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.