Friday, August 29, 2008

Tracking the Doll

After reading a recent post on, I decided I would record each section in each key I practice.

Folks might find the walking bass and accompaniment interesting. I on the other hand will use this to track progress. I will simply keep updating this post as I go through the following table.

For each given line, the same notes are played, only transposed.
Different walking bass lines are played on each line, and more color tones are added to the harmony.

To make things easier, I'm recording this on the digital keyboard, using FingerBass in LH and Piano in RH.

Section \ KeyCFEbB

I'm all done now. Gotta find something else to work on.
Must do a blues for sure. Maybe I can steal some Gene Harris' lines...

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

New Tune Learning Strategy

I'm going back to one of the first, if not the first tune I've ever attempted: Satin Doll.

But this time, I'm taking it to a different level.
Step one on my trip to mastering this tune is learning RH comping while playing a walking bass line.

Here's the strategy for accomplishing this.
There are 4 sections in this tune, it goes AABA
I have randomly (with the help of a die) selected 3 keys besides the common one (C in this case). (It will be C, Eb, F and B)

Simple math, 4 sections, 4 keys. That's 16 items to learn. I've drawn a simple matrix for myself. I will start with the first A section in 4 keys. It will include a particular bass line to be learned by heart, and simple shell chords.
Then I'll do A again in the same 4 keys, with a different bass line and adding more tones to the chords.
Then B, then A again. In a slightly different way once again.

Playing in different keys is crucial to mastering just about anything, including tunes. The first key is by far the most difficult since this is where most of the stuff happens:
- Transcribe bass line
- Play bass line :)
- Figure out LH chords
- Come up with varying rhythms for RH comping

When doing the 2nd key, it only looks difficult, but it isn't. However, you learn a lot by finding out those spots you didn't quite analyse or understand properly the first time around. You are starting to play tones in relations to scales.
The 3rd key continues down that path, while the 4th key is more or less a formality.

The idea is to be able to totally internalize the tune's progression, and learn a couple of slick bass lines while I'm at it. I'm hoping this is where I'll get by the end of the week.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Practicing versus Playing

I think it's common for young Jazz musicians to confuse practicing with playing. You'll often hear people say "I don't practice, I just play and enjoy"

In this great free Masterclass, Master Jazz pianist Kenny Werner talks about the importance of practice:

What I get out of it is that it is important to practice with small, short terms achievable goals.

For example:
"I'm going to learn how to play walking bass " is not a practical achievable goal. It would be like saying. I'm going to play bass like Ron Carter.

"I'm going to nail this particular walking bass line over a ii-V progression" is better. It's something you can achieve in 1 or 2 hours.
And if indeed you spend 2 hours on it, chances are the skill will stay with you the rest of your life.

It then comes down to this:
If your practice sessions consist of playing tunes, then you are working on building a repertoire, which is a good goal, as long as you realize that it is what you're doing. And you should have a systematic approach to it.

You're practice sessions should include small ideas, licks, progressions that you MUST learn in 12 keys. That's where you see real and quick progress.
Then you can apply the new idea to tunes.
This will lead to more variety, playing each tune with a different approach, because building vocabulary, I believe, is more important than building a repertoire.

When you apply new things to tunes, It is extremely important to do it in more than one key. Probably you don't have time to learn a tune in all 12 keys, so just pick at least 4 randomly, and play through the entire tune in those 4-5 keys. This will lead to you analyzing and understanding the tune rather than just memorizing it.
I'm at the point where I'm thinking, if I'm going to learn a tune in only one key, it's not even worth bothering, there's no way I'll remember it 3 months from today.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Vacation Break

After coming back from vacation yesterday, I was almost scared to sit at the piano. I expected I would play bad, that my fingers would be out of shapes, and that my memory would fail me.
I guess I had in mind the famous Satchmo quote:
"If I don’t practice for a day, I know it. If I don’t practice for two days, the critics know it. And if I don’t practice for three days, the public knows it."

Having not played for 5 days, I thought "boy... I'm in trouble"

Well, surprise! I sat down and played the blues in a couple keys. And not only it was all there, but I spontaneously came up with new lines I had not played before.
Strange no?

My memory was still there, the pieces I was trying to memorize came back instantly, and I was able to memorize new stuff much more easily than before leaving for vacation.

I guess I needed a break.

Let's hope I can make this last.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Shearing Sound

Watch this great video if you haven't already, where the Shearing sound is explained by Shearing himself. Great stuff:


Shadow of your Smile

Step one of my Harmonic voyage. Here's a piece from 'Simply Elegant Piano', one in the Piano Stylings series.

Get your own widget and share anywhere!

Nice movement through out, simple tritone substitution, passing tones and chromatic movement.

I'm working on Bewitched now, another pop standard.

I'm about a third done with my 'Where is Love' transcription. I'll then try to play it. Hang in there!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Randy Halberstadt's Sequencer Revisited

If you don't have the book called "Metaphors for the Musician", go buy it.

With that said, Randy explains a method for learning any sequence of things, called "The Sequencer".
I have used that approach over the last year and it's really good. It's just like he says, a no non-sense approach.

I have one issue with it.
If you take Randy's example page 14, by the time you are done with the exercice:
- You practiced C7 6 times.
- You practiced EbMaj7 8 times.

Doesn't seem like a big deal but it is. Because I have never been able to play Step 12 only once, it takes me much practice to add any previous bar to a new one.

Usually, when I learn say 64 bars, using this technique, I know bar 1 through 12 perfectly. But bar 40 to 64 are so so. That's because I practiced them a lot less.

So here's another approach.

Say I have to learn A-B-C-D-E-F
First I learn A perfectly
Then B, then C, D, E then F

Then I'll learn A-B perfectly
Then B-C

Then I'll learn A-B-C
Then B-C-D
you get the picture.

It looks like a lot more than the first method. But I don't think it is after all.
First of all, it obviously gets easier. Once you've learned A-B and B-C perfectly, A-B-C gets easy.
Then, the idea of returning to learning A-B after you've learned C-D-E-F in between is good. It helps to let something sit and come back to it later. You will memorize things in the long term better (something they teach you in school).

Finally, you are spending the same amount of time on each part of the tune. As much on the end as you do on the beginning. How many tunes do you know really well, except for those last 4 bars? It will help with this.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

New Phase

I might just have managed to break the dependency I had on Mike Ledonne's arrangements from 'Jazz Conception'.
Actually, I sort of reached a point where the next tune is a serious technical step up, and it just gets worse from there. To be specific, it involves some fast (200bpm give or take) 2 hand lines.
I just don't have those chops... yet.

So here's the battle plan.

I am going to start focusing on 2 things:
- Finger independence
- Harmonies

Finger independence is pretty straight forward. For the last week, I am religiously spending 20 minutes or so a day on Hanon. The left hand drags. But it's getting better already. The goal is to be able to play those crazy lines after about a month or so. And play them "effortlessly".

Working on harmony is not quite as simple. Here's the plan.
- Play a few things from the Piano Stylings Series. These are easy to play, yet harmonically complex with nice reharm and counterpoint.
- Transcribe some good stuff. I'm going to start with my favorite album of the moment. Monty at Maybeck. Just gorgeous. Harmonically, it doesn't get any better. I'll start with 'Where is Love?'. A beautiful ballad. I won't try to get each and every note down, but rather understand what is happening.