Category Archives: FunJazz Piano Lessons

areas of study within the discipline of jazz piano

areas jazz piano
The six areas of study within the field of jazz piano playing.

The foundational level

‘Feel, form, rhythm’, ‘arranging’, and ‘technique’ are what I call the three foundational blocks of jazz piano playing. Without them, you won’t be able to build anything musically solid because your playing will always lack rootedness, depth, and precision. To improve in the area of ‘feel, form, and rhythm’, I recommend immersing yourself in some kind of West African musical tradition¹ (Ewe drumming and dance, djembe and dundun rhythms, etc.).

‘Arranging’ is about mastering different textures and telling an engaging story. The piano has an inherent orchestral quality due to its wide range and polyphonic nature, so there is a lot to cover here, from bass lines, to chord voicings, all the way up to how to interpret and embellish a melody.

As far as ‘technique’ is concerned, some sub-areas are specific to jazz (such as practicing a snippet of music in a variety of keys) and others more peculiar to classical performance (using gravity and proper posture to get a great sound out of the instrument for example). This is why I often encourage my students to work on Hanon’s Virtuoso Pianist in Sixty Exercises, and the Bach Chorales² and Two-Part Inventions at the very least (taking separate classical piano lessons altogether, in addition to the jazz piano lessons, being the ideal scenario).

The heartbeat of jazz

These first three foundational blocks support those that make up the second level in the diagram. ‘Improvisation’, in my opinion, is the heartbeat of jazz. It’s at the very core of the music, which itself is all about individuation (or finding your own voice). At its left, you’ll notice that I represented ‘listening/transcribing’ as an arrow pointing towards ‘improvisation’. That is because the jazz language you will be exposed to, and eventually internalize, will unavoidably feed into your personal style as an improviser (Wernick 2010). The elements of tradition and innovation constantly and dynamically coexist in jazz, very much like the yin and yang components of Taoist philosophy.

Culmination

Finally, all five aforementioned blocks support the final block at the top of the diagram: ‘building a repertoire’. Now the good news is: this task should be relatively effortless if you’ve studied all the other areas conscientiously… This culminating block is all about having fun learning the tunes you like, or even writing, practicing, and performing your own!


Notes

¹ I recall from my time at Berklee that such was also Meshell Ndegeocello’s advice.

² Jazz pianist Fred Hersch (2012) also recommends working on the Chorales, and offers a step by step approach to studying them involving pairs of two voices, then groups of three, and finally all four.

References

Bach, Jean-Sébastien. n.d. 101 Chorals à 4 parties réduction pour orgue ou piano. Paris: Editions Durand.

Bach, Johan Sebastian. 1970. Keyboard Music. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.

Dahn, Luke. 2021. “The Four-Part Chorales of J.S. Bach.” Accessed June 22, 2022. https://www.bach-chorales.com/.

Hanon, Charles-Louis. 1929. Le Pianiste Virtuose en 60 Exercices. Bruxelles / Paris: Schott Frères.

Hersch, Fred. 2012. “Back to Bach: Keys to Jazz Piano Prowess.” Downbeat, September 2012 (pp. 76-77).

Wernick, Forrest. 2010. “The Importance of Language.” Jazzadvice. Posted June 30, 2010. https://www.jazzadvice.com/the-importance-of-language/.


Visit https://funnelljazz.eu/lessons/ for detailed information about lessons or click on the image below to book your lesson today:

guaranteed-green

cycle 5 root motion: how to practice using the circle of fifths

As most of us musicians and music students know, the circle of fifths is notably helpful when figuring out what key a piece of music is in looking at its key signature. But it also has practical uses and can indeed be seen as the theoretical framework for what is commonly referred to as cycle 5 root motion. Cycle 5 root motion is often used as a way of traveling through all 12 pitches of the keyboard in order to work on anything, from a snippet of music to a whole tune, in all 12 keys. It also underpins the concept of the widely used II-V-I progression.

To go through the cycle, simply begin on any given note, go down a perfect fifth or up a perfect fourth (for a comprehensive review of intervals, click here) to reach the second note. Once there, repeat the process: go down a perfect fifth or up a perfect fourth and reach the third note. Repeat again, and again, and again… Until you are back at your starting point and have completed the cycle!

Cycle 5 root motion: the complete circle of fifths played in the left hand on the piano, starting and ending on the note C.

Oftentimes, you’ll see the circle of fifths starting and finishing on the pitch C (as in the example above). But you can of course begin and end at any point in the cycle. Actually, it might be a good idea to start at different points in the cycle every time you practice something in all 12 keys: repeated transposition can indeed be quite challenging and mentally exhausting, and more than once have I stopped half or a third of the way through the cycle, and forgotten where I left off the next day… So beginning on different pitches every time makes it more likely that you will eventually get through the whole cycle, or at least that you’ll cover some of the more unfamiliar keys!

When you start and end on C, unfamiliar keys (such as Ab, Db, Gb/F#, B…) are located towards “the middle” of the cycle, whereas the more familiar ones (fewer flats or sharps) are at “the beginning” and at “the end” (in quotation marks because a circle obviously has no beginning, no middle, and no end!). Beginning the cycle on say the pitch Ab is a way to ensure that you’ll venture through unfamiliar territory first during practice!

5-note 2-hand voicings: example of a minor II-V resolving to Ima7

The example above is an exercise to practice some solid sounding 5-note voicings to play over a minor II-V that resolves to a Ima7 chord (just like in the second half of the bridge to All the Things You Are¹). So buckle up and get ready to take this whole thing through the cycle of fifths in all keys! You’ll hopefully end up with a brand new, hip sounding chord or two in your jazz piano toolbox…

The first chord, F#mi7(b5), is built using what Mark Levine (1989) calls the insen pentatonic (B C E F# A – general formula: 1 b2 4 5 b7). You can construct the voicing yourself (without looking at the sheet music) by first playing an E below middle C (as the b7 of the chord, that E respects standard low interval limits), then skipping the F#, playing the A, skipping the B, playing the C, and so forth. In other words, playing every other note in the insen pentatonic scale and sounding all the notes together with both hands. As you can see from the example above, I have notated all five inversions of that chord (first ascending, and then descending all the way back to the inversion chosen initially). I find it very beneficial to practice in that fashion in order to create a “sheet of sound” effect, like McCoy Tyner comping for John Coltrane! Having all five versions of the chord under your belt will also enable you to voice lead as smoothly as possible in any situation, taking into account where you’re coming from and where you’re going harmonically. Lastly, if the tune you’re playing calls for dwelling on a certain chord for a somewhat prolonged amount of time (a few bars), there lies a perfect opportunity for you to explore some of those inversions for the sake of variation…

The second chord is a B7 to which we have added a b9, a #9, and a b13. These tensions form a C2 triad (C D G) which when inverted gives us either two perfect fourths stacked on top of each other (D G C), a Gsus triad (G C D), or a C2 triad (C D G)². Therefore we have an upper structure triad chord (UST) voiced with the aforementioned triad on top (played by the right hand) and the guide tones in the bottom (played by the left hand). To be musically consistent with the phrasing used for F#mi7(b5), I have included several “inversions” here too (to be precise, combinations of inversions of the top triad in the right hand with inversions of the guide tones in the left hand). Taken together, the five notes that make up the UST voicings used to voice this B7 chord also form an insen pentatonic (1 b2 4 5 b7), the tonic of which would be D (D Eb G A C).

The final chord, to which this progression resolves, is Ema7 (with thensions 9 and 13). The building process here is the exact same as for F#mi7(b5) (with the playing and skipping of every other tone in the scale), except that this time, a “regular”³ anhemitonic (containing no semitones) pentatonic is used (B C# D# F# G#). Do you notice how each individual voice outlines the pentatonic scale melodically? This also happened for the first chord of the progression, F#mi7(b5), which we also voiced using the play-and-skip-a-tone method applied to the insen pentatonic. On the contrary, playing through the different inversions of the B7 chord, voiced as an upper structure triad over its guide tones, is more choppy (with wider melodic intervals from one voicing to the next).

So there you have it: three solid sounding, 2-hand voicings for your minor II-V resolving to a major I chord. I hope you’ll enjoy practicing this snippet, and that it will prove to be a valuable addition to your harmonic vocabulary!

Notes

¹ Click here for a transcription (example #2) of guitarist Remo Palmieri soloing over the bridge of All the Things You Are (Gillespie 1993).

² Click here to see these quartal triads (2 and suspended) in root position and their inversions notated in treble clef.

³ In order to differentiate this particular pentatonic scale from other kinds of 5-note scales (such as the insen pentatonic mentioned earlier), I usually refer to it as “global.” After all, it “has been found in use upon every single continent of the planet Earth.” (Hewitt 2013)

References

Gillespie, Dizzy. Groovin’ High. Savoy 152. 1993 (originally released in 1955).

Hewitt, Michael. “Section 5: Pentatonic Scales.” In Musical Scales of the World, 125-134. The Note Tree, 2013.

Levine, Mark. “Chapter 15: Pentatonic Scales.” In The Jazz Piano Book, 219-237. Petaluma: Sher Music Company, 1989.


Visit https://funnelljazz.eu/lessons/ for detailed information about lessons or click on the image below to book your lesson today:

guaranteed-green

how to practice and internalize modal colors

If you’ve ever had a go at analyzing a standard and/or figuring out what scales to use on each chord, the question “So, what exactly is the deal with modes?” might have popped up in your mind. This very question certainly did arise recently during an online conversation I was having with a student of mine, who further developed his concern: “In the key of C for example, all of the modes are made up of the exact same notes (the white keys on the piano)… So why bother learning them!?” That is indeed a good question…

As musicians, we have to remember, and above all experience, that each mode has a distinctive flavor, or color, and conveys a particular mood or feeling. A mode’s particular color is conferred to it by the specific arrangement of intervals within the mode, and the resulting relationship each tone in the mode bears with its tonic. Some tones play a more important role than others in giving a mode its unique color. We call them “characteristic notes.” So let’s have a look in more detail at each mode of the major scale, and see if we can figure out what the characteristic note(s) are for each of them.

The modes of the major scale above are ordered from the brightest or most “major sounding” (Lydian’s intervals are all major or augmented, with the exception of the perfect 5th), to the darkest or most “minor sounding” (Locrian’s intervals are all minor or diminished, with the exception of the perfect 4th). The root C being common to all seven modes, it is not considered a characteristic note (or part of a pair of characteristic notes) for any mode. In order for you to hear the different modal colors, I recorded seven short improvisations on the piano (one for each mode) over a C drone (the tonic, common to all seven modes, played in octaves in the left hand).

  • Lydian is the only mode that has #4, which is hence the sole characteristic note for this mode. This first snippet is in C Lydian (otherwise known as mode IV of the G major scale):
  • Now, when we lower #4 (F#) to 4 (F), we get the Ionian mode.

  • Ionian and all subsequent modes have 4, but Ionian is the only mode that has the pair 4 & 7, which are characteristic notes for this mode. The short improvisation below is in C Ionian (aka mode I of the C major scale):

  • Lowering 7 (B) to b7 (Bb) gives us the Mixolydian mode.

  • Mixolydian and all subsequent modes have b7, but Mixolydian is the only mode that has the pair 3 and b7, which are the characteristic notes for this mode. The improvisation below is in C Mixolydian (mode V of the F major scale):

  • Lowering 3 (E) to b3 (Eb) gives the Dorian mode.

  • Dorian and all subsequent modes have b3, but Dorian is the only mode that has the pair b3 and 6, which are the characteristic notes for this mode. The improvisation below is in C Dorian (mode II of the Bb major scale):

  • Lowering 6 (A) to b6 (Ab) gives the Aeolian mode.

  • Aeolian and the remaining two subsequent modes have b6, but Aeolian is the only mode that has the pair b6 and 2, which are the characteristic notes for this mode. The improvisation below is in C Aeolian (mode VI of the Eb major scale):

  • Lowering 2 (D) to b2 (Db) gives the Phrygian mode.

  • Phrygian and the last remaining subsequent mode both have b2, but Phrygian is the only mode that has the pair b2 and 5, which are the characteristic notes for this mode. The improvisation below is in C Phrygian (mode III of the Ab major scale):

  • Finally, lowering 5 (G) to b5 (Gb) gives the Locrian mode.

  • Locrian is the only mode that has b5, which is hence the sole characteristic note for this mode. The improvisation below is in C Locrian (mode VII of the Db major scale):

  • Lowering the root by a semitone would give the Lydian mode, but this time constructed with the note B as the new tonic (down a semitone from C). We could go through the same cycle again, outlining all seven modes from the brightest to the darkest, based on B as the new modal center if we wanted to… But by now, I’m sure you got the point!


    Practice tips

    Just like I did for the recordings above, spend some time with each mode, improvising with it in free rhythm (no regular pulse necessarily needed here). You can explore melodic ideas in the right hand while holding down two Cs an octave apart in the left hand (the drone). Spend 5 to 10 minutes (or more) with a particular mode during each session, and practice different modes based on different tonics every day. Eventually, all 7 modes in all 12 keys (84 in total!) should become familiar musical terrain, but take it easy… day by day and one step at a time! The goal is to internalize them deeply, and fully assimilating one mode in one key will help you assimilate other modes (in the same or different keys) faster.

    Then of course, you can start applying them in the context of tunes. Modal jazz tunes such as So What, Impressions, Cantaloupe Island, etc. are a great starting point because they usually feature a slow harmonic rhythm (the same chord spanning a large number of measures) and few different modes/tonic centers. John Coltrane’s Naima is also a great choice with plenty of beautiful modal colors. The harmonic rhythm is faster with this tune though, so take it step by step (1 or 2 bars at a time) and extend the harmonic rhythm if necessary (i.e. play several bars of the first chord, the same number of bars of the second chord, and make a loop out of the two-chord progression; then repeat with the next couple of chords and so on!).


    Visit https://funnelljazz.eu/lessons/ for detailed information about lessons or click on the image below to book your lesson today:

    guaranteed-green

    using improvisation to increase your self-confidence and tune in to your own musical voice

    Improvisation can sometimes feel daunting, even to the best musicians. Questions like “where should I start?” or “is what I am playing any good?” are indeed uttered far too often, when in fact there is no right or wrong… Everyone is capable of improvising (we all do it in speech for example), but even so, blockages often remain when put on the spot in a musical situation that requires “in the moment” creativity. So how does one go about asserting her/himself musically?

    Drop all forms of self-judgment and self-criticism

    If you chose to walk the path of true freedom in music, you’ll quickly realize that most of the work is of a psychological nature rather than a musical one. Sure, it’s still a great idea to practice on a daily basis and by all means, I encourage you to do so! But instrumental technique should only be viewed as a means to expressing yourself, not as an ultimate goal: virtuosic display is only relevant when backed up with a good story, a message, earnest feeling and emotions… No one really wants to hear a continuous string of loud and fast notes void of meaning…

    The good news is: regardless of your technical ability on your instrument, you can always channel that heartfelt storytelling into your music. Don’t judge yourself, play with conviction, and drop all self-criticism. Often, what might initially be a “mistake” can turn into a beautiful thing: in his book Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art, Stephen Nachmanovitch talks about how oysters eventually make pearls out of grains of sand that inadvertently fall into their shells…

    Don’t try and play anything groundbreaking

    I remember Greg Hopkins, professor of jazz composition at Berklee College of Music, telling the class something along these lines: “Don’t try to be original. Write what your hear and you will be original.” The same goes for improvisation, and the “less is more” approach is definitely recommended to begin with: simple ideas are often beautiful! Play few notes with strong time and feel and let the music come to you. The more virtuosic stuff will come naturally after a while if you stay humble and committed to playing what you actually hear (as opposed to running scales up, down, and sideways just because you theoretically know that they fit a given chord…)

    Let’s have a look at a practical example: a seven note scale (such as the major scale) is sometimes too cumbersome for beginner improvisers to use, so breaking it up into two tetrachords (groups of four notes that usually span the interval of a fourth) can work wonders. Spend time exploring and internalizing each tetrachord (C to F and G to C in the case of the C major scale for instance). With four notes at your disposal, there is still a lot to do… Remember that your melodic motives can go up, down, or be a combination of both. Repeated notes are also an option. Generally speaking, being creative with the rhythm is a great starting point when the range of useable notes is limited. Experiment with different limitations and find your freedom within the boundaries that you set for yourself.

    Establish rituals

    In his book Effortless Mastery: Liberating the Master Musician Within, jazz pianist Kenny Werner explains how to establish a direct connection from your true self to your instrument using four guided meditations (also available in audio format for convenience). I thoroughly recommend them as a ritual that will relax your body, calm your mind, and give your self-confidence a boost.

    There are plenty of other things you can do on a daily basis to help you on the path to musical freedom, that don’t even require purchasing a book, or using any accessories or instruments. The great Austrian writer Rainer Maria Rilke emphasizes the importance of three themes in his Letters to a Young Poet: childhood, nature, and friendship. Spend time recalling places, events, and the emotions and feelings of your childhood in great detail. Improvisation is akin to child play… And for fresh inspiration, wander in nature and socialize with dear friends. I might also suggest regularly remembering your dreams and writing them down or sharing/discussing them with somebody (a person you can trust). All these activities will dramatically improve your creativity and general well-being.

    In the end, it’s all about being open and having fun tapping into the great subconscious “pool” of musical ideas. Taming the ego and being able to let go of all preconceptions and expectations are crucial parts of the process. The journey can be a rough ride, but it is absolutely worth embarking on. True magic will happen along the way. You will no longer play the music… Become the instrument and let the music play you!

    References

    Nachmanovitch, Stephen. Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art.
    Werner, Kenny. Effortless Mastery: Liberating the Master Musician Within.
    Rilke, Rainer Maria. Letters to a Young Poet.


    Visit http://funnelljazz.eu/lessons/ for detailed information about lessons or click on the image below to book your spot at the “Demystifying Improvisation for Classical Musicians” workshop today:
    guaranteed-greenThe class will meet for four live sessions on Wednesdays, October 23, 30 and Nov. 6, 13, 2019, from 8-9 pm ET.

    deriving tetratonic scales from the “new notes” on Oleleko


    Let’s have a look at the chord grid for the solo section on Oleleko (the electric piano improvisation happens from 2’02 to 3’35 on the recording):


    The following table lists all chord symbols, the parent scales they derive from, and their “new notes,” which is a concept introduced by contemporary jazz pianist and composer Laszlo Gardony (for each chord, we list the notes in the parent scale that were not present in the scale corresponding to the previous chord – this helps to give a sense of forward motion to the music and emphasize the shifts in harmony as we go through the grid):

    Bar Chord
    Symbol
    Mode
    (Parent Scale)
    New
    Note(s)?
    121 C7 C mixolydian
    (F major)
    C D E A
    136 D7(#11) D lydian dominant
    (A melodic minor)
    F# G# B
    137 Eb6 Eb ionian
    (Eb major)
    Eb F G Bb
    139 Eb7sus Eb mixolydian
    (Ab major)
    Db
    141 Eb6 Eb ionian
    (Eb major)
    D
    143 Eb7sus Eb mixolydian
    (Ab major)
    Db
    144 E7(#11) E lydian dominant
    (B melodic minor)
    E F# B D
    145 F#6 F# ionian
    (F# major)
    D# E#
    147 F#7sus F# mixolydian
    (B major)
    E
    149 F#6 F# ionian
    (F# major)
    E#
    150 Db7(#11) Db lydian dominant
    (Ab melodic minor)
    G

    Now let’s find possible tetratonic scales based on those “new notes” (using four-note scales will enable us to limit our melodic choices and create wider, more angular intervals, while including as many of the “new notes” as possible in order to retain the characteristic harmonic shifts in the music):

    Bar Chord
    Symbol
    Tetratonic
    Scale(s)
    121 C7 A minor (= A C D E)
    136 D7(#11) E major (= E F# G# B)
    137 Eb6 Eb major
    139 Eb7sus Db major, Bb minor
    141 Eb6 Bb major, G minor
    143 Eb7sus Db major, Bb minor
    144 E7(#11) B minor
    145 F#6 C# major, A# minor
    147 F#7sus E major, C# minor
    149 F#6 C# major, A# minor
    150 Db7(#11) Eb major

    When there are two tetratonic choices, I simply go with the one I like best (in bold in the table above). By all means, feel free to experiment with both options and chose whichever sounds most satisfying to your ear!

    Finally, and for the purpose of practicing, we can further break down these tetratonic sounds into triads: once you feel comfortable improvising using the triads exclusively, it’s easier to play the full tetratonic scales (adding a major second to major triads and a perfect fourth to minor triads to get the corresponding tetratonics).

    Bar Chord
    Symbol
    Tetratonic
    Scale(s)
    Triads
    121 C7 A minor A-
    136 D7(#11) E major E
    137 Eb6 Eb major Eb
    139 Eb7sus Bb minor Bb-
    141 Eb6 G minor G-
    143 Eb7sus Bb minor Bb-
    144 E7(#11) B minor B-
    145 F#6 C# major C#
    147 F#7sus C# minor C#-
    149 F#6 C# major C#
    150 Db7(#11) Eb major Eb

    Complete sheet music for “Oleleko” (from the album Tao, 2019) is available. Please visit the Funnelljazz catalogue for more information.


    Visit http://funnelljazz.eu/lessons/ for detailed information about lessons or click on the image below to book your lesson today:
    guaranteed-green

    hand independence exercise based on Ainu canon

    It’s Independence Day in America, and I thought it opportune to post a special workout for pianists focusing on… hand independence, with a global twist!

    The song we’ll use as the basis for this exercise is an Ainu canon (the Ainu are a people from Northern Japan and the Russian Far East), which involves call and response between a lead singer and a group of singers.

    Although it may seem simple on the surface level, we’ll see that the mental and muscular processes involved in order to produce an acceptable rendition of it on the piano are in fact rather intricate…

    To achieve this, I suggest we break down the practice into the five following steps:

    1. learning the melody in the right hand;
    2. learning the (same) melody in the left hand (the song being a canon, the hands are indeed essentially playing the same melody, two beats apart);
    3. adding an accompanying foot pattern on the upbeats to the right and left hand melodies (optional);
    4. putting it all together with the right hand playing the role of the lead singer (call) and the left hand responding [letter A in the sheet music below];
    5. doing the same exercise again, but this time, reversing the hands: the left hand is now playing the lead part (call) and the right the chorus’ part (response) [letter B].

    As you will see when you try this at home, although the result sounds simple and the melody is made up of only 3 notes ﹣ a tritonic scale roughly comprised of E, F#, and B (the tuning is not exact) ﹣ it does require some patient practice to really internalize this canon and play it accurately on the piano. For instance, particular attention should be given to the proper feel and articulation (when playing the legato and staccato notes in particular).

    Have fun working on your hand independence with this song! It’s a great warm-up before tackling a Bach Invention or Sinfonia for example…


    Sheet music (PDF) available here:


    Visit http://funnelljazz.eu/lessons/ for detailed information about lessons or click on the image below to book your lesson today:
    guaranteed-green

    breaking up the Dorian mode into two pentatonic scales


    Sheet music for Igneous Alloy (from the album Spirit of the Snail), the tune used as an example in this video, is now available on SMP Press:


    Visit http://funnelljazz.eu/lessons/ for detailed information about lessons or click on the image below to book your lesson today:
    guaranteed-green

    Milt Jackson’s vibraphone solo on Anthropology

    I recently stumbled upon an excellent article on Jazz Advice about jazz language. In short, it’s about the importance of learning it!

    Jazz is indeed a language. When children learn a language, they listen, pick out their favorite words, and repeat what they hear… Over and over again! We jazz musicians can totally take example from these kids in order to improve our knowledge of – and fluency in – the language of jazz. Of course, the repeating part will involve transposing as well, and that’s where the fun really starts!

    So I’ve decided to regularly transcribe some of my favorite solos, pick my favorite phrases, and share my findings with you on here. I hope you’ll enjoy them! Today, let’s start with Milt Jackson’s vibraphone solo on Anthropology.

    It’s always nice to practice rhythm changes with its characteristic I-VI-II-V progression (in fact Ima7-V7alt/II-IImi7-V7(b9) in this particular case) since it’s such a common harmonic pattern in jazz.

    The one phrase that really stuck out for me is played in bars 9 to 12. I like it because it has some cool non-diatonic action in bar 10. Here’s how I practiced it both in my right and left hands, using two different kinds of voicings for the accompanying hand (“positions A and B” as Mark Levine puts it in his Jazz Piano Book). The example is in Bb major, the original key. As stated before, it’s essential to take it fully around the cycle of 5ths in order to make sure to really internalize the phrase and the chords in all keys. Just be mindful of low interval limits when playing the chords in the left hand.

    The use of anticipation in the second bar of Milt’s phrase is remarkable: the first four eighth notes (Ab B A F#) are all part of the half-whole scale based on F, which is the scale we would use over F7(b9). The second set of eighth notes (Bb F D Bb) is simply a descending triad outlining the upcoming Bbma7 sound in the third bar.

    It’s also interesting to note that in one of the positions, the G7alt voicing can be thought of as Fmi7(b5)/G (bars 1 & 11). That means you can play a mi7(b5) chord a whole step below the root of any altered chord, and you’ve instantly got yourself a cool voicing for it!

    Similarly, in the other position, the G7alt voicing resembles a Bma7(b5)/G (bars 6 & 16). So it’s also an option to play a ma7(b5) chord a major third above the root of any altered chord to get the desired altered sound.


    Visit http://funnelljazz.eu/lessons/ for detailed information about lessons or click on the image below to book your lesson today:
    guaranteed-green

    using audio files as play-alongs with Audacity

    Advantages of practicing to a loopable track

    It goes without saying that the benefits of practicing really short passages of music, very slowly, and repeating them a great number of times, are prodigious (languages are also learnt more efficiently in that fashion). Imitation, repetition, and using an incremental process (starting out with a small bit of information and later adding other small bits, step by step) are key practice habits when it comes to your musical success.

    These habits will help you “get into the zone,” or in other words will lull you into a soft meditative state conducive to deeply internalizing the music, feeling it in your whole being, sometimes to the point where you can almost sense that someone — or something — is playing the music through you, and you are just relaxing and observing… But I digress a little!1

    The point is: this blissful state of “non-doing” in music can be reached by any of us, whether collectively within an ensemble, or when playing/practicing alone at your instrument. And in the latter case, a nifty little loop can come in quite handy! Playing to a click track/metronome is of course also a tried-and-tested method, particularly when aiming for steady tempo, solid groove, and genuine feel2. But there’s nothing like an audio loop to enjoy the added benefits provided by the external musical stimulation, and the inspiration that arises from it (short of playing with other live musicians!)

    What’s in a good loop?

    In my experience, both with students and in my own practice, the loops that have yielded the best results present the following characteristics:

    • they are relatively short in length (1 to 8 measures or a section of a tune at most);
    • focused on a challenging (though not insurmountable), or, to use another term, unfamiliar passage of music (trust me, after repeating it for a while it will become familiar, and that’s exactly what we want);
    • set to an adequate tempo, most likely on the slower end of the spectrum (one of my professors at Berklee had some words of wisdom about that: “if you bulls#*t slow, you’ll bulls%$t fast!”)

    In my lessons, I make a point of detecting specific passages of music students may have difficulties with. I then prepare loopable audio files (in WAV format, because converting to MP3 tends to add undesirable gaps of silence to the tracks, which in turn makes the loops lopsided) corresponding to these passages for them to practice with. All that is needed then, on the student’s end, is a simple app if they’re going to use their phone for playback (Loop Player does a great job on Android), or a piece of software if they’d rather use a computer. In the latter case, I thoroughly recommend familiarizing oneself with Audacity.

    Getting started with Audacity

    Audacity is a great little piece of software that will enable you to set a tempo you are comfortable with and play the file back as many times as needed, at the same pace and with no interruptions. So before you delve into the blissful state of non-doing in music, let’s take a closer look at a few simple, technical steps that will get you started in no time:

    1. downloading Audacity;
    2. opening an audio file with Audacity;
    3. setting the track’s tempo to your practicing needs;
    4. looping the audio file for playback.

    1. Audacity is available for Windows, macOS, and Linux from the Download page on audacityteam.org.

    2. To load a specific audio file in Audacity, just drag it into the empty blue/grey area (a white “+” sign in a green circle will appear as you hover over that region). A warning will then pop up prompting you to choose an import method. You can select “Make a copy of the files before editing (safer)” so that if you make changes and save them, the original file will remain available as well.

    3. Select the whole audio file (on Mac, hit cmd + A) and go to Effect > Change Tempo…. The “Change Tempo” box appears providing you with three alternatives: Percent Change, Beats per minute (good if you know the original bpm of the track, which you can also figure out using http://a.bestmetronome.com/), or Length (seconds). Don’t forget to tick the box in front of “Use high quality stretching (slow)” for better results.

    4. Finally, choose Transport > Play > Loop Play (or hit shift + space) to launch the play-along.

    As Kenny Werner reminds us: don’t forget to stop playing when you feel you’re loosing focus and concentration. Take your hands off/put down your instrument, take a deep breath, get back into the space, and try again!

    Enjoy and see you online at your next lesson 😉

    Notes

    1 If you’re interested in digging deeper into the subtle spiritual realm of musical practice, you can read a whole lot more about it in Kenny Werner’s classic book Effortless Mastery.

    2 If you’d like to learn about the different types of metronomes (and the key features to look out for when choosing one), this exhaustive deep dive on the topic will definitely do the trick!

    References

    “The Best Metronome.” Beginner Guitar HQ. 2021. <https://beginnerguitarhq.com/best-metronome/> accessed 20 February 2022.

    Werner, Kenny. Effortless Mastery: Liberating the Master Musician Within. Van Nuys: Alfred Music, 1998.


    Visit https://funnelljazz.eu/lessons/ for detailed information about lessons or click on the image below to book your lesson today:

    guaranteed-green