“Music…. The only art that can calm the agitations of the soul”
Many times in my life I’ve been asked “What are you thinking when you play?” or “What do you play over a II-V-I?” or “I’ve studied all my patterns and transcriptions thoroughly and I still can’t really improvise… How come?” There seem to be plenty of books out there covering subjects such as scales, chords and their relationships; but very few talk about how to apply this knowledge, how to practice your new information and above all how to get comfortable with the material in the least time possible. I’ve heard a handful of recently graduated musicians playing nothing but unconnected licks and meaningless, although technically wonderful, solos. This got me thinking… How could I accelerate experience? How could I teach a student to develop an experienced mind? How could I make him/her feel the music, their instrument, the chords, the mind, etc. in a one-focus channel of musical performance? So I started teaching students “the way to think” or should I say “the way not to think”, making them study or practice new material how a “pro” would do it, aiming to achieve natural feeling, not to over think too much… But above all, to learn how to feel in real time.
After some successful years of this I had developed a certain method that would lead the student along a course of natural development. Teaching how to study instead of what to study and in what order according to skills he/she is lacking, since every individual is unique and all talents have better developed skills than others for example; one may have an excellent ear, but very poor rhythm concept or the other way around, or very imaginative but constantly struggling with chord progressions.
This method attempts to cover everything from arpeggios to atonality, passing through rhythm and development of motifs. The chapters can be read independently from one another, so feel free to jump to any that may seem more appealing to you. For those of you who are just getting started in the world of improvisation, I strongly recommend you start from the beginning in order to get a solid foundation.
Its aim is to train your ears, muscles, dexterity on your instrument, knowledge, timing, etc. All of it simultaneously. I don’t think Charlie Parker or Jimi Hendrix were actually studying ear training and Solfegio (not that is not recommended), but the whole principle of practicing your craft together seems to have disappeared from modern education. Becoming comfortable with chords and rhythm is the basic thing to be able to create spontaneously in a situation and unfortunately most people are very weak in this area. Parker once said, “ Learn the changes and then forget them”. Great! But how? Well, by learning the changes by their sound and not their symbolism. Many people see CM7 and think “C, E, G, B, I can use major scale or Lydian, etc..” and very few think about the fact that this is a chord they’ve been hearing all their lives, with a thousand melodies on top, on a thousand songs and that you must have them all in your data bank ready to be triggered in the right situation, but no! Usually we’re so overwhelmed by information and over rationalizing everything that we forget one of our most primitive instincts which is to create. Like children, without prejudice, or fear, or struggle.
“The song that we hear with our ears is only the song that is sung in our hearts.”
Ouida (Marie Louise de la Ramée)
Now the second problem lies in “Where are those melodies in my instrument?” Even if we break down the barrier of fear and control, how can we speak through our instrument like we do through our voice? Well, only by becoming comfortable. By learning how it sounds all over, the registers, its nature, over any chord, at any speed. If you can play, say 10 Be-Bop tunes, in every key you’ll be amazed at how much you can improvise by ear after it. Your ear expands, your fingers react and your mind lets go. Can you sing a simple melody in every key? Your answer is probably yes, then how come you can’t do it on the instrument you’ve been playing for years?
It’s because you’ve been taught to think too much when you play.
Unfortunately almost no one picks up an instrument at the age of 2 and therefore we learn to play in a very unnatural way so this is why I decided to write this method. It is a disciplined, organized way to practice everything you need to know. It is not about the information but rather the methodology. You’ll find very little new information here; I will give you a way to practice it so that you’ll learn what and how to study and consequently customize your own personal training and make your instrument a part of yourself.