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map it out

Map It Out part 2

Last week we looked at mapping out a plan of attack when looking at a new chart or chord progression. We’re going to take the same chart (Stand Firm which will be on my album Mountain, Move later this year) and go further into the progression mapping out a plan. Last week we looked at some different options on the first two chords of the vamp/intro. In today’s post we will take a look at the remainder of that section. Below is the part of the piano part:

We talked about how the first two chords of the intro/vamp are the same chord quality just a whole step a part. This continues until the 7th and 8 bar. It takes the same chord quality and moves up a half step then an additional whole step (Dmin11 to Ebmin11 to Fmin11). Similar to last week’s map we can take pentatonic  pairs and move them up a half step and then another whole step as shown below:

From there you can develop a road map of where you might want to go. Below is the full intro/vamp:

You can use whatever tools you want. I’m using pentatonics for these examples because they’re simple and contain great melodic possibilities. I’ve listed two different option paths you could take through the vamp/intro section:

  1. Eb major pentatonic -> F major pentatonic (repeated 2x) -> F# major pentatonic -> Ab major pentatonic
  2. Bb major pentatonic -> C major pentatonic (repeated 2x) -> Db major pentatonic -> Eb major pentatonic

Obviously there are a number of different combination paths you could choose, but like I mentioned last week I think it’s best during your first run-through of a new chart to find the path that has a nice linear path.

Next week we will take a look at the “A” section of this chart and continue mapping out a plan. If you haven’t already done so, I’d like to invite you to check out my Digital Store where you can get more information on my books (Targeting: Improvisation with Purpose and Breaking the Monotony), Skype Lessons and information on how you can help be a part of the Mountain, Move recording project. Also, don’t forget to check back daily for the Lick of the Day that is in the upper right corner of the site!




Lick of the Day

Yesterday (Jan. 3rd, 2013) I added a new feature to my website called the Lick of the Day. Jazz improvisation has been compared to speech by many great jazz educators. Much like speaking; Jazz has words, phrases and sentences that we can put together to make a cohesive musical statement. To be a better communicator- you need to have more then just a few words in your vocabulary.

There’s a number of different ways you can add to your vocabulary:

  • In my opinion, the best way is to grab them from recordings or live performances. The licks, lines, phrases, etc. that move and excite you should be the ones you learn (and learn them in all keys). Then find creative ways to put that line into different harmonic situations.
  • Talk with other musicians about their favorite lines. You never know when someone else’s favorite lines might work for your vocabulary. This is one of the reasons I started the Lick of the Day. These “licks” are lines that I enjoy using or heard being played.
  • Lick and/or Pattern Books. I don’t have any issue with lick or pattern books per se. If you can grab some that work for you…great. Most lick or pattern books I’ve read, however, were pretty stale. There have been a few that I’ve enjoyed, but not many. Maybe the licks really moved the author, but I didn’t find too many that moved me.

My goal with the Lick of the Day is to provide you with some motivation to add to your vocabulary. If you like the lick you see on a particular day I encourage you to internalize it and learn it in all keys. Find creative ways to put it into other harmonic situations. If you don’t like the lick on a particular day…that’s fine too! Check back daily and you might find one that grabs your attention.

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!



Record Yourself

Welcome everyone! In today’s post I want to talk about recording yourself. You may be wondering, “why would I want to do that?” Keep reading and I’ll show you some benefits that come along with recording yourself. I truly hope this post will add value and benefit to you and your student’s playing. If this is your first time visiting this site, welcome and please feel free to have a look around. I would also like to invite you to check out my books (Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose and Breaking the Monotony) at my Digital Store.

Do you ever have moments when you feel like things are going great in the practice room, yet when you get the bandstand things just are not working out? There could be a number of reasons that happens. However, unless you make a habit of recording yourself you might be attempting to fix the wrong issues.

When should you record yourself? The answer is anytime you’re playing! Record yourself practicing, rehearsing with the band and on the gig. Take note of everything that went well, what didn’t go well and what you need to fix. You don’t have to be hyper-critical over everything (let’s face it…NO ONE is or plays perfect), but take an honest assessment of where you were at in that moment in time. Recordings don’t lie and give you instant feedback. Anything that can make a recording will work. In today’s smart phone technology, most phones have a recording memo device that will suffice for most self-recording needs. There are options from very affordable to pretty expensive.

What are some things to listen for in a recording? Here’s a few below:

  • Ideas. From an improvisation standpoint did your ideas (lines, phrases, etc) make sense? Did they flow in a conversational way or did they wander? You might even find that you were grasping at an idea in the moment, but never quite got it right. Figure out what that was and work that idea out.
  • Technical Issues. Tone, articulation, flexibility, etc. Often times what we hear in our head or behind our instrument is not at all what comes out the other end. Again, recordings don’t lie. If you hear technical errors you now know what can be worked on during your next practice session.
  • Communication. This is more for recording yourself on the gig. How was your interaction with the other musicians on the stage? Where you having a one-way dialogue or were you a musical conversation with your band mates? I think there’s a time and place for both, but the recording will show you if it was at the right time or not.

I know it can be tough to listen to yourself on a recording. It is a sobering experience. However, if you practice what needs to fixed you will progress faster as a musician. I suggest you start recording yourself if you haven’t already. What are your thoughts? Do you record yourself? If so, what are some insights you have learned from doing it? Finally, take the average of your recordings. You’re never as good as your best recording, but you’re never as bad as your worst.

Speaking of recording, I’m hoping to try out the new Zoom Q2HD which does high quality audio and HD video soon. If I get the chance to pick one up, I will do a review for those that might be interested.




Free Jazz

Welcome to my site where in today’s post I want to talk about a free jazz exercise that will help unlock your creativity. I truly hope this post will add value and benefit to you and your student’s playing. If this is your first time visiting this site, welcome and please feel free to have a look around. I would also like to invite you to check out my books (Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose and Breaking the Monotony) at my Digital Store.

In Part 3 of my Duets mini-series I mentioned a type of call and response duet (Free Jam) that is done with no pre-determined progression or key center. I wanted to expand that thought to personal practice and share an exercise that I’ve done over the years that has really helped unlock my creativity. It’s a very simple exercise to describe, but one that takes some time to get comfortable.

Like the call and response duet, there is no pre-determined progression or key center to reference. Here it is: Grab your instrument, decide a tempo and start playing a continuos string of random eighth notes (syncopation and occasional rests are fine).

The idea is to not play pre-conceived ideas or licks. You want to find new note relationships that you might not normally explore. This  frees up your creative mind because you are not stifled by trying to make your line fit in a chord progression.

The next step is to listen to yourself. If you found something you liked…figure out what it was and transcribe it. You are allowing your creativity to make new connections. You never know what you may discover about yourself and your playing by doing this exercise. Personally, I try and do this exercise once a week for 10 to 15 minutes.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this tip and find it beneficial to your playing. Try taking some time out this week to play some free jazz!

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!

Phrasing Exercise

Last week’s post was on the importance of targeting the end of the phrase and it reminded me of a fun and challenging exercise I use to make sure I’ve got the end of the phrase at the front of my mind. I wanted to share that exercise with all of you in this week’s post. If this is your first time visiting the site-welcome! If you’re curious to know how I came up with the note choices in the examples below-check out my Digital Store where you can get more information on two improv books I’ve written that will help!

This is a very simple exercise to describe, but one that can be challenging as well. Remember that this is an exercise and not how you should improvise on the bandstand (although you can use it if you so choose).

  • The end of your phrase (or idea) becomes the first note of your next phrase. You can change the first note of the next phrase as much as a whole step away to create variety. This continues through the entire chord progression.

Sounds simple, right? However, thinking about it and doing it are two different things. The further along the song’s progression the more difficult it becomes because it forces you to think ahead and not always start your phrases the same way (i.e. always starting on the 3rd of a chord). Let’s take a look at some examples. Below is our first phrase with the last note circled.

We know that the “G” is our last note of the phrase. Depending on what the chord progression would be next determines whether we start on the same note “G” or if we need to move a half-step or whole-step away. Let’s take a look at an example that shows the first phrase going into a second while keeping the “G.”

The final example shows the first phrase going into a second phrase where we altered the starting note by a half-step.

It’s a simple, challenging and fun exercise that will help you on multiple levels. When you learn a new song/progression I would suggest you do this exercise over the changes as well. I hope you’ve found this tip beneficial and that it adds value to you (and your students) playing!




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