Being someone who plays mostly experimental and free jazz gigs these days, one of the things that I’m discovering during this COVID-19 period is the importance of working on my jazz skills. Yes, that four-letter-word! Time permitting, this is something I typically work on even when not in lockdown. Folks often look at me side-eyed when I tell them that what I work on most is playing over standards and honing jazz my vocabulary. It’s true. I can only spend but so much time attaching things to my instrument. I still have to address the fundamentals.
Even though I self-identify as an artist or even an experimentalist, the root of it all is jazz.
Here are the three category of things I like to practice:
1. LICKS/PATTERNS: many shun this sort of thing, but practicing these types of ideas in different keys at different tempos is an excellent form of study.
A few benefits:
- instrumental control
- command of musical vocabulary
- aural skill development
- rhythmic clarity
2. PLAYING STANDARDS: working your way through a set of chord changes with a rhythm section providing some steady swing underneath you is a great way to improve your harmonic understanding, rhythmic sharpness, and melodic clarity. Not to mention the added benefit of learning how to swing. With all of the backing tracks available on YouTube, it’s a fun way to spend a lot of time with your instrument, while continuing to hone your ability to interact with other players in real-time.
3. ETUDES: shedding etudes is a great form of objective practice. You can hone specifics like different fingerings, intonation, and overall instrument dexterity. The great thing about etudes is that you can isolate specific parts of a piece and still reap tremendous benefits.
These things aid into doing one thing: enabling your ideas to flow freely and effortlessly--especially during these times when playing with others is limited. You must see these things as a means to becoming a better improviser, not necessarily as a means to becoming a great jazz musician. However, if you can both...Hooray!