Have you ever ridden on a roller coaster blindfolded? That’s how it feels to improvise without understanding internal modulation. It’s like driving through a thick London fog. Progress is halting, movements are uncertain and tense.
By contrast, the player who understands how to navigate key changes improvises smoothly and confidently.
Last month, we looked at the major scale, which has been foundational to Western music for 400 years. Each of the 7 notes in that major scale can function as the root of a diatonic chord. A basic understanding of those 7 chords will greatly improve your ear and your improvisatory skill, so let’s focus on them this month. Read the rest of this entry »
Craig’s article is featured in the April, 2016 edition.
Do you want your improvised solos to soar and delight your audiences? The first and most important step to achieve this is to develop the link between your ears and your fingers. In fact, ultimately we need to be able to transfer any musical idea we imagine to our fingers. I call this “Hand-ear coordination”.
It is a thrilling moment when a musician first experiences the freedom of playing without reliance on the printed score. To be able to play a melody by ear or to spontaneously create an improvised solo never before heard provides joy not to be missed by the player committed to musical excellence.
It’s definitely impressive to hear jazz musicians improvise at incredibly fast tempos. What is, however, far more inspiring is hearing how the great masters are able to create beautifully crafted, swinging melodic lines, regardless of tempo. Read the rest of this entry »
Dexter 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. Read the rest of this entry »
The 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.
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. Read the rest of this entry »
The 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.
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.
Even many accomplished musicians never learn the fine art of playing by ear. A strong ear is a “must” for those of us musicians with visual disabilities. I owe my ear to a uniquely inspired teacher. The story begins in 1963. Read the rest of this entry »
Do 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?
Thematic 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!
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.
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.
Try 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.
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.
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!
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.
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 wonderful composition Voyageis 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 Voyagerapidly 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, Voyageas 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Audio files. Listening to and playing along with the audio files is a huge advantage.
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.
“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
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 DOWNLOADBest 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.
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.
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.