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Almost 2010…. ( December 22, 2009 )

I will try to add stuff to this blog in 2010! This is my New Years resolution!

So, what is new? How about my demo for the new Yamaha CP-1? It is called "Simple 73" and you can find it under "Demo Songs" on the right hand side of the page if you scroll down. Sounds like a real rhodes, eh? I did this in 3 hours locked in the CRD studio at Yamaha Corp. in Buena Park using a prototype CP-1 and Cubase 5.

This is a truly amazing product and has thoroughly been messing me up lately...it is an super great feeling, killer sounding instrument all the way around. Killer pianos, killer electric pianos...so happy to have it in my possession right now!

Also, I did another demo called "The Road" for the CP-5 and CP-50 that you can find here. The goal here was to get the low end "bark" that you get on a real rhodes.

Check it out!

The Metronome and Time Feel ( November 26, 2007 )

The Metronome and Time Feel

Music is a temporal art, meaning that it takes place over the progression of time. And that time period should feel good to both players and listeners. If it doesn't feel good, if feels like time wasted. Without a doubt, one of the most important aspects of playing any groove-based music, especially jazz, is good time. You can have all the technique ("chops") in the world, be able to play everything you know in all keys, but if you have bad time, you will always sound bad. Without a good time feel and the ability to play well at a variety of tempos, an the improvising musician will never make it happen.

So how do you develop good time? The first thing you have to do is listen to music with that really swings an grooves. The musical recommendations below are all about great time feel. But the second thing that you must do in order to help you time feel is PRACTICE WITH A METRONOME! I am always surprised when students come to me wanting to learn jazz piano and either don't have a metronome or if they do, they never use it. It is imperative to devote some of your practice time playing in time and the metronome is easiest way to accomplish that.

There are many ways of working with the metronome. Here are 5 basic suggestions:

1. Play your scales as quarter notes slowly with the metronome set 60 at beats per minute (bpm). You will be surprised how hard that is. If you keep messing up, drop the tempo.

2. Play to the half note. So, if you set your metronome at 60 bpm, the tempo will be 120. Again, if this is too fast, slow it down.

3. Alternate the strong beats of 1 and 3, then change that to 2 and 4.

4. With the metronome set on a slower tempo, play eighth notes, then sixteenth notes. Slow down if the tempo you choose is too fast.

5. Try playing with other subdivisions like half, quarter, or eighth note triplets.

One quick thing about practicing SLOW: It is really important that if you keep messing up a scale or melody or lick or whatever, you should SLOW DOWN. Wynton Marsalis once said during a clinic I saw that when you keep messing up a line because the tempo is too fast you will end up practicing mistakes. Don't practice mistakes--SLOW DOWN. You will find that if you practice slowly and correctly you will be able to play it faster and faster because you are building muscle/brain memory. So--PRACTICE SLOWLY!

Here are some musical recommendations that are all about TIME FEEL:

1. "Workin", "Steamin', "Cookin", and/or "Relaxin" with the Miles Davis Quintet. 2 days with the Miles Davis Quintet recorded on these 4 albums in 1956 on the 11th of May and the 26th of October. Miles Davis: Trumpet, Julian "Cannonball" Adderly: Alto Saxophone, John Coltrane: Tenor Saxophone, Philly Joe Jones: Drums, Paul Chambers: Bass, and Red Garland: Piano. These are great swinging records that are all about swing feel. Here is a wiki entry about Cookin'
2. "Twentieth Century Masters Millennium Collection: Best of James Brown" James Brown was called the godfather of soul for a reason. These recordings are a must have for anyone who wants to hear what groove is all about. "Cold Sweat" and "Get Up I Feel Like Being a Sex Machine" completely blew my mind when I first heard them as a kid. Here is a wiki entry about James Brown




Musicians… ( November 25, 2007 )

I am dedicating this part of my website to the concepts behind the practice and performance of improvised music. Some of this information will be practical, with exercises I have learned, tunes I find that illustrate an idea, concepts about practicing, etc., and some information will be philosophical. I hope that anyone practicing or playing will find this information useful to their ongoing efforts to become better improvisational musicians.

One thing I like to ask students or fellow musicians is why do any of us want to play a musical instrument anyway? For children and young adults, the answer is many times "because my mother/father want me to learn a musical instrument". For a person who plays and practices, there is generally no answer except, "because I must.". The person who answers in this way has the musicians attitude. To me, to be called a "musician" means something very specific. The dictionary defines it this way:

musician |myoōˈzi sh ən|
noun
a person who is talented or skilled in music : "your father was a fine musician."
• a person who plays a musical instrument, esp. professionally : "aspiring rock and pop musicians."

I think it actually goes a bit deeper: A musician is a person who is actively engaged and dedicated to the ongoing practice and performance of music. Musicians don't have to earn the majority of their money through gigs (though many do), but a musician is simply playing as much as possible and really striving to get better. This is different from someone who occasionally picks up a guitar and strums a few bar chords. My goal for myself is to become a better musician--specifically, a better improvising musician--and my goal for my students is to help them become real practitioners of improvised music and not just someone who plinks around on a piano once in awhile.

Dedicated practice is the true pathway towards becoming a better improvisational musician. It certainly seems to be an overly obvious observation, but it is a sad fact that many who call themselves or want to be musicians do not or cannot practice very much. Most simply do not make the time because practice seems like too much work. Others just don't know how to practice and are "stuck". I think practicing should be thought of as play, not as work. Application is the key. When I practice some exercise, I always try to apply that exercise in a musical way. This way my practicing sessions become an artful musical experience rather than a simple exercise. This makes any amount of time spent on practicing worthwhile and "un-sticks the stuck".

Remember this basic rule: The QUALITY of a practice session is much, much more important than the QUANTITY. I know people who say they practice for 4 hours a day and never get better. Conversely, I know musicians who practice 15-30 minutes every day and seem to get better each time I hear them. The difference is one has figured out how to apply their practice to the music and the other has not. Simply running scales over and over will not make someone a better musician. Technical fluency is important, but being musical is much more important.

I want to end all of my blog entries with a recommended recording that I think everyone should have. Most of these will be jazz recordings, but not all of them. When anyone takes a lesson with me I always ask them "Do you have the Miles Davis recording "Kind of Blue?". So, for my first recording recommendation, I offer this 1959 recording by Miles Davis. Make sure you own a copy of this record! It is a wonderful introduction to all the greatest aspects of improvised music and something that both beginners and seasoned professionals never tire of listening to. Go to this address:

Kind of Blue

to read about this record.

Peace,

Blake

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