ok, some of you will know that recently i had issues with my journey of learning jazz piano (don't we all?) well, i've been into the practice room since then and put in many hours, trying to address what i saw as a problem of not knowing tunes well enough.  well in the process of getting into the music, i discovered something else, which may have been the real underlying factor which was preventing me from enjoying the music.  i think the basic problem is this:

i worked on several tunes, and in working on them, i developed several ways of playing over parts of each tune, and sometimes i transcribed stuff from records to learn vocabulary to use in tunes i was working on.  i think that when i play these tunes, trying to incorporate these ideas into the tune, many of them are not easy to execute, so i really have to concentrate to execute them.  so while playing the tune, the piece seems to lack energy, you know what i mean, that foot-tapping thing that you can’t stop, or the gently rocking rhythm of a ballad.  so after recording a practice session at home; i did this over the tune ‘when i fall in love’ i realised that even though i might be able to play nice stuff i transcribed or discovered over the changes, the rhythmic side of the music is pretty boring; with this ballad in 4/4 i basically play a chord under each melody note, nice chords maybe, but things seem stagnant.  i realised this while i was sitting on the train on the way to work this morning.


on saturday in the jazz piano class i’m taking, my teacher said something like “if you can’t by rhythmically interesting with just 3 notes, then how will you be able to swing using 10 fingers?

i only discovered this by practicing lots and listening to what i practiced and asking; ‘what’s missing’?
when i said in a recent post 'i can play about 20 tunes', perhaps i should have said ‘i can play 20 chord progressions’… this is not self criticism or self pity… it’s just a realisation.  i remember sitting in class with teacher mentioning that soon we’re going to learn some basic walking bass… i got really excited because, i suppose, if i apply what i learn, it’ll give the music some foot-tapability :-)

any comments welcome, i guess a few people out there have already crossed this bridge way back when!
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great question, one that i wish more people would ask!

the most basic answer is this:

know your tunes well enough so that you don't have to think about the chords or where you are at when you play them.

also remember to practice from your head but play from your heart.

when you're on stage or at a gig, don't play the stuff you've been practicing, play the stuff you can already jam on.  as time goes on, the stuff you are practicing will incorporate itself into the stuff you can jam on.

the only way you can get other people to feel your rhythm is if you feel it too.  if you can't sway or tap to the rhythm of your own playing, no one else will be able to. you have to feel it in your body, not your fingers.

your teacher is right- you gotta be able to swing with three notes.  or even two.  oscar peterson and c jam blues comes to mind (check out some vids.)

so basically, stop letting your brain get in the way of your soul. stop thinking about chords when jamming. if you find that you need to concentrate on where you are in a piece, then you don't know it well enough and need to expand your awareness to the entire tune, not just sections.

people break tunes up into sections. a, b, c, whatever.  all this does is make you treat the tune like it's a bunch of sections put together, when in reality, a song is what happens between the time you start playing it and the time you stop playing it.

the sections are nothing more than part of the journey through the tune.  look at your tunes in the biggest picture possible- from start to finish.  once you can get out of the bars, the bar groupings, the sections, and even the tune itself, then you'll be swinging in no time because there will be nothing holding you back from playing it the way you're feeling it.

hope this helps!  i know it's a bit esoteric and maybe even philosophical, but it's still good info to think about.
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thanks scot.  this is why i love this site... you work on the music, hit a barrier, and come to learn jazz piano for the next bit of missing insight.

i guess one of my biggest fears about jazz is the whole idea of being able to play a tune that is not 'arranged' in every detail, which has been a bit of a crutch to me.  someone answered me in another post by saying that trying to remember 'everything' will trip you up every time.  

well your answer got me thinking.  there are a couple of tunes i play (round midnight and a child is born), where i play the tunes with no preconceived ideas about which voicings will be played in which bars.  i just play the tunes and it comes out ok.  i must admit that i learned the tunes pretty quickly, maybe because i had heard them many times and loved them both, before ever attempting to play them, then one day i just sat down and learned them and they came to me  quickly.  

when playing them i don't really get lost.  i can also improvise on them (at my own standard of course). all the rest of my tunes which are much more 'arranged' are a struggle, i can't improvise on them at all and they last a very short time, and things get, very repetitive. so i won't play more than a couple of choruses.  there's a lot to think about here... philosophical is fine by me... often the holistic answer helps deal with 'other' yet unasked questions.. so thank you!
you've answered this- on tunes you know, you don't have to play a preconceived idea of what the arrangement is supposed to be.  granted, the more you play tunes the more you settle into styles and arrangements which make it easier to find a starting point if necessary.

but where it goes doesn't have to be part of the original plan.  i think time is important, and i think staying in the form is important if that's what you intend to do, however, there are times i'll break out of a form to jam on a progression or do something else, but it's all intended.  mindful even.

so, don't spread yourself thin when learning tunes.  get a tune, learn it very well, learn it in 12 keys, and play it every day.  if you can't remember it, look at the music for one time through, then turn the paper over and play it from memory and work out the trouble spots.

also practice transition zones, like, from the 2nd ending into the bridge, and practice then so that you aren't 'starting over' at the bridge.  that only helps chunkify your tunes.  keep the melody flowing through and into the bridge of tunes... blur the edges of transition areas so to speak.

i know when a tune "clicks" for me. all of a sudden i'm playing it like it's part of my hand.

can you start at any point in your tunes and play them, or do you have to lead into those points?  you want to be able to start on any melody note, anywhere in the tune, and start playing it as if you have already been playing it.

dont' get caught in the linear zone of playing tunes from beginning to end. be able to jump in anywhere, start your tune somewhere random, and play it as if you've been playing it for five minutes already.
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ok here's what i've decided to try....
get into 'one' tune that i am comfortable with; a child is born..
this isn't my first attempt at learning a tune in 12 keys.. i tried this tune a few years ago and managed about the first 8 bars in 5 keys and gave up, probably because i was trying to do it with heavy chording.
this time i'll keep it simple... just bass notes and melody, until really comfortable then, i'll think about filling things in, but not until i can really play it (i know, i know, the temptation to start putting 10 fingered chords in right away is very great... :-)   )

another goal is to play melody note, right hand, and very simple rhythm in left hand to try to get a good feel going.  practicing this has exposed some holes with my knowledge of the melody, and also, it's a struggle at the moment to put out a simple swinging beat under the melody... so, slowly slowly...

on a positive note, i've realised that all the work i was doing over little sections of tunes has not been entirely wasted.  the ideas are somewhere stewing inside, i think.  i was messing with 'when i fall in love', forcing myself not to think of the usual arrangement, and somehow, 'other' stuff i've worked on seemed sneak into the tune, albeit a little shaky, but it's definitely there inside somewhere.  

all of my inner realisations these few weeks have been rather humbling. but, i'm glad i searched for help, because, some good guidance has come from it.

i just woke up to the problems one day, and if i didn't ask i probably wouldn't know how to address this; at least i have a few ideas now, so, all of you lurkers out there, don't be afraid to ask, or if you are afraid, do an ljp search, there's a wealth of good information on the site, with simple lessons (in the jazz lessons section) for those dealing or struggling with the basics. ... thanks again scot
one other thing- make sure you record your practice sessions and then listen to them later on.  you know what good music is supposed to sound like. when you listen to yourself on tape, any holes in your playing become glaringly obvious and it's not too difficult to figure out what to adjust to get closer to the way you really want to sound.

12 keys: don't work on sections of tunes.  if you know a child is born in one key, then it's a matter of copying the intervals to another key.  don't think of it like, "ok, the first three chords are this, this, and this.  in this other key, i have to transpose them into..."

instead, think of the sound.  you know where to go when looking for a certain sound, so just do it in different keys. if you have a problem, don't try to transpose, just work it out by fumbling around until you get it, then play that bit again to make sure.

the biggest issue i have with people learning in 12 keys is that they are learning 12 different songs and that's completely opposite the point of this exercise.  12 keys is to get to to know the tune so well that it doesn't matter what key you're in, it's all the same tune regardless, and that's the point you want to get to.
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i should add that after you've learned a couple dozen tunes, you probably know every chord progression ever used, at least on a basic level.  so why would 12 keys be difficult on any level if you already know how to play every chord progression there is?  as long as y ou know which chord progression goes with which sound in your head.

practicing the basie ending in 12 keys is a really good way to stop thinking about transposing and start thinking about sound.

(not accusing you of doing it like this, but this is a good discussion about this sort of stuff so i like to cover all bases)
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ok, yesterday's practice session was the most satisfying i've had in a long time.  trying to move the tune through different keys was not as difficult as i thought.  i was just feeling around. and of course, the intervals started jumping out at me once i took the tune into differnt keys. i started off with just bass notes and melody. after a while it became easier to put the melody and bass note into 'any' key, not perfectly obviously, but easier than i imagined. because i know the chord qualities pretty well, it was then not too difficult adding the ii-v's or other chords....

i got home after work at about 18.30, sat down to watch a film but couldn't resist trying out the tune in different keys... so i sat down to try stuff out and didn't get up from the piano until 22.30... the time flew, so i'll continue to work on the tune.

i guess the fear factor, has prevented me from addressing things like this, fear of failure maybe? something kenny werner realy delves into in effortless master... there are anecdotal ideas out there about '90% of our fears never actually happening'... this might be one of those situations where that idea is true.
recent science research has shown that a person's "fear" of anything lives buried deep within the amygdala part of the brain, in a very primitive area.  having a fearful response to something that has brought up fear in the past therefore is super easy to do.

so, the idea (more philosophy coming up) then is to be human, right?  don't let instincts run your daily life, if you do that, you're doing what dogs and cats and frogs do: live by habit, live by instinct.  

as humans we can rise above that and let our intellect take control if necessary.

the fear of failing is definitely the biggest fear that holds people back.  the ironic part of it, all the people who are "famous" are famous not only for succeeding, but also for failing, yet no one cares that they fail in things because it's the act of being brave and trying things that you might fail at which brings out your passions and what you really are striving for.  that is what makes a person successful, really.

so in piano playing, it's about jamming for the public the same way you do at home. no fear.  heck, i still deal with that kind of fear at times, wondering if i'm playing the right music for the crowd, but then i remember my own advice and settle into the fact that they are all there to hear me do my own thing, so i'm cheating them and myself if i don't play things as loose as i do when i'm in my living room.

great discussion, makes me think of things that i need to think of more often.
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this philosophy stuff, it's really making me consider my actions.  

i was very close to curtailing my public playing (again) to lock myself in the practice room for 6 months, until i feel better about my playing; i can see how this could easily turn into an eternal trap of waiting for perfection before acting on what you love, because you're too afraid to make mistakes.  

here is an example of how i, and i guess, other people over emphasize perceived failure.  i was playing in front of a couple of girls who i met by a public piano, a singer and a pianist; as i was playing, they seemed to be enjoying it, and then i hit a wrong chord or something... i don't know, maybe i played an b7 instead of an a7, and wrong notes in the right hand and it confused me a bit, and i vocalised it, that is, i openly admitted to them that i had hit the wrong notes.  both of them looked at me and said 'stop apologising... we didn't notice, it's  nice...'

now i'm not saying that we should go around intentionally playing mistakes, but it does illustrate the point that, one can turn a little thing into a big issue; and worse still, give up because of that issue.

and i've recently learned through self examination, that often our assumptions about other people's feelings etc are wrong, so we might be sitting there thinking 'god this sucks'.. but someone listening is thinking 'man i love this'....

well, i think it's good to get these discussions out in the open.
i not too long ago read a book called play it again, a biography/diary about the author's goal of learning a difficult chopin ballade on piano; the author is alan rusbridger, editor in chief of the guardian newspaper here in the uk.  dispite having a ;;ridiculously busy, very important high profile career, and being very confident in the media world, when it came to his music he had so many insecurity issues, which he eventually started to deal with. he started to take piano seriously in his 50's and felt he was too 'old' to master any piece of music. but he eventually learned the piece well.  among other things this helped me realise it's something many musicians have 'dealt with' successfully..  

your moment when you hit that wrong note and the girls not noticing shows how we can create our own reality.

for example, you hit the wrong note and it sets off a series of imagination events which lead to the idea that maybe everyone now thinks you suck because of the wrong note.

however, why don't we create a different reality instead?  if we're going to create reality, let's make one that says no one cares that you hit what you think is a wrong note because they are enjoying the big picture of your music.

we go around creating realities for ourselves all day long, and as long as we're doing that anyway, why not create realities that are closer to fantasies than nightmares?

like when you hit those wrong notes, instead of thinking that it bothered the two girls, you could instead think that it's turning them on and they are really interested in talking to you so you better go talk to them after the song is done so as not to miss out on something exciting!  it doesn't have to be about the girls obviously, but that's where i'd personally go at that point ;)
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our own reality.. if you used those words to me 7 years ago i would have thought you were crazy, but with time, i've realised there's so much truth in that; the saying 'life's a b**ch and then you die' might have some truth in it because of life's real problems and unpredictability, but many people, including numero uno, have caused themselves much unnecessary suffering because of self created anguish inducing realities, anyway i'm slightly going off subject here.

this reminds me of a post of yours i read years back, i was looking for it and found it on ljp the other day, it was about port townsend centrum jazz camp 2005; during one evening you attended a jam session, and invited some other students up to play on a calypso tune, it was so fun, that it brought the house down, everyone went crazy for the music. after this, some heavy weight pianists, faculty, got up and played but were unable to generate the same frenzied response from the audience... your final comments were:

"after that the other pianists decided to try to get things a bit more energetic, but for the hour longer i stuck around (i didn't feel  the need to play another song) there was no response as raucous as mine!  cool, huh?  not that i'm better than porter, halberstadt, and the other guys, not by a long shot, but it is just a bit possible that i have more fun than they do, or at least i get the idea of fun across to the audience better than they do."



well if this isn't an great example of creating your own reality, then nothing else will do it. this is a classic example.

by the way i did get those girls digits :-), we just hit it off right away like old friends, and i was taken aback by 'their reality', their interpretation of what they were hearing (one of them is the happiest girl i've ever known (and i'll stop drooling now)... and it made me think about my own reality, and my attitude to what i play, and how i view me.. it's a work in progress
that sort of 'creating your own reality' also reminds me of two people i've seen in concert, monty alexander.... man he had the crowd in the palm of his hands completely, and hiromi, she had so much fun at the piano, an almost childlike excitement... she lit up ronnie scots that night...
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