guys, i really need help with my soloing. i went to berklee. i play in bands, jazz, rock, blues, and my solos suck. and i can't seem to find the right teacher to help me get it together. i mean, i know who i like. i love oscar peterson, kenny werner, keith jarret, chuck leavell, bruce hornsby... all these guys i love but for some reason when i'm on stage, and everyone looks for me to take a solo. the suck. they're not clean, they're not melodic, or phrased will. i just blow some scales. and i need help and guidance. is there anything out there or anyone i can talk to about help here? a book? a teacher? a site? anything? i just want to be a good soloist. i want to be able to burn... why is this so hard? what am i doing wrong?! please help!!!!!

thank you!
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ps. you can contact me if you google: charlie hornsby. i have a myspace, facebook and website. thanks!
hi charlie,

may i ask you some questions?

do you record every time you perform and practice and listen to it when you're done?

do you learn the solos of the people you like (such as oscar)? i don't mean reading them off the paper of a transcription, but do you >learn< them?

do you practice your daily technique, scales and arpeggios, slowly, almost slowly enough to feel the differences in the action for each piano key you play?

do you jam with recordings?  i mean, do you listen to something you like, say oscar peterson jamming with clark terry (oscar peterson + 1 clark terry recording), and learn a few licks and play them along with oscar?

do you compose as much music as possible, start to finish, and make charts or sheet music out of your compositions?

do you host jam sessions at your place and/or show up to as many jam sessions as possible?

do you play with live people several times a week (including the jams mentioned above)?

do you analyze transcriptions/recordings at the spots you think are most cool to find out what's going on melodically,  harmonically, and rhythmically?

do you listen to the music you want to play to the point that you can sing the melodies and solos in it even when you're not listening to it?

do you practice classical music?  bach, chopin, stravinsky, especially the multipart stuff by bach and his contemporaries?


If I'm not back in 24 hours, call the president.

Scot is available for skype jazz piano lessons (and google hangouts, phone call, etc...)
Use the contact link at the top of the page.

thank you for the thoughtful questions.

1. i sometimes record. not always. not as much as i should.
2. i don't learn solos. my sight reading is bad and i have not transcribed anything either.
3. my practicing is not great. my scales have slid since berklee. with my day gig, my only piano time seems to be performing. my scales are rusty.  
4. jam with recordings? not so much. no.
5. i should be at more jam sessions, but i am fearful about going out there and sucking it up and creating a bad name for myself.  
6. i play with people on a weekly basis, i gig on a weekly basis. some weeks are busier than others.
7. analyzing transcriptions. i wouldn't know where to start? i mean, how do i find transcriptsions and then that exact recording?
8. i listen to music, but not as much as i should.  
9. no classical. nada. i will jam on some blues and that's about it.

i realize that my answers are more no than yes, but they are honest answers and hopefully this will help me get on track. i look forward to your thoughts.

i did just get band in a box. for this purpose! but i've not been practicing with it.

i am anxious for the prescription. what do you think, doc?

thank you!

i want to add... and this is terrifying to me...because this is a very important distinction!!!!!

i can fool most people. most people that know nothing about piano, say how great i am. but i know if you heard me or most skilled piano players, you'd be very critical of my playing. as i am. i know what is good and what isn't. and i can fool most listeners. you know what i mean?

i don't like this, and i want to be the player that can blow away the most cynical, discerning listener. you know? :)

thank you!
charlie, relax, i got you man. see you sat.

dave frank
solution: connecting chords with linear harmony
i also have the same problem as charlie..i find it difficult creating something on the spot..i came up with the idea of cramming as many as a thousand and one licks from the works of great jazz pianists like oscar peterson,art tartum,etc and applying them to chord changes in songs where they are u guys think this is a very good step to take?
charlie study with dave frank...
think about your solos like a conversation.  

do you cram as many words in a sentence as you possibly can?  if you did, no one would know what you're talking about, right?

when you're thinking about what makes a good solo, some things to include in those thoughts would be the idea of using space.  your notes don't mean anything unless there is some space to define them.  schools are generally very good at teaching what notes to play, and when people listen to bird or most other jazz greats, the thing that comes out is how fast and how many notes are being played.  what is not noticed is how much space there is between phrases.

take a breath.  when soloing, think about the conversation.  are your listeners being bombarded by too many ideas at once?  how can they make sense of your playing if you're spewing out notes like a boiling tea kettle?  i like to think about it as if i had something to say.  a five note phrase that says, "hey, how's it going?"  then comp a response with your left hand.  then say, "i had a tough day, but it's getting better now."  in a conversation you'd wait for your conversation partner to respond before going on, right?  so your solos can do the same thing.  the response will be mental from your listeners, but you can help by comping to yourself, giving yourself enough space so that what you play not only makes sense, but feels important.

i'm rambling, but it's an easy idea to utilize once it "clicks".
If I'm not back in 24 hours, call the president.

Scot is available for skype jazz piano lessons (and google hangouts, phone call, etc...)
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yes, i agree. but it's then building those solos to crescendos, etc. yes, i agree with starting of with simple phrases, but then where do you go? it's also complicated, or maybe not, in that a lot of the stuff i play is rock, grateful dead, stuff, loud, fast tempos, so i feel the need to just blow.  

i can come up with a simple 5 note phrase, but you're need to be able to build and grow and take it to different places over the course of say a minute or more solo. know what i mean? i mean, you can't say "hey, how are you doing?" for 32 bars.  

but thank you all. i'm currently talking to dave and i'll check out these books.

scot, i think you touched on some good things in your questions. so should i be following through with all this?  

for example: how do i analyze solos? are there books that come with specific recordings? or books with transcriptions on albums that i can find in the store?  

i would love to see what i'm hearing, written out. where do i find that kind of stuff?

thank you!
when i'm talking about analyzing solos, i don't mean in the classical sense where you're figuring out all the harmonic motion and how it relates to melody, chord progression, and time.  you can do that as well if it interests you, but what i"m talking about is looking for something in the solo that really holds you and then figuring out what it is, what the underlying idea is, so you can use it in your own playing.

for example, let's say you hear oscar playing something that you really dig into.  let's take a tune like the cake walk. it's pretty technical, fast, and swings.  i fell in love with the tune the first time i heard it.  


i listened to the tune over and over again and found that what i really likes about it was the fact that it swings super hard while at the same time there is a lot of counterpoint melody going on.  parts of the melody in the right hand, then the left, then together, and often the two melodies diverge- one goes up the keyboard while one goes down.

ok, now let's say i'm listening to a monty alexander solo, say on worksong from the montreaux album.  there's a part where the bassist is playing the regular progression, but about 8 bars before the form of the song starts again, monty is doing something harmonically that moves all around.  

i loved it, still do.  it brings up a great sense of tension while still swinging.  i listened and played along and finally figured out that it was a simple thing- he starts a circle of fifths set of changes that eventually wind up on the 1 of the first measure of the form when it turns around.  

so with that idea in hand, i realized that any song i play i can disregard chord changes if i want to build it up with tension by finding a place to start a circle of fifths progression that winds up "in" at some point in time.

easy example of that would be the last four measures of the blues.  in f, a basic last four measures could be something like gm7 | c7 | f7 | c7 | which leads back into the f7 for the next round of the 12 bar blues form.

however, if i wanted to get exciting, i could try starting that first gm7 chord with cm7 f7 | bbm7 eb7 | am7 d7 | gm7 c7 | then back to the top of the form.  that's the simple way, you can do it in half steps, going the other way, using different chords (bm7 e7 instead of the bbm7 eb7), go down in half steps, whatever you want.

the most basic thing i learned from this is that it doesn't matter how you get there as long as you know where you're going.

so in analyzing transcriptions or solos from a recording, i'm trying to recognize what i think is cool and then working it into a formula or basic idea so that i can use it in my own playing, anywhere, not just where i heard it on the solo.
If I'm not back in 24 hours, call the president.

Scot is available for skype jazz piano lessons (and google hangouts, phone call, etc...)
Use the contact link at the top of the page.
i agree absolutely with jazz+ - i have found the bert ligon book 'connecting chords with linear harmony' really useful.
hey man...i'm in your boat a lot of the time.  i can impress a lot of non-musicians and non-pianists but i get blown away by serious, more experienced players.  but i know what i need to work on, and that's a start if nothing else.  i'm also a big chuck leavell fan :) have you heard the "forever blue" album?  uber-tasty solo piano.

with regards to your solos, i second a lot of stuff that scot said.  i would like to add a suggestion: have you tried composing solos over tunes that you play a lot?  i think that it's a great idea to compose several choruses of what you consider to be a tasty solo, even if you have to pinch some licks from other solos to get there (as long as it fits).  if you want your solos to build, then compose one that builds to one of those crescendos, ect.  then use it as a basis/structure for your solos on stage.  embellish some things here and there but keep your form, and then gradually experiment with more variation until you have something entirely new.  it's a very logical, segmented way of doing things, and it might work for you if you're having trouble just ripping them off by ear.  this initially derived from a quote i read long ago here by herbie hancock.  he said that he initially had trouble soloing over fast tempos and got past it by composing solos until he was comfortable doing it in real time.

you said you play a lot of rock?  i'm primarily a rock player too.  i love garcia and all, but he tends to ramble a lot, imo.  i would take notes from the allman brothers.  duane and dickey (as well as warren haynes and derek trucks) are masters of building a solo, whether it's 24 bars or 5 minutes long.  plus, if you listen to different performances, you can hear how they tend to use the same solo structure from concert to concert while varying the stuff they play within it.
in connection with my previous post, bear in mind a player as great as bill evans admitted openly that he had to do a lot of analytical work with regards to his jazz playing and soloing because he was unable to just "get it" by osmosis or by ear like many other players that he knew.
words, words, words,...

bert ligon book 'connecting chords with linear harmony'
i posted a mini-review of ligon's book back in 2006 in the "books" section.
i ordered the book connecting chords with linear harmony on amazon. we'll see.
i tend to over simplify, but i have to wonder about this:

"8. i listen to music, but not as much as i should. "

why not?  to me that is the most important and significant thing you can do for your musicianship.  i don't see how any books can make any sense to you if you haven't heard what they're talking about.

~just my two cent
i've ordered connecting chords as well, and look forward to discussing it with some of you on here.
i forgot to mention something that is pretty important when it comes to "building" solos with a group: you are dependent upon the ears and skills of your rhythm section.

if your drummer doesn't know how to increase energy without completely changing the beat, if your bassist doesn't understand how to increase energy by slightly altering the timing of how he's playing, then you can do everything in your power to increase the energy but it just ain't gonna happen.

that's why i hire the same people for gigs- even though they might not be the "best" jazzers out there, they know how to come with me when i'm looking for more, and they know how to do it without tripping up and making it sound like they are simply changing what they are doing so it sounds like a different song, they do it with subtlety.

i have a couple of songs on myspace, in particular what's in your pocket, that shows some nice energetic increases without toppling over.  that one is sort of rock-jazz, but the idea is the same.
If I'm not back in 24 hours, call the president.

Scot is available for skype jazz piano lessons (and google hangouts, phone call, etc...)
Use the contact link at the top of the page.
forget the books.  maybe you should go on a transcription bender.  go to the source.  pick a hip pre-bop horn player like basie-era lester young or louie armstrong hot 5 or 7 or charlie christian or even bix beiderbeck.  pick ten or fifteen of this cat's solos (they tend to be short, like a chorus or two), and listen to them relentlessly for a few months until you can sing each note with as much swing and feeling as the original recording.  really absorb every note and breath and rhythm until it's deep in your bones.  after a month or two, once you can sing each solo perfectly away from the recording, sit down at the piano and pick out each solo one by one until you can play all ten at close to tempo with as much feeling as the original.  don't write anything down, just memorize everything.

all along the way, your soloing will steadily improve as you get all of this good stuff in your ears, voice, and fingers.
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