Duets Part 2

Welcome! I truly hope this post adds value and benefit to you and your students. Take a look around the tabs above, previous posts and my Digital Store where you can find more information on two books that I have released (Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose and Breaking the Monotony).

We are continuing our discussion of Duets and how they can help your  improvisations. Last week we looked at the benefits of playing duets with another person without any accompaniment or written music (after deciding the chord progression, of course). In Part 2 we will look at the benefits of playing duets with written charts.

Part 2:

Playing duets with sheet music in front of you adds another layer of positive development to your overall playing. You may be wondering, “wait a second, Jason. How is playing written duets going to help my personal improvisation goals?” That’s a great question! As jazz musicians we grab ideas (melodic statements, motifs, licks, etc) and allow them to eventually show up in our improvisation. We grab those ideas from multiple sources: recordings, live concerts, jam sessions, patterns, books, etc. Written music (for example a book of duets) should not be discounted.

Playing written duets has similar benefits of improvised duets (without accompaniment), but does have some additional ones:

  • Timing and Phrasing. Even though you are reading music, the two of you rely on your collective time. This is a benefit of any type of duet playing (classical, jazz, etc).
  • Sight-Reading. Performing music in time is necessary for a wide range of musicians. If you have a desire to be a professional musician then this is an absolutely necessary skill.
  • Non-Verbal Cues. Playing with someone else requires you to pay attention to what they’re doing. Are they wanting to slow down? Speed up? Swing harder on a particular section? Play more legato on a particular section? Pay attention to what your partner is doing with their body and you can communicate musical ideas without saying anything. This is an imperative skill to have on any bandstand.
  • New Ideas. If you read something you like…remember it, keep and develop it!
  • Intonation. This is more for wind players. Tuning to a single pitch does not mean you are in tune as an ensemble. Adjustments need to be made depending on a note’s context in time. Another important skill to have when playing in any type of ensemble.

There are a few good jazz duet books written that are available. However, in my opinion,  The Ultimate Collection of Jazz Duets Complete by Rich Willey is one of the best out there. If you and a friend (or your students) need a good jazz duet book-this is it. They start fairly easy and get progressively more difficult so they’re perfect for any musician at any stage in their development.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this tip and that it has added value and benefit to you in some way. Go out this week and play some duets!

Duets Part 1

If this is your first time visiting this site-welcome! I truly hope this post adds value and benefit to you and your students. Take a look around the tabs above, previous posts and my Digital Store where you can find more information on two books that I have released (Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose and Breaking the Monotony).

In this post we are going to start discussing Duets and how they can help your  improvisations. Each  part will look at different ways you can do duets and their benefits. The word duet means a performance by two people. Creativity is increased when you combine more then one source. When playing with another person-you bounce creative ideas off of each other.

Part 1:

All too often in today’s world of technology-students spend too much time practicing with pre-recorded or digital accompaniments. There’s nothing wrong with using them. However, too much practice with just those sources can cause you to interact selfishly when you do play with other human beings. I talk about this in Independence In Improvisation (a previous post on this site and in my book, Breaking the Monotony). We can use this same idea and apply it to playing duets.

Find a friend and pick a chord progression. Decide the tempo and start improvising without any accompaniment. Don’t use any reference (i.e. the changes written out in front of you). You will probably play over top of each other at first. Keep at it and strive to play ideas off of one another. Benefits of doing this exercise together:

  • A deeper understanding of the chord progression. You have to really know the changes if you’re improvising while listening to your partners ideas, responding and making new ones over top of the progression.
  • Timing and Phrasing. When you play without an accompaniment you don’t have a rhythm section “feeding” you the time. The two of you rely on your collective time. Your phrasing is also helped because you have to consider what the other player is playing and react to it.
  • You tap into a deeper level of listening. The focus isn’t on you and how hip you’re going to make this solo. It’s about working together to create something hip as a team.
  • You gain new ideas. This is a fun way to get fresh ideas because you’re tapping into someone else’s resource of creativity that you can use. If you notice something you like…remember it and keep it!
  • Community. Playing with others creates an undefinable bond that is becoming endangered in our ever increasing technology.

This week get together with someone and play some duets. Try doing some without any accompaniment or rhythm section and have fun playing!

Improv Tip Week # 52-Your Etudes

This week I wanted to talk about the benefits of creating your own Etudes. When we improvise, we’re creating something in the moment. We have an idea in our mind’s eye about what we’d like to do and the options we can go from a certain point. I also advise that we have targets we aim at with purpose. Those targets help us get to our destination and help create a more meaningful conversation with the audience and the musicians we’re sharing the stage. Etudes, though, are pre-planned solos to be used as a technical exercise that are disposable.

Wait, did you just say disposable?

Yeah. They’re meant to have a short shelf-life. You play it (work out the technical passages), analyze it (why did it work), and move on to another.

When you are working on a new tune it can be beneficial to write your own etudes because they help solidify and develop your understanding of the song.

Writing an etude is essentially composing your own solo. Write some ideas out and edit as needed. Play through a line or two and ask yourself some critical questions:

1. Does the line (or series of lines) sound good? If not, re-write them until they do.
2. Do the lines have rhythmic interest? If not, re-write it and make it more interesting. Jazz rhythm is syncopated, so find opportunities to add more syncopation to your line(s).
3. Is there anything that could be added or taken away to make it sound better? If so, make the changes.

The beauty of composing your own etude is you can fix mistakes and do an unlimited number of re-writes until it sounds good. This process helps your subconcious understand why some lines sound better then others and you will find they creep into your playing later. Practice your etude with no accompaniment at first and then add them later. And remember, etudes are technical exercises so don’t feel like you can’t change them (unless you like them as is).

Don’t feel like writing one today, but want to check one out anyway? Click the image below for a FREE etude from my book, Breaking the Monotony. It’s based off of the changes to Have You Met Miss Jones.

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