Category: Effortless Mastery

Dig Jimmy Heath!

heath-frontJimmy Heath is another master with whom I hope to become more familiar.

Driving into a glorious autumn dawn on the way to church Sunday, I was listening to “Picture of Heath” and was particularly struck by the third chorus of Jimmy’s soprano solo on “All Members.”

I don’t usually go to the trouble of formally transcribing solos, since there are so many fine transcriptions available on-line.  But Jimmy’s third chorus really knocked me out, and i felt compelled to examine the strategy, structure, and logic of this amazing 12-bar chorus.  Continue reading “Dig Jimmy Heath!”

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!

Check Out This Great Saxophone Web Site

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.”

A Jazz Lick From Bach? Yes Indeed!

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.

BACH CELLO SUITE II, ALLEMANDE bar 21

Try This One in All 12 Keys!

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”

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.

Sincerely,
Trevor Hanson
www.TrevorHanson.com

Combining the Blues Scale With the Minor Scales

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

Want Larger, More Enthusiastic Audiences?

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

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

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.

HOW IS “NEW EARS” DIFFERENT FROM OTHER METHODS?

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

Effortless Mastery

Here is an exercise to develop your rhythmic precision, finger dexterity, and improvisatory diversity.

In Kenny Werner’s book “Effortless Mastery,” he states that in order for a phrase to sound relaxed & swinging, it must be played effortlessly.  How do you play a line like the one below and make it sound effortless?  You must sacrifice one of these qualities:

  •   playing it fast
  •   playing the whole phrase
  •   playing it perfectly

Try looping little sections (as few as 2 notes) until they flow effortlessly.  Use your metronome in order to keep the groove going smoothly.  Start slowly and gradually extend the length, speed, and precision of what you are able to play effortlessly.

Can You Learn to Play by Ear?

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.

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.

HOW IS “NEW EARS” DIFFERENT FROM OTHER METHODS?

“New Ears Resolution” is a hands-on method. Learn to play by ear by playing, rather than studying abstract theory! It’s fun, and it’s practical.

The audio contains 26 enjoyable play-along tracks in many different styles: swing, bossa, bop, rock, folk, country, jazz waltz, ballad, and fusion.

The 78-page book includes charts for each of the 26 exercises along with clear, simple instructions and lots of handy tips on how to succeed on the gig or in the jam session.

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE SECOND EDITION

Learn to use these scales:

  • Major
  • Natural Minor
  • Harmonic Minor
  • Melodic Minor
  • Blues Scale
  • Extended Blues Scale

Learn to use the following modes:

  • Ionian
  • Dorian
  • Phrygian
  • Lydian
  • Mixolydian
  • Aeolian
  • Locrian

Learn to improvise over these chords:

  • Triads
  • Major Sevenths
  • Dominant Sevenths
  • Minor Sevenths
  • Minor 7 Flat 5 (Half Diminished)
  • V7(b9)
  • sus b9
  • V7#9(#5)
  • Diminished
  • Augmented

Learn how to navigate key changes (modulations) smoothly and effortlessly.

Learn techniques for improvising.

Learn about harmonic context.

Understand how to play over these progressions:

  • The ii-V-I progression
  • The I-vi-ii-V progression
  • The 12-bar blues progression

Learn the art of melody embellishment.

Learn how to play polytonal passages.

Master rhythm and learn to swing!

Click here to purchase “New Ears Resolution using logo_paypal_106x29

Only $19.99 plus $6 shipping ($10 international)

You can also download the New Ears Resolution course from FastSpring for only $9.99USD.  Click here for details.logo-fastspring-sm

CAN YOU LEARN TO PLAY BY EAR? YES YOU CAN!

How do i know? Because I have taught over 100 musicians to do it over the past 15 years. These are musicians of all ages and levels of ability on various instruments, and you can be one of them.

Playing by ear is a thrilling experience. With this skill, your instrument can reproduce any song you can whistle or imagine, in any key. You can write down melodies while sitting on an airplane, without consulting a piano. How is this wonderful feat accomplished?

There are two ways a person plays by ear. Either you are born with perfect pitch or you learn to play by ear using relative pitch.

One in 10,000 people is born with perfect pitch. These rare individuals can hear any note and tell you what that note is. Some folks say perfect pitch can be learned, but I am very skeptical of these claims.

Relative pitch – by contrast – is the ability to name any note once you have been given a reference pitch. You figure out the second note by calculating its distance from the given note. I can teach you to do this.

In order to improvise, you must be able to transfer any melody you hear (on the radio, in your memory, or in your imagination) to your fingers and your instrument.

How do You Do It?

My “New Ears Resolution” ear training method is based on the “movable Do” system as elaborated by my teacher, Alvin Learned. Al was Dean of the legendary Westlake School of Jazz, which trained many of the leading Los Angeles musicians of the 1950’s, including Paul Desmond, Les McCann, and Billy May.

By playing along with the “New Ears” audio tracks, you learn to discern the relative position of various notes in a scale, and you become adept at finding any scale degree on your instrument in any key. The difference this makes in your playing is immediate & dramatic!

Visualize two typists, one laboriously “hunting & pecking” for each letter, the other effortlessly “touch typing,” spinning out error-free paragraphs. Now imagine two musicians, one painstakingly searching for each note (by trial & error), the other soaring through a melody as if it had been carefully memorized.

A very talented and ambitious young student told me he was trying to memorize one tune per week in all 12 keys. I responded, “That sounds like a mountain of work, and it will take you 10 years to build a repertoire!”

When you play a song by ear, you do NOT memorize the sheet music. Rather, you hear the tune in your imagination, calculate the tune’s formula in real time, and translate the formula into actual notes in any desired key on your instrument, also in real time.

This may sound like it would consume a staggering amount of brain power, but the process becomes amazingly simple, once you have worked through the exercises contained in the “New Ears Resolution” package. The 26 exercises on the CD (or mp3 download) start out quite simply and grow increasingly complex as your ability and confidence grow.

You will play along with the 72-minute audio a minimum of three times.

  • The first time, you read through the charts given in the “New Ears” book while you play along with the audio track. This also helps refine your sight reading ability.
  • The second time, you play along with the recording without looking at the book. You are now playing the exercises by ear. This increases your confidence.
  • The third time through, you improvise variations as you play along with the recording. This builds your improvisatory vocabulary.

While this method is primarily designed to teach you to play by ear in all 12 keys, many other benefits are derived from practicing with the “New Ears” recording.

  • Your sight reading grows stronger.
  • Your tone develops.
  • Your intonation improves.
  • Your rhythmic sense increases.
  • You begin to develop an improvisational vocabulary.
  • Your confidence blossoms.

While the majority of my students incorporate the “New Ears Resolution” ear training method within a series of 12 or more one-hour private lessons, scores of self-motivated students have found they can learn on their own from the book & audio tracks.

The brand new, comprehensively redesigned Second Edition answers numerous questions which more than a hundred students have asked me over the past 15 years.  Its 26 audio tracks and 78-page book are packed with helpful tips to prepare you for the gig & the jam session.

Students who encounter questions or road blocks along the way need only send me an email, and the issue will be promptly addressed.

Click here to purchase “New Ears Resolution using

logo_paypal_106x29

Only $19.99 plus $6 shipping ($10 international)

You can also download the New Ears Resolution course from FastSpring for only $9.99USD.  Click here for details.logo-fastspring-sm