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#2258699 - 04/08/14 02:30 PM Really need help - stuck in a bad rut  
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Brad Webb Offline
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Brad Webb  Offline
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Hi guys. Well, I'm a piano player that is also a student at Berklee College of Music. I'm 19 years old, and have been playing for about six years now. I'm self taught, but also have classical background, and in the last three or four years, have been attempting to dive into the world of improvisation, jazz, R&B, and blues. And though I've performed, and I've gigged...I still never feel satisfied with my own sound. I feel like there's a next level of playing that I'm just not able to reach. I've learned tunes by ear, grabbed licks here and there, but I've never transcribed a complete, say Oscar Peterson solo.
And even when I attempted to transcribe a solo, for instance, do you also try to play what you're transcribing exactly note for note, in the case of right hand?
I just am stuck in a rut with my playing and am not sure what to do to get through it. I'm a very strong reader, and have a pretty good ear, but I am just not satisfied with my own sound. Been struggling with this for a while now. Any help, tips, suggestions, youtube links, anything would be very helpful. thanks guys.

Last edited by Brad Webb; 04/08/14 02:30 PM.
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#2258705 - 04/08/14 02:44 PM Re: Really need help - stuck in a bad rut [Re: Brad Webb]  
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JazzPianoOnline Offline
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brad- i hear you! i felt the same way when i was a student at berklee. the answer is: *transcriptions*. everything that you need to know is in music created by the masters. you should spend time everyday transcribing. there is a great app for this, transcribe by seventhstring.com. they have a free trial, it's cheap to buy and it works on mac, pc and linux! i can't recommend this app highly enough. (and i have no connection with the author)

the ideal way to transcribe is, of course, to listen to a track over and over, to memorize the lines using your inner hearing and then play them. this is very time consuming and you will likely forget a lot of what you work on. instead, use the transcribe app and write everything down. you will quickly build a library of transcriptions that will be valuable throughout your career especially when you start to teach.

transcribe solos of all styles, solo piano, left hand voicings and comping voicings and rhythms. start with red garland, wynton kelly, sonny clark. bill evans, of course and modern guys like bill charlap is good too.

so what to do with the transcriptions? play them, memorize them, and imitate the recordings as closely as possible. play the transcriptions with the recordings. write in the progressions and analyze the solos for chord tones, chord scales, arpeggios and approach patterns. use the transcriptions to see how they use the materials of melodic construction and then you can adopt these techniques to your own playing.

also, find a good teacher. gary dial in nyc is carrying on charlie banacos' lessons. i would look him up.

have fun.


br
bill@jazzpianoonline.com
www.JazzPianoOnline.com
Step-by-step, easy-to-follow online jazz piano lessons.
#2258706 - 04/08/14 02:50 PM Re: Really need help - stuck in a bad rut [Re: Brad Webb]  
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ShannonG Offline
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Brad I think your tale of woe is common to the classically trained. I bet your technique is flawless, but let's face it, you probably didn't spend a lot of time riffing as you learned. You are probably also a perfectionist as classically trained pianists usually are.
Jazz, R&B, blues, soul, is alchemy, art, your saddest moments and best memories all coming out the business end of an instrument. You have to give it time. Get your heart broken three or four times and see how your playing improves!
Seriously, just give it time. It's like musical puberty.


Yamaha LU101, Casio CDP220R. 1968 Mason & Risch 'frankenpiano' only the cat plays. It's where our musical journey began though so I refuse to get rid of it.
#2258737 - 04/08/14 04:01 PM Re: Really need help - stuck in a bad rut [Re: Brad Webb]  
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jjo Offline
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Brad: I'm not nearly at your level; just an amateur jazz player. But I do have a good teacher. She emphasizes that just transcribing something and seeing what notes are played is of little use. You have to play it as close to the original as possible. What you are looking for is not just the notes, but the accents, the rhythm, the touch, the dynamics, etc. What phrases are legato, which are staccato? All of those "little" details can be more important that the notes.

#2258801 - 04/08/14 06:48 PM Re: Really need help - stuck in a bad rut [Re: JazzPianoOnline]  
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Brad Webb Offline
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Brad Webb  Offline
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I'm definitely gonna take this advice and start transcribing every single day. Thanks everyone for your help... And more advice is always appreciated guys!

#2259159 - 04/09/14 01:59 PM Re: Really need help - stuck in a bad rut [Re: Brad Webb]  
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Michael Martinez Offline
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Michael Martinez  Offline
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Transcribing really isn't something that's going to help you a whole lot, until you've already got a pretty solid foundation in knowing chord changes and in improvising using simpler methods. Why on earth would you try to transcribe Oscar Peterson if you can't already improvise competently in a simpler fashion?

Can you play by ear? Can you pick out melodies and chords (at least the basic foundation chords) by ear? If you can't do this, then you need to go back to the basics and develop your ear on this first.

Have you already gone through learning how to improvise on blues and pentatonic scales? Have you really made the effort to develop good phrasing on these simpler scales, or did you rush through them? You can't rush through stuff. It's tempting to try and jump ahead and start playing like Bill Evans, but you can't do that without developing your ear on the simpler stuff first.

For the above: Book: The Blues Scales, Essential Tools, by Dan Greenblatt.

NEXT stage:
----

If you can already do the above, then it's time for the next step. The next step is to learn the standard jazz reharmonizations and how to voice in both hands on the piano. Do you already know these things?

For example, if you play the following chord:
LH: F E
RH: Bb Db E G

and this chord is preceeded by a F7 and followed by a Dm, do you know which chord this is?

Book: Play Piano by Ear. by Simon Schott

NEXT
----

Once you've got a good foundation in harmony, chord changes , then I recommend you get yourself a keyboard whose keys light up when you feed it MIDI, and you download MIDI piano songs of the kind of music you want to play, and learn to play them on the keyboard. With MIDI you can slow it down as much as you need. I recommend this instead of learning transcriptions from sheet music, because the lighted keys gives you the direct experience of hearing and touching (you aren't distracted by needing to refer to a score).

you can also transcribe by ear, but this is effective only with simple music, not as easy with jazz, the chords in particular can be difficult to figure out, not to mention the fast bebop lines. It's better to get MIDI recordings of some piano players you like.

FINALLY
-------
REalize that improvisation is not about scales, it's about Target Tones.


Last edited by Michael Martinez; 04/09/14 02:02 PM.

Music Educator, Computer Engineer, avid reader of literature, enjoyer of the outdoors
http://www.michael--martinez.com/music/
#2259231 - 04/09/14 04:43 PM Re: Really need help - stuck in a bad rut [Re: Brad Webb]  
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jjo Offline
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The kid is a student at Berklee. I'm guessing he's pretty solid on the basics?

But I'll bite: What is that chord? Didn't sound like it moved very well to D- to my ear.

#2260234 - 04/11/14 01:07 PM Re: Really need help - stuck in a bad rut [Re: jjo]  
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Michael Martinez Offline
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Michael Martinez  Offline
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Originally Posted by jjo
The kid is a student at Berklee. I'm guessing he's pretty solid on the basics?


Well, one would think, but he seemed kind of desperate, so maybe not so solid on the basics... who knows

Quote


But I'll bite: What is that chord? Didn't sound like it moved very well to D- to my ear.


A7b9b13

context is the key of Bb

Last edited by Michael Martinez; 04/11/14 01:09 PM.

Music Educator, Computer Engineer, avid reader of literature, enjoyer of the outdoors
http://www.michael--martinez.com/music/
#2260292 - 04/11/14 03:10 PM Re: Really need help - stuck in a bad rut [Re: Brad Webb]  
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jjo Offline
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Can't say that I've ever used the b13 for the root of a voicing, but I guess it's possible. I think it also sounded off to my ear because I usually leave the 5th out, and don't think I've ever included both the 5th and the b13. But there's no rule against it!

#2260335 - 04/11/14 04:51 PM Re: Really need help - stuck in a bad rut [Re: Brad Webb]  
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saiman Offline
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Interesting voicing. My ear is certainly not used to this because I generally leave the 5th out of I am playing at b9#5 chord.

I usually play something along the line of C# G, Bb C# F

#2260421 - 04/11/14 08:03 PM Re: Really need help - stuck in a bad rut [Re: Brad Webb]  
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jjo Offline
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jjo  Offline
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I've also generally been taught (and read in Levine's Jazz Piano Book) that the alt 7 chord pairs with the altered scale (which is also the melodic minor a half step up from the root). The natural fifth is not in this scale. Thus, for example, the A alt scale does not include E natural. It has Eb and F, the flatted and sharped fifth. So using the natural fifth in altered chord voicing is quite unusual and it's not surprising the chord sounds very odd.

But this has drifted a bit from the original post. MM's question just got me curious. Sorry OP!

#2261742 - 04/14/14 08:02 PM Re: Really need help - stuck in a bad rut [Re: jjo]  
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Michael Martinez Offline
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Michael Martinez  Offline
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Originally Posted by jjo
Can't say that I've ever used the b13 for the root of a voicing, but I guess it's possible.


Cool, man. For this example, think F as a pedal point (key of Bb).

Last edited by Michael Martinez; 04/14/14 08:02 PM.

Music Educator, Computer Engineer, avid reader of literature, enjoyer of the outdoors
http://www.michael--martinez.com/music/
#2262548 - 04/16/14 10:37 AM Re: Really need help - stuck in a bad rut [Re: JazzPianoOnline]  
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JamesPlaysPiano Offline
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Hey Brad,

I wanted to echo jazzpianoonline's comments on the importance of transcribing, and the fact that it can be about so much more than just writing down and playing back a right-hand melody. Go after those voicings, the comping rhythms, and so many other aspects that can come from observing someone else play.

Years ago when I was a student at the U. of New Orleans, I remember several assignments in improv class that I wasn't excited about at first, but which I grew to really appreciate: we had to write out and be able to play back solos in real time, *and* we had to create three exercises that were "based" on some aspect of each solo. That proved to be extremely valuable, because it got us thinking about the principles behind what was happening, and how they could be generally applied to our own improvising.

For example, maybe you write out the *beat number* that each phrase in the solo *starts* on. That could yield its own "exercise" of sorts. ("I love how this solo has a sort of 'natural, but unpredictable' feel in its rhythms. In transcribing, I've noticed that most phrases begin on the 'and' of beats 2 or 4. I will now try to improvise and begin my phrases on only these two places, as an exercise in this vein.")

Or maybe you hear several measures that turn out to be the development of, say, a three-note motive. In addition to being able to play this development yourself, observe how the motive was actually developed. Was it sequenced? Augmentation? Diminution? Etc. If you pick up on the principle behind how the motive was developed, you could try and do something similar to a motive of your own, as an exercise.

Sometimes an observation of something very specific can give you an "aha!" moment that is much more broad. For example, you may hear a variation of a lick that you are already familiar with. Upon transcribing, you may at first think, "oh, that's just a twist on that lick I know." However, there could be a lesson in that. Have you ever "twisted" the lick in that same way, or any other way, for that matter? Or do you only play it in one, single way? How about other licks that you play? Are you selling yourself short by only playing licks in "one way"?

Finally, I'd emphasize that transcription could give you *lots* to think about harmonically, too. For example, if you're transcribing a blues and you hear some neat things happening around bars 4-8, you could transcribe it and be able to play it back. However, you could take it a step further if you analyze the harmony. For example, you might find, in a blues in C, that bars 4-8 go like this:

| F7 | F#7 | C/G E7/G# | A7 |

If this was "hiding underneath" some solo you transcribed, you would now have a neat "twist" that you can apply in your own way. Turn the above into roman numerals and you've got something you can put into any key. You wouldn't have to use the same voicings, rhythms, and melody as in the recording. You could use your own. Etc. etc.

Much of this was implied in what jazzpianoonline said. I just wanted to highlight it.

Finally, I'd also emphasize the importance of getting a teacher, if you are able. That can make a huge, huge difference!

Best of luck to you!

James




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#2263070 - 04/17/14 01:17 PM Re: Really need help - stuck in a bad rut [Re: Brad Webb]  
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Hi Brad, I've felt the same way, too. And I agree with lots of the advice you've already been given, regarding transcribing and learning harmony better, etc.

I'll just add one thing: In the 30 years that I've been a professional musician, I've met a lot of very accomplished players who are happy with their playing and a lot who beat themselves up and are miserable. I can't tell much about your mental outlook just from your post, but make sure that you enjoy the process of playing, even while you're striving to get to a new level or perfect your sound.

The reason is this: There will always be a higher level, and a more perfect sound. Yes, work your hardest and improve, but at the same time, make sure you enjoy your playing at whatever level you're at. If you don't enjoy it now, you still might not enjoy it later when you're more proficient.

The irony is that when we focus on what we CAN do when playing, instead of what we can't, we often play much better. Good luck in your musical journey!


Ron Drotos
rondrotos@keyboardimprov.com
#2291862 - 06/18/14 11:35 PM Re: Really need help - stuck in a bad rut [Re: Michael Martinez]  
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Brad Webb Offline
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Brad Webb  Offline
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Sorry for the super late response, but I've been playing by ear for a few years. I played at a church in high school, and every song was learned by ear. I also starred in two concerts with my band at home, both of which was about 20 tunes all learned by ear. Like, I said, I'm no complete amateur, I'm just looking to get up to that next level, I suppose.

#2291868 - 06/19/14 12:06 AM Re: Really need help - stuck in a bad rut [Re: Brad Webb]  
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davefrank Offline
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Learning to read music is on the top of that list)

#2291871 - 06/19/14 12:16 AM Re: Really need help - stuck in a bad rut [Re: davefrank]  
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Don't try to be the patient and the doctor Brad ol boy. Find a real good teacher who can diagnose exactly where you are stuck and give you a step-by-step teaching program that will break you loose. Otherwise you can fart around forever with transcribing, blah blah blah. It all depends on exactly where you are stuck and on musical, technical, rhythmic, psychological, and/or conceptual pieces of your musical puzzle that you are unaware that you are missing. Neil Olmstead is good up there..a good teacher should be able to indentify immediately what is needed and give you a practical program that will do the trick, and you'll feel it right away. Don't settle for anything less..and watch out for the "watch me play and learn" approach. That's another name for I don't know how to teach.

Dave Frank

#2292047 - 06/19/14 11:09 AM Re: Really need help - stuck in a bad rut [Re: davefrank]  
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Michael Martinez Offline
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Michael Martinez  Offline
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Originally Posted by davefrank
Don't try to be the patient and the doctor Brad ol boy. Find a real good teacher who can diagnose exactly where you are stuck and give you a step-by-step teaching program that will break you loose. Otherwise you can fart around forever with transcribing, blah blah blah.


He's right about this. There's certain points at which the only way past the hump is someone giving you clarity.


Music Educator, Computer Engineer, avid reader of literature, enjoyer of the outdoors
http://www.michael--martinez.com/music/
#2292440 - 06/20/14 04:52 AM Re: Really need help - stuck in a bad rut [Re: Brad Webb]  
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The Wind Offline
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You are 19, give yourself time and don't rush the process. It's gonna be years before you absorb all that good music and integrate it into your playing.

I am of the camp that transcribing is overrated. I may take snippets and bars of songs I like but I've never bothered with entire songs. But for some it works. Try it and see if you take to it. I'm sure in Berklee they drill the basics into you. You need to go outside the box too.

Most of all just relax and keep listening to music you like.

#2305234 - 07/22/14 07:30 AM Re: Really need help - stuck in a bad rut [Re: Brad Webb]  
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ZeroZero Offline
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I am with The Wind and others, don't see the point of transcribing complex stuff. When I play something seemingly very complex to me its made up of simple building blocks, you must know how to recognise these, create them at will. Although notation is not a problem to me, I could never transcribe even my own stuff. I once saw a famous sax solo transcribed, it was a mess of semiquavers. After fumbling the reading, (I play sax too) I went to the recording, all that was happening was the guy was coming in early on his notes. All these nuances are often hard to write down.
What about using band in a box and 'transcribing' without the paper, direct from the software to the piano?


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