabulary, it's time to work on assimilating it, embellishing it and using it to develop your own lines. Start by analysing where the triads and chord tones are in relation to your favourite phrases, then experiment with basic jazz soloing techniques to create pick ups, chromatic approach tones, enclosure, targeting etc. Use these techniques to embellish chord tones for a few bars to introduce and anticipate your lick. Leave plenty of space, use sequence and repetition, or question and answer to set up your lick. Guitarists should check out Corey Christiansen's Jazz Soloing Basics DVD.
8. Master the Blues Scales
Thousands of great musicians have made successful careers out of playing the blues scale. It is simple to pick up, extremely versatile and fun to play. In addition to learning the minor blues scale, also work on the relative major blues scale (C, D, Eb, E, G, A). Dan Greenblatt's The Blues Scales shows you how to use both major and minor blues scales to create meaningful solos with transcribed examples from famous recordings.
9. Learn One Octave Scales
We often practice two or three octave scales for music grade exams. But you rarely need a two octave scale to improvise. So work with smaller units, and focus on locating the chord tones. Instead of two octave scales, try playing a one octave scale round the circle of fourths, or a 1-2-3-5 pattern. Then try a short pattern from that scale that doesn’t start on the root.
10. Bebop Scales
Once you know your major, minor and blues scales, the bebop scales are the magic ingredient that will transform your solos into really convincing, good sounding jazz solos. David Baker first identified the bebop scales in response to the chromatic notes and passing tones played in bebop solos. Although not beginner material, bebop scales are relatively simple to grasp (no advanced theory required) as each scale is built by adding an extra chromatic passing tone to the major, dominant and dorian scales. The classic text to get on bebop scales is David Baker's How To Play Bebop 1.
Ask any musician about practice and they will almost certainly say they wish they had more time. Charlie Parker is reported to have practised up to 15 hours a day and Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-Hour Rule is often quoted as a practice milestone for high achievers. But throughout most of our lives practice opportunities are limited.A lot of the time musicians are just too busy for long practice sessions. We work day jobs, have family and social commitments, rehearse or gig evenings and weekends, or fill every available slot time with teaching, touring, writing, session or studio work. Even when you do get time for longer practice sessions, it can be hard to stay focused on achieving goals.
The trick is not to let yourself feel defeated by the amount of time you are not practising, and instead focus energy on what you can do to get everything you can out of the time you have. If 15 minutes three times a week is what you can commit right now, then accept that this is better than nothing and plan to use it wisely!
How to make your practice more effective
So what can you do to get more from your practice? There are several practical strategies to maximise your practice without needing to spend 9 hours in an isolation booth with Slonimsky’s Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns. The most important strategies are:
1. Set some achievable goals
• Motivation is essential for maintaining effective practice. Setting some achievable goals in the short or medium term is a great way to boost your motivation.
• Spend some time developing SMART goals for your music and use these to inform and structure your practice sessions
• Get yourself a practice notebook and write your practice goals down. You are much more likely to achieve your goals just by writing them down, and our own experience suggests that you often end up achieving 80% of the goals you bother to write down.
2. Learn how to plan your perfect practice session
Corey Christiansen advocates imagining a burger or club sandwich approach to give your sessions a symmetrical structure. For a one hour session you could try something like this for example:
Warm Up 10 mins finger stretches; relax, check posture, breathing; long tones Old Material 10 mins an etude, or chord/scale exercise New Material 40 mins new vocabulary, new melodies, new chord progressions Old Material 10 mins favourite songs and licks, playing freely with play alongs Warm Down 10 mins some slow exercises or patterns
Warming up and warming down is important to keep your playing relaxed. It is an opportunity to get in the zone or enjoy listening to your sound. Don't practise tense, or with muscles or teeth clenched. Remember practice is there to prepare you for performance, so don't practice stressed and keep smiling!
Old Material is important for two reasons. First, it boosts your confidence and reminds you what you can do on your instrument; and what you have achieved from practice in the past. Second, it also helps you to remember the things you've worked on the past (otherwise what's the point in learning it in the first place)
New Material is the meat of your session. Remember that by definition new material is the toughest part of any session, because this is the stuff you don't know yet or can't quite do yet. Stay positive and take it slowly, working note by note without keeping time if necessary until you get it right. Rember that speed comes from accuracy so focus on accuracy first and speed will follow all by itself.
3. Practise away from your instrument
You can achieve a surprising amount away from your instrument. This includes reading text books, planning practice sessions, and ear training. Perhaps most important of all though is spending time visualsing. Many virtuoso players from John Coltrane to Nigel Hitchcock have stressed the importance of visualising your music - this includes imagining your sound and imagining actually playing over sequences.
4. Steal time
It's surprising how the minutes can add up if you are able to steal odd bits of downtime and use them to practice. Think of practising a new lick every time you waited for the kettle to boil. Try keeping your instrument out of its case on a stand next to your computer, or on the kitchen wall and count how many extra hours of practice you inadvertently clock up each week.
5. Practice smarter - kill several birds with one stone
If you are short on time you need to make sure all your exercises relate to actual music you want to play and the goals you want to acheive. Practice scales, arpeggios and licks for the songs and chord progressions you want to perform.
6. What's the problem?
You can't fix everything at once. So many educators advocate a 'one step at a time' approach. Identify your biggest problem, then focus any spare moments of practice time on fixing that one thing. Alternatively, if you have time for a regular routine, you may want to develop a specific practice routine aimed at nailing the solution to your problem, and stay focussed on nailing one issue per month.
I don't know what to practice - where do I start?
Nowadays we are very fortunate to have a huge range of tried and tested learning materials written specifically for practising jazz musicans. You should consult a selection of these to help you plan and and develop a practice routine that meets your goals.
Theory & Preparation
First, get a respected theory book such as Mark Levine’s The Jazz Theory Book for an overview of all the topics. Read this outside the practice room to help you set goals and plan your sessions. See for example: Chapter 4 ‘How To Practice Scales’, Chapter 12 ‘Practice, Practice, Practice’, and Part IV which covers song form and memorising tunes.
For more detailed guidance on what you need to work on in order to be able to improvise in a musical way get Practise Right Bundle and How To Improvise by Hal Crook.
Instrument Tutors & Method Books
Get at least one instrument tutor so you can work on material and techniques specific to your instrument. For example, for saxophone see Taming The Saxophone by Pete Thomas; for piano Jazz Keyboard Harmony by Phil DeGreg; or for guitar Three-note Voicings and Beyond by Randy Vincent.
You’ll want to devote time working on songs within your practice, so choose a reliable source of commonly played jazz melodies and chord progressions such as Jamey Aebersold vol. 54: Maiden Voyage or a fakebook such as The Standards Real Book.
These are studies that are written as stand alone pieces for their educational value that are also fun to play. They are excellent warm-ups or warm-downs and you may keep playing some favourite etudes for decades. Greg Fishman, Bob Mintzer, and Lennie Niehaus have written popular etude books for saxophone. For guitar, try Barry Galbraith’s two volumes of Guitar Solos and Ike Isaacs More Moods.
Vocabulary, Patterns & Licks
Learning to improvise is just like learning a language. Spend time assimilating and ‘owning’ new vocabulary each time you practise. In addition to all the artist and instrument specific books of licks and patterns, there are also key pattern books by Oliver Nelson, David Baker and Jerry Coker, among others.
Other topics to consider
There are many fundamental topics that every musican chooses to work on in their practice at one time or another. These include: Ear Training; Long Notes; Sound; Rhythm; Melodies; Scales and Arpeggios; Vocabulary, Patterns and Licks; Etudes; Songs.
Buy NowInstrument TutorsJazz PatternsSaxophone EtudesGuitar Etudes