The Chic Corea ‘Secret’ I Could Never Understand.

Chick Corea in 2009 150x150 The Chic Corea ‘Secret’ I Could Never Understand.“Only play what you hear. If you don’t hear anything, don’t play anything.”
— Chick Corea

Sound advice for sure. But what the hell does it mean?

I’ve been trying to figure that out for 15 years.

Way back when I was a young buck at Berklee, spinning my wheels in the practice rooms, practicing all this ‘stuff’ I came across that quote.

Like most jazz ‘proverbs’ it made perfect logical sense. And obviously coming from Chic it must be true, right?
But I didn’t know what I was hearing. My mind was too busy thinking about all this ‘stuff’ I was learning – these patterns, and grooves and ‘concepts’.

I was too busy thinking about being ‘modern’ and getting my ‘chops’ together so I could be that ultra hip jazz guy. I wanted to play blazing fast licks, super modern rhythms and I wanted to take it ‘out’ like Trane and Ornette.

Turns out I was pretty much doing it wrong:-(

You see I, like most players these days, young & old, was coming at this jazz thing like it was something you could learn from a book.

That’s like saying you can learn Japanese from a book.

You can learn some stuff from a book. A lot of stuff even. But the ‘real’ learning has to come in a different way – the old fashion way.

The Answer? Listening to Records, Hitting the Bandstand/Jam Sessions and a good dose of musical introspection.

Yes, you DO have to practice and learn musical technique. You’ve got to check out some harmony and improvisation techniques. And books CAN be really helpful. But ultimately we gotta put it all together in that old fashion way.

Here are 4 things you should be doing with your music as much as possible.

1. Listen to records. The great records. Then listen some more. Focused listening. Listen until you have the sounds ringing in your ears. Take small pieces at a time – phrases, melodies, 1 line. But listen until the sound is a part of you. In fact, to take this further I would use ‘inner hearing’ or ‘mental rehearsal’ to further ingrain the sound in your aural imagination. That’s where your sound comes from.

2. Emulate that sound on your instrument. Just go for it. And keep going for it. Don’t overcomplicate that process. Just listen to records and emulate & imitate. Then choose your technical exercises, concepts and other practice topics so they serve that. It’s all about eartraining and building/learning vocabulary.

3. Play music. Every day you should practice using your growing vocabulary. Improvise with whatever you’re working on – a scale, an arpeggio, a simple progression, a rhythm, a melody. Keep it simple. But do it.

4. Play with people. If you’ve got some basic chops on your axe you’re ready to start playing with other cats. Find other cats and schedule as many sessions as your schedule can handle. This is where you learn how to speak the language you’re studying in the practice rooms.

Now, get out there and start swinging. God knows we need more beautiful music in this world now more than ever!

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