Category: Bird)

Practice Joy-Subconscious Symmetry

How’s your practice routine feeling lately?  Are you practicing joy?  If you practice joy, your audience will hear joy in your performance, and that lively winsomeness in your playing will win you way more fans than all the chops in the world.

Students ask what I mean by “practice joy.”  Of course, it goes without saying that you need to develop your technique.  But music is way more than just chops. 

It may help to think of your practice session like a lavish banquet.  …(we didn’t have many of those in 2020!)  Think of it in 3 parts.

Your banquetYour practice session
1.  Introductions, greetings, catching up, small talk, hors d’oeuvres, drinks1.  Your warm-up, settling in, loosening up, getting in the groove
2.  The main course2.  Working intentionally through an idea or challenge
3.  Coffee, dessert, farewells, hugs or hand shakes3.  Reward yourself with a fun little jam!

Doesn’t that approach sound more doable, more inviting, more intriguing than staring forlornly at a closed horn case, wondering how to drum up energy to open that case and start playing boring scales?

Those 3 parts of your practice session remind me of Oliver Wendell Holmes’s comment about how a simplistic idea develops into a complex struggle but then resolves into a simple but elegant design.

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So how about let’s design a practice routine  so enthralling — so much fun — that you just can’t wait to pick up your axe and blow! As one typical example, here’s a practice session from a couple days back which was both productive and immensely enjoyable. Every day isn’t exactly like this.  Sometimes the focus is on long tones, sometimes it’s reading through transcriptions, etc. But – on this particular late evening session – I followed Sonny Rollins’ advice.  Sonny said, “just start playing the horn.  Listen to the sound.  Feel your breath and the keys of your axe.  Play a blues.  Play a tune.  Play any old licks that come to mind.”  Rollins called them “clichés,” but he didn’t mean that as an insult.  They’re the bread and butter of learning.  Don’t evaluate, don’t judge, just relate to your axe and enjoy how it sounds, how it makes you feel. After I blew for awhile, this lick just popped out. 

I kind of liked it, so I kept repeating it.  Maybe I tweaked it as I went along, I can’t remember.  After getting it smooth in one key, I ran it down in all 12 keys.  Then I wrote it down in my journal, knowing full well I’d forget it otherwise. After a day or two, I looked back at the transcription and discovered an inner logic — the thing that makes a phrase seem natural and organic – that I hadn’t noticed before.  Up to that point, I’d just been blowing, without a sense of compositional coherence, or any of that theoretical stuff.  But there it was, the musical logic, just waiting to be discovered…

Subconscious Symmetry  

Below is a recording of me playing this phrase in all 12 keys along with a chart.   After that, I discuss the logic hidden within this unusual phrase.

Continue reading “Practice Joy-Subconscious Symmetry”

Band Bus Banter

On the band bus one day, a buddy criticized me for playing too many descending lines. According to him, “Descending is negative; Ascending lines are much more uplifting.” Oh….really?

Players constantly hear advice like that.

Another commentator assured me, “Your phrase cannot EVER begin on the downbeat; It’s got to be asymmetric.” OK, you win, asymmetric it is, smart guy! The customer’s always right, ay?

One nameless critic insisted, “In order to sound hip, your line has to include several non-harmonic tones.” Still another self-proclaimed “authority” touted the need to stuff many rhythmic devices into your phrase.

Finally, a laconic trombonist named Tex snoring in the back of the bus roused himself from slumber just long enough to drawl lazily,
“How a – bout we try ta swing, Stan?”

So what do you think?
What is it that makes a player sound fresh and innovative?

While listening to the masters and practicing, lines like this one seem to pop out of nowhere. Hit ► below and let me know if it works for you.

Click on “continue reading” below to see a chart in all 12 keys. Or download “New Ears Resolution” to supercharge your ear, so you can play licks like this one in all 12 keys without a chart.

Continue reading “Band Bus Banter”

How to Create, Name, and Use Chords to Evoke Emotion and Make Music Come to Life!

C7 CHORDIn just 45 minutes, you can revolutionize your understanding of THE HARMONIC LANGUAGE Learn how chords are created, what notes they contain, how they’re named, and how they’re used to evoke emotion and make music come to life.   Quickly gain harmonic mastery and confidence which will set you apart as a composer or improviser.

Click here to watch this fascinating video on YouTube for free.

The Chord Committee

Many, many thanks to everyone who volunteered for The Chord Committee.    Numerous excellent solutions have been proposed.  In order to avoid discord, I have combined all of your suggestions into one beautiful, majestic chord.   In hopes you will find the solution acceptable, the chart and recording are presented here for your approval.  (Click on “continue reading” to view the complete chart.)

Continue reading “The Chord Committee”

Mastering Modulation

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.

This month, we learn to recognize an internal modulation and craft an effective response. Continue reading “Mastering Modulation”

RIPPING RIFFS OR MEMORABLE MELODIES?

sax life logoCraig wrote this article for the February, 2016 issue of Saxophone Life Magazine.  It appears here courtesy of SLM.

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. Continue reading “RIPPING RIFFS OR MEMORABLE MELODIES?”

Darn That Dexter!

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. Continue reading “Darn That Dexter!”

Jazz Articulation, Accents, and Proper Tonguing

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. Continue reading “Jazz Articulation, Accents, and Proper Tonguing”

Why Is This Tune So Hard To Memorize?

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.

Continue reading “Why Is This Tune So Hard To Memorize?”