One of the most common questions I get from my beginning and intermediate jazz students is, “How do I practice jazz successfully?”
Or, in other words, “How do I practice so I’m consistently moving in the right direction and not wasting my freakin’ time??”
There are hundreds (maybe even thousands) of “guru” jazz instructional books, DVD’s, playalongs, transcriptions to study, etudes, scales, chords, licks and thousands of tunes to learn.
The amount of material it seems you have to digest to be a good jazz musician can seem unbelievably overwhelming.
You read one book and it says you should practice your scales for an hour every day.
Another books says you should only transcribe and work on your ears and don’t bother with technique study.
Another DVD says that if you learn all your approach patterns and arpeggios you’ll be set.
Some guy on a forum insists that the only way to get good is learn every solo from Charlie Parker’s Omnibook.
The Search For Simplicity
So, how do you simplify the abundance of information? How can you come up with a long term game plan for your practice that will get you the musical results you desire?
I’ve spend alot (maybe too much) time in the last few years researching what many of the great jazz piano players did in their practice routines.
Of course I was interested in the individual exercises each musician did but even more so I was interested in the common elements they all seemed to practice.
Musicians like Bill Evans, Chick Corea, Barry Harris, and Oscar Peterson all had/have their unique sound. Yet, they still all seemed to study many of the same core elements of jazz music.
So, I’d like to share with you 4 of the common elements these jazz greats seemed to make a part of their practice routine.
The 4 Elements
- Learning Tunes- They all had/have an incredible amount of repertoire under their belt. How do we know this? The sheer amount of tunes these greats had/have recorded. Here’s an article on jazz standard tune learning.
- Transcription - They all respected the tradition and the jazz vocabulary that came before them. They all studied and transcribed the music that came before them. For example: Barry Harris (although not an inventor of bebop) has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the bebop vocabulary. Bill Evans was thoroughly grounded in bebop, modal playing, and impressionistic classical music.
- Technical Development - They all had high degrees of technical proficiency and continued to develop their chops as their careers progressed (with Oscar Peterson probably being the one with the most emphasis on this. Very few pianists could burn like Oscar). None the less, every one of these guys could play and swing their #$$es of from slow ballads to burning up tempo tunes.
- Vocabulary Learning (Lick Learning) - Ever notice how Barry Harris can sound so much like Bud Powell and Thelonius Monk at times? Why is this? He’s studied a ton of their amazing vocabulary. Why do the piano runs Oscar Peterson played in early in career sound so much like Art Tatum? He learned many of Tatum’s virtuosic runs! Why does Chick Corea at times sound harmonically like Bill Evans? He’s studied Bill’s incredible sense of harmony and inner voice motion. (Need some help learning licks? Check out these lessons Barry Harris Lick, Turnaround Lick, Bud Powell Influenced Lick, Minor ii-V-i Lick, or this Bebop Lick)
Even though each musician found their own way to artistic excellence they all seemed to explore and study these 4 common elements in their own music.
I try to fill in my own source material inside my practice sessions but I always keep these 4 elements in mind for my long term jazz growth.
What have you benefited the most from in your practice routine?