Harmonic Targeting

My previous blog posts about targeting concepts (aiming at a goal note with purpose) have dealt with the various ways we can get to the targeted note. We’ve also discussed what makes a good target. But, in today’s post I wanted to touch on something that I think might help a number of players and that is the concept of harmonic targeting.

The idea is similar in that we’re aiming at a goal note with purpose, but it is more about a specific goal note that makes the difference in harmonic targeting. In the harmonic progression, we want to find the note (or notes) that shifts or alters the harmonic landscape of the progression into a different key area (whether that’s a temporary modulation or an actual key change).

Let’s take a look at some examples:

One of the earliest concepts of harmonic targeting I learned as a young student was making sure I was hitting the major third of the chord change in the 8th bar of a blues

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There was a definite departure from the Bb key area by having the B natural stick out at you. So it became a goal to make sure that every time that 8th bar came around that I aimed for that B. What do you play to get to that B? Check out other posts on my blog for tips or get my book, Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose

What can you harmonically target? The answer is just about anything that highlights that you’ve departed from the key area you were just in. That can happen quickly or just occasionally. It’s up to you, but I like making sure that the drastic changes are caught. Let’s look at another example in the B section of There Will Never Be Another You

This progression (like hundreds of others) have a couple harmonic targeting spots that you could aim for. The Db7(#11) could be a highlight for instance. However, the F7 is what sticks out like a sore thumb. That A-natural lasts for 2 measures making it an excellent choice for a targeted note. As an added note, I like making that F7 into an F7(#11) for added color. 

I hope you find this tip useful for yourself or your student’s playing in some way. It’s a simple concept, but one that helps you play through harmonic progressions with more confidence.

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Not Your Ordinary Drones

I want to talk about drones, but not your ordinary ones. Other sites and musicians have talked about the benefits of warming up with drones, exploring shapes and intervals. All of this is great and something I personally use now and then too. If you haven’t explored this area before I would suggest you at least try it. It’s an amazing way to open up your ears and explore music’s various layers.

If you’re sitting there thinking, “I’m still not sure what you mean by drones. Aren’t those the remote control things you fly around to annoy your neighbors?” Well, yes. But, not this topic. Here’s a great YouTube example of trumpeter Ingrid Jensen talking about how she uses a drone:

 

“A musical drone is a harmonic or monophonic effect or accompaniment where a note or chord is continuously sounded throughout most or all of a piece.” – Wikipedia

Instead of rehashing what others have already talked about, I want explore some other ways we can use a drone through the lens of targeting. Targeting is aiming at a goal (note) with purpose. It’s one of the central points of how I improvise and teach improvisation. While it’s great to explore a scale, intervals, or free-improvisation with a fixed pitch (drone)-I have found that beginners and intermediate musicians often have a hard time hearing the note they are aiming for.

What to Use

There are a number of great tools that create a drone. Ingrid Jensen mentioned her device in the video above. You can use just about anything that will create a sustained pitch. I have used a piano with the sustain pedal, computer software (garageband, Logic Pro, etc), YouTube (which has a WIDE range of options that you could spend hours searching), or one of my favorites: iReal Pro

How to Use

Beginners and intermediate improvisors have to be intentional with what they practice. It’s too easy to get distracted and let your imagination go on a tangent. That’s ok when it’s time to explore and foster creativity. But, students need to hear where their line is going. What does it sound like when you are targeting the 3rd of major chord? How does that sound different when you’re targeting the 3rd of dominant chord? What about minor? If a student can learn to hear what targeting sounds like it opens up the creative mind to be able to explore it in real-time. This is why I like using iReal Pro because you get to choose not only the harmonic situation (major, minor, diminished, etc), but you get to do it while keeping time and locking in with a rhythm section that won’t slow down or speed up.

Here’s how I use iReal Pro as a drone:

  • create a new song using the blank template
  • pick a chord type that you need to work on (major 7th, dominant, minor 9th, etc)
  • type that chord in the first measure and set up whatever repeat function you desire
  • set the repeats 30x
  • pick a tempo and feel (swing, bossa, etc)
  • work on first targeting the root in as many ways as you can imagine with various tools with GOOD rhythm (for more info on those tools you can check out Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose).
  • Once you’ve felt like you’ve fully explored the root move on to the 3rd, 5th, 7th, and other extensions (9th, 11th, 13th)
  • Now move on to the same chord type, but in a different key.
  • Apply what you just did to a song or harmonic progression you’re working on

All of the above is good practice for any musician. It will get you to focus on the sound of targeting so you can hear where you’re going. This will also give a student plenty of practice!

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What to do when you are the "red-headed step-child" of your scene

Every Jazz scene (and other genres too) has them. Maybe you’re one of them or you know someone who fits the description. They are the musician that’s not originally from the scene. They weren’t born there or haven’t grown up in the local school system (or didn’t recently go to one of the local universities). For whatever reason, they’re in the scene now and trying to fit in.

I’ve been there and I want to encourage those that fit this description, give you some advice on how to handle it, and maybe even raise some awareness for those that would be considered locals. This is also perfect for people who are new to town and wanting to get into the scene.

Some things to consider first. This advice won’t help you if:

  • You’re a jerk. If you’re always putting other people (or venues) down and no one is calling you for gigs and/or hangs-then you might be a jerk. It has nothing to do with how good you do or don’t play. It’s because you’re a drag to be around. You don’t have the be the red-headed step-child of the scene. Jerks come in all types of demographics.
  • It’s your playing. This one is rough. We all have to evaluate our playing and that can be tough because some of us look at our own playing with way too much of a microscope. BUT, if your playing is not up to par it could be why you’re not getting the calls. If that’s the case-fix it. Spend more time in the shed. Get lessons from some of the top call people in town and ask for advice (not for asking for a gig). Listen to what they have to say.

If the above doesn’t apply to your situation, but you’re still the red-headed step-child:

  1. Be patient.The music business is all about relationships. If you are new to the scene-be patient. It takes time to develop a relationship with people. Get to know the musicians by going to jam sessions, going to their gigs, and hang when you get the chance. This applies to venues too. Don’t just frequent the venue when you’ve been hired to do so. You are the red-headed step-child because you’re newer to the scene than the other musicians. The longer you are around the less you will feel like the outsider. The longer you are around the deeper your relationship becomes. This takes patience and time.
  2. Be humble. You may be the next greatest thing since sliced bread. But, chances are you’re not. When you hang with people in your scene, be humble and spend more time talking about them or whatever conversation is being made. When asked about you and your playing remember to keep it honest and save the bragging for when it really matters (on the stage).
  3. It’s not going to be fair. Put your big boy/big girl pants on. Life isn’t fair and we have to accept that fact. Whether like it or not, preference is given to local musicians who have been there longer or who have grown up in the scene (assuming they are good). They’ve been around longer than you. They have built relationships earlier than you have and that means they probably have more of a following as well. My advice: stick it out. Being a musician is a lifelong endeavor. Life happens. People move on, people move in, and venues come and go. Go back and read point 1.
  4. Ignore the local jerks. Every scene has them and you have to make a conscious decision on whose statements you give weight in your life. It’s not easy, but we have to ignore those personalities. As of this writing, I’ve lived in the Denver area for the past 13 years. I’ve been a part of the scene for a while, but still get the occasional outsider feeling from people and some venues. About 3 years ago I had someone come up to me during a jam session at one of the local clubs and say, “Who do you think you are? This is (local player’s name)’s town. You’re wasting your time.” Wow. First off, I absolutely love the local player they mentioned. I think they are an incredible musician and more importantly an awesome human being. While we’re not BFF’s, I still consider them one of my friends and colleagues. Some people are jerks and you have to do your best to ignore them. Will it hurt? Probably. But, life is a long ride if you let yourself be defined by the jerks of society.
  5. Keep moving forward. Keep working. Keep calling venues for gigs, keep playing with musicians, keep building relationships, and keep your career moving forward. There’s nothing worse than the feeling of what-if in your life. Discouragement is a feeling and feelings change all the time. The music business is a war of attrition. KEEP MOVING FORWARD!
  6. Embrace being a red-headed step-child! Healthy scenes have musicians from all over the place. While you want to continue building relationships, embrace being the outsider! You bring something unique to the scene. Believe it or not, you’re probably not the only outsider. AND, musicians who have grown up in the scene probably want to play with you. Eventually you will get to the point that you will feel like you’ve always been a part of the family!

I would love to hear from you on this. Have you been or are you currently the red-headed step-child in your scene? What advice would you give to others?

*** In real life my family has a number of red-heads and I have had the honor of being a step-child ***

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How Composing Can Keep You Out of Trouble

That’s right. Composing.

How CAN composing keep you out of trouble? If you’ve followed this blog then you know this is mostly about improvisation tips. But, composing can help you with your improvisation too. I’ve heard it said (and repeated) that composing is improvisation that you can edit along the way (wouldn’t it be nice to edit our improvisations in real-time? Maybe someday…).

I recently finished a new composition called Dad’s Game that will most likely be on the JKQ’s next album later this year. I wanted to show how I composed it and how I use the idea of “improvisation that you can edit.” If you want to check out more on how I compose you can check out that series HERE.

I usually start with a blank sheet of staff paper (good old analog paper), piano, and Finale open on my computer. There’s no one way to start composing and I don’t do it the same way every time, either. In the case of Dad’s Game, I woke up in the middle of the night a few days ago and had a specific rhythmic figure over a Latin-feel. This is the initial sketch:

From there I sat down with the piano and improvised various chord combinations over the rhythmic vamp. I eventually locked into what I believe was what I heard in the middle of the night (I probably should have taken better notes, but I was half asleep). After deciding on the progression I wanted to come up with the B3 organ’s left hand figure over the vamp. This is where having a strong idea of targeting concepts helped keep me out of trouble (or I could have been spending more time finding the right sound). I knew what notes I was aiming for within the rhythmic figure and it helped me come up with the final idea. Here’s the final sketch (in treble clef):

When you improvise in real-time you must have a system of navigating the chord progression. I’m a BIG proponent of targeting (not sure what I’m talking about? Check more out HERE). When you compose, you will use the same process albeit much slower. You get time to think about your various targeting, melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic options and change them if they don’t sound the way you want (i.e. you get to edit). The more you do the composing process the more solidified they become in your mind. That comes out in your playing.

  • How would you suggest to get started on this?

If you’re just starting out I would suggest writing out a chord progression you’re working on. Write out the guide tones or other targets. Compose a line of nothing but quarter notes. Play it back. Does it sound interesting with just the quarter notes? If not, edit it until it does. Once it does, add eighth notes. Sound good? If not, edit it. Once it does, alter the rhythm. Continue, rinse, and repeat.

This is an area I cover with my improvisation students (on Skype and in-person lesson). If you’ve used this process or found it helpful, please feel free to share how you compose to help your improvisation in the comments below OR feel free to share this with the social media buttons!

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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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.

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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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.

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

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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