Practice Pt III - Acquiring Language

How did you learn to speak? If you are like most people, you were consumed with sounds and after about six months you tried to copy those sounds. It took awhile, but after another 3-6 months of trying you were finally able to form a few sounds that were considered words. This elicited a reaction so delightful that you copied more sounds and eventually you were able to communicate ideas. After years of developing language, you were finally taught things like nouns and verbs, and adjectives. But now, when you speak you probably aren't even thinking about all of that - you just speak. This is a a very effective way to learn language. Think about how many words you learned this way. In fact, you have probably learned a few words I wish you hadn't!


You need to spend time consuming the jazz language if you have any chance of sounding like you speak the language yourself. To be clear, what I mean by jazz language is licks and phrases that are common to jazz musicians. Your practice sessions need to include intentional time that you are working on learning these ideas and working them through a variety of keys on your instrument.


So one of the first questions is where do we learn all of this language. It starts with consuming good content. This means intentional listening, it means playing transcriptions, and it means transcribing solos or at least ideas from solos yourself. This connection is the same with writing and literature. Good writers read other good authors. They consume and are students of the very best books that have every been written.


In my view there are two basic ways to develop better language, and both apply to how we consume content. First, you can start by simply playing jazz transcriptions. Before I could transcribe my own ideas I played out of the Charlie Parker Omni Book. This is similar to authors reading good books. By playing through these solos, you are becoming more familiar with the way artists improvise. Even better - star a few phrases that you really like and work to incorporate them into your solos. Memorize them, and even begin to transpose them into different keys.


The other way is by using your ears and copy ideas straight from the recordings. The transcription process is sort of like the flaming hoop of death for improvisers. It is a coming of age process that truly separates the successful improvisers from the rest of the pack. You don't have to transcribe full solos to start. Begin with a lick or a phrase that you really like and attempt to learn it on your instrument. I have included a variety of these "standard" licks in recorded format in the members only section. A great way to start is to learn a few of those and begin to work them in a few different keys.


Spending 5-10 minutes a day on intentional acquiring, refining, and applying jazz language will make a significant difference in your ability to convey clear ideas that are steeped in the tradition and language of jazz. Without a deep vocabulary of these common phrases, you are just as coherent as a mumbling baby!

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