It helps that I'm playing with a quartet that plays low pressure restaurant gigs on a regular basis. I'm just a sideman in this group, which is a welcome relief. I don't have to worry about talking to the audience, negotiating with the restaurant owner, or keeping my musicians happy. All I have to do is set up my gear and play whatever song the leader calls out.
This quartet is a golden opportunity. We play a LOT of music. I basically spend 3.5 hours focusing on the music, looking for opportunities to try out new musical ideas or chord voicings.
Here is my first lesson assignment, and how I was able to apply most of it in live music settings.
TAKE THE "A" TRAIN:
- Memorize the melody and the chord changes.
- For improvisation practice, go through the chord changes, playing the root, 3rd, and 5th (1-3-5) of each chord in real time. Then reverse it, playing 5-3-1. Then add sevenths, playing 1-3-5-7, then 7-5-3-1. Then play the first five notes of each scale that belongs with each chord (1-2-3-4-5).
- Improvise around the melody.
- This certainly helped whenever the band leader called out "A Train." Beyond that, it was a good reminder that I don't always have to try to come up with a profound lick when soloing. The old time jazzers improvised almost solely around the melody, and there's nothing wrong with outlining chords in your solos. I found that outlining chords serves as a springboard for other good ideas.
MEMORIZE THE DORIAN AND MIXOLYDIAN SCALES
- This hasn't been of any practical use on my gigs yet, but it will. I've tended to "cheat" when playing mixolydian and dorian scales, just going back to the root of the major scale that they're based in. For example, if I'm playing G mixolydian, I'll just think "C scale, starting on G" rather than "major scale with a flat seven." What I've been doing this time is thinking within the two modes as I play the scale, essentially trying to "forget" the major scales in which they're based so that I can get a better feel for the modes.
BARRY GALBRAITH'S "GUITAR COMPING" (FIRST ETUDE, "SHINY STOCKINGS")
- This book offers a wealth of guitar comping ideas. This first etude has a lot of chord voicings that I haven't used before. There's no way I could put all of these voicings to practical use after a few days of practice, but two of the chord voicings stuck with me, so I used them on my gigs wherever I could. Actually, I'm sure I overused them! No matter where I was on the neck, I jumped for those two voicings almost every time and beat them to death! The customers didn't seem to mind. This weekend, I essentially spend 3.5 hours every night practicing those voicings in real time, and I got paid for it!
PLAY "ALL OF ME" IN DIFFERENT KEYS, AND TRANSCRIBE A SOLO FROM A RECORDING OF THIS SONG
- Before this lesson, I've always just transposed by interval. For example, if it's in F, and I need to transpose to A, I've just thought of moving everything up a major third. Now, I'm thinking in terms of function. For example, when I play the chords to "All of Me," I don't just thing "C, E7, A7, Dm7." I think "I, III7, VI7, IIm7," etc. Thinking in terms of function instead of the chord names will help me transpose more easily. I surprised myself by putting this concept into actual use after just a week of practicing it. Last week, I was playing through a new song with my friend Lori, trying to find the key that was right for her. The lead sheet was in F, but we needed to change it to A-flat. I stared at the lead sheet, played in A-flat, and spoke the function of each chord out loud…"One, six, two," etc. To my surprise, it worked! Now, I can't speak out loud like that at a gig! But it won't be long before I've internalized the process.
- I chose to transcribe a Django Reinhardt solo. It's hard to go wrong with Django. I found a solo that seemed approachable and proceeded to transcribe it. This is great ear training, and as you play the solo (very slowly), you are literally training your fingers to move in the same path as one of the masters of the instrument. Part of this solo even stuck with me on a gig. The leader called "All of Me," and as I came to the first E7 chord, I remembered the diminished lick that Django used…so at least one small part of my solo was really good! As I memorize this solo and pick it apart, other licks will stick, too.
To those of you who have been playing jazz for a while, this probably seems like a very basic assignment. This is exactly what I need, though. Except for a couple years at the beginning, I'm basically a self taught guitarist. There are so many approaches to jazz guitar – many of them conflicting – that it has been a challenge to find my way. These lessons are giving me some much needed focus. I finally feel like I'm on the right path.