The 300 Pound Gorilla in the Practice Room: Inattention

Throughout my career, if I have done anything, I have paid attention to every note and every word I sing – I respect the song. If I cannot project this to a listener, I fail. ~Frank Sinatra  Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the…

Nap Your Way to Excellence

Set aside half an hour every day to do all your worrying; then take a nap during this period.

There is more refreshment and stimulation in a nap, even of the briefest, than in all the alcohol ever distilled.
~Publius Ovidius Naso (Ovid: 43 BC – 18 AD)


Sleep is one of the key strategies the brain uses for learning. It’s called consolidation in the research literature. Basically put, your brain needs down time in order to process all that you’ve taken in during the day. Naps can perform the same function.

Scale it Up

If Music is genetic material, scales are its DNA. This is true for most music, anyway. Scales won’t help you much if you’re going to perform John Cage’s 4′ 33,” or if you’re interested in Inupiat shamanistic drumming, but scales will get you through just about any other music, from any culture (as long as you choose the right scale to practice) and they’re invaluable material for use in improvising.

As I started putting my thoughts together on this topic, I realized that a complex set of information is bewildering without tools to make sense of it all. There are so many scales, and so many ways to practice them that it can be difficult to keep them all straight. So I’ve created some tools to help you keep track: checklists, scales, and a few other things. Checklists are making headlines lately (New Yorker article here) because they’ve been shown to improve performance significantly (it’s why pilots use them).

Free Music e-Books & a Trumpet Book Podcast

Many changes in the wind this week. In celebration of the new Sol Ut Press web site, you can get a free eBook copy of two of my books Basic Music Theory: How to Read, Write, and Understand Written Music and Sound the Trumpet: How to Blow Your Own Horn. Tell your friends. I’ll be giving an unlimited number of eBook giveaways for the next month. When I’ve done this sort of thing the past, it usually works out to around 10,000 copies per month. I hope to break that record.

More Freebies

Information wants to be free, and the Internet makes that happen. A good friend teaching music in Pakistan and who is now moving to Manila to continue teaching music turned me on to a wiki for the Petrucci Music Library, a repository of free sheet music that is in the public domain. You can search by composer, by composer nationality, by period, and by type of work. What a great resource! They’ve been online for 4 years now, and I’m wondering how I missed it. I hope you can find something to use there.

Where do you Waste Time?

Time is what we want most, but what we use worst. ~William Penn


If you’re like me, it’s easy to get sucked into certain activities that siphon off valuable practice time. I’ve begun to get a better handle on my use of the computer by using a bit of free software (I will always try to bring you free software….). It’s called Rescue Time and is a program that tracks your use of time while you use the computer. It’ll give you an overview so you can see what you’ve done and where you might be able to carve some extra practice time. Check it out.

Jazz Resources

Jazz isn’t dead, it just smells funny. ~Frank Zappa

I don’t care too much about music. What I like is sounds. ~Dizzy Gillespie
This coming weekend I’m hosting at the computer lab at the Evanston Township High School Jazz Festival, a jazz fest for high school jazzers in and around the Chicago area. I’m putting together some resources that the budding jazz musician will find helpful, including listening, blogs, freeware, software, podcasts, and anything else that might be useful. Some of the software I’ve mentioned in one or two earlier posts (Sibelius, Aviary, NoteFlight, Audacity, Band in a Box, etc). I’ll put links to that software here, but won’t go into much detail. If you’re not into playing jazz, you should certainly check out some of the listening opportunities. Great stuff there…. Enjoy!

Software Tools (and Toys) Part II

Some of these can make your musical life easier, some can help make it more fun, and some will even help you with practice. Whenever possible, I try to list the free, open-source stuff because that is the model that makes the most sense to me. Here you go. Enjoy!

A Key to Practicing Tunes in All Key Signatures

If you want to really learn a tune, you should learn it in every key. Start by learning it in all the regular keys, like Bb, C, D, etc. Basically, the regular keys are those with the least amount of accidentals. On a side note, learning tunes in all keys also includes, indirectly, learning scales…

Slow Down, You Move Too Fast (Audacity tutorial)

This post will give you a quick tutorial on how to slow down a fast tune with Audacity so you can learn it by ear more easily.

If you’ve listened to any Clifford Brown, the fantastic jazz trumpeter, you’ll know he’s able to play tasty, tasty licks at burning speeds. The first CB solo I tried to learn was from his tune, Blues Walk (click to hear a snippet of the solo), but it was way too fast. I imported the whole tune to Audacity, edited it so only his solo remained, then slowed it down (sometimes by as much as 50%!). After nailing it at a slow tempo, I’d gradually speed up until I could play it at full speed. This will work for anything you want to learn by ear, a skill that too many students don’t have in their tool belt because our current music education system has tied them to the notes on the page. This is a handicap. Use your ears. Please!