Learning to Play by Ear: A 1958 Perspective

January 23, 2016

DOWNBEAT 10 2 58 COVERHow does a musician learn to perform thousands of songs in any key without looking at music sheets?  How can you improvise over a set of “changes” you’ve never heard or seen before in a live performance?  “New Ears Resolution” has made this a daily reality for me during a 40-year career of recording dates and live performances.   But I cannot claim to have created this revolutionary approach to ear training.  I learned it during high school while studying with Alvin L. “Al” Learned, founder and president of Hollywood’s legendary Westlake College of Music “one of the most important educational institutions for the study of jazz in the post-World War II era.”

A Portuguese gentleman who uses “New Ears Resolution” discovered the following article from the October 2, 1958 edition of Downbeat Magazine.  In it, Mr. Learned describes the purpose and theory behind his method as taught in public schools.  I further developed these ideas and adapted them for use by individual jazz musicians.  Here is the article in its entirety.  (Thanks to Suzanna Hagan for transcribing this piece.)  Bear in mind that this was written way back in 1958, long before our era of ubiquitous jazz education programs.

As music teachers stop opposing Americans finding jazz music satisfying to their spiritual and emotional needs, our American heritage will be identified in the repertoire of world music. Concerts in Europe a century ago featured a dozen top musicians, such as Beethoven, prepared to play extensive cadenzas improvised on the spot. Singers also improvised, and composers expected them to do it. Through the years this tradition was lost to us. Jazz musicians are giving it back to us.

Europe sees evidence of our spirit of individualism and freedom in the manner in which our musicians can perform on their feet and “speak their musical mind without having before them ‘a prepared speech’.” Our jazz music is winning people’s hearts because it meets their moods and sentiments better than any other music.

The great vitality of jazz undoubtedly comes from the fact that the early American jazzmen had no pretensions to maintain. Early American jazzmen played without music. Ear training skills were highly developed. Today, our students should be helped and taught to play with this independence. This is the time to teach improvisation (if you can’t say “jazz”) in the public schools.

The bottleneck has been two-fold. Many teachers lacking experience in playing jazz, or leading the jazz band, are searching for a way of teaching jazz.

The most experienced teacher can benefit by leading the group and furnishing much needed advice. Dance band clinics have sprung up in many places in America and the movement is well advanced.

Teachers generally can fill out their group with adult professional musicians from whom they can get advice and direction. The need for education in this field has been definitely felt by teachers, because it springs right from the insistence of the students themselves.

Teachers are hired to meet the needs of the students—students are not reared to make jobs for public school teachers.

AL LEARNEDThe second part of the bottleneck was lack of knowledge about ways of teaching jazz in regular music classes. Some students have responded to the procedure of starting with a melody played as written. They then alter the rhythm. Next they try adding notes to the melody that fit between the melody notes, or adding tones from the chord or harmony. The last step was leaving out the melody, resulting in a new melody that might pass for improvising. This method leaves much to be desired.

The best jazz player is a composer who has the ability to conceive of a melodic idea in his head and who knows exactly how to play it on his instrument. Many of the top musicians – such as Billy May, Bill Holman, and Meredith Wilson – have this vital ability, derived from training. They are true composers having the ability to write or play immediately any musical idea that comes to mind.

Except for less than one percent of the musicians who have absolute pitch, musicians must rely on developing relative pitch as a basis for playing by ear.

Ear training involves hearing with your eyes and seeing with your ears.

This means that a musician should hear the music he sees on paper, even before he plays it on an instrument, and he should be able to write down on paper or play accurately (the first time) any ordinary melody he hears. To acquire this skill – which is the basis of playing jazz – the student must associate each sound to a position in a scale. However, before this can be done, a feeling for tone center or scale root must be felt by the musician. If all the music we had to play was in the same scale, we should have no ear training problem. However, changing keys obliterates the relationship of each note we play to the scale degree name going with it. It is essential this relationship be built.

The teacher can start by putting a scale chart in front of the band. The first step is having the band play a scale in unison. Next, simple tunes can be dictated to the band by the teacher pointing to the scale degree steps that make up the melody.

The next step is to teach the students to play the notes in each chord belonging in each scale or key that is commonly used in a dance band arrangement. Chords should be called out to the class until all the four-part chords used in a key in an arrangement are easily played by memory by the band. Every member would be playing in unison at this stage.

Once the chords are well known this way, the teacher can then write out eight-measure jazz chorus chord patterns (using letter names) for all three keys needed for the different instruments in the band.

The students, by this stage, are ready to play merely the chord pattern they have learned, or they can start making variations, which will more and more resemble improvised jazz as freedom and skill are individually acquired.

To help the students with other arrangements with ad lib choruses with no notes to read, the director can write in after the chord letter names the scale degrees in the chord, making it easy for the student to know what notes of the scale to use as a basis for his jazz. Keep in mind it is relating the scale degree name with the same musician effect that builds ear training, which is basic to good jazz. Merely knowing the letter names of the notes in a chord is not sufficient.

This procedure should open up the ability of high school students to meet with confidence the eight or 16 bars of ad lib with no notes showing—only chord symbols.

Music is a wonderful, fascinating study because it goes on forever, no one ever really mastering all the keys. Jazz training gives the student the freedom to make up his own melody, to express his own concept of beauty.

Darn That Dexter!

September 24, 2015

ONE FLIGHT UP LP COVERDexter Gordon is universally revered by saxophonists for his muscular sound.  He is equally effective on ballads, blues, and fast tempos.

His Blue Note LP One Flight Up includes a fine reading of the Jimmy Van Heusen ballad “Darn That Dream” on which he dexterously employs a device favored by Charlie Parker.  This maneuver involves momentarily raising the key a half-step and inferring a ii-V progression in that key.

Here are two instances in which Dexter deftly employs that ploy.  As anyone who has ever tried to transcribe his solos knows, one of the hallmarks of Dexter’s style is his unique approach to rhythm.  While his languid phrasing is pure joy to hear, it’s a nightmare to transcribe.  I have greatly simplified the rhythm in these two examples, focusing instead on the pitches Dexter chose for the brief modulation.



“Remember” Hank Mobley’s “Soul Station”?

September 18, 2015

HANK MOBLEY SOUL STATIONThe road to dynamic, expressive improvisation is paved with practice and listening.  Hank Mobley’s near perfect solo on Irving Berlin’s “Remember” from his classic LP “Soul Station” is filled with profound lessons on phrasing, rhythm, tone, melody, pacing, and development.  Here is just one of the great ideas you will encounter when studying this wonderful recording.

HANK MOBLEY REMEMBER BARS 15 AND 16As always, we recommend learning the phrase in all 12 keys.  Practice with the audio file found below.

If you are not sure how to transpose this phrase into all 12 keys, please email me for a no-cost / no-obligation chart.  Better yet, download “New Ears Resolution” and learn how to play by ear on your instrument any melody you can hear or imagine .  Click here to learn more about “New Ears.”


The phrase in our example is taken from bars 15 and 16 of Hank’s solo.  The changes here are:   BbMaj7 – Fm7 – Bb7.  Symbolically, this progression is represented as:   I  –  ii / IV  –  V / IV .  The One chord is followed by a two – five progression “in the key of four.”  However, by the time we reach the IV chord, it reveals its true identify as a IV chord, not the I chord we had been led to believe was coming.    You will find an excellent transcription of the entire solo in Hunt Butler’s book “Modern Jazz Tenor Solos,” which is well worth purchasing and playing through.  If you look ahead to the next bar (bar 17), you notice that Hank returns to the home key (Bb).   Becoming familiar with this progression is quite useful.  It occurs in several standards, such as:

  • “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” (bars 19 & 20)
  • “Do Nothin’ Til’ You Hear From Me” (bars 1 & 2)
  • “The Best Things In Life Are Free” (bars 17-20)
  • and “Cherokee” (bars 1-5)

Jazz Articulation, Accents, and Proper Tonguing

June 9, 2015

Some saxophone & clarinet students have difficulty with jazz articulation, because they have not learned to tongue properly.  They begin each note with a constriction in the throat, which sounds as if the student were humming into the mouthpiece.  The beginning of the note is fuzzy and indistinct.

Proper articulation of accented notes should begin with the tongue touching the reed.  Classical teachers describe this as “tip to tip”:  the tip of the tongue touches the tip of the reed, sometimes in “double lip” position.  This results in a pleasant, light articulation, such as one would expect to hear in Mozart.  For more aggressive jazz and rock styles, it is possible to rest the tip of the tongue on the lower lip, so that a point on the top of the tongue slightly back from the tongue tip touches a point on the reed slightly back from the reed tip.  I refer to this technique as “top to top”:  the top of the tongue touches the top of the reed.

The following exercise will help you develop a more expressive, accented articulation.  Play along with the audio track provided here, while reading the chart shown below.  (if the chart is too small or unclear, right-click inside the chart and save the graphic to your desktop.)  Bb instruments begin playing at bar 1.  Concert key instruments start on the third line (bar 9), and take the d.c.  Eb instruments begin at the last line (bar 45), and take the d.c.   The clarinet is on the left, the alto saxophone on the right.  To hear both, set your balance in the center.


“Jews for Jesus” digs “Renewed Hope.”

May 23, 2015

cb_rh_175The San Francisco based group “Jews for Jesus” is currently offering “Renewed Hope” for sale on its web site.   “Renewed Hope” is Craig’s seventh CD — his third worship CD — featuring words from The Bible, original music by Craig Buhler, the vocals of Rich Tatum, and the music of HONK.  Produced by Grammy winner Steve Wood.

Why Is This Tune So Hard To Memorize?

March 10, 2015

Have you ever had difficulty playing a tune, even though it presented no obvious technical hurdles? Perhaps the problem lies in a hidden harmonic riddle, which, when solved, will unlock your understanding of the song and make it easier to play and to remember.

At a recent gig, pianist Mark Schecter called off Dizzy Gillespie’s “Groovin’ High.” Although Storyville used to play the song, it still made me stumble.  However, after deciphering its harmonic implications, playing it became simple.

     Here’s how to solve a riddle like that.

“Groovin’ High” is based on the old chestnut “Whispering.” Its first 4 bars are shown below. (Click HERE for an explanation of the notation I use.)


You may well react the way I did when Al Learned first taught me to interpret songs this way.   I said, “That looks weird! Why not just call bars 3 and 4 a TI – LA melody” over a TI 7 chord?”

Al’s answer revolutionized my ability to improvise and play by ear.

 Al said, “When you improvise over this song, you will want to use the Mixolydian scale  built on the seventh degree of the original key.  That’s a lot to process when you’re playing at 200 beats per minute!  By contrast, the shorthand “TI=>SO” gets you to that place in a fraction of the time.” (See “New Ears Resolution” for more details.)

Dizzy was thinking along these lines when he composed “Groovin’ High.”  So, in order to understand the tune, you need to orient yourself in the same way.  Here is a diagram of bars 1-8:


The first 2 bars are identical, each starting with 2 eighth notes (indicated by an unerline). Bars 3 & 4, which previously were a maze of gnarly accidentals, now appear as almost entirely diatonic (with only 1 accidental, “Di”).

Notice also that bars 7 & 8 are now identical to bars 3 & 4, (although the key changes.)   In addition, were we to continue, you would see that bar 9 does not require a key change and that bars 11 & 12 are once again identical to bars 3 & 4, (although now played in the home key.)

     Does this analysis make the song easier to learn and remember? Absolutely!

For one thing, grasping the relationship between the 3 keys used in the song and understanding how Dizzy cycles through them gives you a “bird’s eye view” (pun intended) of the song’s structure.   Furthermore, you can now see that bars 3 & 4 form the main motif of the song.  So, if you practice that “lick” in all 12 keys, you’ve mastered the song.

How to Learn Songs

March 8, 2015

Is there a more effective, efficient method for learning and retaining a large repertoire of jazz standards?

At a recent jam session, the virtuoso trumpeter Ed Donohue asked me, “How many songs have you memorized?” I thought about it and responded, “I don’t memorize any of them…I compute them in real time, “on the fly,” as we play.

Last week, Jeff Rzepiela, a fine saxophonist and arranger, asked how we represent standard songs using the language of “New Ears Resolution.” (See Jeff’s email below.)  Try this method, and see how much clearer the song becomes, and how your memory improves.

A tune often played at jam sessions is Jerome Kern’s “All the Things You Are.” The Real Book shows it as being in the key of Ab.  In reality though, this song modulates five times in its 36 bar form.  Here are the first 8 bars, along with the first 2 modulations, conceptualized the way Al Learned taught me.

SOLFEGIO NOTATION all the things

In the figure above, we see 2 bars per line, separated by bar lines. Each syllable indicated represents 1 beat. A note with a 4-beat duration is indicated by a syllable followed by 3 dots (●).

In measure 5, beat 4, you see the following notation: LA=>FA.  This means “the old LA becomes the new FA.”  This is an extremely useful notational shorthand, which instantly conveys a lot of information. The melody continues on the same note (concert F), but its function has changed.  Perhaps a useful way of picturing this function change is to view a U.S. citizen as she crosses the Canadian border.  On the U.S. side, she is a citizen.  On the other, she is a visitor.

In this case, we have modulated from Ab to C.  The note “F” was heard as LA in the old key, but now it is heard as FA in the new key.  The G7 dominant chord causes this paradigm shift (see “New Ears Resolution” for details).

The chord changes are also shown in boxes on the figure (in their simplest form), and I have added the optional indication of how the key change impacts the chords, i.e. TI=>SO.

Rather than “memorizing” each note, you can use this method to analyze what is actually occurring.  I believe the understanding which you get by doing this mirrors the logic Jerome Kern instilled in the tune while he was composing it.

Another advantage to this approach is that the second 8 bars are analogous to the first (although in the new key of Eb).  In bar 9, the C major chord changes to a C minor (DO=>LA), and the new melody note, Eb, is now DO, instead of Me (Me=>DO).


Here is Jeff’s letter:

Dear Craig,
I bought ‘New Ears Resolution’ a few days ago. It’s more like a new ears revolution for me. Absolutely brilliant!
Just one suggestion / request: It would be great to see sol-fa renditions of some jazz standards, so that your readers could see how you might sketch the key modulations in sol-fa.
For now, I’m carrying on with the book and with your latest article on dominant 7(b9) chords.
Thanks for all your work and generous articles.

Dominant Seven Flat 9 Chords V7(b9)

February 18, 2015

One of the features that makes a minor key sound so rich is its V7(b9) chord illustrated below as a V-I in the key of A minor.       E7b9 TO Am

The exercise shown below will greatly increase your familiarity and confidence in improvising over this lovely chord.  Play through the chart while listening to the audio file offered below.  (As indicated on the chart, Bb instruments start at measure 1, concert instruments begin at measure 9, and Eb instruments start at measure 45, taking the d.c. and playing up to the fine as indicated.)



January 25, 2015


Even many accomplished musicians never learn the fine art of playing by ear.  I owe my ear to a uniquely inspired teacher.

Here’s a 1963 picture of “The Downbeats” with our matching red blazers.  I’m the towhead on the right with the clarinet.  Our pianist had an unnerving habit of calling off complex Broadway arrangements he had worked up at home.  During this show, he started playing “I Could Have Danced All Night” (from My Fair Lady) in C.  I was doing all right, until we got to the bridge.  It modulates into the key of E major, which put my clarinet in F#.  Suddenly, i was awash in a sea of 6 deadly sharps, like an accidental waiting to happen.  I felt about as graceful as Charlie Chaplin on ice skates.  I wished i had skipped the gig and gone surfing.

Three days later, i met Alvin “Al” Learned, the founder of the legendary Westlake School of Jazz.  Al promised to arm me with the tools i needed to calmly navigate those crazy situations.  In the ensuing weeks, Al walked me through the 9 exercises now comprising Unit One of New Ears Resolution. He also showed me how to learn standards such as “All the Things You Are” and “Body and Soul” in an innovative new way.  Rather than tediously memorizing tunes as before, Al encouraged me to study their underlying logic with the same insight the song writer brought to the piece’s original conception.  My repertoire mushroomed, my confidence multiplied.

I soon purchased my first $25 Conn alto sax and started gigging with “The Viscaynes,” a surf band formed by Mark Turnbull.  Their material was largely in the unwieldy guitar key of E, which put my alto in the unthinkable key of 7 sharps.  Because of Al’s revolutionary approach, this no longer posed a problem.  I told Mark about Al, he too started taking lessons, and  to this day, we still converse in “Al speak.”

All of the music you have ever heard in your life is stored away in your brain, and you will be able to access it through your horn by exercising the synapses you tap into with “New Ears.”  Transform your own improvisational approach today with New Ears Resolution .

Thematic Development Galvanizes Your Solos

January 11, 2015

STORYTELLERDo your solos brim with vitality, gliding across a colorful landscape, as you explore ever deeper into the ocean of sound?  Or do you flounder among waves of notes, swimming through a maze of chord changes?

STORYTELLER 3Thematic development will transform your playing, as you weave your exciting, personal story.

The following clips illustrate three powerful tools to stimulate your creative potential and enthuse your audience.

1.  RHYTHMIC SHIFT – Example 1 presents a 7-beat phrase that starts on the “and” of beat 3.  The phrase is then repeated, but this time, it begins on the “and” of beat 2.  Repeating the phrase gives your thought unity, while the rhythmic offset offers variety and surprise.  Try playing along with this recording in all 12 keys.


2.  DIMINUTION – In example 2, the 7-beat phrase is the same, but a triplet compresses the second statement of the theme.  Your motif is still easily recognized, but you have added variety.


3.  TONAL SHIFT – In Example 3, the second statement of the theme modulates up a minor third.  Tonal shift was a favorite device of John Coltrane.  The listener still recognizes your theme, but her ear delights in this fresh new element you have added to the mix.


As you become more comfortable with creating and developing thematic material, your unique personality defines your individual style.  You improvise dynamically and coherently.


To master these 3 techniques, play along with the 3 audio files offered here.  Contact me, if you need a chart.  Or, if you want to learn to play by ear in all 12 keys (as I did while recording these clips), download “New Ears Resolution” and liberate your musical imagination!

Do You Enjoy Practicing Scales?

January 2, 2015

How often do we teachers hear students complain about having to practice long tones and scales?  Every teacher knows that long tones greatly enhance tonal quality and intonation and that scales are the raw material from which improvised solos are crafted.  The problem is that any musician who practices being bored will bore the audience.  What you practice is what you perform.  Practice joy, imagination, and  freshness, and your show will be fresh.  Practice dry technique, and your gig will be a desert.

Below is a 4-bar phrase containing a descending major scale (Ionian mode) and an ascending Mixolydian mode.  I worked on this exercise until the rhythm and note sequence started to feel interesting to me.

Try playing along with the background track provided below and see if this approach adds a bit of zest to your practice time.  Develop your own variations on this idea.  Email me for a FREE copy of this exercise in all 12 keys, if you have trouble figuring it out.  Better yet, download “New Ears Resolution” and learn how to play any melody in any key by ear.

1 1 15 scale lick

Happy New Year, Sonny Rollins!

January 1, 2015


What a great way to ring in 2015!  We watched “Labor Day” on Netflix, and then I revisited Sonny Rollins’ 1998 CD “Global Warming.”  Sonny has a wonderful ability to compose simple melodies that swing.  And, of course, the unique way he develops motivic material during his solos is legendary.   Solos brimming over with life and joy.  I just had to pick up my horn and play along.  Here is the lick that emerged, Adolph Sax’s new year’s gift.

NEW YEARS EVE LICK 2014 2015Try playing along with this melodic minor phrase in all 12 keys using this background track.  If you have trouble transposing it, email me for a free chart.  Or download “New Ears Resolution” and learn how to play any melody in any key by ear.

Improvising Using Skips

December 10, 2014

Are your improvisations based more on the chord changes (Coleman Hawkins approach) or on the melody (Lester Young approach)?  Many players look at the chord progressions and derive either arpeggios or scale patterns based on the indicated changes.  Here is an exercise that will develop your ability to integrate larger leaps into your melodic flow.

12 9 14 LICK cropped

To derive the maximum benefit, practice this pattern in all 12 keys around the circle of fifths using the background track provided below.  If you have difficulty figuring out the pattern in the other keys, contact me for a FREE chart (no cost or obligation).  Better yet, download “New Ears Resolution” to learn how to play any melody in any key BY EAR!

HONK on 20th Century (Clay Figures)

December 3, 2014

Several HONK fans have been asking me how to get a hold of the HONK “Clay Figures” album.  The complete collection is now available as a download.   The first HONK LP was released by Twentieth Century Records in 1973. The cover showed clay figures of the band. A second LP was recorded by 20th Century but never released as an LP. In 2004, both albums were remastered and released on a single CD. This package includes all 20 selections as well as the cover art and the booklet.

The songs are:

From the first album – I Wanna Do For You,  So Much Easier,  Don’t Let Your Goodbye Stand,  Circles in Sand,  Caught on a Greyhound,  Another Light,  We’re On Wheels,  Hidin’ Out,  I Wanna Stay,  Money Slips Through My Fingers,  Buckeyed Jim,  Pipeline Sequence.

From the second album – Fortune Wheel,  Dog At Your Door**,  All My Time Is Free**,  There Is a River**,  Heatwave,  Love Ain’t So Common,  Please Remember,  No One Is Waiting

  **  These 3 songs also appear on the Epic “Orange Album.”  However, those recordings were produced a year later.  If you are familiar with the Epic album, you will find it interesting to compare these earlier recordings done by Steve Desper at Cherokee with the later recordings produced by Henry Lewey at A&M Studios.


Check Out This Great Saxophone Web Site

October 30, 2014

Jeff Rzepiela is a talented reed player and arranger.  His web site contains many transcriptions of solos by the masters of jazz.   Check out his latest newsletter Scooby-sax_Newsletter_Oct_2014(1) which features an insightful analysis of an improvised solo by Arnie Krakowsky over the tune “I’ve Never Been in Love Before.”  Jeff skillfully singles out several key phrases in the solo, shows how they relate to each other, and makes them available for those of us who benefit from “wood-shedding” over great “licks.”

Kenny Barron’s “Voyage”

September 19, 2014

Kenny Barron’s wonderful composition Voyage is a particularly apt vehicle for Stan Getz.  The phrase in bar 4 especially caught my ear (example A.)


It would be fascinating to ask Mr. Barron whether he conceived of Voyage rapidly or – as often happens – the piece evolved over a period of time.
Focusing on bar 4, you see that the melody outlines the F7(b9) chord as shown in example A above.  It’s tempting to speculate that the appoggiatura was originally part of the F7(b9) arpeggio. The Eb then takes its place as the 7th in the F7(b9) chord, as shown in Example B.  Of course, Voyage as we now know it is far hipper than it would have been if bar 4 looked like Example B!


Speculation aside, one way you will definitely improve your instrumental technique is by playing figures such as this one in all 12 keys around the Circle of Fifths, starting with a slow metronome setting and gradually increasing the tempo.
While I practiced this particular lick, I experimented with various rhythmic combinations.  If you do that, you will keep your imagination engaged, so that your practice time does not degenerate into a dry, lifeless exercise. You will also develop your own stylistic preferences, so that choosing the hippest rhythm for an improvised passage will not slow down your reflexes during performance.  Some of the iterations I tried are shown in Example C.


The first iteration emphasizes the third of the chord – the “sweet note.”   The rest of the sketches experiment with various rhythmic syncopations.  Perhaps you also will benefit from playing along with the final lick in all 12 keys using this background track:

If you need a chart, fill out the request form below.  Your information will not be used for any other purpose, nor will it be saved.  Better yet, download New Ears Resolution and learn how to transpose by ear on the fly!

Be Part of a Jazz Big Band!

August 22, 2014

 Are you or your students or friends interested in big band music? Please help me spread the word about a unique opportunity to join with like-minded musicians in making some swinging music and having a good time to boot. They say the setting is beautiful and the food is great! Many of the players return year after year.

Click Here to Learn More

A Jazz Lick From Bach? Yes Indeed!

February 15, 2014

A recent biography of jazz tenor sax giant John Coltrane verified that he had indeed studied the wonderful Bach Cello Suites.  The suites, though quite challenging, are a joy to play, and they provide numerous opportunities to build your tone, technique, and conception.  As it turns out, they also contain some amazing phrases which can be adapted as jazz improv “licks.”  What do you think of this one?   It’s from Bach Cello Suite Number 2, “Allemande,” bar 21.    Play it through in all 12 keys (see chart below) and let us know whether Bach gives you ideas for your jazz improvisation.


Try This One in All 12 Keys!

January 9, 2014

Here is an interesting phrase I’ve been practicing in all 12 keys.  As always, follow Kenny Werner’s cue to “play effortlessly” in order to get a relaxed, flowing, swinging feel.   Want a FREE chart of the lick in all 12 keys and a “background track” to play along with?   Write your email address below.  Your information will not be used for any other purpose.    Better yet, download “New Ears Resolution” and learn how to play in all 12 keys by ear with ease.

1 9 14 LICK

Noted Guitarist Praises “New Ears Resolution”

November 21, 2013

This review of the Second Edition of “New Ears Resolution” was posted by the wonderful guitarist, singer, and educator Trevor Hanson http://trevorhanson.com/trevor/ .  Trevor is highly respected for his work in both the jazz and classical fields and has a large following in Western Washington State.

  1. Basic concept: great.  The basic concepts and the way you have organized their presentation are very useful.  You have many good insights and analogies to help get students on board, even if they have had little formal training.  There’s no question that moveable-do solfege is a tremendous learning aid, and you’ve done a good job at making it accessible and understandable.  The early parts of your presentation assume that the reader has little or no background in music theory.
  2. Combining essential skills in small lessons.  By combining ear training, scale/harmony theory, and repetition and presenting the material in small, easily manageable chunks, you’ve provided an excellent framework for learning that doesn’t overwhelm the student.  Many theory books cover this material in just a few pages – making it difficult for students to achieve a working knowledge of (and quick memory for) these essential elements.
  3. Familiar tunes as examples. Linking little phrases to familiar tunes is very helpful.  This is how most of us recognize intervals, patterns, and progressions.  By providing examples, you save students time, since recognizing a short quote is often difficult.
  4. Audio files.  Listening to and playing along with the audio files is a huge advantage.
  5. Scale/chord material.  Your presentation of the scale modes is very good.  I really like the clear examples showing how each mode can be derived from the Ionian, the examples showing how each modal color can be used, and the charts/audio exercises that contrast these elements.  I found your discussion of Locrian m7(b5) and Phrigian sus(b9) even more useful.  I ran out of time before getting a chance to look at Bill Green’s approach to the blues scale and V7#9#5 chord, and am looking forward to examining this section.  These are all really important topics that most musicians just have to figure out by experimentation.  You have provided a logical starting point for studying these elements.

Trevor Hanson

Chicago’s Tris Imboden weighs in on Capistrano Sessions

October 16, 2013

capistrano_sessions_large“Great tunes! Some truly satisfying compositions played really well. It’s been awhile since I have heard a recording that would be labeled ‘Jazz’ that wasn’t overly preoccupied with trying to show off the participants’ musical muscle. This CD is more about songs and songs played really well. Don’t get me wrong, the playing is masterful, but no one seems bent on ‘going to the hot dog stand.’ I love it.”

—–   From the Review of “Capistrano Sessions” by “Chicago” drummer Tris Imboden

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Combining the Blues Scale With the Minor Scales

October 15, 2013

There is a lot of talk in improvisation texts about the three minor scales (which start on LA), the Dorian mode (which starts on RE), and the blues scale (which can begin on either one).   However, the reality is that master jazz improvisers glide freely between all five scales with additional nuances interspersed.  Below is a lick to illustrate this principle.  Listen to the mp3 recording while looking at the chart.  Try practicing this lick in all 12 keys.  If you have difficulty, try slowing it down or looping the hard section with the FREE DOWNLOAD  Best Practice.   Or contact me for a FREE chart of the lick in 12 keys by filling in your email below.  Your address will NOT be used for any other purpose, and it will NOT be saved.   Better yet, if you want to learn to play jazz by ear, download New Ears Resolution.

10-14-13 LICK

Better ‘n Scales

August 29, 2013

Any improvisation teacher will tell you that knowing your scales is essential to becoming an effective improviser.  But here’s the rub:  For many musicians, mindless repetition of scales numbs the imagination, limits your lyricism, and eliminates the joy from your performance.

Here is a solution.  I have developed hundreds of phrases such as the one shown below which develop incredible technical facility on your horn while keeping your heart, mind, and imagination fully engaged.

Practice this phrase in all 12 keys, progressing around the circle of fifths as indicated on the example, while listening to the attached mp3 file.  Use the contact form below to request a free chart, if you can’t figure out the lick in all 12 keys.  Better yet, download “New Ears Resolution” for just $9.99 to totally revolutionize your playing.

8-29-13 LICK

Want Larger, More Enthusiastic Audiences?

August 15, 2013

What you practice is what you will perform.  A joyful practice session produces a joyful performance.  If you “practice joy” instead of merely “practicing scales,” the joy in your performances will be contagious, and your audiences will grow larger and more enthusiastic.
Now here’s the rub: Any teacher of improvisation will tell you, “You have to master scales to be a great improviser.”  But you hate practicing scales!  Your mind grows numb.  You can’t wait for your practice time to be finished.
The challenge is to keep your imagination joyfully engaged AND, at the same time, increase your technical mastery of your axe.  Can you do both?
Over the years, I have assembled a book of 300 licks that both challenge my technical ability and — AT THE SAME TIME — keep my heart and my imagination fully engaged.  Most of them evolve as I work them out in all 12 keys;  others are borrowed from the solo transcriptions of the masters.  Below is a recording and a chart for 1 such scalar lick which I just finished practicing.  Try it!  Can you play it in all 12 keys? If not, contact me using the contact form below for a free chart.  Better yet, download New Ears Resolution to learn how to play any melody by ear in any key.

8-15-13 LICK

Get New Ears NOW at a new LOW price!

December 17, 2012

cbnewearsresolutionThe highly acclaimed Second Edition of “New Ears Resolution” is now available instantly & economically as a download via the trusted FastSpring Network!

The cost for the entire package is now only $9.99USD, and you can begin your exciting exploration into the fascinating world of improvisation immediately.

logo-fastspring-smClick here to order

You Can Learn to Play by Ear with “New Ears Resolution”

November 29, 2012

New Ears Resolution has helped hundreds of musicians learn to play by ear over the past 15 years. And now, the Second Edition offers scores of new innovations designed to make your learning experience more enjoyable, effective, and thorough.

Download “New Ears Resolution” for just $9.99.  Click here.

OR   Purchase the physical book and CD via PayPal for just $19.99 plus shipping.  Click here.

Whether you work with a jazz combo, rock group, or big band, or just play for your own pleasure, “New Ears Resolution” will help you become the musician you have always wanted to be.

i’ve taught this method for years and have used it in my own performances.  i’ve researched extensively in order to improve its design and have thus developed a comprehensive approach to the art of playing by ear.


Read the rest of this entry »

HONK in concert

September 3, 2012

Here’s a snap of HONK’s most recent concert.  It was a blast!  Left to Right:  Richard Stekol, Tris Imboden, Craig Buhler.  (Not shown in this shot:  Will Brady, Beth Fitchet, Steve Wood)

Don’t Just Practice Dry Technique: Practice Full Engagement With Your Music!

June 11, 2012

Here is an enjoyable (though challenging) way to practice the harmonic minor scale.  Read the rest of this entry »

What is This Thing Called “Storyville”?

May 12, 2012

“Storyville” packed Laguna Beach’s Marine Room in June.  Everybody had a great time, so we decided to do it again.
When:  Tuesday, August 14 , 2012, 7:00-11:00 PM
WhereThe LAX Jazz Club at the Crowne Plaza Hotel
Please RSVP at:  the Storyville Facebook page.
listen to samples of Storyville’s music here

          This most unique ensemble is comprised of HONK member Craig Buhler along with bassist Jack Prather, trumpet & vibes man Brian Atkinson (Disneyland Band), brass man Dan Barrett (Benny Goodman, Woodie Allen, etc.), and first call L.A. session players Karen Hammack (piano) and drummer Paul Kreibich (Ray Charles Band).  Their repertoire is amazingly diverse spanning jazz history from Louis Armstrong to Wayne Shorter, pop icons from Benny Goodman & Nat King Cole to Bob Marley & Steely Dan
Read the rest of this entry »

Sonny Rollins’ Solo on “Blues for Philly Joe”

April 3, 2012

Sonny Rollins is renowned for his unique approach to thematic development, which is somewhat similar to the way Beethoven worked in a piece such as his famous Fifth Symphony.  His solo on his original tune “Blues for Philly Joe” (named for drummer Philly Joe Jones) is a perfect example of this type of development.  Parts of the solo are so rhythmically driven, one can imagine that Rollins was consciously emulating the way a jazz drummer would approach a solo.  Here is a great blues lick that works well over the IV chord (bars 62-63).  Doesn’t it sound like something Cannonball (a great blues master) might have played?  Try playing it in all 12 keys. If you can’t figure out how to transpose it, leave a comment below or email me for a free copy of the figure in all 12 keys.



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