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Copyright © 2009 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

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© 2010 by Chris Punis

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Chris Punis Learnjazzfaster.com

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Copyright © 2010 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC


The 21 FAQ Series

21 Frequently Asked Questions about Learning Jazz

By: Chris Punis

Copyright © 2010 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC


1. How can I learn tunes faster?

2. How can I get more out of my practice time?

3. How do I know what to practice?

4. Did I start too late?

5. Do I have what it takes to become a jazz musician? The myth of talent.

6. How do I get more jazz gigs?

7. How do I tap into my creativity?

8. Why do other players seem to get better faster than I do? Part 1

9. Why do other players seem to get better faster than I do? Part 2

10. Why do other players seem to get better faster than I do? Part 3

11. How Do I Develop My Own Sound, My Own Style?

12. What are the essential steps to becoming a jazz musician?

13. How Can I Play More Musically?

14. How Do I practice everything there is To Practice?

15. How do I find a good jazz improvisation teacher?

16. How come I sound better in the practice room than on the bandstand?

17. I am a classically trained musician but I just can‟t seem to get this improvising thing together?

18. How can I develop my swing feel?

19. How Do I Master the Fundamentals of Jazz?

20. How do I learn by ear?

21. Why Don‟t I Feel like I‟m getting better fast enough?

Copyright © 2010 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

Frequently Asked Jazz Question #1.

How do I know what to practice?

That‟s by far the most common question asked by students of jazz. After all, learning jazz is no small feat. There‟s a ton that goes into it. There are thousands of books, articles, lessons, DVDs and websites dedicated to learning jazz. It‟s just a mountain of information to go through. Let‟s talk about a few ways to make this seemingly difficult decision much easier.

Now, there are several things you wanna consider when you‟re putting together your practice routine.

First of all, your present abilities will weigh heavily on these choices. As a general rule you want to make sure that whatever you are practicing is challenging but doable. In other words, success with the practice topic needs to be within the realm of possibility, if you dig. If you are a relative newbie to jazz you don‟t want to be working on ridiculously hard tunes like Coltrane‟s Giant Steps or Count Down, or working on some wacky odd time signatures, or blazing up-tempo playing, etc.

On the flip side if you‟re an advanced intermediate player you don‟t want to be practicing the same stuff like etudes or exercises you‟ve already got nailed. You want to be sure that the material is pushing you out of your comfort zone. But not by too much. Again, challenging but doable.

Another major consideration is your long-term goals with music. What kind of music do you want to play? What music do you like? What cats do you dig? What styles do you want to master and take further? I‟m all for being well rounded but the fact is you can‟t master it all. In fact you can only master a few things.

So start by clarifying what direction you‟re heading in music. And Remember, this direction may change. By choosing to practice certain things and choosing to not practice others you‟ll bring a level focus and clarity to your practicing and to your playing. And it doesn‟t mean you can‟t work on those things you decided not to practice later on.

Now, there are 6 fundamental areas that make up the core of your musical training. This stuff comes from my friend and mentor, Hal Crook, a badass trombone player and an equally skilled teacher I met at Berklee. They are as follows:

1. Instrumental Technique- this is control of your axe. Topics to study would include, arpeggios, scales, scale patterns, accent patterns, range, articulation, dynamics, rudiments, coordination, etc.

2. Etudes- These are any classical or jazz pieces written for your instrument and designed to bring the instrumental techniques together into a musical setting relating to execution, technique, expression and interpretation.

3. Sight-reading- this is, of course, the ability to read new material at will. You can choose appropriate material each day to hone and practice your sight-reading skills. This material could include rhythmic sight reading, reading lines with no rhythms, chords, classical pieces, music written for an instrument other than your own, etc.

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Repertoire- jazz is a language of music built on and around tunes. You should constantly seek to expand your repertoire by learning tunes from the whole library: standards, jazz tunes and modern tunes.

5. Ear-training- this is your ability to recognize musical elements by ear (pitch, harmony, rhythms, forms, articulation, dynamics etc) and respond on your instrument.

6. Improvisation- this is what it‟s all about--creating art in real time. Topics for improvisation would include chord-scale soloing, rhythmic values, phrase lengths, pacing, motive development, etc. Again, I‟m gonna plug Hal here. Check out his books, “How to Improvise” and “Ready, Aim, Improvise” for a comprehensive list of improvisational topics and exercises to master them.

Now let‟s talk briefly about two of the most important areas. Technique and improvisation. Technique is most important in the beginning and intermediate stages of your development. There is just no way around it. You gotta have control of your instrument in order to become a player.

Now many cats continue to practice technical exercises, even after they have already achieved technical mastery. But the closer to the beginning you are as a player, the more technique heavy your practice sessions will be.

Improvising on the other hand is more relevant as you become a more advanced player. In fact as you become an advanced player much or most of your practicing should deal with jazz improvisation. But that doesn‟t mean you should neglect it in the beginning. There is always a way to incorporate improvising into your practicing.

For instance if you are working on major scales you could use a major scale as source material for improvisation. In other words you could play around, play being the key word, with just the notes of the major scale. While playing around you would look for melodies that catch your ear. Think of it as experimenting. And you‟re using just the notes of the major scale to do it. You are experimenting and searching to find melodies that you like. You can begin to develop your vocabulary this way and this experience will help you later when you go to apply these scales to improvising over chord changes.

Now when putting together your practice plan and practice routine a good rule of thumb is to choose just 3-4 of the 6 fundamental areas to work on for a three-month period. For instance you might choose technique, improvisation and eartraining. Then you would choose exercises and topics for each that are appropriate to your current abilities and goals.

Once you decide on your plan it is important to stick to it. It is almost always detrimental to change topics on a whim. Follow your plan through. It is equally important to practice the same topics each and everyday. Man, I can‟t tell you how important that is. So many young cats get distracted by a fancy new book or some new concept they run across. Don‟t fall into that trap. Stick to what you‟re doing until you‟re done.

Now here‟s another important point. Be sure to always be moving forward with each topic. Decide on a specific goal for each practice session and each topic. For instance if you are working on major scales as part of your technique practice, be sure to clearly define the goal for today. That might

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mean being able to play the G major scale up and down two octaves, with quarter note rhythms at a tempo of 120. But once you achieve that goal you must move on. You could increase the tempo, play it over more than two octaves or move on to another scale. Just be sure to push the envelope a little bit each session.

And remember a good teacher is an invaluable resource, especially earlier in your development. I‟m gonna cover more about finding a great teacher in an upcoming lesson, but for now here are a few tips. Find some local players whose music you like and ask them to recommend a teacher for you. Do some research, ask around, ask your musical friends and ask prospective teachers for references. If you don‟t trust your teacher, if they don‟t inspire you, if they don‟t help build your musical confidence or you are not seeing the results with music you want, then switch teachers. You don‟t owe them anything. This is your music were talking about here. This is important.

As with all skills you will get better at designing practice routines over time. Just make some choices and stick with them. It‟s really that simple. Then evaluate the results and use that information to make even better choices when putting together your next practice routine. Over time your practicing will become more and more fine tuned, you will get faster and faster results and you will be on your way to achieving your bigger musical goals.

Copyright © 2010 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

Frequently Asked Jazz Question #2

How can I get more out of my practice time?

Practicing is where it all begins for jazz musicians. The practice room is where we learn our instruments, get our chops together and start figuring this whole jazz thing out. It stands to reason then that the more productive you are in the shed the faster you‟ll move forward. For some crazy reason, not many teachers teach students how to practice. I don‟t know why this shit is so secret, but it is. Here are a few considerations for your practice activities and a few tips to get the most out of that precious practice time.

As I mentioned in lesson 1, the topics you are working on must be appropriate for your level. The following rule of thumb should be used when choosing topics to practice. Your practice material should be challenging but doable. It should push you forward but not be outside your ability to succeed.

Ok. This is big one. If you can dig this one concept and apply it to your time in the shed, you will go as far with music as you want:

Your practice sessions should be focused on getting results.

Let me repeat that:

Your practice sessions should be focused on getting results, specific results.

With each topic or exercise, you wanna choose ahead of time exactly what you want to achieve that day, during that session. Decide exactly what a successful outcome or result will look like. The more sharply focused you are on a specific result the faster you move forward.

So, you‟re not going to practice Charlie Parker‟s solo on Ornithology today. That‟s too vague of a goal. It‟s too big. There‟s too much there. You‟re going to practice the first two bars of the solo at a tempo of 80 until you can play that from memory 5 times without making a mistake. See what I mean? That‟s a clearly defined result that you can measure. You can say I can do that, or I can‟t do that yet.

Once you can say I can do that, then you move on to the next target. If yesterday you learned the first two bars of Parker‟s solo, today you will learn the next two. And so on. Just make sure you are always pushing that envelope, always taking it up a notch.

A powerful method, and really its practically a required method, to aid your practicing is to record and critique your sessions. Recording allows you to hear things in your playing you didn‟t know were there, both good and bad. When you‟re learning new concepts your ears and your awareness are so tied up trying to figure out the new thing, that there‟s a lot in your playing that you probably miss. Recording yourself can shine a light on those things. You can use your critiques to decide where to put your focus, and decide what still needs work. Recording will increase your musical awareness and teach you incredible things about your playing.

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Another great tool and habit is to keep a practice journal. Each day before you start your session, write down the desired results, like we talked about, for that session. At the end of the session write down a few notes. Did you achieve your results? What still needs work? What did you learn? What was your big take-away. Then you use those notes to plan your practice session for tomorrow.

Using a journal will keep you focused and moving forward. It is also an excellent place to record ideas and to keep track of your progress. If you look back through your practice journal for the last few months, you will realize that you really did make significant progress with your playing.

And lastly, be sure to prepare your space ahead of time. I don‟t mean to sound like your dad here, but clean damn practice room. Get it ready to practice before you start. Make sure you have all of the material you need, like your instrument, metronome, recording device, manuscript paper, pencil, recorded music etc. Having to stop in the middle of a session to find something you need not only wastes time, but breaks your concentration and the musical mindset. It takes time to get back into the right mindset after being interrupted.

While all of these ideas are heavy in and of themselves, combined they can bring you huge results with your playing. But by far the most important thing is to make sure you are constantly learning, constantly advancing. Each day walk out of that practice room having learned something or improved something in your playing, no matter how small. Over a few weeks and months these small improvements will add up into serious musical progress.

Copyright © 2010 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

Frequently Asked Jazz Question #3.

How can I learn tunes faster?

As I‟m sure you know learning tunes and lots of „em is one of the most important things a player can do, in fact you really have to do it. And the faster you learn them the better. But I mean REALLY learn them.

„Learning‟ a tune means totally absorbing it into your ear and into your memory, the melody, the changes, the form and rhythm, to the point where you don‟t have to think about it while you‟re playing.

The first thing to do, of course, is to choose a tune. Just make sure you choose a tune that‟s not too ridiculously advanced for your present skills. You want to choose a tune that you can actually wrap your ears around.

You would then start by listening to a recording of the tune to get the basic sound of it in your ears. Then get a copy of the tune, the lead-sheet and look it over. You‟re looking to get an overview of the tune. You‟re looking for things like form (is it AABA, ABAC, a blues, etc), what key is it in, and what‟s the time signature.

Then you would slice it up into pieces, break it down into small bite size chunks. Simplicity is king when it comes to practicing jazz. So start with something like the first phrase, just the pitches, no rhythms. If simplicity is king then repetition is queen. Repeat the phrase over and over 4 or more, or many times while reading it. Then repeat it from memory by ear. Pay attention to the melodic shape, the relationship of the pitches to each other and any other details that your ear slowly uncovers through repetition.

Then move on to the next phrase. And so on. Then you would go back and work on bigger chunks of the melody, like the first two phrases together, still just the pitches. Repeat this process until you have the entire melody memorized and can play it by ear without thinking about it. The more you repeat it, the deeper it will become engrained in your ears and your memory.

Use this same method to go through the chords, again keeping it simple, perhaps just two chords at a time, gradually adding the next. You may start with just the root notes of the chords, then the guide tones, then root position and so on. Repeat this until the sound is in your ears and you are not thinking about what you are playing, only listening and letting your ears guide your body. Now do this exercise everyday for a week and you‟ll have the tune. Then review once a week for awhile. Call it sessions and put it in your listening rotation.

Now, slow and steady wins the race. This might seem counter intuitive, but the slower you go, and the more thorough you are, the faster you will absorb the tune, and the faster you will actually sound good playing it.

And the more thoroughly you learn a tune (the sound) the faster the next one will come. A lot of the same skills and information will carry over to the next tune and the more solid you lay your foundation as you go the better.

Copyright © 2010 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

As you learn more and more tunes you will be able to learn new ones faster and faster. As you improve with this and your ears get stronger and stronger you won‟t have to break the tunes down quite so much. Just let your ears be the judge.

The goal is to practice the tune until you essentially own it. Like you own happy birthday or some other tune you‟ve been hearing your whole life. And repetition is the key. Repetition creates memory. Literally, repetition will hard wire the tune into your brain. And the only way to really be free and improvise on a tune is to get the tune hard wired into your brain.

One of the reasons that a lot of the great bands sounded so great is that they played the same book, or the same tunes on the road, night after night for months or even years. After awhile they could play the music in their sleep. And that‟s when the magic happens.

Once you have learned several or many tunes from lead sheets and your ears are becoming more and more aware you should start learning tunes by ear, from recordings or from another musician. Remember this is music. It is all about the ears.

Copyright © 2010 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

Frequently Asked Jazz Question #4

Did I start too late?

Ok. So this lesson has more to do with the psychology of musical success than it does with practicing jazz. But it‟s an all too common question among students of jazz. And a source of great frustration and fear. And that, my fellow jazz musician can hold you back as much as anything else.

Many jazz musicians fall into this age trap, where they get hung up on whether or not they started playing young enough. And it doesn‟t seem to matter how old they are. I‟ve gotten many emails from students expressing concern to me about whether they started early enough and then later in the email I find out the student is only 14 or 15 years old. But in general this concern tends to hit more around the college age.

Now this fear of starting too late is really just a symptom of a deeper problem. That problem is a poor self-concept. One thing is certain, in order for a jazz musician to achieve a great level of playing it is absolutely necessary that they believe in themselves, that they believe in their ability to achieve their musical goals. In essence they will achieve whatever level of music they believe they will achieve, whether that‟s a low level or monster level. If confidence is lacking they will tend to have a negative self-concept and negative views of life. They will tend to dwell on the reasons why they CANNOT become a great player instead of dwelling on their goals, what they want and why they CAN achieve it.

In just a moment I‟ll tell you about a few actionable steps you can take to strengthen the all- important self-concept. But first I want to cover a few things about this age problem.

You see, the truth is it doesn‟t really matter. Yes, learning jazz is a very complicated and long process. There are many steps. You need to have a lot of necessary experiences and you need to spend a lot time in the shed.

Now, I‟ve heard some great players claim that becoming a master player is upward of a 15 year process at least. But it doesn‟t matter whether you start that process when you are 8 or when you are 25 or older. The process is the same. If you start when you are 16 you are not going to be a great player by the age of 18 the way the great Tony Williams was for example. But you can be by the time you are 25 or 30. Again the process is the same. You gotta just accept reality, and where you are. But how far you go is up to you. It doesn‟t matter where you‟ve been, it only matters where you‟re going.

In fact in some ways a cat that starts later will have advantages over the younger student. They will be more aware of the process, more disciplined and know themselves better. The only advantage that a young player has is that they may not have yet acquired what I call jazz musician baggage. They have less fear and as a result they take more chances with their music and are able to approach music in a real playful, open minded way. And older students can acquire this same playful mindset. They simply need to drop this baggage. Drop the fear.

And that brings us back to self-concept and confidence. Self- concept and Self-confidence are EVERYTHING. They are paramount to achieving big goals. They are at the very foundation of what makes it possible to succeed. If you are not confident in your ability to achieve your goals or you

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experience lot of self-doubt, then forget about practicing more, or finding the right book or teacher. You need to start with that foundation of self-concept. Then everything else will fall into place.

Luckily self-confidence and self-concept are not fixed. They change. They go up and down. And there are proactive things you can to strengthen them. Here are just a few ideas.

#1 Eliminate negative self-talk. The way you speak to yourself and others, and the way you think has a profound impact on your life and your confidence. Pay attention to your vocabulary and begin to make adjustments as you notice self-defeating words and phrases.

Here are some examples of self-defeating Words and Phrases:

I wish…

I‟ll try…

I hope…

I can‟t…that‟s a big one

I should… If only…

I might…

Examples of powerful success words and phrases:

I will…

I can…

I must…

I know…

I believe…

#2 Focus on Solutions. The cats focus on musical solutions not musical problems. They view problems merely as challenges that need a solution. And they get busy searching for that solution. They believe that a solution exists and they believe they can find it. The opposite of this is a whiner. They complain about life, how hard it is to become a great player and come up with every reason in the book as to why they can‟t become a great player, i.e. I started to late. Again, pay attention to how you talk, how you think. If you catch yourself complaining or whining, pause and look for the solution. There is a solution to every musical problem. Focus on what you want to achieve and think about how you can achieve it. Drop the negative shit. As writer Richard Bach once said, “Argue your limitations, and surely they are yours.”

#3 Visualization. Using your imagination is an extremely powerful way to reprogram your mind, literally. Spend time each day visualizing yourself as the player and person you would like to be. See yourself acting confidently and imagine what that feels like. The more details you bring to the visualization the better. How are playing? How do you feel? What does the room look like? Constantly hone and refine your visualization until you reach a close-to-perfect model of who you want to become. Than practice and repeat this process everyday.

Studies have actually shown that the brain cannot tell the difference between reality and imagination. As you visualize yourself as the player you wish to become your brain will create new connections, connections of confidence and strength. Gradually over time and through repeated practice of

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visualization these connections will become stronger and more plentiful and the old connections of self-doubt will begin to weaken and fade. I should note though that it‟s not enough to just visualize. You must combine that with real action, i.e. practice and other musical activities. After a short period of time, a few weeks or so, you will begin to see results in your real life.

Now, I‟d like to point out that ALL jazz musicians experience some level of self-doubt at some point in their life. The difference is that great players work through that fear. They confront it and learn from. They observe it and they grow and they move forward despite it. There is no more important and crucial goal and commitment you can make than to strengthen your confidence. By making a commitment to increase your level of confidence you exhibit courage and begin a powerful process. With this process and this approach to life you WILL achieve your goals, improve the quality of your life and you‟ll take your music as far as you want to.

Copyright © 2010 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

Frequently Asked Jazz Question #5

Do I have what it takes to become a jazz musician? The myth of talent.

Probably the most wide spread and debilitating problem with jazz musicians is the fear that they don‟t have enough musical talent. Now talent is a very slippery concept to cover. How do you quantify talent? How do you know if you have enough of it?

Here‟s the truth man, if you love jazz—in other words you „get it‟ when you listen to it, it resonates with youthen you most likely have all the talent you need to go as far with music as you want. This fear of not having it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. In other words a fear of failure can actually create the real failure. Self-doubt can keep you from doing the right things, taking the right risks and following through on your plans and goals. If you believe you aren‟t talented enough you will most certainly create that reality for yourself.

The great jazz piano player Bill Evans actually believed that he was not particularly talented with music. He had to rely on his analytical musical mind, to go deep into certain musical elements, to dissect the musical ideas and concepts that he was attracted to and build his music piece by piece through patient and thorough practice and study. And look what he did with music. He‟s one of the Giants! Today, to think that Bill Evans was not talented is a preposterous idea.

Evans chose to focus on his goal of playing great jazz, rather than focus on his limitations. Instead he did what‟s called leveraging your strengths. He focused on specific areas of music that he was naturally inclined to explore. He explored those areas as deeply as he could and the rest is history. His methods might have been a complete disaster for a more quote unquote-natural player and vice versa.

Now let‟s talk about something called The Law of Dharma or Purpose of Life. This law states that each and every one of us possesses a unique set of abilities and a unique way of expressing them. If you ponder that idea for a moment and then consider some of the most original voices in jazzThelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Ornette Colemanit becomes quite evident that these pioneers of jazz discovered their musical purpose. They gave back to the world ten times over in the form of beautiful, inspiring music. Not all of them had blazing chops or virtuosic control of music. But they did have a profound understanding and intimate knowledge of their true voice.

So what‟s the solution to this problem? Remove the word talent from your vocabulary. It doesn‟t matter. How does the saying go, “The bars are full of talented people.” Instead, focus on finding those things in music that really hit you where it counts, that flow to you and out of you almost effortlessly. You don‟t have to be someone you‟re not. Through consistent and purposeful practice and observation you can surface your strengths, your true personality and then get busy leveraging them to put you on the path to becoming a one of a kind player, A Monster even.

Copyright © 2010 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

Frequently Asked Jazz Question #6

How do I get more jazz gigs?

It goes with out saying that most cats wish they had more work, more gigs. The following are 4 extremely effective networking methods that you can put to work immediately. Obviously, your playing is the most important factor. The majority of your time and efforts should be focused on becoming the best player you can. Ability in and of itself will attract opportunity. But that not enough. Besides, having gigs is part of the learning process. Get your playing in shape and follow these simple methods for networking with musicians and soon your phone won‟t stop ringing.

1 Go to Other People’s Gigs One of the best ways to start getting more calls for gigs is to support other musicians. Whether they are your friends or acquaintances or even if you‟ve never met them before, supporting their music comes with many benefits. People tend to help people who help them.

Decide ahead of time who you would like to perform with and potentially get called by. Once you have that list, follow their gigs and show up to support them. People tend to call people who they have recently seen. If you have already established a relationship with gigging musicians you can increase your own gigs rather quickly this way, just by being on the scene, being part of the hang.

2 Go on introduce yourself

The more musicians that know you and that know your playing the better, and the more gigs you‟ll have. Again the key here is to be present on the scene. Chances are that at a jazz gig there will be

other musicians in the audience. Get in the habit of meeting a new musician every time you attend a gig.

Now, here‟s the thing. Network with the express purpose of meeting new people and developing relationships with them, not selling yourself to them. Selling yourself and talking only about yourself is a real turnoff to people that don‟t know you. Don‟t talk about how wonderful YOUR music is, or what a badass player YOU are. In fact, you will make a much better impression if you focus on them. Ask them questions about their music and what they‟re up to. There‟s nothing that people appreciate more than being listened to. Of course you want to tell them about what you do but try to focus more on them. Be sure to follow up with them as well. Email them and begin that relationship. You can write something simple like “Hey Man, Great to meet you the other night. See you on the scene.”

3 Be an Organizer

One great way to further your networking efforts is to organize sessions. Cats love to play sessions but many are simply too lazy or busy to take the time to set them up. Being the guy who organizes

will have the effect of positioning you as a leader.

If you don‟t have many gigs right now than fill your schedule with sessions. This also has the added benefit of being both necessary for and highly beneficial to your playing. But, be mindful of who you call for your sessions. They should be people with positive attitudes, who want to have productive sessions and whom you want to gig with. After awhile these sessions will begin to turn into gigs.

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4 Stay on Their Radar Once you‟ve built up a sizeable network of musicians it will be impossible to play sessions with all of them, or attend all of their gigs on a regular basis. They may simply be too busy to play sessions, or you may be. But you still need to stay on their minds.

Ask them to become your friend on facebook or another social networking site. Then keep them posted about what you‟re up to. Let them know about your gigs and other projects.

Also, occasionally drop them a line, send them a text or give them a call simply to say Hi, and see what they‟re up to. Stay in touch. The more genuinely interested in what they are doing the better.

To sum that all up:

Be on the scene. Constantly meet new people. Be an organizer. Stay on the radar.

Follow these four simple steps and the gigs will start to flow.

Copyright © 2010 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

Frequently Asked Jazz Question #7

How do I tap into my creativity?

One of the most important „laws‟ of learning jazz is this: You must be simultaneously creating your own original music while studying the tradition. The past serves as your springboard to the future. It‟s the fuel for your creativity. Digging into the past is one of the most important things you can do as a player.

Creativity doesn‟t happen in a vacuum. Highly creative people have simply fed their minds with fuel for their creative fires. That fuel comes from the past. This is how you get “roots,” even though you started playing in 2004, not the 1940‟s. Other factors exist—like “the zone,” trust and confidence— but without fuel there can be no creative fire. Now let‟s talk about some practical ways you can dig into the tradition and feed your fire.

Create a history playlist. When I was coming up, my teacher, Hal Crook had me create a history “tape.” Yes, this was long before the days of the IPOD. Anyway, he had me choose a track from each 20-25 year period of jazz, from the beginning to the present. I then compiled those tracks onto a cassette tape (obviously you would now use a CD, a playlist in iTunes, etc.) in chronological order. Next, I would listen to this tape everyday as part of my practice routine.

The key to this exercise is to have a “focus” for your listening. For instance, you would want to listen with one topic in mind, such as vocabulary, time-feel, articulation, phrasing, etc. Ask yourself as you listen how your topic changed over the years and from player to player. What stayed the same and carried over? What are the similarities? What is different? For me, this exercise had the effect of “blowing the doors open” to the whole tradition. Before this I was stuck in the 50‟s and 60‟s. Suddenly, the entire tradition became fair game for study and I loved it all.

Check out the “in-between” guys. Miles and Trane are great. They are two of the greatest musicians to ever live. But they aren‟t the only two musicians. There are literally thousands of great cats who simply didn‟t have the same commercial success as Miles and Trane, or whom popular history has seemed to forget for one reason or another.

There is a lot to learn and benefit from studying these lesser-known jazz masters. And you‟ll be pulling cool ideas out of less crowded creative pool. Everyone checks out Miles and Trane. But not everyone checks out Booker Irvin or Lennie Tristano. Start with the sidemen of the greats you already know. Google them and find their discographies. Who else did they play with? Then ask, who else did those musicians play with, etc. It‟s an endless pursuit. You will never run out of music to check out.

Pick a master to focus on. Another idea is to pick just one player to focus on. For instance, you could have a “player of the month.” Say you decided to focus on Lennie Tristano. For one month you would devote a period of your practice session each day to listening to and studying Lennie Tristano. Buy a few of his recordings. Read a biography. Search on youtube for footage of him performing. Transcribe a few of his solos. Learn to play them. Emulate his articulation, phrasing, rhythmic feel, tone, dynamics, etc. Then, after a period with Lennie, move on to someone else. Perhaps move on to a contemporary of Lennie‟s. Or jump around in the tradition to, say, 1970‟s McCoy Tyner.

Copyright © 2010 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

Become a “vinyl head.” If you don‟t already, start buying vinyl records. I‟m not one of those audiophiles who thinks that vinyl sounds better than CD. It certainly sounds different from digital music. But I personally like them both. I buy vinyl because of the music that is available there that isn‟t available on CD. There is a ton of old music that is out of print but still available in used record stores. You can find a lot of great old stuff, cheap. You can also pay $87 or more for one record if you‟re a serious collector. But there are a lot of records available for a few bucks or even a dollar. And again, there‟s stuff you just can‟t find on CD or iTunes. There is really no reason not to buy records.

Exercise your creative muscle. I‟m gonna get a little metaphysical on you here. Many musicians and artists are romantic types. They are attracted to a „mysterious‟ side of art, a magical side. Well, I hate to break it to you, but there is no mystery or magic to creativity. Creativity doesn‟t happen because of some ancient Greek goddess named Euterpe (The muse of music). Creativity happens because you „create‟.

Life is creativity. The universe is creativity. Therefore all of us are creative. Sorry to get a little out there on you, but to create you only need to take action. Get in the habit creating something everyday. Write something, anything. It could be a one bar melody, it could be a rhythm, it could be a groove. Just create something. You cannot wait for some idea to strike out of thin air. You must take action. Just do it. Overtime this creative process will become easier and easier.

Feed your creative fires with the past. You‟ll discover that a lot of the hippest “new” music actually was conceived of and played in your grandfather‟s day. The most creative people are the ones most steeped in the tradition. You‟ll discover new ideas and new musical avenues that you can explore. You will never run out of music to check out or ideas to cop. Become a serious student of jazz. Become a life-long student of the tradition.

Copyright © 2010 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

Frequently Asked Jazz Question #8

Why do other players seem to get better faster than I do? Part 1

Have you ever known that player who everything just seems to fall into place for? They get better and better at a seemingly breakneck speed and they leave everyone else in the dust. Well, I certainly knew a lot of people like that when I was at Berklee. It used to drive me frickin‟ crazy. I felt like I was working hard as hell, but just spinning my wheels.

And that‟s precisely what prompted me to try figure out why. Why do they learn and improve so fast? What do they do differently? Could I do the same things and achieve the same results? Or were those guys just simply more talented or luckier?

For the last 9 years since I got out of Berklee I‟ve worked to figure that out. To crack the code so to speak. Over the course of that time it became very clear to me that talent played a very minor role in the success of a jazz musician. Sure you need to have at least a basic affinity for music. But if you are truly moved by music, you love it and you „get it‟ when you listen to it, then you probably have all the talent you need to go as far with music as you wish.

I also realized that luck has basically nothing to do with success. But I did start to notice some patterns. I began to realize the things that they did differently than all the other jazz musicians at Berklee. As I applied these concepts and habits to my own practicing I began to get the results I wanted.

Just remember this: If you do the things that other successful people have done, eventually you will get the same results.

Self-conceptNow, I did touch on this in a previous lesson. But since I know that self-concept is EVERYTHING, I‟m gonna go into it a bit more. Self-concept is basically your own understanding and definition of your self. It‟s the way you perceive yourself. All of your beliefs about yourself are determined by your self-concept: beliefs about what you and are and are not capable of, beliefs about what you are and are not worthy of in life.

This is powerful stuff. These beliefs affect every aspect of your life. It‟s all-important to achieving anything in lifefrom badass jazz skills to a satisfying relationship to a desirable income to a healthy body. Your self-concept will determine the choices you make, the actions you take, the people you meet and even the level of concentration you are able to bring to the practice room.

With a strong self-concept you will take the risks and chances necessary to move forward with music. You will make mistakes, fall down and experience failures. But you will pick yourself up, dust yourself off, learn from the experience and move on. In fact people with strong self-concepts and confidence recognize that mistakes and failures are a necessary part of the process. They learn to embrace them.

So how does this apply to playing jazz? Simple, you must believe in your core that you CAN become the kind of player you wantthat you CAN achieve the success with music that you want.

Copyright © 2010 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

Writer Napoleon Hill once wrote: “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe it can achieve.”

All right, I‟m gonna show you how much of a nerd I actually am. Let‟s talk about your brain for a second. Every belief you have, every habit you have and in fact your entire self-concept is literally wired into your brain, in the form of neural connections. Over the years all of your thoughts, experiences and emotions have been building up and creating an extremely complex web of interconnected and integrated neural connections. And a negative self-concept, as abstract of a concept as that is, literally exists physically in your brain. It‟s all in the connections.

You might be saying now, “Great Chris, that sucks. Thanks for telling me that self-doubt and fear is wired into my brain. I might as well just quit playing.” Not so fast…There is a concept in neuroscience called The Plasticity of the Brain. This simply means that the brain is changeable. In fact it‟s changing whether we like it or not. Every thought we have, every emotion we experience literally creates new connections. Every time you say to yourself, “I‟m not good enough, or I‟ll never be that good, or I just don‟t have what that player has”, you change your brain. And the more we repeat these thoughts and emotions the stronger and more plentiful the connections become. Until eventually they become habits.

But these habits are breakable. All you need to do is create new, positive habits to take their place. We can do this by first observing the way we speak to ourselves. Is our inner dialog positive and confident? Or is it negative and self-defeating. Once you begin to develop an awareness of this dialog you can begin to overwrite it, by catching yourself in the moment and literally replacing the thought with a more positive one.

You become what you think about most of the time. Pay attention to your thoughts. Your thoughts determine where you get in life. Think about what you want to achieve, how you‟ll benefit by achieving it and how you will get there. Practice visualization, keep a journal, write and rewrite your goals every day. Write down why you will benefit from achieving your goals and what steps you can take to get there. Do these things religiously day in and day out. Over time you will literally be reprogramming your brain. After a few weeks this stuff will begin to manifest in your life. You will begin to feel different, think different and as result you will act and be different. And your music will show it.

Copyright © 2010 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

Frequently Asked Jazz Question #9

Why do other players seem to get better faster than I do? Part 2

[Success Mindsetfocus on wants, not on fears] Successful cats have what you might call the mindset of success. They think about what they want most of the time. They think about all of the reasons their music will benefit by learning those skills. They dwell on all the reasons why they CAN achieve the goals with music they desire. They look for solutions to obstacles and challenges. They believe that a solution to every challenge must exist and that they can find it through patient and consistent practice.

The flip side of this is the „Loser Mentality.‟ These people tend to focus on their fears. They think about the problems they have with music and obsess about the obstacles they face. They focus on all of the reasons they CAN‟T achieve their goals. They have a negative outlook on the world and believe that successful people are lucky and talented. Instead of looking for solutions to their challenges they look for more problems and reasons „Why they CAN‟T.‟

Obviously, you want to stay as far away from that „loser mentality‟ as possible. Here are a few things you can do to instill and encourage that success mindset.

Begin by deciding exactly what you want. Choose a goal with music. Make sure it is believable. It should stretch your abilities but not by too much. Define it with as much detail as possible. If you‟re new at this, choose a short-term goal like a month or so. Or even shorter.

Then make a list of all the ways in which your music and playing will benefit by achieving this goal. The longer the list the better. This will give you motivation to stay the course. Get you fired up.

Then make a list of everything you would have to do to achieve that goal. What skills will you need? What are all the actual steps you would need to take to achieve this goal? Remember to break the goal down into tiny steps, steps that you can see yourself completing each day.

Now put the list in order. As you think of new steps, add them to the list until you have what is essentially a step by step road map to your goal.

Now think about why you CAN achieve this. If negative thoughts come into your head, simply observe them, see them for what they are, false, and let them go. Immediately replace them with reasons why you CAN do it.

Finally, get to work. Work on your plan everyday until you nail it. Each time you nail a goal your confidence will grow. As you hit goal after goal you will begin to set bigger and bolder goals and the process will continue from there.

Remember: What others have done, you can do too.

Copyright © 2010 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

Frequently Asked Jazz Question #10

Why do other players seem to get better faster than I do? Part 3

When I was at Berklee I was what you might call a frustrated jazz musician. I worked hard for sure; I spent hours and hours in the shed everyday. But I never seemed to move ahead as fast as I wanted. And of course there were these players in school who seemed to just get it. Music seemed to come easy to them. They got better and better and they improved faster and faster.

Well, after a few years of frustration I decided it was time to figure out why I was spinning my wheels and they weren‟t. Over the years I studied many great players attempting to discover what it was that they did differently. What was it that made them great? I realized overtime that what they did in the practice room and how they did it was a major factor that determined their success with music. It gradually became clear through observation, trial and error, talking to teachers and reading about great players that there were big differences between what they did and what I used to do.

I would jump around from topic to topic every few days.

They would practice the same topics everyday until they really got it. They would follow through.

I would have a ridiculous practice routine with 13 different topics.

They would only practice a few things everyday, but they would go deep into those things.

I would repeat the same exercises somewhat mindlessly everyday; I wasn‟t moving forward.

They made small progress each and everyday. They were working towards tiny goals or results; they were moving forward in music little by little every single day.

I was more concerned with getting through my long list than I was with learning.

They had only a handful of topics so they were focused and they followed though, nailing the topic and taking a step forward with their music

What I learned from these observations was the power of consistent practice and what I call results based practice. Here‟s how it works.

Each day when you approach your practice room you want to take a moment to be as clear as possible about the purpose of the practice session, about the desired result.

Many, many students approach the practice room with no idea about what they will practice or what the point of it is anyway. But there needs to be a point, a purpose, a result.

Suppose that you really dig Miles Davis. Something about his phrasing and lyricism really hits you where it counts. So your goal is to grasp and internalize his approach to soloing from, say, one particular record that you like. I‟ll use Kind of Blue as an example since pretty much everyone loves that record.

You decide, as part of your plan to understand and internalize his approach, you will transcribe and learn several of his solos from Kind of Blue. You decide that you‟ll start with his solo on Freddie the Freeloader.

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Your final goal here might be defined as such:

Upon completing this goal you will be able to:

as such: Upon completing this goal you will be able to: Play the solo on your

Play the solo on your instrument, from memory, along with the record, in tune with Miles, matching his articulation, dynamics and rhythmic feel.

Now that‟s no small task. But it‟s a worthwhile task. And with the right practice habits and approach, it‟s a task you will be able to hit faster than you might think.

Now I need to make an IMPORTANT NOTE here: Your goal must be realistic for your current situation. And your timeline for your goal must also be realistic. Your goal must be challenging but doable. You must believe that it is possible. So if you‟re just starting to play, the goal of learning Mile‟s solo by ear might be too far a stretch. You‟ll need to create a goal that‟s realistic for your situation. Maybe you buy a transcription of the solo and work on learning just the notes and rhythms. Conversely, if you‟ve already transcribed and memorized 15 Lennie Tristano solos this goal will be quite feasible, perhaps even in a short period of time.

Now there‟s a lot going on in that goal. First you have to figure out the notes and rhythms. Then the articulation, dynamics and feel. If you try to do that all at once you will most likely end up frustrated with some pretty crappy results. But if you break it down into a tiny bite size result that you will achieve today or tomorrow, and you continue in that fashion eventually you will arrive at your desired goal. That‟s consistent results based practice.

So for day 1 you may decide that your target, your desired result is to learn and transcribe the rhythm of the first four bars. If you get that together fast, you move on to the next four. If you don‟t get it today, you continue tomorrow. Then you move through the entire solo, little by little until you have all the rhythm memorized and/or written down. Then you start with the pitches. The result now may be to figure out the pitches of the first phrase. You continue with this process, going step by step until you reach your final target:

Play the solo on your instrument, from memory, along with the record, in tune with Miles, matching his articulation, dynamics and rhythmic feel.

Now here‟s the cool part. It won‟t take as long as you think to go through the entire process this way. It‟s not as tedious as it sounds. Once you REALLY get the rhythm from the first four bars, the second four bars will come faster. And the next phrase even faster. You will be laying down your foundation and solidifying your musical skills. As your foundation grows stronger you will move faster and faster through the material.

If your first Miles solo takes you one month to get through with this method, your next one might only take you two weeks. And with each solo you will find yourself digging deeper and deeper into the music and hearing more and more of the incredible detail and nuance that is contained within his music.

If you were to complete this process with the entire record you would learn more about phrasing, tone, articulation, musicality, development etc then most musicians cover in 5 years. And it would probably take you a matter of months.

Copyright © 2010 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

The greatest players in the world are the ones that are willing to do what others are not. Like follow this disciplined and deep path into Mile‟s music, and take it to completion.

There‟s no magic or extra talent or luck or circumstances that make it possible. They simply do things differently than the mass majority of mediocre players. And if you do the things that great players do you will get the results that great players get. Plain and simple.

Copyright © 2010 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

Frequently Asked Jazz Question #11

How Do I Develop My Own Sound, My Own Style?

Well, that‟s what it‟s all about isn‟t it? All the great cats had an easily recognizable sound. Trane sounds like Trane. Sonny sounds like sonny. Miles Sounds like Miles. Monk sounds like Monk. I could go on of course. But you probably get the point. When you think about these players and all of the great players it becomes pretty damn clear that they all have one thing in common. They sound like no one but themselves. I mean you can play one note, one second of one of their records and immediately know who it is. Their approach to jazz and to their instrument is truly one of a kind.

Individuality or original voice is really one of the core characteristics that separates jazz musicians from most of the other musicians in the world. Individual voice IS the tradition. Originality IS the tradition. Innovation IS the tradition.

So how do you find one of these individual sounds? How do you develop your own voice in jazz? That‟s what we‟re gonna cover in this lesson. Here are 5 practical things you can do to put yourself on the path to finding your own „thing.‟

1. Clarify Your Musical Values Like all success in music, an original voice begins with your foundation. At the core of your musical foundation are your musical values. What are values? Your musical values are your priorities. Values determine what is most important to us and in what order. We all have values whether we know it or not. And all great jazz musicians had clear values that they stuck to and honored whether they thought about it in this way or not.

Values are truly the foundation of everything. They form the foundation of our artistry, our beliefs and our life. Values are at the core of our musical personality. The closer you get to living and playing in harmony with your values the closer you get to originality, balance and creativity. The further you get away from your values the closer you get to mediocrity, imitation and imbalance.

Values determine every decision we make. Throughout our musical development we are presented with literally thousand of decisions. Our musical voice is the sum total of all of our decisions and thus our experiences.

Take some time and write down your musical values. Begin with your favorite players and records. Ask yourself what it is about those players that you really dig. Write it down. As you go through your top 5 players you‟ll see some recurring themes.

Once you have a list of all the things you love about your favorite cats try to whittle that list down to 5 or seven core values. You may want to see if you can combine some of the things on your list into a broader value. Then spend some time putting this list in order of importance. That list will tell you what to focus on in the practice room and what to forget. Remember you can‟t learn it all. By clarifying your values you‟ll be much more confident deciding what to practice and what not to practice. By the way, that list will change as you grow as a player. Visit and update it often. It will serve as your artistic compass.

Copyright © 2010 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

Oh, and as an aside, if you want to develop an original voice in jazz, make sure that shows up high on your list of values!

2. It’s all about your ear Music is an aural art form. No ends, ifs or buts. You must have killer ears just to play jazz. And even stronger ears to become an original voice. You want to assimilate every thing you ever work on with music into your musical mind. There it will all marinate in your own delicious musical stew. The more sonic ingredients you add the more creative will be the final results.

So practice eartraining with everything you do. Whether it‟s technique, music theory, harmony or whatever. Always seek to hear more detail in what you are playing or listening to. Dig deep into the music: the rhythms, the time-feel, the notes, the timbre, the dynamics, the articulation, the harmony, the interaction and the relationship between these elements as well.

Listen to a ton of music. Analyze it, deconstruct it, write about it, and teach it. But always listen with the goal of hearing MORE, of digging deeper.

When you‟re studying theory always seek to assimilate the sound into your musical mind. Music isn‟t math. It doesn‟t matter if you can look a page and say „that‟s an interpolated II, or those are contiguous II-V‟s or that‟s a Minor 7 Flat Five chord or that‟s modulation or whatever‟ if you don‟t know what those things sound like and you can‟t apply them to your music. Once you understand the theory behind it, you must play it on your instrument over and over until the sound is clearly engrained in your ear. Then you experiment with it. Play variations on it, play it in other keys, improvise with it or write a tune with it. Just practice applying the theory and hearing the sound of it.

That brings us nicely into… 3. Be a scientist and an artist The theory and „science‟ behind music is very important. The greater your understanding of how things work the more likely you will come up with some new connections or variations. A great jazz musician uses both side of his/her brain. Don‟t be afraid to don the scientist‟s hat regularly. Analyze and experiment.

Dissect the music you are working on, chop it up and combine it with other elements of music. Like a mad scientist. Analyze tunes, analyze recordings and analyze your own music. Look for patterns and connections. Look for relationships and look for opportunities to create.

As you discover new relationships, hear new connections and unearth commonalties in music, use that newly learned intellectual material to be creative. Flex your artistic muscles at this point. Break the rules and find new ones. Use your newfound knowledge to express yourself, your feelings and thoughts. The monster jazz musician is very well rounded in this area.

4. Feed Your Creative Well-Spring with the past Again, creativity doesn‟t happen in a vacuum. And unless you‟re the exception to the rule, either does an individual voice. The more you feed your creative wellspring the better.

Become obsessed with tradition. Realize that it holds everything you need to feed your music and take you further. Study all the great musicians. Study the in-between lesser-known guys. Listen to

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lots of different music. Dig as deep into the history of jazz as possible. The Great Bela Bartok wrote “that only from the entirely old can the entirely new be born.”

Study different traditions besides jazz: Classical, African, Indian, Persian, Latin, Other American styles and so on. You don‟t need to master them all; in fact you can‟t, so don‟t even try. But you can pull little nuggets of musical gold out of these other traditions that you can bring to your own musical voice. The more you feed your musical mind and ear the better.

And finally… 5. Ask your self “What else is possible? How can I take this further? What can I combine with it?”

Get in the habit of always looking for possibilities and opportunities. Creativity is often much simpler than many people think. It often begins with a question. What else can I do? What if I do this or that? Is there any other way I can apply this musical material? A good practice would be to have a list of these questions hanging on your practice room wall. Refer to it everyday and with every topic you are working on. Force your self to come up with a few answers, the more the better.

A good method is to start with a blank piece of paper. At the top of the paper, write the question. The basic question would be this: “What are 20 ways that I can [Blank]” Then you fill in the blank with your musical topic. Now, begin writing answers until you have at least 20.

The key here is to push yourself past the obvious answers. Coming up with 20 answers may seem hard at first. The first 5 or so will come easy. Numbers 5-15 will be more challenging. And numbers 15-20 may have you wanting to pull your hair out. But stick with it. Often the last 5 are the most creative answers on the list. The more you use this tool the better you‟ll get at it.

Eventually you will have trained yourself to easily generate ideas and to notice possibilities and opportunities. Typically the most creative people are simply the ones that are looking for possibilities. They‟ve trained themselves and/or learned to be receptive to ideas but to also proactively seek them. They‟re not waiting for creativity to come and smack them in the head with cool ideas. They take action.

Apply these five principles to your music: your practicing, your listening, your improvising, your writing and your performing and soon your own true voice will begin to emerge. The farther you go down this path the more clearly your personality will shine through and the more original your musical voice will be.

Copyright © 2010 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

Frequently Asked Jazz Question #12

What are the essential steps to becoming a jazz musician?

That‟s a good question, huh? It‟s a common question. And it‟s a question that inevitably comes up as soon as young player realizes just how heavy and involved learning jazz really is. Now it would be impossible for me to outline the entire process, all of the steps involved. Simply put, it‟s a little different for everyone. And it‟s not a process that lends it self to strict rules. Now, I‟m all for having goals and making detailed plans but these goals and plans lie within the bigger more organic process of learning to play and developing an individual voice.

I will however outline the basic process of development that jazz musicians must take. And I will also talk about the necessary conditions and aspects of a jazz musician‟s path.

The Primacy of the Ear To be honest I stole that title from a great article of the same name by Ran Blake, but it‟s such a fitting title I couldn‟t resist. Ears are paramount in music. End of story. Yes there are other elements like emotion, expression and creativity. But a musician without solid ears is like a painter who can‟t see. So it starts there. Ears make everything possible in music.

Ears are not the first step in the musical process. They are involved and central to the whole process. The goal then, with everything that you practice, listen to and study, is to assimilate the sound of that information into your inner ear, or your musical mind. Ultimately you will connect that sound to your emotions and your body. When you can connect to that sound you are in a position to respond to the environment on the bandstand and express yourself with and to the cats in the band and the audience.

The three stages of Jazz Development

Imitation- During the first stage of musical development the jazz musician spends most of his/her practice time studying and imitating the great players who came before him/her. This is a time of analysis and memorization. Creativity is not the goal here per se. I do advocate exercising your creative muscles at all stages of your playing. But, this is the time to begin to put together a basic understanding of how the music works, the vocabulary, the basic structures, the quote un-quote rules, etc.

Assimilation/stylization- Once a player has developed a solid foundation with jazz, and they have spent a considerable amount of time studying the masters before them, they will begin to assimilate and integrate these musical skills into a style of there own. As they become more fluent with the language of jazz, more and more of their personality will begin to show through. They may go quite far in this stage and master various styles within jazz. In fact many professional players never really leave this stage. They may be quite competent and even virtuoso players, but they are playing concepts and techniques that have been well established. They are merely putting their own spin on it, their own style.

Innovation- this is the stage where a player goes deeply into one or more areas of music and discovers and creates something truly original and innovative. They do something that has not been

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done before. They make contributions either to the music or to their instrument that are unique enough to stand on their own.

These stages don‟t necessarily happen neatly. In other words it‟s not really black and white. Players may jump around from stage to stage. A player who has already entered into the innovation stage may decide to dig back into the imitation stage to deepen their roots and creative resources. Likewise a player in one of the first two stages may prematurely discover something truly unique, or innovative without having quote un-quote completed the first two stages.

Now let‟s move on to five of the core necessary components of playing jazz.

The fundamentals- If you haven‟t already, you will someday realize that fundamentals are of the utmost importance. The more solid your foundation in music is, the higher you can take your skill. By fundamentals I mean the basic principles of music theory as they apply to your ears and your instrument.

This includes intervals, chords structures, fundamental harmony, keys, scales, meter, rhythmic subdivision, pulse, and so on. There are a ton of resources available to learn this stuff. I would however recommend the guidance of a teacher or perhaps even better would be formal music courses. While it is possible to learn this material in a relatively short period of time, a few short years really, it can seem quite overwhelming. Structured courses on this material can prove to be extremely beneficial.

Instrumental technique- it is absolutely necessary for a jazz musician to have great control and flexibility with his/her instrument. Again there are many, many resources available by many reputable teachers that deal with developing instrumental technique. These sources deal with scale patterns, arpeggio exercises, etudes, and other methods to improve your facility and control. Again I would recommend a teacher, specifically to avoid developing bad habits and for overall direction and focus with your practicing. Also, transcribing, analyzing and performing the music of the greats is one of the best ways to improve your technique.

Improvisation- this is, of course at the core of jazz. The music is all about improvisation. To become a great improviser you must practice improvising. At least a minimal degree of instrumental control and musical knowledge is necessary to start improvising. Work on topics like chord scale solos, guide tone lines, bass lines, balance of dynamics, articulation, pacing, balance of rhythms, etc. There are two excellent books I would recommend for the practice of improvisation. They are Ready, Aim, Improvise and How to Improvise. Both books are by the great jazz educator, and my mentor Hal Crook. Again transcribing and learning to play the music of the greats is an invaluable practice when learning to improvise.

That leads us on to…

Studying the tradition- it is absolutely imperative that you study the tradition. You must immerse yourself in the music. Listen to it for fun. Study the great recordings. Transcribe. Analyze. Spend a considerable amount of time studying a few of your favorite artists. Choose certain tracks to listen to over and over. Listening to music in your car on the way to work or while doing the dishes does not constitute studying the tradition. Build time into your practice routine to do nothing by listen and study. The farther back you go in music will determine how far forward you can go. Become a

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student of jazz, all of jazz. Study the early pioneers like Louis Armstrong, Count Basie and even earlier. Study every one from the early cats to the modern cats: study Duke, Parker, Dizzy, Monk, Tristano, Sonny, Miles, Mingus, Wayne, Coltrane, Ornette and so on.

Tunes- jazz is a musical style that developed around tunes. The more you know the better. Learn every standard you can get your hands on. By ear is best but a real book can be a great resource as well. Aim to learn 1 or 2 new tunes per week. Organize „standards‟ sessions where you get together with other players and just learn and play standards. There is so much musical information that you will naturally absorb simply by learning and playing lots and lots of standards. See lesson 3 of this series for a detailed step by step method for learning tunes quickly.

Experience- While you can learn a lot in the practice session, from the fundamentals, to instrumental technique to the basics of improvisation, at some point you must start getting real world experience. Attend jam sessions, organize practice sessions at your house, hustle some gigs even, if for no money at first, play recitals, etc.

In the earlier years of your development you should seek out and take every playing opportunity you can. It could be different styles, different genres of jazz. Play it all. Gradually as you get more and more experience you can begin to focus your playing to projects and gigs that are more in line with your career and musical direction. I can not over emphasize the importance of experience. There is just so much about jazz that you cannot learn in the practice room, like interaction with other players, locking up with the rhythm section, responding to unexpected musical events, and on and on.

Copyright © 2010 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

Frequently Asked Jazz Question #13

How Can I Play More Musically?

Here‟s a common question I get. It‟s not really an accurate question. A better way to phrase might be “How can I play music that is memorable and impacting to the audience and the cats in the band.” Well I‟ve got 3 solid ways to do just that. Let‟s jump right into it shall we.

Play what you hear. Ok, the first time I heard this phrase was from Chic Corea. And I had no Idea what it meant. I mean, I was practicing all this stuff when I was in school. I didn‟t know what I was hearing and what I was mechanically regurgitating. In order to play what you hear you have to relax, stop playing and listen to what‟s around you and what‟s in your mind‟s ear.

Unfortunately, the way music is often taught is mechanically. So in a sense our hands and fingers get ahead of our ears. And we become a bit machine like. The way to undo this is simply to stop and pay attention. This might be very difficult at first. You know we‟ve got that whole ego thing that‟s constantly nagging us to play something hip. Chances are that you‟ll have to greatly simplify what you normally might play in order to play what you hear. And in your head you might not think you sound hip enough. But in the room, people will notice, people will be able to grab onto what you play. You‟ll get their attention. And the band will have an easier time playing with you too.

As you learn to play more and more by ear you will not only begin to develop the „hipness‟ of what you hear, you‟ll will also realize how much more rewarding the ear approach really is.

Leave space. Leaving space between your phrases is one of fastest ways to sound better. Leaving space will frame your phrases so they stand out. It will make your playing have more impact. It will emphasize the interest of each phrase. The more space the better. Especially at first. This will be difficult at first too. Many players tend to try to fill up all the space. Space is usually only understood and utilized by advanced players. But it shouldn‟t be reserved just for them!

First of all, you can just start going for it, for the idea of leaving space. In other words step onto the bandstand or into the session with the goal of leaving space between each phrase you play. That alone will make you sound better.

But you can also take it a step further and bring it to the practice room. Make space, or what‟s also called pacing, one of your practice topics. Set parameters for it. Play over a tune that you are very familiar and decide ahead of time what the space/sound relationship will be. For instance, play through your entire solo using the combination of two bars of solo followed by two bars of rest. When you‟ve got that down begin to explore other combinations: 2 bars solo/1 bar rest, 3 bars solo/ 1 bar rest, 1 bar solo/2 bars rest, 2 bars solo/3bars rest and so on.

Listen to the other players while you play- now this probably seems obvious. But how often do you see players that are just caught up in what they are doing, running lines and scale patterns and essentially practicing on the bandstand. Well, a simple way to listen more is to use your eyes. Yeah, you heard me right. Open your eyes and look at the other players. Focus in on what they are playing and use your ears to guide you to play something that you feel enhances the music. Usually this alone will also make you play less. And it will make you much more present on the bandstand. Are you locking up with drummer, the bass player? If you‟re a rhythm section player, look for ways to

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back up the soloist. Look for space in their solos to fill. When they are playing more actively leave space. In general look for ways to bring balance to the music. Did you just play something loud? Try changing the dynamics and play soft. Did you just play something busy? Now play something sparse. Overtime your musical instincts will become quicker and more fine tuned and your playing will become more memorable. You‟ll begin to get more attention from the band and the audience.

Copyright © 2010 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

Frequently Asked Jazz Question #14

How Do I practice everything there is To Practice?

As you are no doubt aware, there is an incomprehensible amount of information about learning jazz available to us. Think back to how it must have been to learn to play music in the 20‟s or 30‟s.

Students of jazz would have only been exposed to a tiny fraction of the musical ideas floating around the world today. They might have been able to hear a small sample of the music being played at the time on the radio. Maybe they got their hands on one or two books from the classical tradition or some sheet music. There were few, if any books about learning jazz so that wasn‟t a problem.

A student most likely learned by watching and emulating local jazz musicians, playing the music with peers and perhaps taking lessons with one of the local professionals. Their choices for what to practice were, again, tiny compared to the overwhelming choices that exist today.

Over the years jazz musicians took the art form in incredibly diverse directions. Slowly but surely there were more players. Recording and duplication processes improved dramatically and with these improvements the number of records available to study increased exponentially.

More and more teachers began to analyze the music and create methods to teach it and to write books about every musical topic under the sun. Soon there were many different styles of music and many different approaches to learning it.

It‟s amazing to think that players in the 50‟s came up against this challenge of information overload too. They had to deal with the music of Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, John Coltrane and all of the other thousands of great jazz musicians.

Jazz slowly made its way into the formal education world and with it thousands more books and resources were created and became available to the student of jazz. This process has continued to grow out of control to where we are today; there are many thousands of books, DVDs, methods, teachers, classes, courses, workshops, lessons and of course opinions. Most Teachers and authors also make a wonderful case as to why „their‟ particular book or approach is the right one.

And almost all of this information is available to you right on your computer thanks to the Internet and the World Wide Web. This problem is only going to get worse as more and more people produce information at dizzying speeds and this information gets passed around cyberspace as fast as it can be created. (Yes I am aware of the irony of creating more information about information overload.)

Now on the surface, all of this information appears like a valuable resource to learning. And it is, IF you know how to filter through it all and find the truly valuable gems that are relevant to YOUR music.

So how the hell do we deal with all of this?

“If Everything in Music is Important Then Nothing is Important.”

In a quick nutshell the way to deal with all of this information can be distilled down to three steps.

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Determine your goals with music. What are the desired results?

2. Determine the actions needed to get there. What do you need to practice? What skills do you need to acquire?

3. Determine what information you will need. What books will you need? What records will you need? What teachers should you seek out?

“Ok, that sounds simple, but how do I choose my goals. There are so many musical topics to choose from.”

It all starts with figuring out what’s important to you, what your values are. I touched on values in an earlier lesson. But this is such an important idea that I‟ll go over it again here. Your values are your priorities in music. The clearer you are about your values the clearer you will be about what to practice. And a good starting point is to figure what it is that you like about your favorite players. What is it in their playing that draws you to them. Put on your favorite recordings and just listen. Ask yourself what it is that you like so much about this recording or a particular player. As ideas come to you write them down. Write anything that comes to mind. Don‟t judge your answers or edit them yet. This will give you real insight into what it is that‟s important to you.

Be sure to be honest with yourself. Do YOU really like that player or that music or is it one of the hip records that your teacher or peers told you you‟re supposed to like. I‟m talking about finding what it is in music that really gets your wheels turning, gets your blood pumping. Make a list of all of these things that move you about music. When you‟re finished listening you can add to your list if you like or repeat this exercise with another recording or player.

Next, choose the top 5 7 and put them in order of importance. In other words, if you could have one but not another which one would you choose.

Just to clarify, something like learning all the major and minor scales in all twelve keys would probably not be a value. It is a necessary condition for achieving other things in music, but in and of themselves you probably don‟t care about scales. You are most likely not inspired by scales. That‟s not why you got into jazz in the first place.

You care about things like powerful swing feel, or beautiful and lyrical Melodies, or seamless interaction and deep communication between the musicians.

Now remember. Your values will change and grow as you change and grow as a player. This list is not set in stone. You should review it from time to time and make any changes you see fit. In fact, print a copy out and tack it to your wall. That way you can always use it as a litmus test to see if you are operating in harmony with your own personal values.

From this list of values you can now create your musical goals. What would you like to accomplish with your music within the next year? A year is a good timeframe for a long-term goal. While it is a good idea to have a long-term visionlike 5, 10 yearskeep your goals to a year or so. Otherwise it becomes way too hard to conceptualize all of the details. Then again, one year is farther than most people think into the future so even that may be a stretch. At first you may decide to start with a shorter time frame like one month or even one week.

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Next you need to turn that goal into a step by step plan. If you have any aversion to making plans like many of us „creative types‟ who prefer to fly by the wind, remember this: plans are simply tools to keep you moving forward. Nine times out of ten the way your plan unfolds turns out dramatically different from how you wrote it down. That‟s fine. It‟s just a tool. Use it and enjoy the results of its power.

Here‟s a quick, but deceptively powerful way to make a plan using the backward planning method.

You start with the end goal in mind. Describe it in as much detail as possible. The clearer you are about your goal the more likely you will hit it. What will it look like? What exactly will you be able to do? When do you plan on hitting it?

The next steps are easy. You simply work your way back to today, where you are right now in relation to the goal.

What step will you have to achieve right before you reach your goal? What will you have to achieve right before you reach that step? How about the next step?

Continue this simple process and work your way backward.

The steps that come just before you reach your goal will be bigger and less detailed.

The steps that are closest to today should be as detailed as possible. So that you can answer the question “What exact result am I going to get in my practice session TODAY?”

As you move forward towards your goal, you will make adjustments to this plan. You will flesh things out into greater detail as you approach them. You might add steps, drop steps, change directions slightly or adjust the order.

Don‟t worry about making the perfect plan. Perfect is the enemy of good. And good in this case is good enough. Just by adding this framework to your practicing you will move forward at a faster rate. For me and many of my students, that rate was faster than ever before when we applied these tools and strategies to our music.

So after having completed this plan, your practicing will be greatly focused and you‟ll find that you begin to move forward faster and faster. This is a deceptively simple concept. But learning jazz should be simple. I know, I know. There‟s so much to learn and practice! But remember, you can‟t possibly conceptualize or take responsibility for your entire ascension from beginner or intermediate jazz musician to jazz master guru all at the same time. Your brain will simply explode!

But what you practice today and this week should be simple, simple enough for you to dig in deep and to attain mastery. That means really simple. That‟s a lesson that I learned from a variety of places but most notably from checking out Bill Evans. He taught that in practicing, less truly is more. By digging into the simple concepts in a very real and true way you provide a musical foundation that you can take as high and far as you want.

Copyright © 2010 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

Frequently Asked Jazz Question #15

How do I find a good jazz improvisation teacher?

Finding an excellent jazz improvisation teacher is one of the most important steps you will take as a student of jazz. In this day and age where there are seemingly more jazz musicians than jazz gigs available, more and more musicians are turning to teaching as a means to supplement their income. This unfortunately means that the odds of you ending up with a less than ideal teacher is pretty good.

Since choosing a private teacher is such an important decision, I would highly recommend you take your time and „shop around‟ so to speak. Do your research. Do your homework. Price should not be a primary concern when looking for a good teacher. You‟re not shopping for a new TV. You‟re looking for somebody to guide your progress through a significant chunk of your life‟s work.

In fact as the quality of teacher goes up so will the price. That is a sacrifice you must be prepared to make. Don‟t look for the cheap deal or you‟re liable to end up worse off in the end then if you didn‟t have a teacher at all. The less experience you have learning, practicing and playing jazz the more important it is that you have a top notch guide to help you move down the jazz path.

Here are 9 characteristics of an excellent teacher. Again take your time while searching for a teacher. Be clear about what you hope to get out of the experience. Interview prospective teachers. Be tough on them. Don‟t settle for less than what you want. When you do find a good teacher dedicate yourself to following their advice and teaching. If you find after a period of time that they are lacking in one or more of the following 9 characteristics of an excellent teacher, FIRE THEM! And do it fast. You don‟t owe them anything. And besides your music and your life are on the line. As a rule of thumb with teachers—Hire Slow…Fire Fast.

Ok here we go.

1. An excellent teacher will come recommended by trustworthy sources. When you‟re searching for a teacher ask around. Ask your musical buddies; ask any other music teachers you know. Go to the gigs of respected jazz musicians and ask them to recommend a teacher. Also ask prospective teachers for references. In others words, ask them to put you in touch with a few of their current or past students. These people will be able to give you the inside scoop.

2. Your teacher should already be able to do what you want to do. They should already be an accomplished jazz player. They should be actively playing on the scene, and have multiple records. You want to be able to see them playing jazz at a high level.

3. An excellent teacher will inspire you to practice, learn and grow. Your lessons should be uplifting. Even when you get your butt kicked at a lesson you want to walk out the door gunned up a ready to give it hell in the practice room. If your lessons are boring or unexciting, if they don‟t get your wheels turning and your fires burning, say goodbye.

4. A great teacher will garner your unwavering trust and respect. You must be able to completely and whole-heartedly put your trust in your private teacher. During this period of study with them you must be able to wholly dedicate your self to their approach. After you‟re finished

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studying with them you may rethink or modify their teachings however you see fit. But to get the most from the lessons and to fully absorb and master their concepts you must trust them completely.

5. An excellent teacher will build your musical confidence. In other words they will make you aware of your progress and they will believe in your ability to learn; and you will know it. They may kick your butt from time to time, but that‟s their job. They should help foster a feeling that you can and must advance in these trouble areas.

6. An excellent teacher will teach you how to teach yourself. They will give you suggestions and guide you on the process, but they will not do all the work. They will not simply regurgitate exercise after exercise week after week. They will teach you how to take responsibility for your musical development and how to take steps to advance it. They will teach you how to practice, how to put together a practice plan and how to learn.

7. You want your jazz teacher to hold you accountable. That‟s one of the reasons we go in the first place. A teacher can and will serve as a coach, a person to help keep you on track moving forward. If they let you off the hook too often it will only be to the detriment of your playing. Jazz teachers are not in the business of making friends. They‟re in the business of teaching jazz. They must hold you accountable to your assignments and musical projects.

8. An excellent teacher will be able to clearly explain why they have you working on a specific topic. They will be able to explain how it fits into your overall development, why you need to practice it now and how your playing will benefit from the mastery of this topic. Don‟t except the old “Because I said So, That‟s Why” line. If they can‟t explain why, you say “SEE YA.”

9. An excellent teacher will also be able to clearly explain any critique they might give you, good or bad. If they say your performance of a given topic was poor they will be able to point out specific reasons why. And they will be able to suggest exercises or activities to improve. Likewise if they say a performance was good, they will be able to tell you why, with specifics and ways to take it even further.

Copyright © 2010 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

Frequently Asked Jazz Question #16

How come I sound better in the practice room than on the bandstand?

Inconsistency is a big source of frustration among up and coming jazz musicians. Why do we sometimes sound good and sometimes we don‟t? Why is it that we can be killin‟ in the practice room and show up for the gig and completely blow it? Well, like everything else in music this effectinconsistencyhas a cause, or perhaps several causes. In this lesson will cover 2 of the most common causes of inconsistent playing. Then we‟ll go over some practical things you can do to solve this problem once and for all.

Cause #1 The tunes, grooves, tempos, changes or other musical material that throw you on the bandstand have not been truly absorbed and mastered. You may be able to play through a tune or a lick in the practice room a few times correctly. Then you try to play it live and you just can‟t seem to pull it off.


Practice to mastery. Practice your topics until you own them. The goal with all of your practicing is to become so familiar with the topics that you can play them over and over and over, correctly, without having to think about them. Strive to gain the kind of comfort and effortlessness you have with a skill like say, using a fork to eat your dinner. I would venture to say that you could use a fork equally well whether you are in your kitchen by yourself or out at a fancy restaurant having dinner with your significant other‟s parents for the first time. Even under this stressful situation you probably wouldn‟t stab yourself in the eye with your fork, at least not by accident. It works the same for musical skill. The only way to reach this level of proficiency is with focused, relaxed and consistent practice and lots and lots of repetition.

Cause #2 You may not be prepared to deal with the unpredictable nature of a gig or other live performance. The practice room is like a laboratory. It is a controlled environment. Usually it‟s just you and your ax, maybe a metronome, and maybe a play along recording. A gig is controlled chaos. You don‟t know what the other players are going to play. They may play something that throws you off, or they may make a mistake with the form. All the stuff you feel good playing in the practice room in a controlled and predictable environment can go to hell when the unexpected happens on the bandstand.


The solution is to get as much experience playing with people in live situations as possible. That is, plain and simple, the only way to ever learn to kill it on the bandstand. Schedule as many practice sessions with fellow musicians as possible. Once a day or more. Experience is the only way to learn to deal with the controlled chaos of the bandstand.

If you don‟t have any gigs attend as many local jam sessions as possible. Talk about learning to deal with chaos. You really never know what will happen in that environment. You may end up playing with a highly advanced player who downright schools you, or you could play with a newbie who drops a beat every two bars; or who plays so out of tune you‟d rather they scratch their fingernails

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on a blackboard. Learn to embrace these challenging situations as the incredible learning opportunities that they are. One sign of a great jazz musician is not simply being able to play correctly and accurately all the time. It‟s also the ability to get themselves into and then out of hot water, and to do it gracefully with style.

Copyright © 2010 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

Frequently Asked Jazz Question #17

I am a classically trained musician but I just can‟t seem to get this improvising thing together?

Ok, this is a more common problem than you might think. I‟ve met many players who are solid players with what they do but they just can‟t seem to get anywhere with improvising. It‟s very common in the classical world. Even though improvisation was once a respected part of the classical tradition, it often gets over looked in classical music training these days. Even a player who can burn through Chopin or Stravinsky will often freeze when you take the sheet music away.

The reason is simply that they have never successfully started the process of learning to improvise. And if they did, they certainly didn‟t stick with it long enough to make any real progress. But, it‟s never to late to get on this path, and with a few simple concepts the path to improvisation may be a lot shorter than you think.

Before I go on just know this. It works both ways. There are plenty of solid jazz musicians who freeze when you PUT the music in front of them. Again they have simply not put the time in and stuck with reading long enough to become adept at it. If you‟ve got classical chops on your ax and you are a strong reader you are ahead of the game. You should be proud that you applied yourself and developed those skills. With those skills it won‟t be as big a deal to learn to improvise as you might think.

Ok I‟ll give you the hard part first. You will have to allow yourself to be a beginner again. This may prove quite challenging at first. After all, you may be used to being an advanced classical musician, respected and admired by your peers. Your ego will not enjoy feeling like you‟re back at square one. But, that‟s the only way. You have to allow yourself to be yourself. You have to allow yourself to play at the level where you really are with jazz improvisation. And if you‟ve never gotten anywhere with it then you are at the beginning.

Embrace that fact and several things will happen. First of all you will feel liberated. A great pressure will be lifted. Second you will able to get busy learning to improvise.

However, you should take great comfort in the fact that you will most likely not stay a beginner for long. Your already trained ears, excellent instrumental control and your developed sense of musicality will all make it possible for you to learn this new approach quite easily. While a true beginner will have to deal with all of these things as well as improvisation you will already have a lot under your belt and you‟ll be able focus your attention on improvisation.

So, if you can now accept that you are a beginner in the area of jazz improvisation you can start at the beginning. That means simplifying. You must practice the same rudimentary forms, structures and application of theory that a beginning jazz musician does. Remember though that you will whiz through this material.

Obviously a huge part of the jazz imrov tradition involves playing over tunes. Just be sure to start with simple tunes and structures. Try starting with the blues. The simpler the harmonic context is at first, the better.

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Also, start by improvising entirely using chord-tones. Don‟t feel that you have to be hip or modern. You‟ll get there. Just be patient and enjoy the ride. You‟re in the position of knowing how to practice and how to learn music. Just apply those attributes to learning jazz and you‟ll be fine.

One thing to remember is that jazz musicians are masters of music theory. They have that stuff at their fingertips, literally. They do not practice things like scales and arpeggios simply for technical purposes. They practice that stuff because it is the language they improvise with. So dig out your old theory books, or buy some new ones, and work through it all on your ax. You want to get to the point where you can instantly play any interval off of any note, and any chord type in any key in any inversion. The more internalized you have this stuff the better. Obviously I can‟t cover music theory in depth in this short video, but I hope you get the point.

Again because of your already well-developed musical skills you will be able to cut through this stuff pretty quick. Remember though, the fastest way to get this stuff together is to do it the right way. In other words, take your time and really absorb this material. Trying to rush through it will actually take more time in long run.

Of course, if you really want to learn jazz improvisation you must immerse yourself in the music. Listen to as much of it as you can. Listen for fun in your car or while you hang out with your friends. But also be sure to schedule time for focused listening into your practice plan.

Choose one or two tracks to focus on at a time, and listen to them dozens if not hundreds of times. You want the sound and feel of jazz to seep into your mind and ear. Add a specific focus to your listening session and you will move forward even faster with this stuff. Focus on time feel, or vocabulary or articulation or another topic. Be sure to choose listening material that is related and integrated into your practicing. If you are working on playing over the blues, choose a blues to listen to for your focused listening sessions.

The next step would be to start to memorize the music you are listening to. After many repeated listenings begin to sing along with the soloist. Work up to the point where you can sing along pretty accurately with the soloist. You know the pitches, the rhythms, the phrasing, articulation etc. Immerse yourself in the music.

Once you have the sound of the piece in your ear, the logical next step is to transcribe it, memorize it and practice it on your instrument. The goal is to be able to play the solo along with the recording and have there be as little difference between you and the original soloist as possible. This is not the creative phase of jazz per se. This is the imitation phase of learning jazz.

If the tune you choose to transcribe a solo on is the same tune as the one you are working on with your improvisation practice you will most certainly see improvement in your playing on that tune. Repeat this with a few versions of the same tune and you will begin to hear new things when you improvise and you will begin to build a jazz vocabulary.

Take it one step at a time and stick with it. If you really put your mind to it and follow through with it, you will be able to improvise a lot sooner than you might think.

Copyright © 2010 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

Frequently Asked Jazz Question #18

How can I develop my swing feel?

Swinging is as necessary to playing jazz as it is elusive. It‟s one of most challenging things to learn and probably even harder to teach.

It‟s a subtle and complex thing. A great swing feel needs to be internalized over time. A jazz musician‟s time feel and sense of swing is a very personal thing, much like a player‟s sound. All the great player‟s had their own feel.

But there are certain things you can work on to make it more likely that you will develop a great feel. Here are 8 things for you to think about and practice.

1. One of the best ways to strengthen your feel and deepen your understanding of swing is to

practice it away from your instrument. Instead, you simply put on a record of one of the many great hard-swinging jazz bands. Think Duke, Art Blakey, Count Basie, 50‟s and 60‟ Miles records. Any of the great rhythm sections with drummers like Philly Jo Jones, Art Taylor, Roy Haynes, Elvin Jones. Or bass players like Paul Chambers, Ray Brown, Wilbur Ware, and so on. Just put the record on and let your body feel the groove. March in place. Dance. Move. You want to let that feeling into your body and find a place where your movement feels natural and flowing. The more hard swinging music you listen to and internalize the better.

2. Be forward thinking. There‟s a certain light, floating feeling, A forward walking sensation that jazz

has. Listen for that. And bring that forward movement to your own music. There are some specific characteristics that create that feeling that I‟ll talk about in a second, but as a general rule listen for the forward momentum in the music.

3. Play with a metronome on 2 and 4. A lot of the groove in jazz comes from the off beats. That‟s

what can give jazz that feeling that the music is gracefully falling forward to the next beat. So practice with a metronome as always, just hear the click as beats 2 and 4 instead of all four beats. Beyond this, feeling the metronome click as other points in the bar will also further strengthen your time. Try feeling the click as the + of 1 and the + of 3. Or just beat 2. Or any of the other possible variations.

4. Play some drums. Playing the drums is one of the best things you can do for you time feel. Many

great players and teachers advocate the study of drums for all instrumentalists. I‟ve heard Dave Liebman, Joe Lovano and Hal Crook all suggest this. No one is better trained at keeping time and playing IN the time than drummers. They spend just about all of their practice time learning how to

keep solid time and put their ideas in the pocket. They don‟t float or play loose like horn players sometimes do. They have to lock it in because the band depends on them. Even just a minimal exposure to playing the drums will change your time.

5. Study and master different upbeat placements. The placement of the upbeat in jazz time is a little

fuzzy. 8 th notes are usually notated simply as regular straight 8 th , but as you know they‟re not played that way. Sometimes they are written using a dotted 8 th and a 16 th note, and also as the first and third notes of 8 th note triplets. But that‟s not exactly how they are played, either. Experiment with

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where you put the upbeat. It could fall anywhere from straight, in other words right in the middle of the beat to right before the next beat, like a double time feel.

6. Study, play, sing and meditate on the resolution points. Each 8 th note, in other words each 8 th

note in a bar (1, 1+, 2, 2+, 3, 3+, 4, 4+) They all have a different feel. Much the same way every note in a major scale has a different sound and function. Some notes are stable, some build tension to a varying degree and pull your ear in one way or another. The rhythmic resolution points are the same way. 2 feels very different from 1. The + of 1 feels very different from 4. Begin by simply clapping and repeating each point along with a metronome. Stay on each one for a good amount of time, while counting out loud, before going on to the next. Then bring that to a note on your ax. Once you are comfortable with each point experiment with starting a phrase on each of the points, or resolving your phrase to each of the points.

7. Practice playing very slowly. Nothing can increase your awareness of your time feel better than

playing slowly. And I mean slow. Quarter note = 40, 50 or 60. These tempos will be very unforgiving to any inaccuracies in your playing. Practice simple exercises at first, then move on to melodies, tunes and improvisation. When you can play comfortably and locked into the pocket at a very slow tempo playing medium or medium up will be a breeze. This may seem torturous at first, but it is well worth the trouble. This will teach you a ton about your time, among other musical things.

8. Practice playing ahead, on, and behind the beat. Another great way to strengthen your time and

to add color to your own rhythmic playing is to get control of beat placement. In other words where you play the beat or pulse as related to another source, like the metronome. Try practicing phrases, tunes and exercises along with a metronome and play slightly behind the beat or slightly ahead of the beat, as well as right on the beat. When you get to the point that you can maintain a consistent time-feel slightly behind or ahead you will be able to do some really cool rhythmic shading. You‟ll be able to create tension and release, which is basically how music works, at will. And it will of course solidify your pulse. A strong pulse is essential for a solid swing feel.

Copyright © 2010 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

Frequently Asked Jazz Question #19

How Do I Master the Fundamentals of Jazz?

In a word, patiently.

The fundamentals are the basic nuts and bolts of how music works.

I‟m talking about pitch notation, rhythm notation, intervals, triads, seventh chords, scales, keys, key signatures, time signatures, basic harmony, guide tones etc.

There is an enormous amount of work that goes into mastering the fundamentals. With a little focus and excellent practice habits it can come a lot faster than you might think.

Here‟s the thing. The stronger you are with the basics, the faster and higher you‟ll go with music. The more you master basic harmony for instance the more easy it will be for you to hear and wrap your head around modern harmony. You wouldn‟t get very far with advanced mathematics or physics if you didn‟t understand basic math like addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. It‟s the same with music. The more solid your foundation the farther you can go.

It is absolutely essential that you master this stuff. It is not enough simply to understand the theory. You want to aim to know this stuff cold. You don‟t have time to think about what chord you‟re playing or what finger goes where, what notes are in the key etc. Besides this isn‟t math. You want to use your knowledge of theory to put that stuff in your ears. So you can hear on your feet so to speak. Get past the point of having to figure this stuff out. Get to the point where you just KNOW it.

If you don‟t have a basic theoretical understanding I would highly recommend taking a theory course or studying privately with a great teacher. In lesson 15 of this series I talked about finding a good teacher. You can check that out again if you like.

But I‟ll assume for this video that you have a basic understanding. So then the next step is to internalize it. This means, like I said, knowing it cold, by ear, on paper and on your instrument. Aim to be able to spell chords, intervals on the spot instantly. And be able to play them on your ax instantly or recognize them on paper. Also aim to be able to recognize them by ear.

Start by choosing an area of study, say intervals.

Use repetition to get to this point of instant recognition. Practice spelling intervals on paper, out loud and on your ax. Listen, I know this might not sound like fun. It probably sounds rather tedious in fact. But that‟s what it takes to play jazz at a high level.

And the rewards for this level of skill far out way the work. This kind of mastery will bring you much greater control of the music. This will allow you have the best playing experiences on the bandstand.

Apparently the beboppers were obsessed with this kind of stuff. They would literally drill each other at gigs and rehearsals, kind of in a competitive way. One cat would name a pitch and the other guy would name the note a tri-tone away or something like that. They wanted to have this stuff down. And that mastery of the fundamentals is what separates the greats from everyone else.

Copyright © 2010 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

Also check out lesson 10 of this series for an overview of results based practicing. That approach can greatly focus your efforts with the fundamentals and speed up the learning process.

But listen. Ultimately you just want to know this stuff. It doesn‟t matter how you get there. If you‟re not the kind of cat to spend hours repeating the basics, then try to find other ways to make it more fun.

One way is to practice with another musician. You can practice drilling each other on the basics, like the beboppers. Choose an interval to work on. One of you names a pitch and the other spells the interval. Again, on paper, say it out loud and play it. This can be more fun than repeating this stuff by yourself.

Another way to nail the basics is to teach them to someone else. In fact, many people really get this stuff down by teaching it. As you explain intervals to someone else and drill your students you‟re really just honing your own skills. So get into teaching as early as possible. I don‟t mean you have to have a professional teaching gig. Just find another musician, who knows less than you do, that wants to learn.

I‟ll just briefly mention that I know there are some courses available online and software available that might help you learn the basics. You know, programs that can drill you on the basics. This approach is probably a little more interactive and somewhat like a game. I have never actually used any of this software, so I don‟t want to recommend anything. But I‟m sure if you look around online a bit you might find something cool.

I personally don‟t find the repetition thing to be a drag. I think of it as a musical meditation. But everyone learns differently. And the goal is not to do it the right way. It‟s just to get the results.

Stay the course with the fundamentals and you will be laying a foundation for great musicianship. The stronger your foundation the further you can take your music.

Copyright © 2010 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

Frequently Asked Jazz Question #20

How do I learn by ear?

It‟s kind of unfortunate that so much music is taught out of books these days. Music is, after all the art form of the ear. So it stands to reason that it should be taught and studied primarily by ear.

Imagine an aspiring painter learning to paint by reading about painting and talking about the theory of painting. Obviously that‟s ridiculous. But that‟s the way so many musicians learn to play.

Eartraining class is probably the most important class in music school and simultaneously the most feared, hated and generally loathed. In fact it was commonly called earstraining when I was in school. If you didn‟t start off learning by ear, don‟t worry it‟s not to late to change your ways. And as your ears improve you‟ll begin to rip through all that book stuff.

And don‟t get me wrong. Books, theory and all of that are important and very useful tools. It‟s necessary even. The greatest players have a balance of both.

But the ear is most important thing a musician has. There are good jazz musicians who can‟t read very well or tell you a thing about theory but they manage to play their asses off, by ear.

On the flip side, it is basically impossible to play jazz with anything resembling a high level of artistry without having sensitive, responsive and experienced ears.

Here are a few things you can do to facilitate the development of strong ears.

1. Build eartraining into your practice routine. Be sure to schedule a chunk of time into your

practice sessions to practice eartraining drills. You can use the concepts I‟m about to mention, or get your hands on an eartraining course or book and use that stuff. It‟s easy to get hung up on the instrumental practice. Believe me I made that mistake when I was in school. Technical practice is not all there is. There are many angles you want to take to become a player. Eartraining is the most important one. Strengthening your ears will do more for you playing than any technical exercise. If you can hear it, you can figure how to play it.

2. Practice eartraining with everything you learn. Whether it‟s music theory, scale patterns or

whatever. Listen closely to what you play. Get the sound of it engrained in your ears. Understand the theory behind what you are playing, i.e. what note, what chord, what interval, what progression, etc, then strive to connect that theory to the sound. So that when you hear the sound you know immediately that it‟s a major third, or a minor 7 th chord, or a II-V progression or whatever.

3. Transcribe something everyday. Transcribing music, whether writing it down or simply playing

it on your ax is one of the best things you can do for your playing. You will be simultaneously strengthening your ears, assimilating vocabulary and deepening your understanding of how music works. You don‟t have to transcribe an entire solo everyday. Learn 4 bars, a lick, a rhythm, a groove, a voicing, anything. As you do this more and more you will get better and faster at transcribing.

Copyright © 2010 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

4. Don’t just transcribe pitch and rhythm. Incorporate the other elements of music into your transcription habits. Elements like accents, dynamics, articulation, etc. There is a broad pallet for musical expression that goes beyond simply notes and rhythms.

5. Learn tunes by ear instead of the real book. Get out of the habit of relying on real books and

lead sheets to learn tunes. Yes, they are great resources, especially on gigs. And they‟re good for practicing sight-reading. But you will absorb the tunes on a much deeper level if you learn them by ear. Besides, the tunes in the real-book are usually just someone else‟s transcription. Often the changes are simply the changes played on the recording that person used. And often they‟re downright wrong. So use classic recordings by the great players to learn tunes. I would recommend you learn and memorize them by ear first, then write them down, analyze them and shed them some more.

6. Listen to music until you own it, then pick up your ax. Repeated focused listening is the

best way to assimilate and learn music. Choose a phrase to start with and listen to that phrase over and over and over. It will become clearer and clearer as you repeat it. Figure it out in your mind‟s ear first, then literally play it in your mind on your ax, or picture the artist playing it. When you can do that, you should be able to just pick up your ax and play. This way is much more effective than noodling around on your instrument until you find the right notes. And it will have the effect of planting that phrase in your ear. And as with everything else you will get faster and faster at this. To the point where listening to music will automatically feed your vocabulary new ideas and keep your creativity fired up.

7. Organize eartraining practice sessions. A great way and a fun way to practice eartraining is

to do it with a friend. Create drills that you can play for each other. And be sure to have a purpose for your practice session. For instance you could work on interval drills. One person could call out an

interval name, like ascending minor 6 th then play a note. The other person would than sing or play a minor 6 th above that note. Or you could test each other with intervals. One person could play an interval on the piano and the other person would have to name it as quickly as possible.

Remember that training your ears is no different than any other skill. With time, patience and thoughtful practice your ears will become stronger. And as your ears become stronger you will become a more solid and artistic player. Learning music will actually get easier as your ears improve. It‟s all about the ears, man. I can‟t emphasize that enough.

Copyright © 2010 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

Frequently Asked Jazz Question #21

Why Don‟t I Feel like I‟m getting better fast enough?

Do you ever feel like your not advancing as fast as you‟d like with your playing? It is extremely common for musicians to be unhappy with where they are. They want so badly to be a better player, and they want it now. This can actually be good. This means they‟re dedicated to improving. It means they are willing to put in the effort. That effort is what ultimately makes skill respectable. But in order to be happy in life and not turn into a typical neurotic jazz musician, it‟s important to learn to accept your current abilities. And it‟s important to enjoy the journey. Believe me, you are never going to get „there.‟ It doesn‟t exist. No matter how far you go with music, there is always farther to go. More to improve, create and advance with. And that to me is what makes life and music so exciting.

Now, in some cases musicians with poor practice habits are in fact spinning their wheels. They‟re not making the progress they could be making. That‟s why most of my stuff deals with practice strategies and philosophies. Accelerated learning and success habits.

Often, however, progress is happening. But the players just don‟t know it. They aren‟t aware of it. I‟d like to go over a few ways to stay aware of progress and to learn to celebrate it. We‟ll talk a bit about how the learning process works and why we often don‟t give ourselves enough credit.

When we learn our brain literally creates new connections. Every sound, skill, idea, concept and ability literally gets hardwired into the brain. New and complex skills take time to be wired. Often it takes lots of repetition in the practice room and on the bandstand before a topic will click. Even though it might sometimes feel like we‟re not moving forward, or that we‟re stuck on a plateau, it is often these times that come right before a burst of progress. It‟s important to keep the pressure on, keep practicing in other words.

Real skill is built using what writer Brian Tracy calls the law of accumulation. Tiny result + Tiny result + Tiny result + Tiny result = huge progress. It‟s important to understand this and bring this concept to your practice sessions. If you maintain the habit of taking one tiny step forward each and every day in the practice room, eventually, like in a few months, you will be able to look back and you will realize that great progress was taking place. And that your abilities have truly advanced.

Sometimes a player can be so inside their practice sessions and musical development that they are unaware of the progress they are actually making. It‟s the old “Can‟t see the forest for the trees” analogy. Here are a few things you can do to make sure you are aware of your progress and to make sure you are moving forward. The more you notice your progress the more inspired and motivated you will be to practice, study and advance.

Reflect often on your progress. Record your playing and practicing daily. Besides being an extremely effective practice technique, having a recorded record of your playing over time can make it clear that you are indeed making progress.

Keeping a practice journal is another great tool. Take a few notes each day about what you were working on, what progress was made and where you want to go with it.

Copyright © 2010 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

Put away sometime each week or month to review the recordings and to look back through your journal. You will see and hear progress. Celebrate this progress. Celebrate your victories, no matter how small. This practice will keep you motivated.

Remember though, the quality of the hours in the practice room, at sessions and on the bandstand determine how fast you will advance. If you want to progress faster, focus on making that time more productive.

Become an obsessive goal setter. Decide exactly what you want. Make a plan to achieve it. Work on that plan everyday. All great achiever in music and all fields are obsessive goal setters. They are constantly setting goals, achieving goals and setting new ones. This is what keeps them moving forward.

Practice consistent results based practice. Have a specific desired target or result that you want to achieve each day. Make it small, and make it something you can do. Challenging but doable. Apply that law of accumulation. Just make sure you learn something, improve something each and everyday.

Take that same results based approach to practice and apply it jam sessions and practice sessions with your band or peers. Bring that level of focus to your group playing. If the players you are with aren‟t interested in getting better, improving something each time you play then find new players to play with.

If you‟re really struggling with jazz, and you don‟t know where to start I would highly recommend you find a great teacher. A teacher can be an invaluable resource for keeping you focused and moving forward. They have to be great though. Check out lesson 15 of this series for more information about finding a teacher.

Get as much experience playing live as possible. Go to jam sessions, sit in whenever possible and start to book your own gigs. There is almost always some bar or coffee shop that will give you a gig, even if you‟re not a monster jazz musician yet.

Great practice and learning habits combined with experience determine how far and how fast you will go with music. Celebrate your progress often. But be patient. Enjoy the journey, and pat yourself on the back every now and then. As my mentor Hal Crook Says, “The Process is the Thing.”

Dedicated to Your Musical Success, Chris Punis

Copyright © 2010 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC