August 22, 2018

Train your ears to unleash the jazz improviser in you

Listening and playing are the core of jazz experience

Let‘s say you‘ve done your homework, learned all the theories, finished all courses and you‘re finally confident in your jazz music education. Now is the time for your solo fly and you are looking for your own, unique approach to the endless opportunities of the big jazz scene. You want to find your own voice. As it turns out, in order to find it, you need to learn to hear it first. Your voice, that is.

Any master will tell you that learning to listen the right way, the deep, understanding way, is one of the paramount first steps in finding your path to greatness.

You need to listen intently (the “jazz ear training” method), ask yourself the right questions, know what and who to listen to, experiment with the knowledge you‘ve gained through listening.

According to Don Braden there are two main keys learning the soul of jazz:  listening a lot and playing a lot.


Don Braden, Jazz Workshop in Groove Atelier

As in everything else in life – to really appreciate it, you have to know its core. In this case the first step is embracing the idea of jazz music as a collective art of expression. Know and hear your expressions and those of your band mates. Open up your ears and know the soul of what you want to express. Hear the voice of every other instrument playing beside you.

Listening can mean a lot of things – listening directly and checking out the masters; listening to yourself; open up your ears for the rhythm section – the foundation to everything that is the magic of jazz.

You need to learn to listen to music with intention and to connect your ear to your instrument  in order to become your own instrument. Because the melodies and rhythms that you improvise should come from the sound in your ear, the internal sound you hear and need to express.

What does intentional listening mean exactly?

Basically you set aside sacred time that you only listen, ingest and give it your full attention. Allow the music to become your main focus, meditate on it if you wish. The only place you want your conscious mind to be is on the music. Once you are there, you can channel your stream of consciousness to an internal dialogue: what song are you listening to; how is the song structured; can you identify the chord progression; who are the band members and do you recognize their sound; how does the song make you feel; what’s in its soul?

Other greatly efficient way of ear opening is to study a simple chord chart then find and listen how other musicians improvise the same melody. Find the differences, sense and most importantly hear the subtle nuances of seemingly the same tunes.

Each and every one of those musicians you admire has their own way of interpreting and expressing tunes blending them with different feelings, moods, views. Only when  you learn to hear these differences you will be able to make them in your own music, your own voice.

Once you hear that inner voice you’ll be able to find the musician inside of you – not the lessons, the right notes, the following of the blues form: just you and the melody in your ear.

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