Sunday, April 6, 2008

When All Else Fails

Here are my ideas for what to practice when you just don't know what else to practice, or you don't "feel" like doing certain things. Basically, my plan to is compile a complete list, then find the one I most "feel" like doing, or at the very least, can tolerate long enough to complete. This list is officially a work in progress.

1) Circle of Fifths
There really isn't such a thing as "practicing the circle of fifths". I put it first because it has been recommended to me - both in my lessons and in many of my lesson materials - that whenever doing drills, a jazz musician will want to be able to do all the things he or she has to do in all twelve possible keys. The best way to cover all twelve possible keys is to do an exercise and go around the circle of fifths. So, any of the practice list items should start in any particular key and then be repeated following the circle of fifths. Go to Google and search images for "Circle of Fifths". Print out whichever chart you feel comfortable with. Have it laminated and keep it by your piano. (You won't need it for more than a month or two before you have the circle of fifths memorized anyway.)

2) Hanon
Virtuoso pianist book or any of the jazz Hanon books available. Pick one out, play through the exercises.

3) Any other drill book you like
There are a million of them, maybe more. Doesn't matter. Just play.

4) Scales
Try improvising on a major scale, or a minor scale, or a blues scale. Try to duplicate the melody through the circle of fifths. I like to play the major scales like Levine recommends in The Jazz Piano Book, moving each scale through all the modes so that you end up starting and ending each scale on a different note. Then, after going up, going down. Then, to the next key in the circle. This week I've been practicing blues scales in all the keys. Surprisingly, it isn't hard and the blues scales are not as dreadful to listen to as straight up and down major and minor scales.

5) Rhythm practice
Get out the metronome or drum machine. Run your scales in straight eighth notes, or play your drills at various speeds. Make sure the notes are right and you are on the rhythm. Enlist a friend or familiy member to listen and tell you if you are on the beat or not. (Surprisingly, I often think I'm "right there" when I'm not, usually because I'm concentrating so hard on the music.) I also like to get out a CD of a song or two and play along, especially trying to keep the melody and comping going during the solos. I can alway tell if I kept the beat or not if I come back to the head at the same time as they do.

Those are the ideas I have for now. I'll post more the next time I hit the wall.

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