Practice This!

Sponsored by The Seattle Drum School and organized by David Marriott.

Practice This! is an educational project of Earshot Jazz with sponsorship from The Seattle Drum School. Each month in Earshot Jazz a new lesson by a different local jazz artist will appear for students to learn from and for non-musician readers to gain insight into the craft of improvising.

Practice This!
February 2009

Two Years, Twenty Tips

It’s been two years since the first edition of Practice This! appeared in Earshot Jazz, so we thought it was time to compile some golden nuggets from the many talented musicians who have lent us their time, insight, and knowledge. If making practicing a priority was one of your New Year’s resolutions, you’d be hard pressed to find a better place to start than this group of tips and ideas:

1. Practice everything in all twelve keys. (Bill Anschell, April 2007)

2. The first step is to familiarize yourself with the chord tones in a linear fashion throughout the range of your instrument. (Chris Spencer, March 2007)

3. The key to using a scale is to learn them in every key and to get comfortable enough with them to play them starting on any note of the scale and on every chord tone. (Jay Thomas, February 2007)

4. As a daily exercise, take your instrument and create sounds you have never produced before. (Neil Welch, December 2008)

5. We know our own comfort zone, so with the risk of possibly making a mistake, try a different combination of notes, play something you might normally play but in reverse, play something soft instead of loud. (Paul Rucker, December 2007)

6. Attack your weaknesses. (Bill Anschell, April 2007)

7. You can get bogged down with patterns and scales and all the nuts and bolts of playing an instrument and forget the bigger picture of playing music, which is to convey something to the listener. For most musicians, style is the way they get their message across. (Mark Taylor, July 2007)

8. When improvising, I like to use the intervals in the melody of a tune to play off of. If the last two notes of a tune’s melody are an interesting interval, rather than just using the last two notes as a starting place to improvise, I can think of the interval between those two notes as a starting point. (Dawn Clement, June 2007)

9. One way to practice using space is to try to play things that you don’t already hear in your head, that is not already lodged in your mind. Then, you can make each of your musical collaborations a conversation, fresh and new. (Hans Teuber, October 2007)

10. Instead of changing the melody of the tune and improvising a new melody, which is the common practice among jazz improvisers, you can start with just changing the rhythm of the melody. (Greta Matassa, November 2007)

11. Practice staying out of the upper register of the instrument until you need to create excitement in the solo. Going from low to high is one of the easiest ways to create excitement. (Rick Mandyck, January 2007)

12. Focus less on note choices and more on playing with a good time feel (and remember that swing feel is triplet based). (Dave Anderson, October 2008)

13. Try devoting part of your practice time to developing a direct line of communication between what you hear and the physical act of playing your instrument. (Steve Treseler, August 2008)

14. Explore the full range of grooves and feels, instrumentation, and musical possibilities you have at your disposal. (Thomas Marriott, June 2008)

15. Start recording yourself on some level. Record with your voice, or primary instrument, or whatever makes you feel comfortable. (Kevin Nortness, May 2008)

16. Anyone can improvise by stretching the time and playing in different tempos, but it’s important to keep your place in the tune and maintain a sense of the pulse with the rest of the band. (Steve Korn, May 2007)

17. Whatever a band is trying to do, all the members have to work together to achieve that specific goal. (Marc Seales, August 2007)

18. Be sure to practice the tunes you like in a variety of styles and tempos. (Marc Fendel, April 2008)

19. Remember that by intentionally doing these things when you practice, you are training your intuitive ear to hear this way; the idea is not to think this way while improvising, but to spontaneously create the same drama. (David Marriott, September 2008)

20. Gravitate towards what it is you like and investigate that. Be open to new things and to experiencing new forms of expression. (Stuart MacDonald, September 2007)

Wow! I don’t know about you, but I’m inspired to practice just writing this article! If you’d like to read any of the complete articles, or to play the corresponding audio and video clips, they are all available online at We’d love to hear your suggestions – if there is a local artist you’d like to have discuss practice strategies and techniques, let us know! Until next month, here are our twenty tips from two years of Practice This! to get you going in 2009.

- David Marriott

Earshot Jazz is a Seattle based nonprofit music, arts and service organization formed in 1984 to support jazz and increase awareness in the community.  Earshot Jazz publishes a monthly newsletter, presents creative music and educational programs, assists jazz artists, increases listenership, complements existing services and programs, and networks with the national and international jazz community.
©2008 Earshot Jazz, Seattle, Washington