I sure wish I’d heard about Chick Corea’s idea of gradients in practice while conducting research interviews for The Practice of Practice. It’s a little like the fractal nature of goals. Here’s what Mr. Corea had to say about gradients:
Learning licks from someone on an instrument different from yours is a great idea, because is exposes limitations of your instrument, but also exposes patterns on your instrument that can be changed or broken, in a good way. Say, learn Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday melodies on your instrument, or check out these short licks…
Snarky Puppy doing their amazing thing, on Jazz Night in America, hosted by Christian McBride. Great show. Check out all their episodes. Sarky Puppy’s discography.
Learning to improvise? Jazz Deck packs a ton of information into a simple package with eye-catching design. It’s pure genius.
Check out these Indian musicians (the sax playing starts around 13 minutes in, after the drum battle/conversation). There is no movement without music. In some cultures there aren’t separate words for music and dance. Using the body to keep track, to groove, and to make better music is something all musicians do. The hand gestures you see in this video are one of the many ways Indian musicians manifest the music physically.
Bill Evans is a genius whose ideas about music, and his music itself are still fresh and invigorating and necessary. Evans played piano on the best-selling jazz album of all time, Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue; he was nominated for 31 Grammys and won 7, including a lifetime achievement award. There are too many gems from Evans in these 5 short videos to list, but some of the good stuff include Evans’s thoughts about the universal musical mind, composition vs. improvisation, learning to improvise, and so much more.
Pianist Kenny Werner’s book Effortless Mastery has helped a lot of people who struggle with the fear of performance. He’s started a new blog, and part of the blog is a series of videos on how he practices. I’m excited to hear and watch these videos, and encourage you to check them out the first three below.
To me, improvising is like speaking a language spontaneously, whereas only reading music and re-creating the music others (or yourself) have written is like reading a book or a story out loud. The reading is scripted, whereas the spontaneous use of language flows where it will, especially if it’s in conversation with another. If you’re new to improvising, it’s a simple thing to do.
This is a great tune. It’s simple, but very easy to rush those quarter note and dotted quarter note rhythms. If you’re not paying attention, you’re gonna speed up instead of lay it back. Here’s how it’s done right, and Freddie blows a killer improvised solo. (changes in C are here, thanks to MRB) (Real Book, vol. 2 in which Moanin’ appears can be found in C (piano, guitar, etc.), Bb (trumpet, clarinet, t. sax), Eb (alto sax) and bass clef)
Wow. I’ve always been a fan of Max Roach as soon as I first heard him, but this is some of the best playing I’ve heard, not only from Mr. Roach, but from everybody in this quintet. Eddie Kahn, after flying through some nimble-fingered walking bass delivers one of the most interesting upright bass solos I’ve heard in a while, and the way he locks in with Max Roach on drums is as tight as the bond of close friendship. Abbey Lincoln recently passed away, but her gorgeous contra-alto voice lives on powerfully in this music. Clifford Jordan’s fat tone on the tenor; Coleridge Perkins (I think) and his artful comping on piano, accentuating hits with Max Roach, who kills that drum set in the tastiest way: clean, and with total respect and communication with the other musicians, and even at these speeds is so relaxed and easy-sounding. Wheeew! This is great stuff. This is what practice sounds like.
Free Play doesn’t deal directly with music practice, but it is nevertheless an important book for anyone interested in music (or other arts, or life). I strongly believe that improvisation benefits practice. To me, improvising is an essential musical skill, one possessed by musical greats (Hussein, Bach, Shankar, Beethoven, Duke, Mozart, etc.), and is practiced in musical traditions all over the world, as well as by young children who haven’t developed some of the fear associated with improvisation in those overly focused on the written notes. Remember when you drew letters over and over as a young child, taking great care (or not) with the shapes? Now imagine that despite all that practice time forming letters and sounding out words, that you never (ever) spoke extemporaneously. Crazy, right? To me, that’s about the same as practicing scales over and over until they’re memorized, but then never using that tonal material to improvise. Crazy talk! At the end of this review is a link to an mp3 of my improv group Meh! playing an improvised story with Nachmanovich.
So, the chromatic and whole tone scales are really useful to have under your fingers and in your ears. If you don’t know either, practice the chromatic scale first, as it’s the most useful.
Good luck and have fun with your practice!