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Fight Through

Have you ever had one of those days? Nothing seems to be going your way. From the moment you wake up until you hit the bandstand your circumstances all point in the direction you don’t want them to go. The circumstances themselves have different faces each time. One could be a physical battle with your body (sicknesses or other pains). Another could be a tough relationship with a loved one. You might be facing an uphill financial struggle. Whatever the circumstance we have to realize as humans that we face them regularly. However, how we choose to deal with those circumstances determine our level of success in just about area of life. We can either give up or Fight Through.

Let’s look at it from a jazz musician perspective. We run in to challenges all the time to become a better musician. Our instruments technically challenge us (some more than others…right trumpet players?). We encounter harmonic progressions as a soloist that take longer to overcome until they become revelation. If you perform for a living you have to fight through the music business to get work. Some people are easier to work with then others, but we can’t just take jobs that are enjoyable AND put food on the table. So, we have to make a conscious decision for each circumstance to let it get to us or to Fight Through.

Let me tell you a short story about a musician who had a rough day and how their decision to Fight Through was worth it in the end. This musician woke up the morning of a club date with a massive migraine. The type where you want to stay in bed and keep all light and sound out to make it through. But, this musician had some important business to take care of that day before the gig that night. They knew they would be out most of the day and needed to grab breakfast. Upon entering the kitchen they realize that they needed to go to the grocery store, but didn’t have time. Still fighting the migraine, the musician decides they need to get to their appointment and skip breakfast which further complicates the growing migraine.

On the way to the appointment the musician was stopped at the intersection right before their appointment location when a driver, who was texting their friend, slams into the back of the musician’s car. The accident was not major, but still caused the musician to miss their appointment (and had to pay the cancellation fee for missing the appointment). Not the way you want your day to go, right? Later that afternoon the musician is at another appointment when they receive a call from one of their band mates in the rhythm section. He has an emergency family matter and has to bow out of the gig. Now the musician in our story is fighting their migraine, hungry, has to deal with the insurance company for the accident earlier in the day and now has to call other musicians in town to see if they can sub on the gig tonight.

I know many people who would have thrown in the towel at this point and said, “Forget it. This is not worth it.” But, we can never grow to our full God-given potential if we let circumstances beat us down.

The musician, who is still weighted down with the day’s circumstances, fights through and determines to play their best on the gig. Why? For starters, someone paid for the entertainment that night. At the very least you need to do your job. The musician also realizes that someone else in the audience (or in their band for that matter), may have had a rough day too. One beautiful thing about music is the power it has to encourage someone else. On this particular night, that is exactly what happened for someone in the audience. They too had one of the hardest days of their life and went to the musician’s show to escape. It was the highlight of their night. They told the musician after the gig about their day and how their show encouraged them. It just so happened that this audience member was on a city council seat that picked entertainment throughout the year for different events. Guess whose band now gets those calls? Because the musician decided to fight through their circumstances they were able to secure more work. I don’t know about you, but that makes fighting through the circumstances worth it.

What about you? What circumstances are you facing right now? I want to encourage you today and tell you that you CAN fight through them. Circumstances (problems, issues, etc) always change. Fight Through Them. If you struggle with playing in the key of B then fight through it until you no longer struggle with it. You can not be great by giving up or deferring. Fight Through.

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Say That Again

STAHave you ever had a line in your improvisation that came up in the moment that you liked so much that you wanted to Say That Again? But, the progression keeps moving so you had to transpose the line. For some improvisers this scenario can be nerve-racking because you might only know that line in one or two keys. In today’s post I want to share an exercise I use regularly (and one that you should never stop doing) to help not only with ear training, but with confidence in playing in all keys. This exercise in the academic world has a number of different terms associated with it: sequencing, transposing, modulating, etc. However, when I work with younger students I like to not only teach the academic musical terms, but call them something they might find humorous so they remember it. In this case, I like to call this exercise: Say That Again!

It is simple. When you are practicing find a motif, riff or lick (perhaps the Lick of the Day here on this site) that you like. For this example we will use the lick below:

STAmotif

After playing the lick (motif, riff, etc) a few times as written…stop looking at it. Memorize it and play it without reading the notes. Once you have the lick down you are going to Say That Again, but by playing it a half-step up or down (see below):

STA.5down STA.5up

You can continue that pattern all the way up (or down) the chromatic scale. Not only have you played the lick in all keys, but you now can play the lick in half-step motions which can be used for taking a line outside. Another very popular way of doing this exercise is by going up in fourths which is often called playing around the cycle of fourths (see below):

STAup4

Practicing your lick this way gets you to start thinking about moving around one of the most common root progression movements (ex. iim7 – V7- Imaj7 all have root movements of a fourth). The next couple of examples move the lick around major 2nds (up or down the whole-tone scale) and minor 3rds (up or down the Diminished 7th chord):

Major 2nds

STAupM2

STAdownWT

Minor 3rds

STAupm3

STAupDIM

I hope this week’s tip has added some value or benefit to you or your student’s playing in some way. For a challenge this week take one of the licks from the Lick of Day found here on this site and take it through the Say It Again exercise. Over time you will be able to navigate your favorite lines through different harmonic progressions with ease!

Finally, be sure to pick up your copy of Mountain, Move today. Part of the proceeds of each album sale (physical or digital) help the Pearl Alliance and their fight against human trafficking. You can get one at our Digital Store along with both of my books: Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose and Breaking the Monotony.

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Targeting Using the Augmented Scale

Targeting Using the Augmented Scale

I wanted to share a fun sound that I have been experimenting with recently. For those that have followed this site the past 2+ years know that I am believer in the concept of targeting. This post will be looking at how you can use the augmented scale through the lens of targeting principles that I outline in my first book, Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose.

What is the Augmented Scale?

Since we have a number of people who visit this site from different levels and abilities we will take a look at what exactly an augmented scale is. An augmented scale is made up of two augmented triads that are a minor third apart. I have also heard an augmented scale called the “minor third, half-step scale,” but not very often. For most in the jazz community (or at least those that know about it) call it the augmented scale. Below is the C augmented scale:

Augmented Scale

Most Jazz educators will tell you that you can use this scale over any augmented 7th chord (for example a C7+) or a x7#11 chord (example would be a C7#11). I agree that the augmented scale works well over those so I am not disagreeing with that usage. However, like a lot of melodic/harmonic devices they can be used with targeting principles. Again, I am not going to outline what those are right now.

Targeting Using the Augmented Scale

However, let’s look at how using the augmented scale to target the “C” below in two different situations cause a unique and powerful sound over the listed progressions:

AugTargetEx1

AugTargetEx2

In my practice time I have been gravitating to this particular sound lately. I love the combination of the minor third and the half-step because of its melodic possibilities. I would invite you to try the above example in different harmonic situations where the targeted note would be a “C.” I hope you have enjoyed this week’s tip and that it has added some value and benefit to your playing in some way!

 

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Discovery- Canada

 

We head North in this week’s Discovery series as we take a trip to Canada. Canada, comprised of 10 provinces in 3 terrirtories,  is the world’s second largest country in total land area. It is so vast that it touches 3 of the world’s 4 oceans. While the majority of Canadians speak English there is a large population of residents in Quebec that speak French. Canada has a rich history in music, art, architecture and history.  Canada has been home to some great jazz musicians born there as well as those who have made it their home. As a trumpet player myself-there are a few jazz trumpet players that most have heard of including Ingrid Jensen and Guido Basso (to name few). The same could be said of a number of other instruments. This wonderful country has embraced jazz in its various forms and is home to a number of clubs, educational institutions and jazz festivals.

As with our past locations, the goal is to introduce you to 3 new musicians each week from different parts of the world. My hope is you will find some new discoveries, support them by buying their albums and by attending their concerts if you are in their area (or they in yours). Another benefit is for you to hear new musicians and how they approach their instrument and jazz. You never know where you might find your next favorite line!

Canada has a number of cities that offer live jazz, but one that stands out to me the most is Toronto. Toronto is home to a number of clubs as well as the Toronto Jazz Festival (which the JKQ hopes to play in the future!). It is held annually around the June/July months and has an outstanding roster each season.

Like mentioned with other great countries; Canada has been the home to a number of jazz musicians known and unknown. Hopefully the musicians below are people you will start checking out (if you have not already).

Brian Chahley– trumpet
Francois Bourassa– piano
Gabe Condon– guitar

These are just a few of literally hundreds of great jazz musicians you can find in and/or from Canada. If you have checked out these musicians above, be sure to check out their websites and albums to support them. I would also highly encourage you to look up other great Canadian musicians and see what this great country has to offer in terms of Jazz.

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Discovery- Sweden

 

In this week’s Discovery series-we take a trip to Sweden. Sweden, a Scandinavian country in Norther Europe, is the third largest country in the European Union in land mass. Like many of the other European destinations we have visited with this series; Sweden has a rich history in music, art, architecture and history.  Sweden has been home to some great jazz musicians born there as well as those who have made it their home. This wonderful country has embraced jazz in its various forms and is home to a number of clubs, educational institutions and jazz festivals.

As with our past locations, the goal is to introduce you to 3 new musicians each week from different parts of the world. My hope is you will find some new discoveries, support them by buying their albums and by attending their concerts if you are in their area (or they in yours). Another benefit is for you to hear new musicians and how they approach their instrument and jazz. You never know where you might find your next favorite line!

Sweden has a number of cities that offer live jazz, but their capital city of Stockholm is home to a number of clubs as well as the Stockholm Jazz Festival (which the JKQ hopes to play in the future!). If you click on the link above it will show you who is playing at this year’s festival which will happen on October 14-20th.

Like mentioned with other great Western European countries; Sweden has been the home to a number of jazz musicians known and unknown. Hopefully the musicians below are people you will start checking out (if you have not already).

Johan Christoffersson– sax
Naoko Sakata– piano
Kristian Brink– sax

These are just a few of literally hundreds of great jazz musicians you can find in and/or from Sweden. If you have checked out these musicians above, be sure to check out their websites and albums to support them. I would also highly encourage you to look up other great Swedish musicians and see what this great country has to offer in terms of Jazz.

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Discovery-Illinois, USA

 

We continue our Discovery series this week by heading to the state of Illinois (U.S.). Chicago, by far the state’s largest city, is one of the world’s largest cities and has a long and rich history of jazz. I am not going to even attempt to list all of what this city has meant to the history and the continued development of jazz. Even outside of Chicago, Illinois is home to some great jazz musicians and some wonderful colleges and universities that produce these musicians. Some of the names listed below you may already know, but I hope to focus on some that you may not.

As with our past locations, the goal is to introduce you to 3 new musicians each week from different parts of the world. My hope is you will find some new discoveries, support them by buying their albums and by attending their concerts if you are in their area (or they in yours). Another benefit is for you to hear new musicians and how they approach their instrument and jazz. You never know where you might find your next favorite line!

Chicago is home to a number of great jazz venues, but in this week’s post I wanted to highlight one of those venues because of what they are doing to support not only live Jazz-but supporting young jazz musicians. The Drake hotel in downtown  Chicago (along with a partnership with the Jazz Institute of Chicago) features the NextGenJazz series, which is a 6-concert series every Thursday night in their Palm Court. I think it is great that a venue supports the next generation of Jazz musicians they way they do.

Like mentioned in previous series; Illinois has been the home to a number of jazz musicians known and unknown. Hopefully the musicians below are people you will start checking out (if you have not already).

Marquis Hill– trumpet
Rajiv Halim– sax
Xavier Breaker– drums

These are just a few of literally hundreds (if not thousands) of great jazz musicians you can find in and/or from Illinois. If you have checked out these musicians above, be sure to check out their websites and albums to support them. I would also highly encourage you to look up other great musicians from Illinois and see what this great state has to offer in terms of Jazz.

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Get Out!

We have an abundance of ways to stay connected with one another these days. We have social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. We have online music stores and music players. We should be even more connected then generations past, yet I believe we are one of the most isolated generations to date. We can “connect” online, but we lose the face-to-face interaction. I mentioned this in some past posts regarding Independence in Improvisation (we need to play with others and not just play-alongs) and The Jam (interacting with new musicians at a jam session).

In this week’s post I want to talk about the importance of supporting live music. The kind where you do not take your instrument. You are there to support fellow musicians and support your local music scene. It is important because it gets you out of your house, connects you with fellow musicians (hang afterwards and tell the musicians they sounded good) and gives you an opportunity to open your ears to how others approach the music. I would even encourage you to go to concerts that might not be jazz for a different perspective on melody, harmony, rhythm, syncopation, etc.

A local music scene is only as good as its supporters. Be a part of the scene not just as a performer, but as a supporter. Try to get out at least once a week, if not more. Grab your friends, spouse, kids, etc and find a concert to attend. Put it on your calendar so you do not forget-this will help you stick to your commitment.

So, what do you say? Who are you going to check out this week? There are some musicians I am going to check out here in Denver this week. Leave a comment and let us know your music community and who you are going to see!

Maybe you are not sure who to go check out in your area. That is why starting next week I am going to start a new series called Discovery. I want to highlight some different artists (known and unknown) across the planet so you can check them out. This way if you are ever in their area you can go and check them out!

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Myth of Arrival

In this week’s post I wanted to talk about the myth that I find young musicians (and some older) falling prey. That is the myth of arrival. That myth says that you can reach a point in your development (regardless of what skill, gift or talent) where you have “arrived” and there is nothing left to improve or that it is pointless to try and improve. Unfortunately, this place of arrival is subjective. Who really determines if you have “made it?” Do you determine that? Your teacher/mentor? Your family? Critics? I truly believe if you were to poll a room of musicians they would probably come up with different answers. Hopefully, at least one, would answer what I believe to be true: There is no place of arrival.

We will always have areas in our playing and improvisational abilities that can be better. That is why we practice. I have heard stories of jazz greats in their 90’s still practicing. When asked why in the world they were still practicing at their age there response was something like this: “I am always learning.”

A problem we face as musicians is we let the rewards of reaching our goals numb our development. We get accolade, a good review, a promotion, a better gig, a high-five/pat on the back, etc. then become complacent and give less effort to try and grow. The myth of “I have arrived” sinks in. Granted, not everyone falls prey to that myth. But, that does not mean the temptation to fall into it is not there. I have seen some give in to that myth after playing and practicing for a month to those that have been playing for 30+ years.

How do we avoid falling into this trap? I wish I could say it is simple, but it is not. We have to constantly push ourselves towards improvement. Don’t get me wrong, we need to enjoy those moments when we reach our goals. Celebrate them! But, don’t live there! Find a good teacher, mentor or friend that will help keep you in check and encourage you to reach farther.

From one musician to another-I am in this with you. I know there is much more to learn and much to improve in my playing. If you have falling prey to this myth you CAN get out. Take inventory of your playing and be honest. Find things to work on and improve. Then take action and watch for the trap of the arrival myth when you bust through your next goals!

 

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