Category Archives: C Repertoire

"Gotta get to my study room!"

AC #27: “T” it up!

 ATTN: All Instrumentalists and Vocalists! This post applies to you!

As you’re listening to some music and you hear a melody, a phrase, a motif, or an arrangement that draws your attention because it “speaks” to you and you really like it, you should “T-it-up”! What do I mean by that? You should transcribe it! You’ll benefit whether you “T” all of it, or only a fractional part of it! Just get in there and “T” something up!

I borrowed the title phrase for this post from the world of golf. I’ve been a fan of Tiger Woods for a long time. Through his actions on the golf course and his interviews, Tiger has always demonstrated that he possess a deep knowledge of golf on many levels. He has frequently spoken about the high regard and respect he has for golf’s “elder statesmen” like Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicholas. He’s spoken specifically about the fact that he’s watched many videos of them and studied them.

In the world of music, you’ll find many musicians, including myself, who have the same kind of high-regard and respect for music’s “elder statesmen”. For instance, whenever someone asked The Beatles and Eric Clapton questions like “who most influenced you?”, they’d always name Chuck Berry first as they spoke about their high regard and respect they had for him.  Whenever Chuck Berry was asked that same question, as he addressed it in his autobiography, he’d immediately credit his local peers, the great boogie-woogie pianists and the great Nat “King” Cole as he spoke about the high regard and respect he has for them all!

So, I was particularly delighted when one of my students, bass player Nicholas Gendron, originally an ear training student who by the time he signed on with me had already done complete James Jamerson transcriptions on his own by ear, spoke to me about the high regard and respect he has for many of the same great jazz bassists for whom I share the same feelings. When Nick expressed his interest in expanding his ear training studies to include having me work with him on “strengthening-up” his walking bass lines, I immediately suggested that he start right away on transcribing some of the great jazz bassists. I agreed to get right in there with him and do some of my own transcriptions of some of the bass veterans also to share with him in his lessons. So for this post, I decided to give you  the complete transcription I did for Nick of what the great Israel Crosby played on “But Not For Me” from one of Ahmad Jamal’s classic albums.  You can view the video and download this PDF too!

[gview file=””]

The information you can get from studying transcriptions is invaluable, and by all means, I strongly suggest that you, and all serious students of improvised music, should do a lot of your own transcription work! Don’t get me wrong. It’s definitely ok to draw information from the transcriptions of other people, however, the benefits of doing your own transcription work will pay bigger dividends because, in doing so, the information you derive gets planted deeper into your musical soul by the nature of the do-it-yourself process.

Whether you do one-chorus, multiple choruses, single phrase, multiple phrases, right-hand only, left-hand only, both hands, partial heads, full heads, partial arrangements, or full arrangements… you’ll be doing something that’s good for your musicianship!

The focus of your transcriptions are determined, of course, by whatever your objective may be at any given time. For instance, you might limit the focus of your transcription to getting the actual musical notes only! Or, you may want to exclude the actual notes and focus on obtaining chord progressions only, as in getting the chord changes of some particular song or tune. Perhaps you want everything… actual notes, chord changes, articulations, and dynamics too! Ear training makes it all available to you.

You can write your transcription work down on manuscript paper using standard music notation, or you might write it down in some other form on unlined or lined notebook paper for that matter! If you have a good memory, you can even skip the writing-it-down process altogether and simply keep it all in your head, as Nick did with his James Jamerson transcriptions. If you can do it, I recommend you do some of both because it’s all good!

At the time of this post, Nick is in Aruba! He’ll be starting his own page within my site soon after he returns so if you’d like to follow Nick on his page, check back in a few weeks and just type or paste his name into any search box on my site.

Remember that although your teacher or coach can point you in the direction of what work you need to do, it is YOU that has to DO the work by practicing!

Do some listening and “T” something up!

Practice well!

"Gotta get to my study room!"

AC #23 How to learn the language of jazz? Speak Like a Child!

I don’t know about you but the first word I heard as a newborn baby was probably the word “NO!” Well, maybe it was “mom” or “dad”, but “NO!” was probably very high on the list of first-heard words.

My first physical experience was probably the doctor-administered “rear-end spank” that was customarily given to newborns. Do they still do that today? That spank hurt and it made me cry, and henceforth, my connection to “blues” music was immediately solidified! (Just kidding!)

Seriously though, I chose “Speak Like a Child” to be a part this post’s title because, for me, the phrase has a special figurative significance.

When a child learns to speak English or any other spoken language, a big part of the process is spending lots of time listening to and imitating the words, phrases, and sentences being spoken by the people around them–family members in most instances. The key words here are listening and imitating.

Likewise, one of the best ways for people to learn the language of jazz is to spend lots of time listening to and imitating and even transcribing the sounds of musical ideas and phrases being played in the music you hear or by the musicians around you. The key words here are also listening and imitating.

All of the world’s best orators started off as kids learning the intricacies of speech by listening and echoing single words, short phrases, longer phrases, and sentences, etc. until eventually, the ability to compose and express their own thoughts finally took hold. The language of jazz has the same dynamic!  That is to say, all of the world’s best instrumentalists and improvisers started off as beginners who could barely make a sound on their respective instrument(s). But through the long process of listening, imitating, and learning to read in many cases, the art of self-expression finally developed and they became great players.

So if you’re not already doing it, I want to encourage you to “Speak Like a Child” and add this type of listen-and-imitate approach to your practice routine. Get in there and get started by learning to imitate some short phrases first before moving on to medium length and longer phrases. Melodies and fragments of melodies are good too! I’m going to ask a couple of my students to let me post some of their work along these lines on their student page in the near future. It really is a very effective way to learn the syntax of jazz language and to build a lexicon of phrases and vocabulary. Stay tuned.  

"Gotta get to my study room!"

AC #17: How to make your own bed then play on it!

In this post, I’ll show you a brief video of one way I make my own bed then play on it.

20 push-ups right now private!

20 push-ups right now private!

Now I’m not talking about an Army bunk kind of bed where a mean looking drill sergeant might demand twenty forearm push-ups if he or she is not able bounce a quarter off of your bed or discovers that your sheets and blankets are not “cornered” according to Army regulation specifications.

In my office right now private!

In my office right now private!

The sergeant on the right might send you to solitary confinement if she ever caught you playing on a  bed while under her command!

Beds that don’t meet code and playing on beds are bad in the Army. 


So don’t play on Army beds!  I’m talking about music beds!

No! I’m not talking about beds that play music like either of these!

Bask In Surround Sound

Bask In Surround Sound


Tune-In Bed For iPod-Lovers

OK! All kidding aside! I’ll explain.

“Music bed” is advertising industry jargon for background music (usually instrumental) that an announcer talks over in a commercial. From Coca-Cola to Pepsi-Cola, Chevrolet to Ford, Burger King to McDonalds, music beds have been used in commercials since the 1920s.  

I’m borrowing the term as it’s used in that context and applying it to the practice room where you would either play or sing your part over the background music. Think of karaoke or the music-minus-one records of decades past.

Although there are literally hundreds of sources on the Internet where you can find free and commercially available pre-made music beds, many times I find it easier, less time consuming, and very often necessary–not to mention more fun– to make my own.

There are several ways to make these types of beds and I believe that one of the easiest ways is to use MIDI technology to sequence your tracks. Then it’s time to play on your homemade bed!

For this video, I’ll use a couple of phrases from my Improv 101 class to illustrate how I have my students take a phrase and conjugate it and use it in musical sentences. This music bed is titled, “Take The I-Train“.  The “Improvisation Train” is about to leave the station. Climb on board!

That’s it! If you want to see a slightly longer version of the same video, click here. However, the short clip just above effectively and quickly summarizes the process of how I start making many of my basic music beds before I move them into other programs to enhance and fine-tune.

Although Army drill sergeants won’t encourage you to play on Army beds, I highly encourage you to play on music beds in my classes and at home because it’s an effective and fun way to practice. It’s nice to make your own beds but I often make them for my students and I can make them for you too! Check out Jeff DeLangie playing on some beds I made for the Muzio Clementi Opus36 package from my “Fun with the Classics” series.

See you next post. Practice well!


"Gotta get to my study room!"

AC #15: Improvising: Can You Improvise? Can You Learn How To Do It?

My short answer is yes! Definitely! I feel that anyone who is fluent in a spoken language, has the capacity to learn how to improvise.  The way I see it, every time you engage someone in conversation, you are using a specific type of improvisation at which you are already very skilled! You might not even give this whole idea much thought because you do it so well on a daily basis. As you learn new things throughout your life and communicate with others about the new things you’re learning, you continue to grow, develop, and fine-tune your skills of improvisation!   

Consider’s first two definitions of the word “improvise”.  

1. to compose and perform or deliver without previous preparation;
2. to compose, play, recite, or sing (verse, music, etc.) on the spur of the moment.

You don’t know exactly what you’re going to say throughout the day to each person you encounter, because in conversation, what you say is usually dependent on and relevant to what the other conversationalists say to you.

Although you may have excellent reading skills in your native language, you are not going to “read” everything you say to people in any given conversation, are you? Of course not!

You’re going to express yourself by tapping into and drawing upon the language data you’ve been storing in your own personal lexicon for years to organize and assemble your thoughts in a split second. Instantaneously, you express your thoughts by constructing words, phrases, and sentences–all within the confines of your current topic of discussion. In the context of music, the confines and current topic of discussion would be the song you’re playing at the moment. But again, you’ve been doing this for years with speaking and this all happens so fast that you don’t even think about the complexity of the process that takes place every time you speak. It is so “second nature” to us that we often take it for granted! But what you’re doing is spontaneously using all of the language data that you’ve stored in your brain to compose speech in real-time… IMPROVISING ! And you’re already very good at it! Now, all you have to do is to use those same improvisational principles and techniques and apply them to the language of music.

That’s right!  I think of music as a language and my approach to teaching musical improvisation centers around many of the same processes that you used when you were first learning to speak and improvise with your growing vocabulary and speech data. For example: in English, you have to accumulate vocabulary and do things like conjugating verbs through all of the tenses. In music, you have to accumulate vocabulary and do things like conjugating many rudimentary items through all 12-keys. Do you remember, in elementary English class, that when you learned a new word or phrase, you had to use it in a sentence in order to fully understand it? Well, that concept is alive and well in my improvisation classes. Whenever you learn a new motif or phrase, I ask you to use it in a musical sentence–preferably after you’ve done your 12-key conjugations.

My friend, the late Sammy Price, once told me that Willie “The Lion” Smith said he “would not take a musician seriously unless he or she knew at least 100 songs”. I believe in the wisdom of that statement. Imagine a person going into a foreign country equipped with only a few words and phrases from a “handy-phrase” tourist book. He or she will never be taken seriously as a speaker of that country’s language until they build up a serious vocabulary and demonstrate that they can hold a real conversation. So learn lots of tunes as you go about the business of learning to improvise.

If you practice your lessons well every day, your improvisation skills will improve and you will begin to witness your own growth as a musician. Stay on it!

“You have to practice improvisation, let no one kid you about it!” – Art Tatum

By the way, Jeff DeLangie, a very wonderful player and student of mine from several years ago, has found his way back to me and he’s asked that we center our work around jazz theory and improvisation.  Jeff has agreed to let me share his journey with you as periodic video posts. So check in from time to time and type his name into any search box on my site to view his progress on various homework assignments, songs, and special projects. 

Now if you need some help and you’d like to have some fun while we go about the serious business of working on your musicianship, don’t hesitate to contact me so we can get busy!

Here’s a quick recap of what Ray Charles once said about practice…   

See you next post… practice well!