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QUESTION: Do you have any tips for getting over performance anxiety and being more present when you play? What's your approach to the mental emotional side of playing?



QUESTION: I feel like my phone, the internet, social media, ets. just sucks away at my time, creativity and practice. At the same time, it feels like these platforms are here to stay and an important part of building a career. How do you find balance with all of it?


QUESTION: Can you show an example of playing freely with a pattern like you mention in the patterns section?


QUESTION: Can you show an example of improvising with a single idea like you mention in the improv games section?

ANSWER: Here’s a little snippet of me playing around with the original four note shape from the single idea improv section. In this example, I’m basically creating new rules/limits for myself roughly at the top of each chorus. The focus keeps changing depending on what I’m doing with the shape – sometimes I’m thinking more about rhythm and meter groupings, other times transposition, but the whole time I’m trying to somehow stay connected to the original four note shape. Although this excerpt is two minutes long, I’ll usually do this for a lot longer and keep trying different approaches — pushing myself to see how far I can go moving the shape around without a predetermined plan.

QUESTION: I'm trying to learn songs as you suggest--no charts, fake books, etc. I'm learning This I Dig Of You off Soul Station. I have the melody, and now I'm working on the changes, but I'm not sure if what I'm doing is the best way...

…I'm using a transcription app called Amazing Slow Downer and I'm trying to figure out the bass line during Hank Mobley's solo. I figure if I can get the root motion down first, I can figure out the chords from there. I've used the equalizer to focus on the bass, and I've raised the pitch an octave and slowed the song down so I can hear the bass better. What I'm finding is that when I look at the bass line, I'm not always clear which note is the root of the chord. It seems Paul Chambers doesn't always play the root on the down beat? I could be totally wrong. Here's an example. PC plays these notes in the 23rd bar in various choruses of Mobley's solo.

G F# F F#

Is G the root? I'm thinking it could be a G7 chord or a Cmaj chord just based on those notes, but the melody in that bar is E, C, and Bb so could the chord actually be a G-7 or C7?

That doesn't shed any light for me. How exactly do you go about learning songs?

Your dilemma is a common one — it's super challenging to get a clear
 idea of root movement when transcribing walking bass lines. All the 
masters, including Paul Chambers, often used tritone substitutions,
 passing chromatic notes and even anticipated arrivals when laying out 
harmony. On top of that, sometimes they are just reacting to what's
 happening around them organically and choosing notes that only have a
 distant relationship to the root movement.

My suggestion is to do the approach I suggest in the section about 
learning songs — check out at least three versions of the same tune. 
I would suggest avoiding modern arrangements as they might have
 re-harmonized the song in ways that don't connect to the original 

So for example, check out Nat Adderly, Kenny Barron with Gary Bartz
and Wynton Kelly — there's plenty more too. By listening to multiple versions of the same song, even if they are in different keys, you'll
 start to see clear patterns in how the harmony moves — it's a bit like 
detective work.

The other side of all of this is how advanced your own harmonic
 knowledge is — if you are still in the earlier stages of learning, 
then all of this will be more difficult. That's why I suggest
 everyone learns how to play through songs on the piano — the more you
 can navigate chords on that instrument, the more you will hear them in

Finally, with all of that said, if you are still hitting a wall, there 
is no harm looking at a fake book OR talking to a friend that knows
 the song. It won't help you memorize the song and internalize it, but
 if it helps shed light and give you clarity then that's half the 

QUESTION: Can you talk about working on clear phrasing? Personally I have trouble with phrases that become too long / melt into the next phrase or which don't end clearly.


QUESTION: What are some ways that you try to keep yourself feeling inspired and creative? There are days when even listening to my favorite musicians doesn't seem to do the trick so I would love to know how you approach moments like those.

This question is a difficult one!  I can only answer from my personal point of view, but I think that feeling inspired and creative shouldn't really be the goal -enjoying the process should be the goal.  I think getting better at music is 90% work and 10% inspiration.  Here's a great quote by composer Aaron Copland:  "Someone once asked me... whether I waited for inspiration. My answer was: "Every day!"

His point being that inspiration doesn't come often, but that doesn't mean we should wait for it in the meantime.  I have many days where I don't feel inspired or in the mood to work on music, but I still get the horn out.  Most of the time, the hardest part is just starting - eventually I enjoy the practicing after a bit of time has passed.  It reminds me of having to get into a cold pool - the first moment dipping your toes in is the worst and then you get used to the water.

There is so much we can get better at - time, sound, language, etc. - all you have to do is look at your weaknesses and you'll find plenty of places to start. I've heard stories of folks like the great saxophonist Dewey Redman just playing long tones for 3-4 hours a day - nothing else.  Even something as simple as that can be a universe to explore.

Again, just my personal take on it, but I think working on music consistently every day, whether you are in the mood or not, is the best approach.  The inspiration and creativity will come and go - ebb and flow - but in the meantime, the better you get, the more music will "give" back to you.



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