The End Is Here

The end is here

End-Note Targets

I wanted to share a simple tip that has been helping my students. I’ve talked about targeting concepts for a long time, but we can view them in a number of different ways. For example, we can target the guide tones (3rds/7ths of chords) as we move from bar to bar or even do harmonic targeting where we aim for key area changes.

Targeting as Punctuation

Today’s tip is to look at targeting as a form of punctuation. By having an end-note in mind we force ourselves to not wander aimlessly in the moment.

If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.”

-Zig Ziglar

This is definitely a challenge (especially for beginners), because we spend so much time worrying about how do I start something as opposed to how do I finish? I have found for most, this is not intuitive and it has to practiced. But, I have found that it has yielded some great results for my own playing as well as some of my students.

The concept is simple. Pick an end-note somewhere in the progression and choose to make that your punctuation. The creative part is what you can do with it on the left-side of the target. Here’s an example:

I decided to pick the 5th of the CMaj7 as my end-note (target) in this ii-V-I example. The goal is to use it as a type of punctuation. I can change the note value or even where it’s placed within the bar, but I need to have some sort of stopping point (punctuation) to try and resist the urge to keep adding on. This where most people tend to wander in their improvisation. We want to keep adding and keep building to the same line without stopping and let it have its own sentence structure.

Here is an option of what I might do with the above (the possibilities are close to endless). The creative part is that we can do almost anything to the left of the target and it will work because we picked a strong end-note. The ear hears the tension on the left and the resolution of the target. If you want some other ideas about what you can do for the left side, check out my book Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose in my store.

I would love to hear your thoughts! Have you used this thought-process before (end-note targets to make a punctuation)? Share the line you’d play if you made the G your end-note target…

I hope this simple tip has added some value and benefit to your playing in some way!

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Why Your Improvisation Never Works Out the Way You Plan

You’ve been there at some point. We all have. Whether you plan something really far in advance (maybe in your younger/development stages) or on the bandstand in the heat of the moment; we’ve all been there.

So why does your improvisation never (or at least many times) work out the way you plan? Because the nature of improvisation is creation in the moment. Music is fickle. If you try to force something out it does not come out the way you wanted it. I like one of the definitions of improvisation found on Wikipedia that doesn’t get talked about much in musical circles: “adapting a device for some use other than that which it was designed for.” Think about that in a musical context. That idea you worked on in the woodshed…adapt it for something else you weren’t planning. For many musicians that is a scary thought. We like to plan and prepare because we don’t like making mistakes or the fear of failure. But, I believe some of the greatest improvisers do this. At some point they let go and adapt.

How does this look for us? Well, I suggest you still plan and prepare.

“Wait, didn’t you just say that never works?”

Yes, but in the application. That’s where it matters most. You still need to make time to plan what you need to work on (maybe you still struggle with chromatic targeting, the blues, or minor lines) and prepare by practicing what you are not good at yet. Then take those plans and be prepared to adapt them. Have command over your ideas so you can place them anywhere. Do this and you are well on the path of becoming a great improviser!

(If you need some help with those plans be sure to browse around my site or check out my books HERE)

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog/post. As a thank you I wanted to give you a FREE MP3 from the JKQ. Simply click the button below and fill out the short form and you’ll have it in just a few short moments!

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How To Practice Licks That Don’t Sound Like Licks: Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, we examined three strategies to spice up your practice sessions: 1) octave displacement, 2) rhythmic variation, and 3) sidestepping.

I’d like to suggest two more ideas: 1) playing your licks backwards and 2) utilizing inversions. We’ll use the lick from Part 1 and the previous variations discussed for both techniques.

By practicing these exercises in all 12 keys, you’ll be well on your way to expanding your harmonic and rhythmic vocabulary as an improviser.

Playing Licks Backwards

No explanation needed here. Just take your licks and play ’em backwards. It’s almost like Pig Latin, but it sounds cooler. Here’s what the four variations look like from Part 1 played backwards:

 

Inversions

An inversion involves choosing a pitch axis. From the pitch axis, where the original lick went up or down one or more intervals, you will do the exact opposite. If you’re playing a wind instrument, it’s usually safe to say you’ll need to start an octave or two up from your original lick to make this work. Also, be advised that playing the inversion of a lick that utilizes sidestepping will end up sounding more “out” than “in” harmonically.

Using the original lick and variations from Part 1, here is what all of the inversions would look like with C as the pitch axis:

 

I hope you have enjoyed this series. Be creative with your practicing and don’t be afraid to create your own musical vocabulary! For more practice ideas, continue to follow Jason’s blog, and feel free to check out thejazzdaddy.com as well!

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog/post. As a thank you I wanted to give you a FREE MP3 from the JKQ. Simply click the button below and fill out the short form and you’ll have it in just a few short moments!

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Leaving On A High Note

It’s interesting how you can get inspiration and ideas from the strangest/oddest places. The other day I was watching a re-run of an episode of Seinfeld called The Burning. One of the plots in this particular episode is of George Costanza finding the comedic power of leaving on a high note. He would be in a social situation where he would make someone laugh and in an attempt to keep the momentum going he would spout out another joke. Unfortunately, that joke would not be as funny as his first. That inevitably caused an awkward moment. So, George decides he needs to leave on a high note. As you can probably guess (if you’re not already familiar with the episode), it works wonders for him.

As I was sitting watching that episode it reminded me of a few Jazz jam sessions (and live performances) I have attended or been a part of. I lost track of how many times I’ve seen that same correlation with musicians. You hear a great improvised solo start out and then after a little while you think, “that probably could have ended a chorus or two ago.” I will admit it. I’ve been that person a time or two as well. There’s something inside of us as human beings that we want to keep the momentum going. We want to one-up ourselves or make the next “thing” better than the first. But, it leaves the audience with a less than desirable taste in their mouths. Instead, they leave thinking it was just ok.

Let’s take a cue from George Costanza. As we improvise on the bandstand-why not aim to try to leave on a high note? Obviously, we don’t want to swing the pendulum from one end to the other. It’s probably not wise to play a solo with one idea and take your bow. But, there’s nothing wrong with playing one or two GOOD choruses and leave it at that. Especially at a jam session! There’s nothing wrong with saying it like George: “Alright! That’s it for me!”

Below is a quick clip I found to show you part of the episode.

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How to Practice Licks That Don’t Sound Like Licks

It is my honor to introduce all of you to our guest contributor for our latest post, Mr. Justin Scoville. Justin and I first met at the University of Denver in 2004. Justin, in addition to being a fine jazz trumpeter, has recently started his own blog at The Jazz Daddy (which I highly recommend you check out). He comes from a rich heritage of Denver-based jazz instruction at CCJA, studied at the University of Denver and holds lucrative liberal arts degrees from BYU and the University of Colorado Denver. And (like many musicians these days) balances a family, day job, blogging, playing jazz, etc. 

Thanks to Jason for letting me pop in for a guest post!

The precocious and tragically short-lived trumpeter Booker Little recalled some sage advice he received from Sonny Rollins while rooming with the venerable tenor saxophonist in 1954:  “Sonny was a big help. For one thing, he cautioned me about becoming overly influenced by other players. ‘You’ve got to be you,’ he told me, ‘whether that’s good or bad.’” At the time, Little was heavily influenced by Clifford Brown. After taking Sonny’s challenge to heart, Booker went on to be one of the most unique jazz soloists during the late 50’s and early 60’s before his premature death.

Part of Little’s singular approach to improvisation was utilizing quarter tones and employing harmonic dissonance (influenced by his understanding of classical music) over traditional bebop harmonies. For an example of this, check out Booker’s solo at 4:30 on “Things Ain’t What They Used To Be”:

I believe Booker is a great example for us all. He spent the time to emulate the great masters that had laid the foundation of jazz, but then infused his own musical interests into what was (at the time) common jazz vocabulary.

Booker wasn’t the first or last to do this. Charlie Parker copied Lester Young, Clifford Brown copied Fats Navarro, and so on. The question is, what are you going to do with all of the cool licks you’ve learned?

Today I’m going to share three simple techniques that will help you go beyond rote imitation and start discovering your own sound. These three techniques are 1) octave displacement2) rhythmic variation, and 3) sidestepping. 

Let’s take a lick that is fairly common in jazz, like this one:

To add a little variety and challenge to my practice session, I’ll arbitrarily decide to raise or lower certain notes by an octave, paying homage to Eric Dolphy. Here’s an example:

Next, I’ll add some rhythmic variation. Throw in some quarter note triplets, triplets, and quintuplets, and voila! You sound pretty different from all of your lick-playing buddies:

Finally, some sidestepping adds a final dash of harmonic ambiguity. Here, I raised or lowered certain notes to hint at F7 Altered Dominant. Or something like that.

Well, those are some techniques I use to spice up my licks. What have you all tried? Share your comments below.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog/post. As a thank you I wanted to give you a FREE MP3 from the JKQ. Simply click the button below and fill out the short form and you’ll have it in just a few short moments!

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Pacing Exercises

 

It has probably happened to you once or twice unless you are just starting out on your improvisation journey. That moment on the bandstand or in rehearsal and you know that you are over playing. I think it happens to a lot of people (if not all) at some point or another. This week I am going to give a few tips and exercises that are  short, simple and you can use right away to help your pacing. I would suggest practicing these first before attempting to use on a gig unless you are positive you can do them in real time.

  1. Play your initial line and then sing back the same line in your head before proceeding to play the next. This can help balance the playing/resting ratio. You will notice that depending on the line you could be starting your next phrase in a place you are not accustomed to which can create some interesting results.
  2. Play your initial line and count down from 5. This is similar to #1 that you are creating the space, but now you have 5 beats to make your next statement. Again, this can create some interesting moments because of where it forces you to start your next phrase.
  3. Play your initial line and count down from 5, then 4, then 3 and so on. This takes exercise #2 and decreases the resting space. After you pass 1 beat between phrases you can start the process over.

Try these out this week during your practice sessions and see what they do for your pacing and phrasing. I hope this has added some value and benefit to your playing in some way!

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog/post. As a thank you I wanted to give you a FREE MP3 from the JKQ. Simply click the button below and fill out the short form and you’ll have it in just a few short moments!

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Fun Challenges

 

For some of you this may not be an issue, but for others it is something you run into often enough to be frustrating. Have you ever taken a step back and looked at your abilities in improvisation and think, “what should I work on next?” I am not talking about the egotistical thought of I’ve made it, but rather one where you have felt you have hit the wall on progress. You know there is more to learn, more to absorb, more to hear, etc. But yet you do not want to keep working on the same things over and over.

While I do not believe this post alone is the answer; I do believe that this is something that can spark some creativity to help get you out of that rut. In 2013 the Jason Klobnak Quintet went on a short Midwest, US tour after our Mountain, Move CD Release. Those that have ever done tours of any length know that when you play the same music over and over (no matter if you feel the music is great or not) it can get stale pretty quick. One of the ways we kept our concerts fun and engaging with not only the audience, but ourselves as well was to create some simple yet fun challenges with each other. For us, one of those challenges was to find creative ways to input The Lick into our solos throughout the night. If you are not sure what The Lick is; I have a Youtube video someone made of it a while back that made the rounds on social media sites. I also made a quick graphic to show you what it looks like in the key of E minor below.

Why E minor? If you go to the Facebook page called Jam of the Week started by trumpeter Farnell Newton he has a weekly challenge where musicians from all over the world play an a capella solo to a blues/standard. One of the weeks was on the standard All the Things You Are by Jerome Kern. In the video posting I made I played The Lick over the 7th & 8th bar of the form in E minor (the chord is Cmaj7) which gives it a Lydian sound.

So what fun challenge can you create for yourself? Maybe find creative ways to play Happy Birthday or some other simple melodic fragments and work them into your improvisations. If you play in a group, see how many times you can play that melodic fragment without the other noticing. Or come join the Jam of the Week group and take part of the weekly challenges. We enjoy playing our instruments and making music. If you are losing some of that enjoyment…make it fun again!

The Lick Video

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Thank you for taking the time to read this blog/post. As a thank you I wanted to give you a FREE MP3 from the JKQ. Simply click the button below and fill out the short form and you’ll have it in just a few short moments!

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Thankful

 

In the United States this week many people celebrate the holiday of Thanksgiving. Without getting into the holiday’s history I wanted to take a look at the theme of being thankful and how it helps us as musicians. A lot can be said about our attitudes and how we act around others and react to situations. I have found that as a music community at large we take for granted the opportunities we have available to us. We can gripe and complain about pay and the amount of work that is out there, but when it comes down to it we should be thankful for the opportunities we do have.

I try hard each time I am given an opportunity to perform for a paying audience or client that I am grateful for that opportunity. We all have those gigs where it can be tempting to look at our watch (or in today’s times our cell phones) and continuously glance at the door thinking, “oh man…I can’t wait to get out of here.” But, I believe if we foster an attitude of thanksgiving and gratitude that it shows in our body language, our words and ultimately through our performance. You never know where your next gig or client is going to come from. If people (including musicians) see your positive attitude you become a more likely candidate for getting call-backs and future work.

What about you? Ask yourself if you are thankful to be a working musician. You could be doing a number of other things, but you were given a gift of music that not everyone has the honor of cultivating. I am asking myself this question this week as well. My answer is a resounding YES. I LOVE BEING A MUSICIAN.

For those that celebrate it: Happy Thanksgiving!

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