Monday, December 27, 2010

How to Make Your Own Jazz Etude

It's been awhile, but I'm back to teach you how to make a jazz etude of your own.  If you haven't already read Jazz Improvisation: Two Types of Etudes make sure you do.  This article explains why making your own jazz etude is more beneficial than using someone else jazz etude.  After writing that post I figured I should give you some tips and show you how to make your own jazz etude.

To get started you need to decide on what your jazz etude should focus on and teach you.  The best way to come up with a good focus for you own jazz etude is to think about the aspects of jazz improvisation that you feel weak in and would like to improve upon. You can also think about varying elements that you would like to add to your saxophone playing too. I suggest making a list of the areas that you would like to work on.  What this will do is give you a resource of topics for future jazz etudes.  Once you have your list look it over and see what area seems most fitting to focus on right now.  Remember your jazz etude should be something meaningful to you so choose a focus that really speaks to you personally.

Now that you have your focus for your jazz etude it is time to come up with a harmonic background to base your jazz etude around.  To start with choose a chord progression your familiar with such as a blues or jazz standard you enjoy.  Later you can choose chord progressions from songs you want to work on, or progressions that you find to be challenging.

Once you have the harmonic foundation for you jazz etude it is time to start composing.  First make a basic sketch of the melody or ideas that you are focusing on.  Once you have a basic sketch figure out the best way to incorporate the main lesson you want to learn from your jazz etude into the etude in a convincing manner.  You want to write your jazz etude in such a way that it sounds natural and organic.  Most likely you will have to do some experimentation before your etude sounds just right.

While writing your jazz etudes keep in mind the harmonic structure.  This really is your guide to building a melody that fits.  Also remember to have varying rhythms, and don't be afraid of space either. Remember your jazz etude can be as long or as short as you want it.  The etude could cover one chorus or many.  Have fun with it and be creative.

There is one last thing concerning how to make your own jazz etude.  Depending on the topic or focus you choose for your jazz etude you may have to do some research.  This shouldn't be hard though.  There are many resources online that can help you.  Don't let this scare you.  Think of it as a great learning opportunity.

So lets sum it up, the steps to making your own jazz etude are as follows
  1. Choose a topic to Focus on
  2. Do any necessary research
  3. Build a harmonic structure
  4. Start composing
There you have it four simple steps to developing your very own jazz etude.  Have fun.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Simple Improvisation Exercise Great for Beginners

Today I feel that I should talk about a simple improvisation exercise that is great for beginners.  It seems that many beginners are totally lost when it comes to learning improvisation, or else the advice that is given to them is just too complicated or hard for them at that moment.  So the question they typically have is something like this, "What is a simple way for me to learn to improvise?"

Today I hope I can give a good answer to this question for all you beginning improvisers.

Recently, well looking through some threads on Cafe Saxophone ,I came across a post where a beginning player was having some trouble with improvisation and feeling confident about their scales.  After reading this I thought I should share a simple improvisation exercise that is great for beginner players.  The following is a part of this gentleman's post.

       "However, when it comes to the improvisation 'slot' I freeze. The teacher is very laid back and  encouraging and often suggests that we just play a few notes from whatever scale we're using.   This sounds very easy at one level, but the things I worry about are:- whether I'll remember and stick to those notes that are contained within that scale (I'm not very confident about my scales yet); what order to play the notes in; what length of notes to play; how to achieve a sort of rhythm that matches the backing track.

      I usually have a go but I really don't like it. It's not about making mistakes or feeling that I should be good at it or worrying that I'll sound rubbish. For me, it's more an anxiety about not knowing what to do. This feels very different from playing from a music score that provides direction (that's comforting even when I know I'm killing the tune!"

I suspect that this individual isn't alone in their feelings of not knowing what to do and not being confident in their scales.  So here is the improvisation exercise that I suggested that helps a player both become more comfortable with their scales and also learn how to make simple melodic ideas at the same time. We all know that simple melodic ideas are the foundation of a good improvisation, so this exercise is great in helping a beginning player take their first steps into the world of jazz improvisation.

To get started with this improvisation exercise we are going to simplify the scale that you want to work on. Then later we will add to it until you have the whole scale mastered.  For this example I will use C major.  To start we will only focus on the first three notes C, E, and D.

You have the notes you’re going to use now it is time to practice making simple melodies.  An example of something you can do is the following.  Play the notes C, D, E with the rhythm being quarter, quarter, followed by a half note.  Then follow it by C, C, D, E being played eighth, eighth, quarter, half note.  You can come up with many different kinds of variations with just these three notes when you add different kinds of rhythms.  You don't always have to start on C either.

The thing to keep in mind with improvisation is that you are making your own melody and expressing yourself.  Learning to make simple melodies out of the tools you have such as scales and various rhythms is a great starting point to learning to improvise well.

Once you have the three note scale down add to it.  So now try using the notes C, D, E, F, and G.  With this you have five notes of the major scale.  After you are comfortable with the first five notes of the scale add the rest, the last two notes being A, B.  You can do this with any scale.

Something else that might be helpful once you are fairly comfortable with a scale is to practice it in a flexible manner.   Basically flexible scale practice is going up and down a scale any way you want.  Ex. you could play something like, C, D, E, F, E, D, C, B, C, D, E, F, G.  Basically you play the scale but you switch directions whenever you feel like it.

The above improvisation exercise is a great starting point for beginners who need to get more comfortable with their scales and who want to learn to improvise at the same time.  After performing the above improvisation exercise you will have a better idea of how to create melody's in real time, and you will have the confidence and direction that will lead to better and better improvisations as you continue to practice.  One thing I should point out about this improvisation exercise for beginners.  It is a starting point, but if you want to sound like a jazz player you still need to develop you style and jazz feel by listening to the music.  

The Best of luck


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Jazz Improvisation: Two Types of Jazz Etudes

Basically when it comes to learning jazz improvisation through the study of jazz etudes there are two types.  The first type of jazz etudes are those etudes that someone else made for you.  The second type are etudes that you made for yourself.  So are they really different? Lets find out.

Type One Jazz Etudes: Etudes made by others

For beginners type one jazz etudes are great.  Someone else has already done all the work for you.  They wrote the etude, decided what should be focused on, and they typically have a progressive format that is designed to help the player grow overtime.  Most often you find type one jazz etudes in books and available as online resources.  Matt Otto's Blog, and Tim Price's website are great online resources that a player can find exercises and jazz etudes to practice.  The main thing about type one jazz etudes is that it gives beginners a good starting place.  Intermediate players can find them helpful too, especially if they have legitimate jazz licks in them.

Some downsides to Type One Jazz Etudes

The downside of using jazz etudes made by someone else is they aren't always tailored specifically to you and your needs/desires.  Also you miss out on the benefits of writing out the etude yourself where you learn important lessons such as how to make jazz theory work in a musical context.  You discover how hard it can be to make the etude flow and feel organic while still keeping it's vitality and freshness.  This lesson in particular helps as your soloing live by giving you the knowledge and tools to improvise in the moment without completely falling back on memorized stuff.  It also helps you make the licks you have learned have that natural feeling.  The final downside is typically if you want to learn more advanced stuff the jazz etudes that are made by others in books and such aren't tailored for advanced methods of playing.  Most jazz etudes in books and on online sources are more geared to the beginning to intermediate players.  So where does this leave us?  Once you have the basics down and some understanding of jazz its time to develop your own jazz etudes and specialize them to your own goals and desires.

Type Two Jazz Etudes:  Etudes Made by You

We have arrived at the second type of jazz etude.  The jazz etude that you develop to further your own goals and develop your own style.  This is the professional approach to learning jazz improvisation through etudes.  What do I mean by this.  I mean that for those professional musicians that use the jazz etude as a way to improve there understanding of jazz improvisation they develop their own jazz etudes tailored to what they want to develop into there own playing.  There is a point in most musicians careers where they find that if they are going to progress to the next level they have to start relying on themselves instead of others.  This means developing their own exercises to help them reach their musical goals.

If you really want to grow musically then you need to follow the professional players lead and start making your own etudes.  What is so great about developing your own etude?  First is it helps you dive deeper into jazz and jazz improvisation.  To make a really good jazz etude you have to do your research.  You have to learn your jazz theory, and along with this you have to learn about the different techniques that players use in their improvisations to make a musical story.   The great thing about developing your own etude is you can take the varying techniques and elements that jazz musicians use and experiment with them in you own way.  Seeing what works and what doesn't work.  You also are able to focus on only one or two things at a time.  Then you can't deny the fact that writing your own music whether it is a tune or a simple etude is a great way to be creative.  In fact it can help your creativity.  It also helps you develop your own personal licks which later leads to your own style.

So back to the question at the beginner.  Is there a difference between the two types of jazz etudes?  Answer, only in the learning value and the growth that can occur.  Type one etudes are good for a start, but if you want to really explode your musical growth then you need to develop your own etudes or in other words be one of those who uses type two jazz etudes.  That's all for today.  Have fun playing and learning.


Sunday, October 31, 2010

Jazz Improvisation: The Jazz Etude

If you have been following this blog for the past month or two you know that I have been posting about various jazz improvisation methods along with their strengths and weaknesses.  Today I would like to continue this by talking about jazz etudes.

More and more jazz etudes are becoming a popular way to learn jazz improvisation.  There are many books on the market.  Some of the most popular being Greg Fishman's Books.  The question that comes up is why would jazz etudes be so beneficial, and why are they becoming popular?  Jazz improvisation is supposed to be made in the moment right, so why write out a solo?  All of these are legitimate questions.  Which I hope to answer.

First, "Why are jazz etudes becoming more and more popular."  The simple answer is for most people, especially beginners, jazz etudes seem to provide the easiest way to learn jazz improvisation.  No longer does the beginning player have to trudge through tons of jazz theory, nor do they have to master all their scales, or even transcribe like crazy.  All they have to do is read something off a page and then try to digest it's ideas.  In short a jazz etude allows a player to feel like they are playing something jazzy with out having to go through a ton of work.  Now what I just said really over simplifies things and makes jazz etudes sound like a cop out.  Really they aren't if you use them the right way.  In fact may professional players will write out their own jazz etudes to develop their skills and ideas.  More on this later.

As for the benefits there are many.  The first being it's simplicity.  Jazz etudes are typically straightforward.  You know what they are trying to focus on, and you know that the licks and lines in them will fit the cord changes, unless of course the etude is made to help you learn about playing outside the chord changes.  Another benefit of jazz etudes is it allows you to see how certain concepts work in a solo and how you can go about using those same concepts.  People almost always like visuals and jazz etudes do this.  A lot of the time it is easier for someone to understand a concept when they see it in action instead of just hearing it or trying to intellectualize from some theory book.  The finial benefit I want to mention is jazz etudes typically will only focus on one or two different ideas at a time.  This helps beginning improvisers to digest the concepts much more quickly then they may otherwise learn them.

Now for the final question "Why write out a solo when jazz is supposed to be improvised in the moment?"  I really hope the above paragraph on the benefits of jazz etudes answers this question for you, but if not here is what I have to say about it.  Writing out possible solos can be a great learning experience.  When you write out a potential solo or jazz etude of your own you strengthen your knowledge of jazz theory, you can test out different ideas in a safe environment,  and you can write out things that you can hear in your head but doesn't always come out.  Then as was stated in the above paragraph you can focus on a specific concept or idea that you want to evolve into you playing.  I will say this however,  while I feel that playing and writing out jazz etudes is beneficial.  They should never be used as a solo in a live performance.  This is a pet peeve of mine but I always hate it when I attend a jazz performance and the soloist plays a written out solo.  Use such things as learning tools, but when it come to soloing do your own thing and express yourself in that moment.  If you used your jazz etudes effectively and truly studied what they were trying to teach you then it will show up in your playing in an organic, free, expressive manner.

Well that's all I have to say today.  Until next time.


Friday, October 22, 2010

Saxophone Tip #3: Enjoy The Journey

It's been a while since I've posted a saxophone tip so I thought that it was time for another.  Today's saxophone tip is to enjoy the journey.  So simple but something we all forget.

At some point in time you are going to find yourself thinking if only you were as good as so and so.  You might think I should be better then this, or you will be so caught up in all the stuff that you need to learn that you become overwhelmed.

Learning a musical instrument can be tough.  Often times downright challenging.  This can lead to frustration, which is something you don't want.  It is so easy to get trapped into thinking that your not good enough.  When this happens you stunt your own growth.  This is where my tip of enjoying the journey comes in.

To get past feelings of frustration or feelings of being overwhelmed you have to take a different perspective.  The perspective I suggest is looking at learning music as a journey that keeps getting better and better.  Realize that musical growth comes little by little.  Your not going to be amazing overnight.  You also have to realize that you can't learn everything there is to know about music.  It is vast.  What you have to do is figure out what your musically interested in and pursue it.  Little by little you will improve and master those aspects of music that you feel are important and that you want to explore.

Along with this realize that you are where you are today because of the efforts you made yesterday.  If you want to reach a specific level of playing you have to be willing to take the time and do the work that is necessary to reach that level.  Complaining or having unrealistic expectations won't help. It only hurts.  Instead come up with a plan to reach your destination.  Like any journey you only arrive if you have some idea of where you want to go.  Also like a journey there may be different twists and turns, and a bump or too, but in the end it is worth it.

Keep in mind that what makes a journey great isn't necessarily the destination, but all the things you see or learn on the way.  Music is no different.  Don't forget to celebrate your small successes and growth that will occur.  Also don't pass up the many lessons you will learn as you strive to achieve musical excellence.  It is the struggles and lessons learned that will shape you.  There is no easy path to being a great musician or saxophonist.  So instead of getting down stay optimistic and learn to enjoy the successes and failures that come along your musical journey.

So in summary look for the good and rejoice in the advancements you have made.  Remembering to take one step at a time along you musical journey.  The best of luck.


Thursday, October 14, 2010

More Keys of Success for The Traditional Approach

The Ear the Ear the Ear.  That is what the traditional approach to jazz improvisation is all about.  If you can't play what you hear internally then it's going to be difficult to have a good improvisation.  Last time I talked a little about developing you ear.  Today I would like to give you a few more drills that are helpful in learning to improvise.

The first is simple but powerful.  Play with the greats.  What do I mean by this.  Get your favorite jazz record and just play along with it.  Play whatever comes to mind.  You will find that the ideas of the greats will lead you to have your own great ideas.  This is not a transcription drill so don't try and copy the players just make your own improvised lines that will fit with them.  This drill is more a drill that helps you develop your creativity and helps your ear learn what notes seem to fit with specific sounds and what notes don't.  This is really your chance to play with amazing players in the comfort of your home or own practice room.  You can do the same thing with a regular play-along.  Just pick a play-along and start playing.  Don't look at chords or scales or anything.  Play intuitively.  This really helps you to play more freely and develop your ear finger connection.  Both records and play-alongs are great, but I thing that whenever possible it is better to play along with recordings.  I find that they provide you with insperation, ideas, and they are more enjoyable then just playing with a simple play-along.

The second drill I want to share is a self transcription drill designed to help you play the ideas that you can hear and sing but you don't know how to translate to your saxophone.  I hear it all the time.  "If only I could play what I hear in my head," or "I can sing some great jazz lines, but when I try to play them they don't come out."  This is a common problem for most musicians learning to improvise.  The simplest solution is to sing the ideas you hear in your head and record them.  After you have your ideas recorded you can then transcribe them using your saxophone.  If you do this enough then you will start playing the ideas in you head naturally.  What is great about this method too is that you can slow the ideas down if they are fast.  Just sing the same thing slower.  Also keep in mind the old saying if you can't sing it you can't play it.

I hope you can see that with the traditional approach to jazz improvisation the key really is coming up with drills that help you put the mind, ears and fingers together.  There are many variations that you can come up with.  I've just shared with you a few.  Now it is up to you to do the practicing and to come up with other drills of your own.  The Best of luck.


Friday, October 1, 2010

For the Serious Musican

I just ran across a great article that really puts things into prospective if you want to be a true Jazzer.  It is a must read if your serious about being a player.

Check it out at Michael

Some of the most revealing points being:
1.You have to practice a minimum of 4 hours a day
2.If you don't know at least 500 standards you don't know the jazz language.
3.Basics are the most important things to practice.
4.You have to put in your time.  There is no quick answer.

Lets face it learning the saxophone isn't easy and neither is Jazz.  Good Luck.


Sunday, September 26, 2010

Being Successful with the Traditional Approach to Jazz Improvisation

Now for the truth of the matter.  How do you become successful using the traditional approach?  You hear it all the time transcribe, copy, and play with the records.  Learn the jazz language by ear.  Imitate, emulate and innovate.  These are common things told to young improvisers, yet they never address some of the greatest challenges that young improvisers face as they strive to learn jazz improvisation through the traditional approach.  It is my hope to give some suggestions that will help an enthusiastic player overcome some of the common hurdles a players faces as they strive to learn jazz improvisation the traditional way.

The first challenge that many would be improvisers face is that of skill level. Lets be honest most beginning improvisers don't have the chops nor the ears to transcribe the greats.  So what does the player do?  It's simple they develop the necessary skills so they can transcribe the greats.

This involves a few things, first is developing the ear through practice of simple melodies and tunes such as twinkle, twinkle little star, or happy birthday. Something your are already familiar with.  The main thing being figuring it out by ear. A lot of players are embarrassed to do this.  They think it is childish, but this can greatly help develop your ear and allows you to start making the connection between the mind and the fingers.  Also these songs are usually already a part of you.  You know the melody by heart because as a little kid you sang them all the time.  This is really important.  To learn something by ear you must first internalize it.  If you can't hear it in your head when your not listening to the recording then it becomes extremely difficult to transcribe it.

Once you have simple melodies down and you can play them with any starting note then you can move on to learning heads to jazz standards by ear.  Yes, the above statement means that you need to learn the simple melodies in multiple keys. With the standards make sure that you choose tunes that are at you level.  Start simple then get to the more challenging stuff.  The great thing about the standards are you will start learning the phrasing and articulation that an improviser uses, but at a much slower tempo then their solos.

After you have gotten a few tunes under your belt your ear should be ready to start on actual solos.  Like before start with something you can accomplish.  Miles Davis's "So What" solo on his Kind of Blue record is a good example.  It is simple yet inspirational at the same time.  In no time you will be able to transcribe your favorite players.

As for getting the needed chops that comes with practice of scales, patterns, and working through technical studies.  You can also use the technical approach of jazz improvisation as a foundation builder.  it will give you the needed technique so that when your ear is ready to transcribe someone like John Coltrane  your fingers will be ready too.

I would like to say more, but this post is getting long so I will save my other suggestions till next time.  Until then.


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Jazz Improvisation: The Traditional Approach

It's another day and we're ready to play, or so they say.  Ok, so what is this all about.  Today I'm going to introduce you to the traditional approach of learning to improvise jazz, and the traditional approach of jazz improvisation is all about playing and listening.  So lets get started.

We have all been there.  We find ourselves asking how can we really learn to improvise.  You have questions and you want answers.  So what do you do you search the web.  You read books.  You might even get the guts to ask the best improviser in your area how they do their stuff.  In the end you find that there seems to be many ways to learn to improvise, but if you look closely you will realize that they all have one thing in common.  Listen to as much jazz as possible.  Those who follow the traditional approach of jazz improvisation take this to heart.  In fact the traditional approach to jazz improvisation is solely based on listening.  Other approaches might focus on theory, scales, or developing technique, but with the traditional approach the answer is found in the music.

What do I mean.  The traditional approach to jazz improvisation is all about learning music aurally, meaning learning to improvise by ear.  They do this by listening to recordings of the great improvisers and transcribing them.  As part of the process a traditionalist doesn't just try to get the notes, but they also try to match the sound, articulation, and phrasing.  Over time a traditional improviser gets to the point where they can play almost anything they hear instantly.  This becomes a great benefit for them, because it allows them to play the ideas that go through their head fairly effortlessly.  There is also the other benefit that they are learning to speak the jazz language the way it is supposed to be spoken. 

One thing to keep in mind with the traditional approach is that it requires a lot of playing and listening.  Not only do traditionalists play with the recordings of the jazz greats they also take every opportunity presented to them to play, and they do it all by ear.  They learn tunes by ear.  They learn chord changes by ear, and they learn how to groove and swing by ear.  The traditional approach is very much a non scholarly more intuitive approach to jazz improvisation.  It becomes more about the sound, color, and feeling you can create.  Then the actual theory involved.  For a traditional improviser the winning formula is listen to jazz as much as possible.  Copy the greats, and then to experiment and play when ever you get a chance.

Well that about sums it up.  The traditional approach is all about the ear.  How well can you hear, and how well can you express yourself through the medium of music.  Until next time.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Technical Approach: Pitfalls to Avoid

So last time I introduced you to the Technical Approach of Jazz Improvisation.  Today I want to warn you of some pitfalls that you will want to avoid.

The first thing to avoid is the idea that if you can play fast and complicated this makes you a good player.  This is something many novice improvisers fall into.  They think that because they are cooking they are the next John Coltrane or something.  I saw this on YouTube once.  The title said something like " Better that Coltrane."  It was just a kid trying to play fast and impressively, but instead of impressing me I just wanted to laugh.  The kid couldn't keep time, his articulation was all over the place and there was nothing musical about it.  It was just a blab of notes that weren't going anywhere.  It was nothing compared to John Coltrane.  The moral of the story being that playing fast isn't enough.  You also have to know how to play musically in time with clean clear phrases.

The second thing that technical players fall into is sounding too cold and mechanical.  If you don't make an effort while your practicing to make the technical things your working on sound smooth and natural you will hear this criticism a lot.  No one wants to listen to someone that sounds like a robot.  They want to get an emotional reaction from it.  They want to feel something.  As a musician you should be striving to express yourself and striving to move the audience in some way.  This means that for technical players they have to spend time figuring out how to make their lines and licks sound more authentic and alive.

Something that can help a technical player sound less cold and mechanical is to aurally hear the licks they are working on and see what inflections the masters use.  See how they execute a lick.  Try to understand how the player brings the music to life. Actually, this process is something that is important for all improvisers no matter the approach they take.  To learn jazz you have to listen to it.  I said it before, but to become a magnificent musician you need to listen to tons of music.

The last pitfall that comes to mind is the golden solo idea.  What I mean by this is some players especially those seeped in the technical approach of jazz improvisation start thinking that if they put this lick with that lick and then connect the next phrase with this pattern followed by a simple melody derived form this or that scale they will have a perfect solo.  To make a good improvised solo you can't just string lick after lick together with some scales and patterns thrown in between.  If you do this musically it just doesn't work.  Well most of the time it doesn't work.  Some players can make it work, but  more often then not it doesn't.

The technical approach to jazz improvisation gives you the tools and skills you need to be a good improviser, but it is up to you to use your own creativity to make a good solo.  Don't sound like someone else, and don't just regurgitate licks.  Make your own thing.  Truly express yourself and great things will happen.

Enough with the negative.  You now know the pitfalls to avoid.  So what can learning the technical approach of jazz improvisation do for you?  Its simple first and for most it gives you great technique.  This is beneficial because as you develop and improve you will find that the ideas that you think about will start to flow naturally.  Players that don't have a strong technical base sometimes struggle. They may have a great idea that occurs in their head, but they can't execute it do to a lack of technique.  Having phenomenal technique frees you.  Its simple by spending time on technical matters you create a link between your fingers and your brain so when you think something it is more likely to happen.  Well that's all for now.  The best of luck practicing


Friday, September 10, 2010

Jazz Improvisation: The Technical Approach What is it?

The technical approach of jazz improvisation is something we are all familiar with.  You've see the guy.  He steps up to the band stand and just starts blazing away.  His technique is phenomenal.  He is all over his horn and can't seem to do wrong.  Lick after lick you come to realize this guy has really spent time shedding.  He's got monster chops.  Wow, how did he get so good?  Being in aw you decide to ask him afterwords.  What does he tell you?  Practice your scales, learn lots of licks and get some patterns under your fingers.  Basically he tells you to master your horn through technical means.We have all had this experience at least once in our musical career.  Usually while we are young.  Of course by now you probably have come to realize it nearly isn't as simple has he makes it seem.

The technical approach of learning jazz improvisation is one filled with lots of work, practice and tons of shedding, yet in the end it is worth it.  You come out a better player and technique to be marveled at.  So what is the technical approach to jazz improvisation.  It is an approach of jazz improvisation where a player values technical ability over everything else.  Scales, licks, patterns, and lots of notieness are the love of a technical player.

To become a technical player you have to master your horn.  It is plain and simple the masters had complete control of their instruments.  If you want to be like them you have to have the same kind of control.  The first step to learning jazz improvisation through the technical approach is mastering all your scales.  This mean throughout the full range of your instrument and in all keys and not just in major and minor.  Jazz is complicated and filled with a variety of sounds and musical colors.  The greats didn't just use major and minor scales and chords they also had diminished, whole tone, and augmented.  This means that you need to learn all these varieties.  You have to master your major and minor scales along with there different modes such as dorian, mixalydian, lydian and so forth.  To top it off you then have to master the augmented scales the whole tone scales and diminished scales.  Once you have this you are just getting started.  Scales up and down in a solo can get boring really fast so you have to mix it up.  One of the ways that the great jazzers made their phrases and melodies more interesting was through sequenced patterns.  For technical players this is a big part of their practice. In the technical approach to jazz improvisation a player extends their scales usefulness by learning sequenced patterns.  For those who don't know, patterns are simple melodic ideas that a player repeatedly plays up or done like a scale.  Patterns are typically played in a diatonic or chromatic manner.  Now, if you think that scales and patterns are all you need to learn your wrong.  Even if you have all your scales done and some patterns under your fingers it doesn't mean your going to sound jazzy.  You still have to learn the jazz language.  Players do this by learning the licks of their favorite players.  Scales and patterns are like the alphabet.  Where licks are words. You combine both to make sentences.

So in summary the formula for learning jazz improvisation through the technical approach is master your scales, learn patterns, and get jazz licks from the greats.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Diffrent Methods of Jazz Improvisation: Intro

Something that has been on my mind a lot lately are the various ways that one can learn jazz improvisation.  If you look online for any amount of time you find a vast majority of resources, all claiming to teach you how to be a great jazz improviser.  Yet the question of "What is the best way to learn to improvise?," still sits in the back of your mind.  Everyone wants to know the secret and become an amazing improviser overnight, but fortunately, or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, this is not the case. I say fortunately because if it were easy to become a great jazz improviser then the solos we love really wouldn't be as meaningful.  Jazz wouldn't move us as much, but fortunately for us it takes hard work, dedication and some creativity to become a great jazz improviser.  So why do I tell you this?  I do it to let you know that there is no easy way to become great, so stop looking for that magic pill.  I will say this though, there are methods out there that will make you an accomplished jazz improviser with some time and effort.   What I would like to do is introduce you to some of these methods so that you can decide which one will fit you the best.  There are four main categories that I'm going to discuss in my next few posts about different methods to learn jazz improvisation.  They are the following: The Technical Approach, The Traditional Approach, The Theoretical Approach, and the Etude Based Approach.  All of these methods of learning to improvise jazz are viable, but each has its strengths and weakness.  What you will want to do after reading about each approach is decide which one fits your goals, desires, and personality and use that method as your main means to learning jazz improvisation.  When you do this with plenty of dedication you will start seeing the results you desire in learning to improvise jazz.  That's all for today, but I can't wait till next time.Until then


Saturday, September 4, 2010

Saxophone Tip #2: Listen to tons of music.

Listen, Listen, Listen, how many times have you heard this?  A lot?  I know I have.  If you want to reach your highest potential musically you need to listen to tons of music.  As much as people want to believe it, music just can't be taught from a book or in a vacuum.  Music is a hearing art meaning you need to learn to hear to master music.  It doesn't matter if your a jazz saxophonist, a classical saxophonist, or something else altogether you need to listen to music daily.  Don't get me wrong books are important and can be helpful, but to sound authentic and real you need to listen to lots and lots of music.

Think of it this way.  How did you learn to speak?  You listened to a model usually your parents.  Keyword there being listened.  You didn't learn your native language from a book.  Music is the same way, it is a language.  The best way to learn a language is by hearing it.  Think of music like a foreign language.  If you want to learn to speak the language you have to hear it. If you just learn the language form a book and never hear anyone speak it you might understand the grammar and structure, but you won't have the proper inflections, articulations and so forth.

I know I'm making a big deal about listening to music, and I know it seems obvious that a musician should take time to listen to lots of music, but guess what, a lot of musicians just don't do it enough especially beginners.  With that being said I guess I should tell you about some of the benefits of listening to tons of music.

For beginners listening to great musicians is key because it gives them a model of how to sound good.  As a saxophonist you should listen to other saxophonist.  What this will do is teach you what kind of sound you should strive for.  It will teach you different ways to approach playing the saxophone, how to phrase and accent musical passages, and it will give you an idea of what you will need to learn if you want to be a successful saxophonist.

For the intermediate to advanced saxophonist listening to tons of music helps you in different ways from that of a beginner.  It can give you ideas that you can later implement into your playing.  You can start to recognize how music theory relates to real music, and you can better understand the different nuances available to you as a musician.  At this point if your an intermediate or advanced player you should feel fairly comfortable on your saxophone,  because of this your focus should lend more and more to stylistic things instead of technique.  This is especially true if you have decided to focus on a specific genre.  As your listening to music really focus on the little things that the performer does that makes the music come to life.  Then try and implement those sorts of things into your playing.  This is especially important in learning to improvise jazz or any other style of music that has improvisation such as rock and roll.  Two people can play the same exact thing, but one person will sound great and the other sounds bad.  Why, the one pays attention to detail and accents and executes the lick in a manner that is stylistically correct were the other just plays the notes but is missing the inflections, articulations and accents needed to sound authentic.  You see this sort of thing all the time when a beginning jazz student tries to play a tune out of a fake book.  They play the tune, but it doesn't sound like jazz.  You just have to remember music is more than notes.  Listening to tons of music is the only way to learn about the nuances that really bring it to life.

So as a refresher listen to tons of music.  This will give you a model of how to  play, it will fill you up with ideas, and it will teach you how to bring the music you play to life.  Until next time.


Sunday, August 29, 2010

Jazz Improvisation for Beginners

Today I want to share with you a jazz improvisation technique that I used in high school with great success.  For most beginners the idea of having to improvise in front of others is quite daunting.  They really have no idea where to start.  They typically can't read chords and they have little experience on their instrument.  This leads to a fear of improvisation.  I can't tell you how many peers I had in high school and jr. high that were afraid to improvise just because they had no idea where to start.  I want to help with that fear and concern.

Jazz improvisation can be a tricky subject so I understand a beginners concern, especially when they are required to improvise but they're not ready.  Personally I found the idea of learning to improvise a challenge so instead of backing down I took every opportunity I could to improvise.  This led to me getting the first tenor parts  even though there were older  more experienced students around.  In my journey I discovered a lot of things, but I found that most methods of learning jazz improvisation just didn't help a beginner.  Often times your told read the cords, use scales, play notes that fit, transcribe the greats and so on.  These are helpful for learning to improvise in jazz, but just plain overwhelming for a beginner. What scales do you use, what notes fit the chords, how can I transcribe the greats when they play so fast?  These are challenges and questions that beginners have.  To get through these challenges a beginning saxophonist just needs to simplify things.  That's what I did in high school and it worked wonders.  Let me explain.

In high school I was reading a lot of jazz charts.  So many in fact that I never had time to truly learn the chord progressions.  What I ended up doing was looking at the key signature of the chart, and figuring out what key the piece was in.  I would then look to see if the chart had any accidentals that showed up frequently.  Then when it came time to improvise I would just use the major or minor scale that fit the key signature as my base.  If the tune had accidentals I would add those too.  From there I just played by ear.  When I started doing this I no longer had to worry about the chords, or what scales to use, or even what notes to choose.  This technique worked great for me and it gave me so much more freedom.  Instead of having to think about a million things all at once. I was able to focus on creativity and music. So in a nut shell here is the technique that I recommend beginners use as a starting point to learning to improvise jazz.
  1. Use the songs key signature as a basis of finding what scale or scales you should use in your improvisation
  2. See if the tune has frequent accidentals.  If so use those accidentals in your jazz improvisations.
  3. Play and have fun.
It's that simple, find the key and use that scale as your base.  If you do this the notes you play will for the most part fit, and you will be more free to be creative and to experiment.  The jazz improvisation technique I just mentioned is a great one for beginners.  It is fairly simple and it's a good starting point.  I do have to say this however it is not a start all, end all technique.  Meaning you will still have to work at it and that there will become a point where for you to progress you will have to learn other techniques and you will have to learn how to read and play over chord progressions.  For beginners this technique works great because the music they play typically stays in the same key and doesn't have crazy stuff, but when you get more advanced music this technique won't work nearly as well because advanced music changes tonality from time to time and if you try to play the key signature when the tonality changes it will sound wrong.  Also for this technique to work well you will have to listen to jazz so you get an idea of how to build your ideas.  I hope this is helpful for all those beginning improvisers.  Later I plan on sharing other drills and techniques that help with learning to improvise jazz.  Good luck


Friday, August 27, 2010

Three Keys to Long Tone Success

I realized that in my last post on the mechanics of playing long tones that I forgot to mention a few key things to remember.  Here they are,  First remember that as your practicing your long tones that you want your sound to be as consistent as possible.  Don't let the pitch go all over the place  you want your sound to be centered.  Try to make it one pure sound.  Also don't add vibrato, this can hide problems that you may have with your tone.  Second,  have smooth transitions between notes.  If you slur make sure that the notes stay centered.  If you tongue make sure that it is a clear clean articulation.  Don't use a breath articulation, slur or tongue only.  Third, remember to take it slowly.  Long tone practice isn't supposed to be done quickly.  There you have it three key things to remember while practicing your long tones.  I know this post is short, but your probably sick of hearing about long tones so I decided to keep it short.  In my next post I'm thinking about discusing a jazz improvisation technique that is great for beginners.  Until then,


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Mechanics of Practicing Long Tones

It's another day and I have more to say, on long tones that is. So grab your saxophone and get ready to blow.  Today is the the day you learn about the mechanics of practicing long tones on the saxophone.  For many saxophonist the big question is " What note do I start on?  How long do I practice long tones? Or  Do I practice long tones like scales or chromatically.?"  I hope to answer these questions today.

For the first question, "What note do I start on?"  I suggest you start on middle "C", or in the middle of the saxophone.  I know this differs from others who say you should start on lower "C", but for beginners this note might be to hard.  The goal is to work to the point that you can start anywhere on your saxophone low or high, but in the beginning starting in the middle is best.  This allows you to start in a comfortable spot and work your way to the more challenging notes.

Now, "How long do you practice long tones?"  This is more a personal preference.  It also depends on your goals and the amount of practice time you have,but I would say the minimum is 5 minutes.  Personally I will practice long tones for 15 to 30 minutes.  It really depends on the day.  I will say this however,  when I do practice long tones I try to make sure that I have enough time to practice my long tones through the whole range of the saxophone.  I start on middle "C" then go all the way down to "B Flat" chromatically then I go chromatically back up the saxophone until I reach the "F Sharp" in the palm keys.  I then go back down chromatically  to middle "C" once I've done this I have practiced every note on the saxophone excluding altissimo.  Some times I do add altissimo to my long tone practice but that really depends on my time.  The important thing is to become comfortable with your saxophone and to be able to play in all the ranges with equal clarity.

OK, for the last question.  "Do I practice long tones like scales or do I do it chromatically?"  The answer is do both.  To start I would suggest doing your long tones chromatically, however you should be just as adept at practicing them like scales.  From time to time I will break up my chromatic long tone practice by practicing my scales at a really slow tempo.  By doing this I treat my scales just like long tones and am able to focus on getting a smooth transition from note to note.  Once you are really comfortable with long tones you will want to practice them in intervals too such as fifths and fourths.

Well that's really it for the mechanics of practicing long tones.  Find a comfortable note to start on. Play it for a while then smoothly transition to the next note.  Follow this pattern until you have covered the full range of your saxophone.  Do this for at least 5 minutes a day and your sound will improve trumedoulsy.  Good luck practicing.


Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Essence of Practicing Long Tones

Essence, it’s a funny word when considering something like long tone practice, but it is descriptive.

When you hear essence what does it make you think of, the life of something maybe, or how about the core or inner working; its characteristics.

All these things are used to describe the essence of something, and this is what I would like you to keep in mind today as I discuss essence and its relationship to practicing long tones and jazz improvisation. 

So what are long tones and what does essence have to do with it?

Most people think practicing long tones implies taking your instrument and then playing a note for awhile.

Well this is partially true, there really is more to practicing long tones. 

Long tone practice is really a form of focused practice that develops your tone, sound, and your musical voice.

Keyword being focused practice.  Otherwise long tone practice is pointless and just plain boring.

Believe me when I say that the only way long tone practice is going to be productive, meaningful, and not plain boring is if you have a clear focus on what you want to accomplish.

This is where essence comes in.  You need to ask yourself, “What do I want the essence of my sound to be?   What is my musical voice?  What elements do I want in my sound?  Is it smoothness, or maybe a bright buzz, or do want a light breathy sound?”

Whatever you want the core of your sound to be, whatever your sound conception is, your sound is developed, made, and created by figuring out how to bring out the essence of your sound through the practice of long tones.

Where Musical Essence comes from

This brings up the question, “Where does musical essence come from?”

Well, your musical essence will come from within, and this can only happen if you relax, take your time, and really get inside your sound.

Hear the different shades and colors in each note.  Feel the life within the sound.  Let your instrument become a part of you.  

When you are relaxed, yet focused, really trying to create something real with your sound, that’s when your personality, self, and musical conception will shine through.

I know that when I say things like feel, hear, and see it might sound funny but if you want your music to have life to it.  If you want your music to ring true with others, and if you want your music to be timeless you have to give it life

The only way to give your music and your instrument life is to breath that life into it by hearing, feeling, and seeing the possibilities and nuances.  This is what I call essence.

Really when it comes to developing essence in your sound through the practice of long tones you need to be conscious of the fact that you’re striving to bring life to your music and playing.

People like music because it connects with them both emotionally, and spiritually.

Bringing your life force, or essence into your music will allow you to more completely connect with your audience and share something that is truly meaningful.

The proper mindset

What I’ve shared with you today is really the mindset that you need to have while practicing your long tones, and any musical exercise for that matter.

Strive to bring your musical conception along with yourself to all aspects of your music through focused practice.

Long tone practice is a great way to go about bringing essence to your sound and creating life in your music.  
It is the one exercise where you can put all your time and effort into creating your own personal sound.

So here is the mindset that you need as you are practicing your long tones.

Focus on the idea that you create beautiful and creative music only by instilling your personality and life into your instrument.

The deeper you dive and delve into the various ways you can express emotion, thought, and personality in your sound the more real your music will be, and the greater you will progress.

Well that’s all for now. 

I hope that the concept of creating essence in your playing will help you create the musical voice you desire and make it so that your music will have life.  I know the above has helped me greatly and it will do the same for you.

I’d be interested in hearing how you have gone about creating your own unique voice.  Whether this is through the use of long tones like I’ve described or some other method feel free to share.

Until next time,


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

5 Reasons Why Long Tone Practice is Important

You’ve all heard it.  Practice those long tones, but the question is why should you?

Well you’re in luck.  Today I have 5 reasons why you should practice long tones.

People only cheer for those who sound good

Let’s face it; no one wants to listen to a musician that sounds bad.

You may have the coolest, most burning saxophone solo ever, but if your tone is bad you just won’t be convincing.  Believe it or not, people can tell if you have worked on your sound or not.

Besides, the best way to sound like a professional is to do what they did, and guess what they practiced their long tones.

Everyone needs a warm-up

Long tones are a great warm-up. They prepare you both mentally and physically.

When practiced properly long tones get you in the right state of mind to have a successful and productive practice session.

Don’t forget that long tones are simple. This makes it so you can really pay attention to little nuances.  This will make all the difference in the world.

Believe it or not daily long tone practice will do wonders to the way you sound, practice and progress musically.

Trust me when I say long tone practice makes your practice sessions better.

Gain complete control

Who doesn’t want to master their horn?

To gain mastery over you instrument, whether it’s a flute, saxophone, or even a trumpet, focusing on your sound is important.

Complete control comes from spending time mastering the little things.

Really you want your instrument to become an extension of yourself.  This only happens when you become intimate with your horn.

Long tones might not seem like much, but they really are the key to unlocking a professional mature sound.

By practicing long tones you develop your embouchure, lungs and your ear.  It also gives you the control necessary to being expressive on your instrument.

Instead of just having notes come out, you will have shades of colors in your tone.

Develops your own personal sound

This is my favorite.  We all have an idea of what we want to sound like, but the question is do you do something about it.

I know I sure do.  That’s practice long tones.

Practicing long tones on your instrument gives you the opportunity to turn your conceptualized sound into a reality.

It won’t happen by accident.  You have to take time working on developing your own personal sound.

Long tone practice does this by allowing you to experiment and figure out what you need to do with your throat, larynx and oral cavity to get the sound you personally desire.

Foundation for success

Everything you practice will benefit from the work you do on your sound.

Long tones really are the foundation of your success.

With long tones you learn how to blow, and I mean really blow.  You gain balance throughout all ranges of your instrument, and you understand what needs to be done with your whole body to handle your instrument.

High, low, middle it won’t matter long tone practice gives you what you need to play consistently everywhere on your horn.

Then don’t forget that with a stronger embouchure and greater lung strength comes a smoother airstream.  Something important for those really fast passages you play.

You can’t become a monster player without that smooth and steady airstream.

Putting it all together

Well there you have it, five great reasons why you should make practicing long tones a part of your daily practice.

It makes you sound better.  Gives you complete control, and don’t forget it is a great warm up that helps you develop your own personal sound.  All this while being a great foundation that all you’re musical endeavors can rest upon.

Need I say more? Yes I do.

Practicing long tones is the simplest and most beneficial thing you can do to improve your playing dramatically. 

I hope that’s not too much.  I just want to make my point clear.  Just do it. 

Well I would have to say that is all.

Until Next Time


PS. Feel free to share how practicing long tones has helped you.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Caruso the Creator of Caruso's Saxophone Tips

So you want to know who heads Caruso’s Saxophone Tips do ya?

Well that would be me, Michael Caruso, an avid student of music and life. 

I’ve taken a journey, a journey that has taught me a lot.  A journey full of ups and downs, highs and lows, but one that is worthwhile and rewarding.  From this journey I have gained knowledge.

It is this knowledge that I wish to share here on Caruso’s Saxophone Tips.  With ten plus years of learning and playing the saxophone it’s time I give back.

Caruso and His Thoughts

I’m a Saxophonist and Flutist, but most of all I’m a musician.  Jazz is my first love. When it comes to music I love the expression, emotion and pureness of it. 

I have many hobbies like chess and reading, but music is the top.  I’ve spent many years studying music at the college level, and privately.  To truly express myself to the fullest while playing is what I work for every time I play and practice.

It is my wish that all those visiting Caruso’s Saxophone Tips can learn and grow from the experience and insights I have to share.

The Best of Luck to You all,


For a more in depth Biography of Caruso check out Caruso Mini Biography