One of my first piano teachers told me it takes 7 years to become a proficient jazz musician. I remember being puzzled by this statement when I first heard it thinking how can you possibly quantify this. Why not 3,6 or 8 years?
Maybe he thought I was a bad student and only I needed 7 years!
Looking back I should have realised he was merely referring to the amount of practice that is required and a better analogy would be Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule in terms of mastering a particular skill or subject.
The list below is the first of a two part article on useful qualities that every jazz musician should have in their locker every time they play a solo.
1) Harmonic, Melodic and Rhythmic Control
For improvising, striking the right balance between following the changes (vertical) and creating exciting melodic lines with rhythmic interest (horizontal) can take a long time to master.
As a jazz musician, you have to know your harmony and be willing to practise numerous lines in 12 keys to master melodic and rhythmic control. I am a big advocate of playing the drums as a second instrument as a poor sense of rhythm is a real weakness I see in students.
Pacing a solo is also important and there are a couple of ways to approach it. You can come out of the blocks all guns blazing at the beginning and then slow it down, before a big climax at the end. Alternatively, you can start slow, leaving lots of space and gradually build to a big finish at the end. Of the two, I generally prefer the latter, but there have been times when I have started a solo with a great double time lick!
This always seems like the least fun part of practising as a jazz musician. However, a good way to think about it is “Greater technique leads to greater expression” i.e. you can play more of what you want with better technique.
Instead of practising all your major, minor, diminished scales, arpeggios etc in the same methodical way, mix it up, by playing a variety of patterns, both rhythmically and melodically. This will make it more fun for you to play, enabling you to play more interesting solos and progress quicker.
4) Swing sensibility
You can play all the right notes in the right places, but if you don’t have the right feel it often won’t sound good. You need to develop a good sense of swing and this comes easier for certain musicians than others.
For me personally, it took quite a while to get the right feel, but I found listening to a ton of jazz solos by the piano greats such as Bud Powell, Bill Evans, Wynton Kelly, Red Garland, Oscar Peterson and Herbie Hancock helped me a lot.
Transcribing a solo and playing along with the original is also a superb way of obtaining the right feel you are after.
Be sure to check out the second part on other qualities you should possess as a jazz musician
In : Performing Tips
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