Genius Jamtracks Review

Genius Jamtracks Review

Genius Jamtracks Review

I am incredibly honored and excited to share a relatively new app that I believe will absolutely help you with your improvisations. I was recently approached by the creators of this app, Dimitris Neonakis and Antonis Tsikandilakis to check out their new app which is the first polyrhythmic play-along. Many of you know that with my students I already highly recommend using iReal, Drumgenius, and other apps for practice. When they mentioned the word polyrhythm I was instantly intrigued. While I play some piano (not at all to the degree to be taking Jazz gigs); I am mainly a trumpet player. Getting together with a rhythm section to work out ideas over shifting rhythms isn’t something I get to do on a regular basis. To be honest, this is one of the areas that I probably lack the most and spend time working on alone. However, this app allows you to work that out whenever you want.

The below is from the Genius Jamtracks:

“Polyrhythms, long part of the jazz vocabulary, were consolidated and brought to a whole new level in the early 60s by the masters of that era and are a core element of contemporary jazz improvisation and composition. Genius Jamtracks is the first polyrhythmic play-along. This interactive and great sounding app offers an easy way to get you from basic four bar chord progressions to the most advanced of Jazz songs.

Genius Jamtracks lets you:

1) Edit each instrument by clicking on it. You can have the bass play quarter note triplets
while the drums play in double time and the piano 4 over 3, or any other polyrhythm you might encounter in this genre
2) Add as many choruses as you want to the song and treat each one individually
3) Treat each section of the song separately: e.g. if the song form is AABA you can choose different events for each of the 4 sections
4) View chord charts and the selected polyrhythms map (for all instruments and sections of the song) at the same time
5) Transpose any track to any key / Adjust the tempo to fit your practice needs / Mix to your liking or mute any of the instruments
6) Randomize your selections either for one section or the whole arrangement and work on your interaction skills
7) Follow through the changes in polyrhythms using the map showing under the chord chart
8) Turn the metronome on/off, from the quick access button, when in need of a checkpoint”

I have had the opportunity to use this app over the past couple of days and I am genuinely impressed and find it incredibly useful. The sounds are as realistic, rhythms are on point (from the default core groove to the 8 different metric modulations and polyrhythms contained in the app), and the various exercises and standards are a great tool to work out these ideas. Because the app is still in its early stages (December 2016) there are only a few limitations like a smaller library of standards and not being able to input your own charts (similar to iReal). However, I’m sure as time marches on some of those capabilities might be added. It is still VERY much worth the $7.99 asking price.

I am going to continue working with this app to help solidify my own internal metric modulations. One exercise I have already started using is taking my Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose book and using the Altered Dominant/Diminished targeting exercise over All the Things You Are with the “3 quarter note pattern.” It’s challenging and fun!

To check out more of the app (including a Youtube video review below by the incredible Jazz pianist, Jean-Michel Pilc) you can go to their Facebook page HERE.

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If you were like me and thought, “I don’t need to see any more, send me to the download page!” You can click on the image below. If you would like to try the exercise I listed above, be sure to grab my book by clicking on the other link. I hope you enjoy this app as much as I am!Cover PNG

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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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Improv for Beginners part 2

 

Welcome to part 2 of starting beginner’s on their improvisation journey. Last week we started off with what I believe is a great foundation to getting a beginner going. There are a number of different opinions, theories and options. However, this is how I like to introduce those just starting. I have seen it work and believe it builds a strong foundation for their playing. I would encourage you go back to PART 1 and read through that if you are just joining us.

The next step is introducing MELODY. Where do we get melodies from? First, we get them from the music we play. What songs are the students learning? If they are really young students are they learning those early nursery rhyme type songs? All of these are melodies. Reading music is important, but have the students learn to play the melody without looking at the music. Internalize it. Once we learn the melody we can use it later. The melody can be embellished with a variety of tools, but they mean nothing without the foundation of the melody. As an exercise, have a student take Happy Birthday and improvise on it. If they have been working on rhythm and listening, you would be surprised at what they can probably already create with it.

Still not sure if you think it is a good exercise? Check out this video made by Wynton Marsalis in France a few years back:

Where else can we get melodies from? One of the scale types used in virtually every culture is the pentatonic scale. There is something melodic about that particular scale that has been creating melodies around the world for generations. If a student still needs to work on their major scales they need to be learning those in addition to the major pentatonic scale (minor scales are important too, but get the major one’s down first). While I do not believe running up and down scales themselves is how you should learn to improvise, they are important to know because they give us a color palette to choose from when improvising and the pentatonic scale is a melodic gold mine.

Combining the two elements of the melody of the song the student is learning with the pentatonic scale in the home key is a great place to get them thinking creatively. The pentatonic scale in the home key can be used to target key notes (landing areas) in the melody. For more information about how you or your student can use a pentatonic scale to creatively target notes you can check out my book Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose. 

Remember these are just beginning students. Give them achievable goals to start with before adding more complex ideas. I find a higher success rate with beginners that are given a few details to work with and then adding more pieces when ready rather than dumping everything at once. In my teaching studio, rhythm (time, feel, etc) and listening are the foundation. Melody is the next layer. Check back next week for the next layer 🙂

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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Drumgenius App Review

If you have followed this blog and have purchased Breaking the Monotony I wanted to share a review of a smart phone app I recently downloaded. It is called Drumgenius v1.4 by the guys at Projazz Lab. For the record, I was NOT asked to do a review of this app. However, I did want to let you know about the app and how it can be used to enhance your jazz improvisational studies (whether you are a drummer or not). I strongly believe this app can be a powerful resource for my students and those that are working with my book, Breaking the Monotony (or even Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose).

Drumgenius v1.4 is made for the iPhone and Android based operating systems so it wont matter what type of smart phone you prefer. The app contains (at the time of this writing) around 300 different styles of drum loops that sound great and have a number of applications that you could use. Loop styles range from Afro-Cuban, Brazilian, Funk, all types of jazz (straight and swung) and odd meters. For drummers, you can play along with each loop to not only get the feel, but work on timing and groove. For other musicians, it gives you the opportunity to work with a drummer anywhere you have your phone. You can work on timing, rhythmic creativity and phrasing. For those that have Breaking the Monotony, this app can be especially helpful because a number of the loops come with an option to include the clave pattern over the loop! You can use a number of different loops as a practice aid with just about every chapter in Breaking the Monotony (or Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose)! Another great benefit (especially for someone like me who is not a drummer) is you get proper names and a short history of the drum loop. As a composer I now have a resource to say, “Oh yeah…that is the drum groove I am wanting for this section on my chart. I always wanted to know what that was called!”

To get a feel of what it looks and sounds like, below is their video found on their website as well as Youtube:

The app itself is free to download. Along with the app you get 3 free loop downloads that come with the app. You can purchase 3 levels of loop downloads in their app store. The first is 10 loops, 50 loops or infinite (which is all 300 loops or any new updates they have in the future). I did not catch the prices for the first 2 levels because I went straight for the infinite option. It was $9.99. For the iPhone, the app also works in the background so you can continue to use your phone for other features while still listening to the loop.

Since I have made this app purchase I have been using it in my daily jazz practice and have been thrilled with the benefits. There is something to playing duets with a drummer that help an improviser’s time, phrasing and rhythmic creativity. Now I can work on those whenever I have my horn and phone. Overall I give this app 5 stars!

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Sequences

The Jazz community recently lost another great musician in pianist Mulgrew Miller. I have been a fan of his playing for years-especially his time with Woody Shaw. While thinking about his playing and some of his characteristics (and there are many) I loved the way he played sequences. In honoring Mr. Miller I thought this week’s post should be on using sequences in your improvisation.

What are sequences? There are two types of sequences you will find in jazz: melodic and rhythmic.

  • A melodic sequence is the repetition of a line at a different pitch.
  • A rhythmic sequence is simply the repetition of a rhythmic line.

Both types of sequences are not hard and fast rules. A melodic sequence can be exact interval repeats (digital patterns) or different notes entirely. The general outline or shape of the line is what is repeated. It can have a different rhythmic pattern or the exact rhythm pattern repeated (but with the notes changing).

We are going to look at an example and how we can sequence a pattern. Below is our basic pattern that we are going to use throughout this post.

 

The next example takes our pattern above and uses a sequence over the first part of a 4-bar progression. This example takes the exact pattern and modulates it to the next chord. In this example we keep the same rhythm as the original:

 

You do not have to keep the exact rhythm to create a sequence. The next example takes the idea from above and rhythmically anticipates the F# going to the D7:

 

Another way you can continue the sequence is by keeping the rhythm and shape of the original pattern, but changing the notes so they fit the next chord:

 

That same idea could be repeated over the entire progression, but you may want to add other elements to the idea to keep it from going stale. A few ways to do that is to compress the rhythm down or expand the rhythm out:

 

 

In the final example below we take some of the different elements of sequencing above and put them into the 4-bar progression (I-VI7-ii7-V7):

 

I hope this post has added value to you and your playing in some way and that you can start adding sequencing to your improvisational tools. For more information on how you can use digital patterns for sequencing, check out my book Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose. For more information on how you can rhythmically energize your improvisation check out Breaking the Monotony at my Digital Store

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Break It Down

It happens to all of us at one point or another. We get excited on the bandstand and get caught up in the moment. We have a tendency to overplay and force the swing feel instead of allowing it to happen. Our articulations become harsh and our lines either fall apart or they wander aimlessly. Honestly, this is normal. We allow our heart rate to dictate what we play instead of the music. The good news is that there is a simple tip that will help you calm down and swing harder.

A number of great jazz educators talk about this, but the first person to hip me to it was Greg Gisbert. Instead of feeling quarter notes (or even tapping on 2 & 4) while playing, break down how you feel the time to a lower denominator. For instance, instead of feeling the time in 4/4, feel the time in 2/4  (in a sense you are playing as if it were in half-time).  You could even break it down to 1/4 (every measure is felt as 1 beat). Essentially you are breaking down how you feel the tempo.

There are a number of benefits for feeling the tempo this way:

  • The tempo feels slower which has a calming effect on your heart rate. This allows you to think in larger phrases which will also cause you to not overplay.
  • Faster tempo songs become more manageable.
  • Your articulations even out and you’re more likely to lock in with the rhythm section. This actually helps you swing in faster tempos. It does not sound forced.
  • Slowing things down allows you to look ahead, notice what is happening around you and react with the rhythm section (instead of having a one-way conversation).

This simple tip will have an immediate calming effect on the bandstand. However, it is also good to use when practicing. Getting used to playing in a half-time (or less) feel will only benefit your playing.

I hope you have enjoyed this tip and that it adds value and benefit to your playing in some way. The JKQ could still use your help in getting our album mixed/mastered. If you would like to help finish this project you can donate, buy a book or schedule a Skype lesson at my Digital Store today!

Targeting the Bar

I’ve been working recently on charts that I’m going to record for my first album (Mountain, Move.) and was looking over the changes to one of the songs. I was mentally mapping out some options before practicing and realized an important aspect to rhythmic phrasing that I haven’t shared yet. It’s really simple, yet one that I believe will help add value to your playing. If you’ve ever struggled with your lines rhythmically and felt like they’re always square even though the note choices were right…then this tip is for you!

In this concept of targeting the bar I’m going to use 4/4 time as our example. However, you can apply this concept to other meters as well. In 4/4 time we can split the measure a number of different ways, but we’re going to separate it into two equal parts. 

The beginning halves of the bar occur on beats 1 & 3. This is where the majority of chord changes happen (not all, but the majority) to land. The most common is on beat 1 and the second most common is on beat 3

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If you’ve taken some time to explore this site or have been following for a while, you know that jazz rhythm is full of syncopation. It’s what gives the music forward movement. If your lines have felt rhythmically square, there’s a good possibility that you’ve started your lines on the beat (1 & 3 or 2 & 4) as opposed to an off-beat (syncopation). Granted, some good lines DO start on the beat. However, if all of your lines start on the beat then you’re most likely running into phrasing problems and your lines will be pretty square.

I’m big on targeting-which is aiming at a goal note with purpose. We can apply the same concept to rhythm. If we want our notes to line up with the chord changes then we have to have our rhythm line up with it is as well. Let’s take a look at two different ways we can rhythmically target beats 1 & 3. Below are two examples of targeting beat 1 and targeting beat 3. Each one leads into the beat. The first example leads into beat 1 while the second example leads into beat 3.

Notice how each example is not started on a down beat, yet ends up anticipating beat 1 & beat 3? Below are two quick musical examples that should help give you a better idea.

If you apply this concept to your playing you will notice an improvement to your overall phrasing. It is equally important to use targeting concepts to target beats as it is to target the notes themselves.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s tip and that it has added value and benefit to your playing in some way. If you haven’t checked out my books yet (Targeting: Improvisation with Purpose or Breaking the Monotony) I would highly encourage you to do so by going to my Digital Store. Also, don’t forget to check out the Lick of the Day on the homepage!

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Improv for Kids-Part 3 Feeling Rhythm

Part 3. Last week we talked about keeping things simple. Simplifying the amount of information that the children have to pick from while improvising. In this part I want to talk about the importance of having children learning to feel rhythm. This is just as important (if not more) then the notes themselves.

When children are young is the best time to work on ingraining proper syncopated and swing-type rhythms to where they become second nature as they continue to progress. Every student I’ve met that grew up around syncopated rhythm (either in the home, churches, community organizations, etc) always have a better feel and pickup on improvisation better than those that don’t.

Have the children clap along with you to some second line and clave rhythms. (On the second line example, have them clap along with the bass drum).

Then have them clap some of those same lines while listening to you play a chord progression on the piano or a play-along. Be sure to make it swing. This helps them understand that the clave pattern CAN be used in more than just Latin-type music.

Finally, have them play the 3 to 4 note grouping you gave them from last week’s post and use the second line and clave rhythm. This gets them thinking about rhythm and note choices. To me, the rhythm should be thought of first…then the note choices.

I talk about this in more detail for adults in my book, Breaking the Monotony. You can check it out by going to my Digital Store for more information. There are also a few reviews listed above in the tabs at the top of the page. I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s tip and that it has added value and benefit to you and your students!

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