A part of playing what is fun about Jazz is that you keep getting better at it and enjoy the new things you learn.
But sometimes you feel like you are not getting anywhere and it gets harder and harder to keep going and stay motivated and that is what I want to talk about using my Jazz guitar practice habits and horror stories as examples.
#1 Don’t Practice
If you are not practicing you are not going to get better fast. For me, it is easier to practice if I have a steady time to do so, and usually, that is in the morning after maybe bringing the kids to school and shopping. Then I can sit down with my guitar and a cup of coffee to get started with some technique. I try to have some things that I do every day and then a lot of things that I can change and vary to keep my mind, my ears, and fingers awake.
You might be in a period where it is difficult to find a regular time or to practice or maybe just time at all, and if it is difficult to be motivated to practice then make sure to focus on the fun things first so that you are playing. Once you build habits then you can become more focused on covering everything you want to practice while also allowing you to have fun.
Lately, I realized that I don’t spend too much time on chords in my practice, probably that was not a problem until COVID because I was anyway comping for several hours every week on different gigs, but now I started to add some chords in there because it felt like that was slipping away.
My point with that is that a practice routine should not be static you want to adjust it according to how things are going, something that I will talk more about later in this video.
#2 Not Getting Far Enough
Maybe, like me, you have the discipline to go through some sort of regular schedule and you are used to practicing, but then you can get stuck by falling into another trap.
If everything you practice is only played as an exercise and not really put to use in the music you play, or maybe you don’t even practice playing music regularly, you may be wasting quite a lot of time.
If you think about it it is pretty obvious, just learning to play up and down the pentatonic scale doesn’t make you the next Stevie Ray Vaughan. You need to learn how to make it sound good as well, and that part does not come by itself. It is a part of what you need to practice.
Improvising over an altered dominant is not that different. You need to do more than just practice the melodic minor scale.
In my practice this is mostly about doing two things: 1 – writing lines with what I practice or what I want to add to my vocabulary and 2 – Making sure I can use to use this while soloing on a song. I think you need both of these steps, and you should always look at whether you can use the material you practice in solos, otherwise, why are you practicing it?
If you want some general ideas for beginning Jazz, then check out this post:
How To Learn Jazz Guitar – Suggestions To Begin Studying
Another aspect of getting things far enough is that you also need to practice making music and not just sounding like an exercise, so that you can sometimes play with more space, vocal-like melodies, and not always just spell out all the changes and try to play the “correct” arpeggio.
#3 Always Playing The Same Things
A thing that I have found myself doing is getting stuck with the same things, these can be the same exercises that you don’t improve on or it can be always playing the same song, not challenging yourself to expand your vocabulary, places where you can use that vocabulary. It can be in terms of tempo but it can also be in terms of songs, keys, chord progressions.
This is something I try to catch whenever I can, and it can be tricky to figure out if you need to go to another song or break up the technique schedule that you are really used to, but doing so every now and again is very healthy for your playing and always doing the same things can be very inefficient even though they are nicely automatic and doesn’t require much effort.
So if you are only practicing one song, like a blues, or like me playing Out Of Nowhere way too often then it is time to change things up and make sure that your musical diet is healthy and varied.
#4 Don’t Know Enough Songs
The easiest way to learn to improvise freely on harmony is to learn a lot of songs.
I have talked about this quite often, and it ties together all the things I already talked about in this video. Studying songs is where you put it all to use, you learn how to play over the important chord progressions, harmonizing melodies, using chord voicings with the right extensions, and also tying it all together in a story, when to play a vocal melody, a bebop line or something more abstract and modern.
Learning songs and playing songs is where everything you practice comes together and where your artistic and personal take on the music is created, don’t rob yourself of that.
For me, it is about sitting down and playing a song from start to finish and really get the whole thing to make sense as if I am playing in a band. I sometimes find it difficult to practice like that but it is also the place where you are really in the zone and new things can happen.
If you are looking for songs to explore I will link to a list of 50 Jazz Standards that are really useful to have in your repertoire, and Misty is not on that list.
#5 Information Overload
When I was starting out trying to learn Jazz, I didn’t have internet and the library only had David Baker books on Jazz that I didn’t like and also were not useful for me. Most of the music came from borrowing the few LP’s and CDs available at the library. At the same time, compared to my teachers I actually had a ton of information available, they were wearing out singles and using the radio.
I also remember seeing David Liebman’s “A chromatic approach to jazz harmony” and buying that because Pat Metheny recommended it, even though at that time I couldn’t even play a solo on Autumn Leaves, and that is also a good description of how useful that was at that moment.
Today you have everything a few google searches away and can pretty much find information about anything about Jazz at all levels, but we end up with another problem, overload. It is impossible to choose and you never know who to trust and what fits together. Even on my channel the amount of videos is so immense that it is hard to navigate.
The important thing is probably to try to stick with songs as smaller end goals because they are practical and will help you gradually develop and use your skills. I have a post where I talk about this on my website, I will link to it in the video description.
That is also one of the reasons I decided to create my course the Jazz Guitar Roadmap because in that type of content you can go step-by-step for a longer period of time something that would never work on YouTube where nobody watches part 2 of anything, and certainly not part 43 of 67 videos.
The Jazz Standards You Want To Know
It is important that you develop your skills for soloing over chord changes and if you check out this video then you can learn to nail the changes and have an easier time learning songs, which will really boost the development of your skills as a Jazz guitarist, or musician, would that be Jazz guitarist AND musician? I don’t know…
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