I got an email recently from an owner of Improvisation Savvy who wrote that he isn’t getting what he had hoped he would from the book. He was looking for chord/scale instruction to teach him jazz improvisation and felt that the book was, therefore, for more advanced players.
For anyone publishing materials for skill development, that type of email is gold. It’s why practically every call you make to a company is followed up by a survey for your opinion. We’re all desperate to know what our customers think because that’s the only opinion that matters.
I was eager to answer this email and had a lot to say about why Improvisation Savvy is pretty much the opposite of the chord/scale books. Not because there’s anything wrong with them but because I’m approaching improvisation from a different perspective.
Consider the saying, “Feed a person a fish, feed them for a day. Teach a person to fish, feed them for a lifetime.” Okay, maybe I seem to be putting down the chord/scale books with that comment, but I’m really trying to make a distinction.
I believe, to use the great phrase of Hal Galper, that the instrument we are playing is between the ears. The trombone or any other musical machine is simply the amplifier of that primary instrument. Trombone Improvisation Savvy, therefore, is focused on strengthening the connection and relationship between your musical mind (your ear) and your traditional instrument–trombone, in this case.
I created a video that goes through the first dozen or so pages of the book. Those are the pages that introduce exercises that would be traditionally called ear training. I start by encouraging the reader to play simple tunes by ear, then to play that same tune starting on another note, and then another.
If you’ve followed my writing and publishing, you know that my favorite starting tune is Happy Birthday. If you answer the two questions in the orange boxes that pop up in the lower right of any page on this site and enter your email, you’ll start getting some free materials, one of which is an ebook dedicated to this exercise with Happy Birthday.
Back to the video, I then introduce and play along with other exercises such as hearing a note, then finding it on your trombone. Then hearing a phrase and then finding and playing it back on trombone.
I explain that the book is purposefully written to take the musician by the hand step by step from playing Happy Birthday to hearing the notes that work within a variety of chords and progressions.
The results of this approach to learning jazz are tangible. I mentioned in the video about a player who wrote that he is now able to close his eyes and play jazz rather than staring at the chord symbols. Another recently wrote to me that he is starting to hear things within music that he hadn’t before heard. Another classical flute player said to me that she is feeling more connected to her flute than ever before.
Combine the exercises within this book with running your scales and patterns. As you strengthen your ear, you will discover that you are weaving those scale and pattern notes in a more musically satisfying way to both you and your audience.