Category: Ear Training

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”

Ben Webster’s “Mellow Tone”

While thinking about Ben Webster this morning, I began messing around with Duke’s tune “In a Mellow Tone.”  I was working on the ascending minor 6th leap and came up with this fun little exercise to develop fluency with that 6th skip.  Although this phrase sounds more like Duke’s tune “Do Nothin’ Til You Hear From Me,” and the band was in a Bossa mood, the lick is meant to go with Webster’s “In a Mellow Tone.”

For a chart in all 12 keys, click on “continue reading” below.  Or – if you want to learn to play effortlessly without charts, download “New Ears Resolution.”

Continue reading “Ben Webster’s “Mellow Tone””

How Sonny Rollins Practices

How has the quarantine impacted your chops?  This no-gigs lock down has been absolutely disastrous for many working musicians financially.  But our chops don’t have to take the same hit our wallets are taking, if we’ll explore innovative approaches to practicing.

My practice strategy is similar to what Sonny Rollins described when asked how he practices.  Sonny said:

“I start out playing things I know to get the blood flowing.  Those things are often described as ‘clichés.’  You begin with the cliché so you can get the process in motion.  Once the process is in motion, ‘thinking’ gives way to ‘playing.’  At that point, you get out of the way and let the music play.”

Over the past decade, I’ve written down over a thousand licks I keep in a notebook, each of which I woodshed in all 12 keys.  Some of these ideas come from transcribed solos of the masters, but most simply emerge as I’m connecting with the horn.  Practicing joy.  I encourage you to try this technique, as it supercharges your chops, strengthens your improvisatory muscle, and turns you into a composer.

Here’s a lick you can play with, in order to get started down that path.  The tonal center of this phrase baffled my friends and me at first.  Eventually, I settled on a basic ii-V-I progression, which perfectly fit the melodic contour.  If you want more background, leave a comment at the bottom of this post.

To see a chart, click on “CONTINUE READING” below.

Continue reading “How Sonny Rollins Practices”

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.

Stan Getz Solo From “O Grande Amor”

The_Stockholm_ConcertLooking for a refreshingly novel approach to playing over a minor   ii-V-i ?   Here’s an idea by Stan Getz.  It’s from bars 15 & 16 in the first chorus of his solo over “O Grande Amor” from “The Stockholm Concert.”

B flat instruments start at line 1.  Concert key instruments start at line 3, and E flat instruments start at line 12.  (Double back to the beginning when you reach the end of the chart.)

STAN GETZ LICK FROM O GRANDE AMOR

STAN GETZ LICK FROM O GRANDE AMOR 2

 

 

 

Hanon 61 For Piano

Although i am just a lowly jazz saxophonist, it is important for all of us musicians to have a working knowledge of piano.   So i found an excellent teacher, Dawn Martin, who is really excellent at helping undo my bad habits which cause muscle strain.  Two areas that particularly stymie me are:

  • Skips of an octave or a major seventh
  • Quickly returning the five fingers into the new position after a large skip

The 60 Hanon exercises are awesome, as is working through the 12 major scales, two hands, three octaves.   I wrote the exercise below to help with the problems described above.   For lack of a better name, i call it “Hanon 61.”   Maybe it will help you as well.  (Press “CONTINUE READING” below to see the chart.)

Continue reading “Hanon 61 For Piano”

Fats Waller & Arpeggios

FATS WALLERMastering arpeggios gives you yet another tool to use (in moderation) in your improv solos.

Have you ever tried playing Fats Waller’s great tune “The Jitterbug Waltz”?  Find it on Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s “Bright Moments” album.   Mastering arpeggios will make that tune much easier to play.ROLAND KIRK

Here’s a challenging and interesting way to master arpeggios.  The idea for this exercise was suggested to me by a warm-up my talented friend Al Thompson often uses.

Click on “continue reading” for a complete chart.

Continue reading “Fats Waller & Arpeggios”

Bonfa, Jobim, and Bossa Nova

GETZ GILBERTOBrazilian bossa nova’s introduction to the U.S. thanks to composers Luiz Bonfá (Samba de Orfeu and Manhã de Carnaval), Antônio Carlos Jobim (Desafinado, Girl from Ipanema, Corcovado, etc.), and instrumentalists João Gilberto and Stan Getz literally transformed the jazz landscape overnight.

For the past 50 years, casual straight-ahead jazz gigs have invariably featured at least one bossa per set.

Familiarity with the following exercise will greatly enhance your facility with the melodic and harmonic nuances found in these wonderful compositions.  Here is the basic lick:

BONFA AND JOBIM

Here is a recording of the lick played in all 12 keys:

Develop your ear to flawlessly play passages such as this one in all 12 keys by downloading and working through “New Ears Resolution.”

Continue reading “Bonfa, Jobim, and Bossa Nova”

TEST YOUR EAR!

You’ll ace this one, if you’ve played through “New Ears Resolution.”  If not, it may be tricky.

TEST YOUR EAR

Below is a recording of the pattern in all 12 keys.  Submit a “comment” at the bottom of this post, if you need a chart to play along with the recording.

Note that this phrase traverses the first five chords of the standard “Someday My Prince Will Come,” a long-time staple of Miles Davis’s book.  That “harmonic quote” was not intentional.  When you start creating patterns in a “stream of consciousness” manner, elements of your repertoire tend to crop up in various guises.

Multi-instrumentalist Kevin McCartney recently taught me about the ebb and flow of tension and release created by Cuban clave patterns.   In this exercise, the many accidentals create a bit of harmonic tension, which is then released through resolution to adjacent diatonic notes.  Note in particular the tension created by Si, Di, and Le.

Upon further reflection today (during surgical anesthesia!), it occurred to me that this phrase uses all 17 notes in the scale:  the 7 diatonic pitches, the 5 sharps, and the 5 flats.  For a horn player, G# and Ab are identical.  However, a symphonic violinist thinks of them quite differently.

What you hear in this recording is actually 5 clarinets.  Took me about 20 takes to get 5 usable ones.

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”

Developing Hand – Ear Coordination

sax life logo
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”.

Continue reading “Developing Hand – Ear Coordination”

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?”

Learning to Play by Ear: A 1958 Perspective

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.” Continue reading “Learning to Play by Ear: A 1958 Perspective”

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!”

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

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. Continue reading ““Remember” Hank Mobley’s “Soul Station”?”

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?”

Dominant Seven Flat 9 Chords V7(b9)

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.  Continue reading “Dominant Seven Flat 9 Chords V7(b9)”

Thematic Development Galvanizes Your Solos

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.

MIXOLYDIAN LICK 1

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.

MIXOLYDIAN LICK 2

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.

MIXOLYDIAN LICK 3

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

STORYTELLER 2

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?

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!

ROLLINS

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

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!