Category: musician

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”

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”?”

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”

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)”

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.”

Kenny Barron’s “Voyage”

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.)

KENNY BARRON EX 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!

KENNY BARRON 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.

KENNY BARRON 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:

Here is the chart:

KENNY BARRON VOYAGE EXERCISE 9 19 14 web site

 

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.    Try playing along with the background track provided below.  If you need a chart, it is also provided below.   Better yet, download “New Ears Resolution” and learn how to play in all 12 keys by ear with ease.

TRY THIS ONE IN ALL 12 KEYS page 1

TRY THIS ONE IN ALL 12 KEYS page 2

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.

Think like a Composer

New Ears Resolution is not only designed to teach you to play by ear;  this discipline also encourages you to think more intelligently about the material you are playing.  Rote memorization of a song is not only tedious & laborious, but that process also cheats you out of the joy, wonder, and beauty implicit within the composition, the qualities which make a great performance so special.  When you approach a piece with “new ears,” you are beginning to understand its underlying logic in the same way the composer did while creating it.

Below is a simple illustration of this process.  The example is a Mixolydian phrase.  Try playing it in all 12 keys.  On the first line, the phrase is presented as if it were in C major.  On line 2, the same phrase is shown once again, this time as if it were in F major.  Which line helps you to better understand the phrase?  I welcome your comments.