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How NOT to Practice Jazz

PharoahSanders 150x150 How NOT to Practice JazzLet’s talk about What NOT to do in the Practice Room.

Like I said I’ve gotten a ton of questions lately. I’m gonna share 3 with you today because I think they really hit home with a lot of cats. These 3 things can really hold you back too.

Exercises Do Not Make You a Badass Jazz Musician

“Chris, I don’t get it. I practice these technical exercises over and over until I can play them perfectly, up to tempo in a bunch of keys. But then when I play over a tune I still stumble, my fingers just won’t go where I want them to and I get tripped up all over the place.”

The answer to this problem is simple. Do you want to be good at playing exercises off a page? Or do you want to be good at playing jazz with your ears?

Practicing exercises is important and helpful, sure. But if you want to get good at improvising you’ve got to practice improvising! So many cats get hung up on technical exercises, or reading transcriptions.

But the only way to get good at improvisation is to DO IT!

So balance that little old practice routine of yours with some PLAYING. Oh, and some listening, too.

You can keep it simple. No need to jump right on into Giant Steps. Improvise with the C major scale if that’s where you’re at. Just start improvising…

Sometimes It Really Is THAT Simple.

“I was listening to a recording of myself playing, and I noticed that I always start my phrases on beat 1 of the bar. How can fix this habit and start having a little more rhythmic freedom?”

Umm. Practice starting phrases starting on beat 2? Or maybe the + of 3?

Seriously, it’s awesome that this cat noticed this in the first place. Recording is where it’s at for musical self-improvement. And awareness is the first step to recovery. But no need to overcomplicate. Literally, just start practicing beginning phrases on a different beat.

Notice that you play too loud? Start practicing other dynamics. Practice switching between them.

Notice that you always screw up the bridge to All the Things You Are? Practice just the bridge until you got it. Keep, It, Simple, Sir!

It Actually Doesn’t Matter How You Sound in the Practice Room

“I practice a lot. I feel like I’m really making progress. I play my ass off in the practice room. But when I go to a session or sit in at a local jam I always choke, get lost or just cause a train wreck!”

Again, it’s really pretty simple. This cat just needs more experience playing with people in front of people. And lots of it.

That’s one part of learning jazz that you can’t avoid. Imagine if you were trying to learn Spanish. And every day you practiced conjugating verbs and spelling out Spanish vocabulary words.

If you suddenly found yourself in a Spanish speaking country how would it work out? Would your Spanish be a little rough around the edges? Would you make a bunch of mistakes, maybe misunderstand some people.

It’s the same with Jazz my friend. You just gotta get experience playing with other cats in front of an audience. You gotta fall down and bruise your ego a little. It’s the best learning experience there is.

And, coincidentally, it’s how the great players before us learned to play.

So keep it simple and get out there and make some good juicy mistakes.

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