As jazz musicians, we dream of becoming great soloists. For the vast majority of musicians that is the ultimate goal to achieve. However, it is not an easy task, and very few get to fulfill that desired dream.
In my experience as a performer and educator, I’ve found that lack of discipline has a lot to do with the low rate of becoming successful as an improviser. It’s not the information received, the instrument or that “I’m not talented enough.”
In most cases, the difference is in how the student approaches the information he or she is getting through different music education outlets.
How disciplined, patient, and organized that student is on working the material obtained, is going to make a huge difference.
There is an excellent quote from the great late Elvin Jones, who on an interview gave one of the most valuable pieces of advice for the younger generation of soloists.
He said: “Discipline, only through discipline you’ll get true freedom.”
Ever since I read that, it has become my mojo when practicing improvisation. I have to tell you, it has made a significant change in my development as a professional musician.
When I talk about discipline, I’m not talking about practicing everyday day for 8 hours.
That’s great if you have the time. However, I’m talking about discipline and organization with the material you practice. You can achieve more by practicing less if it is a well thought out, organized and disciplined routine.
If our material is disorganized, our goals are not clear, and we don’t stick to a plan, we are just wasting our time.
So, I’m going to share with you two tips to fix some of the most common mistakes made when practicing improvisation and learning new vocabulary. I’ll give you some thoughts to help you get the most out of your practice time and make discipline and organization habits a top priority.
1. Avoid Saturating Yourself With Information
This is the most common mistake I find in all my students. They tell me they are going to check out Philly Joe Jones and the next week I see them transcribing the latest Justin Brown solo they found online. Which is great, but if you keep losing your focus it becomes a habit, and you’ll get no results.
They’re listening to 200 records at the same time, which may be okay, but if we are looking to improve and learn new vocabulary, covering too much will not be helpful.
With all the access to information we have nowadays with the internet, it is so easy to lose the focus on our real goals and needs. We get caught up following the new trends and hot players and all the craziness of the social media world.
Here is when a disciplined attitude and routine comes in handy. Reduced the amount of information you’re getting.
Stick to one or two musicians for a while, and I’m not talking about weeks, but months. Commit to it and get the most out of it.
Choose only a couple of recordings from those artists and only listen to that. Sign out from that music streaming service, and save those two records in your music player. Avoid outside distraction. You have to see yourself as on a mission. No time for fooling around, you’re here to achieve a goal.
Remember, the process of studying the jazz masters has two steps.
First, the learning process, in which we absorb the licks, the language and most importantly the vibe of that player.
Then we have the creative process, in which we figure out what we can do with the material we’ve absorbed. These are the most important steps because in them we make the things we’ve learned ours.
Those processes are not achievable in a matter of weeks; it takes months or even years to reach that point. So patience and discipline are vital.
Don’t worry, you’re not neglecting any other aspect of improvisation. Everything is connected. Take little steps, be patience. Every small step you take prepares you for the next one. Don’t try to run a marathon the first day you buy your running shoes; you’ll end up in the hospital.
2. Narrow Down The Things You Take To The Practice Room
This is related to the previous point we discussed. But once we figure out which musicians we want to emulate and learn from, we also need to filter down what we want to get from them.
Keep in mind what you want and stick to the plan, but this time in a more specific way. I’ll give you an example.
At some point in my college years, once I passed my bebop head phase, I started checking out Elvin Jones and Tony Williams. Those were the two musicians I chose to emulate and learn from. However, they are great players and have a lot to offer. You have to take it step-by-step and find what it is about them that moves you.
So I decided, I was going to study Tony Williams for up-tempo playing and straight 8th’s. I was going to study Elvin Jones for brushes and mid-tempo playing because I love his triplet-based approach to phrasing.
That way of organizing my routine gave me a clear goal and made my decision to choose the records I wanted to listen to easy.
It narrowed down the things I was going to transcribe and practice.
Sticking to this plan was not always easy. But I made the effort of not letting myself get off track, and the rewards were worth it.
So, listen to your favorite jazz musicians and discover what moves you. Commit to it, stay focused, and be patient.
Some of this may seem like common sense, but most people are not organized, disciplined and patient enough to commit and stick to a plan for more prolonged periods of time.
I have to confess, I’ve been guilty of the same mistake. But one day it hit me, I made an effort to change, and the results were incredible.
Set clear goals, take one step at a time, and don’t try to cover too much. Narrow down your routines, and stay disciplined to your ideas. Be patient because the results will take some time, but they’ll surely come.
Remember, three keywords: DISCIPLINE, ORGANIZATION, and PATIENCE.
Hope this was helpful. Remember to leave your comments or questions down below in the comment section. Or if you prefer, you can follow and reach me on my social media profiles INSTAGRAM or FACEBOOK and leave your thoughts or doubts.