Today, I am laying the groundwork for a new video that I think will be my best. One of the assets within each of my books that I feel us underutilized is the musical drones. I’m not certain as to HOW underutilized, but I have this feeling…
The video will lay out in my typical demo/workshop fashion exactly how I use the musical tracks from my books and how I’m recommending that people play with them. I practice with them almost daily, which motivates me to make them as good as possible so that I don’t get sick of them and lose the motivation. Here’s an example: https://soundcloud.com/mlake/island-mines?in=mlake/sets/trombone-improvisation-book
The video will illustrate three aspects out of which you will get the greatest and most satisfying result from these musical files: 1. intonation/tone, 2. Timing and rhythm, and 3. ear strengthening/improvisation (and therefore, putting 1 and 2 together). Once you have Jazz Ear Savvy, Trombone Improvisation Savvy, or Alto Trombone Savvy, put any one of the musical tracks through your amplifier and do the following:
1. Play only one note and listen for the pitch. Really listen. Are you in the core of the frequency for that harmony? Record yourself to confirm. Play another note and do the same. Play a note slightly outside of the core harmony (raised 4th for example) I think the people who say to me, “I like your sound.” are reacting to my sense of pitch/intonation. I work hard at practicing and listening for that core of the frequency. After all, trombone players basically play a glorified tuning slide.
2. Play scales, patterns, or short melodic motifs and listen for how accurately (not as a metronome specifically, but as a consistent groove) you play them against the rhythm of the track. A few tracks have no defined rhythm, so for the moment, maybe skip them for this. Many of the tracks modulate after 16 bars. Several tracks build by adding a component every 8 bars. Rhythm is not just how metronomically accurate you spit out notes, but how you build your phrases within the context of the piece – its sections, its modulations, its overall length. Record then listen. RECORD THEN LISTEN.
3. Create melodies. Try to avoid your muscle memory infused licks and instead create something new. Speed and harmonic complexity do NOT matter. All that matters is that you play something fresh and satisfying to you. If you seem unable to escape the ingrained familiar patterns, purposefully reach for a random note. From there, play a phrase. Maybe the random note isn’t in the heart of the harmony. That’s okay – lean into it and hear how you can resolve from that note to the safety of the harmony. I’m not a fan of making hard rules for your practice of improvisation other than stay away from the comfort of your well-worn phrases. We all have them and they have their place when we’re standing up in front of an audience displaying our brilliance, but not in the solitude of our personal laboratory learning to expand our improvisational abilities. Have I mentioned recording and listening?
Notice that all this is about listening, and as you’ll see most explicitly from Jazz Ear Savvy, I encourage you to use your eyes as little as possible. If you simply read page by page through these books, play through the exercises, listen to the tracks, playing some of your licks along with them, and conclude after putting it back on the shelf of your method book collection that you’ve consumed all the book has to offer, you’ve completely wasted your time and money. That really makes me sad.
These tracks are a life-long endeavor – at least for me, and as you can see, I’m working hard to motivate best practices from my stuff. Why? Because I think this method is how players can take their playing to the next level. But only if they practice intelligently. Practice makes worse if the practicing is not thoughtful and the practicer is not present. “Present” means thinking, listening, and reacting.
There you go. Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, you don’t need to watch the video! (Kidding) I’ll be in New York this next week, but will start the video production upon my return next weekend. Subscribe to my YouTube channel so that you get notified upon its release. It’s going to be good!