Getting a peek at an improvisation virtual lesson

I’ve had a few people submit their playing for the end of the 30-day challenge I put out there in my video called Jazz Improvisation: Simple 30-day Exercise to Rapidly Develop Your Skills

I was demonstrating how a habit of a certain type of ear training could lead to results. “Habit” is the key word. Most of us try something new a couple times and once the “new” of it wears out, so does our interest.

The reason for this post is to give you a glimpse of some feedback I gave someone who did the work and recorded before and after on a chorus of the rhythm track I provided in the video description. Without sharing the name of the player or their playing, her was my advice.

I share the advice because I think it applies to many players, not just this particular person. Maybe you. The following was my response:

Thanks for sending this in. Funny enough, I just finished an excellent book called Atomic Habits. The premise is that from tiny regular activities, giant results emerge. Habits are hard to start, but once you get into a rhythm and start to see the results, it’s hard to break them. 

If you were taking a lesson from me, I would ask you what you hear from each rendition and what is the difference between the two. It’s worth you listening to both again and see what you can articulate. I think there’s a lot to be said for really hearing ourselves better. Hearing minute but important attributes can fix things automatically because, for the first time, you hear it. Spoiler alert, I’m about to give you my two cents…

I hear a huge difference between first and second. Now, it just might be you were having a really good trombone day! I’m not necessarily attributing the big difference in your playing to the 20 or so days you played what I suggested. But I hope you can at least hear several differences.

The playing is much stronger on the second chorus. Even if you were closer to the mic, the playing has much more finesse. The range you play in on the first take was very narrow – maybe a fourth or an occasional fifth. Much wider range on the second. You even started the second solo on an Ab. Also, the intervals were much wider in the second take. That could be a sign that you were hearing deeper harmonically to be able to hear those wider intervals.

One thing I think you can improve is your feel. Notice that there’s not much diversity in the dynamics or articulation in your lines. I would recommend that you play simple scale fragments in time with the track in order to get a better feel for the rolling swung eighth notes. And while you do that, vary the strength of the articulation.

Your natural tendency is to hit the notes hard. Most of the time. Variety provides interest, so loud sounds more interesting if it is preceded by soft, and heavy articulation has more emotion to it when preceded or followed by light articulation. Does that make sense? Same with range. High and low create a statement.

I think my improvised track serves as a good example for you because there is a variety of articulations and dynamics. And also the range is pretty wide. Try practicing with a track or metronome by running notes and playing around with different dynamics and articulations. And listen (record!) for your time. Does it feel in the pocket or is it somewhat erratic?

Attached is an example I just recorded of me doing that exercise. I’m just playing simple scales and patterns in order to practice my time and articulation. Start out at a pace that you can play. Don’t start fast. The important part is that you play with good time. Note also that I’m playing pretty light. You can’t dance while carrying a boulder!

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