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Worst Advice for Learning Jazz

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There’s a lot of people giving you advice on how to learn jazz on the internet and elsewhere, that sometimes it’s just, quite frankly, not good.

So, in today’s video, I’m going to go over some of the worst advice I’ve heard for learning jazz so that you can avoid it and do the right things instead.

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Brent Vaartstra
Brent Vaartstra is a professional jazz guitarist and educator living in New York City. He is the head blogger and podcast host for which he owns and operates. He actively performs around the New York metropolitan area and is the author of the Hal Leonard publication "Visual Improvisation for Jazz Guitar." He's also the host of the music entrepreneurship podcast "Passive Income Musician."


  1. Hahahaha! Please excuse me deriving entertainment on such serious subject , but we
    can def all lighten up a little these days in
    general no?
    Agree with most of above , dont think any big
    disagreement going on here , just nuance to
    th conversation.
    Of course pull charts out if y gotta , & check
    out the real deal when time allows.
    Biggest jazz mistake U make , B , is being
    handsome. I ain’t gay but U way too good
    looking for this , just sayin , its like we friends
    already , i went to jazz school too , working
    in China now , but will come visit 1 day..
    My latest thought , as a pop covers band guy
    is my music vocab needs to be informed from
    classical , jazz , rock & country – & if U get
    to be a specialist in anything , that’s a luxury
    to be enjoyed. If U gotta be more general ,
    then is what it is – just thanx again Brent for
    providing something really cool & essential
    , R E S P E C T

  2. Its good to encourage people to develop their musical ear but you are missing out on the reality of the way humans minds learn. For people to do what you suggest, they already need to have achieved a good level of understanding, dexterity and technical competence. To do what you suggest and remain motivated people need to be able to position this challenge within a clear learning plan. Its what I call the curse of knowledge, you have learned to do something well and forget that others are somewhere else on the learning curve. Maybe even missing some of the basics. It would be helpful if you could set out some signposts to guide the learning steps or maybe you already have.

    • Hi Dennis, certainly not assuming that people have these skills already, nor am I suggesting that using apps or sheet music has no place to be used as a tool. But in my experience, if you want to develop a skill, you simply have to start attempting to do it. There are no magic tricks. That being said, my blog, podcast, and YouTube channel are full of tips, strategies, and tactics to help people do this. That's what I do for a living!

  3. Having been at this for several decades, I think you raise some good points, but you I think you've oversimplified it. For example, learning songs off the recording is a good idea, but it's extremely time consuming. I would never have had the time to do gigs if I didn't use sheet music and became a good reader. However, I do regret that I continued to stare at a lead sheet after I knew the tune because in that context it became a distraction. The jazz greats (Parker, Coltrane, etc.) studied scores by Stravinsky and Ravel – they didn't just pick up an instrument and play. And of course if you want to publish songs, it's a must. Granted, I learned in the era when a popular joke was "how do you shut up a guitar player? Put sheet music in front of him/her".

    • Hey Jim, agreed, it is timeconsuming. I'm simply advocating learning by ear be a primary source of learning a tune, and apps and sheet music being additional tools. Absolutely, sometimes it's necessary to pull out sheet music especially if you don't have time to learn the music before a gig.

  4. Don't knock fake books – they serve a valid use for a jazz musician . Example ; say you get a last minute call for a gig and they give you a set list and it's 3 hours before showtime. You do not know 8 of the songs – what do you do ? I'd get out my trusty Fake Books , listen to the songs on U-tube and go for it . At least you'll have a clue to the chords . Just listening to a piece will not work for everything . Music comes in handy . Say you want to play "Rhapsody In Blue " . I tried at a young age to learn it from a record for over a year , got the music and had it in 4 months well enough to play it with my University orchestra .

    • They absolutely serve as a valid use. I'm simply advocating to learn tunes primarily by ear, and considering fakebooks and apps as tools and not primary sources. But having to play a tune you don't know on a gig is not learning it, that's called survival mode.

  5. I agree with everything except the last point about "learning random stuff from YouTube". You make it sound like anyone watching instructional vids on YouTube is going to necessarily be doing so in a way that's superficial, but that isn't how it needs to be – you can watch a "random video", internalise the method or whatever it is the video covers, then move on to the next. Not to mention it comes off as a brazen plug for your own courses. I love your work and I think you talk a lot of sense, but I can't agree with the last point. Happy 2020 Brent!

    • Hey Natasha, I can understand your perspective. Yes, I shamelessly do plug my courses, but that's because I believe that courses are a great way to make real in-depth progress, vs just finding an isolated concept and moving to the next. That being said, I obviously create a lot of content and believe it is valuable for people, otherwise, I wouldn't make it.

  6. I don´t think using a fake book is such an horrable idea to learn jazz standards. As a non professional piano player I would say it is an useful additional source to analyse and understand the format and chord progressions in a tune. Of course it makes sense to listen first to a song, try to sing the melody etc. But one needs a solide knowledge of jazz theory/harmony and good ears to play the song on your instrument like a pro without using any sheet music. Some harmonies, chord progressions in fake books may be wrong or different (I use occasionally also a fake book from a known jazz university, which shows a number of reharm possibilities). And what are the correct or best harmonies in a song, are these only harmonies from the original version ?. Maybe not. Maybe others sound better in your ears. I think one should try what is best for you and what makes fun.

    • Hey Friedrich, fake books and iReal Pro are not bad at all. I'm just an advocate for using your ear primarily and those other things as tools. As long as it is a tool and not a crutch, you are good to go!


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