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How self-discipline can make you a better jazz player

My book Self-Discipline Superpower is sparking some interesting conversations. Thank you to those who have added to that conversation.

I’ve been thinking…

There seems to be a connection between self-discipline and authentic (real, personal, true, etc.) jazz playing. I’ve been talking a lot recently (for years, actually) about the difference between playing notes and playing music.

Jazz has become a worship of the mechanics to play high, fast, and loud, and not enough on playing the authentic imagined musical lines we hear in our head. I blame those schools that teach jazz in the traditional mechanized manner of math and science, and also the proliferation of online teaching focused more on the visual than what we hear. Eyes over ears.

In my Jazz Master interviews, I like to ask about the role of courage in being artistically authentic. And I think equally important is the self-discipline that can focus you to find and then be true to that inner musical voice.

It’s so tempting to imitate others, and at our early stages of musical development, imitation plays an important role. But as we mature and get to know ourselves much better, we develop our own musical voice.

I think self-discipline gives us a tool that keeps us true to that inner musical voice, which is especially hard precisely because it WILL be different from others.

Mankind has been around for a quarter-million years and throughout 99.99% of that time, our survival depended on not standing out from the group or tribe. Going out on a limb or expressing one’s individuality was life-threatening.

Self-discipline (and courage) can help you choose to break from that evolutionary urge and refuse to succumb to the temptation of sounding like others or like you are told you are supposed to sound. After all, this is jazz.

When someone shares with me that they wish they could tell better and more interesting stories with their improvisation, my first reaction is that they are trying to tell those stories through imitating the voice they hear in other musicians-the way they’re told to sound. That’s actually hard to do.

Unless you are a really good actor, it’s hard to tell in words an interesting story if you are trying to impersonate a famous person’s speaking style. Quick, tell a cool story sounding like SpongeBob. Your emphasis will be on the speech mannerisms rather than the content.

I’m not offering this advice to beginning jazz players or people just starting on their instrument. I’m talking to you if you have developed a certain level of technical proficiency on your instrument and have listened to enough jazz to at least know the fundamental language.

You can’t tell a good spoken story if you don’t have a sufficient vocabulary.

Try this experiment:

I’ve created a collection of various backing tracks consisting of 1, 2, 3, or 4-chord loops. These are meant to be simple harmonies for you to take your time to really hear the harmony. This collection is called Groovz Playground. Click the image below to register for free or sign into your account on MusicSavvy.com to gain free access to Groovz Playground. The way to use these tracks and the helpful notation tips will be explained in the introductory ‘lesson.’

 

Pick a track then record yourself playing a musical statement over this rhythm track. Play as fast or slow as you wish. Speed is not the criteria for quality. Play as harmonically simple or complex as you wish. Harmonic complexity is also not the criteria. No one but you ever needs to hear your recording.

The criteria for this exercise is simply to sound like YOU. Play in a way that you or someone who knows you could identify the playing as only coming from you. Listen to the recording and be ruthlessly honest with yourself. Were you trying to sound like something? The word ‘trying’ is key. Were you thinking of what to play or were you just playing? Were you simply expressing yourself regardless of its conformity to others?

My friend Dr. Rodney Brim, a psychologist and musician, shared with me an exercise he thought of. And this might help if you are thinking about what note to play next or having trouble NOT sounding like the status quo.

Rodney’s exercise is to think of someone you know, and how you, not others would describe them. Then express that in 3 or more musical phrases on your instrument. What is the sound of their personality? Can you play hints of that over one of the above backing tracks or over Bb blues or a cappella?

Yes, go ahead and play super fast, just don’t play fast because John Coltrane or Clifford brown played fast. Play a lot of notes only if it needs a lot of notes. Play long notes only if it needs long notes.

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Inception
Cinematic @ 68 bpm
Inception
Cinematic @ 68 bpm
Milky Way
Ethereal @ 100 bpm
Milky Way
Ethereal @ 100 bpm
I-VI-II-V
Jazz @ 140 bpm
I-VI-II-V
Jazz @ 140 bpm
Caribbean Express
Salsa @ 165 bpm
Caribbean Express
Salsa @ 165 bpm
Dawn of a New Day
Soul @ 85 bpm
Dawn of a New Day
Soul @ 85 bpm
Spinning Top
Jazz Waltz @ 140 bpm
Spinning Top
Jazz Waltz @ 140 bpm
Sails Full Open
Contemporary @ 120 bpm
Sails Full Open
Contemporary @ 120 bpm
Summer's Dawn
Jazz Waltz @ 110 bpm
Summer's Dawn
Jazz Waltz @ 110 bpm
The Benji Pad
Ethereal @ 100 bpm
The Benji Pad
Ethereal @ 100 bpm
St. Thomas Block Party
Calypso @ 114 bpm
St. Thomas Block Party
Calypso @ 114 bpm
Island Mines
World Music @ 112 bpm
Island Mines
World Music @ 112 bpm
Disco Marley
Reggae-ish @ 110 bpm
Disco Marley
Reggae-ish @ 110 bpm
Earthen Choir
Ethereal @ 92 bpm
Earthen Choir
Ethereal @ 92 bpm
Jungle Dance
Cinematic @ 130 bpm
Jungle Dance
Cinematic @ 130 bpm
Bailey's Waltz
Jazz Waltz @ 110 bpm
Bailey's Waltz
Jazz Waltz @ 110 bpm
Afternoon Daydreaming
Samba @ 90 bpm
Afternoon Daydreaming
Samba @ 90 bpm
Galactica
Epic @ 100 bpm
Galactica
Epic @ 100 bpm
Lush Life
Funk @ 90 bpm
Lush Life
Funk @ 90 bpm
Eleuthera
Bolero @ 90 bpm
Eleuthera
Bolero @ 90 bpm
Good Bye
Ethereal @ 90 bpm
Good Bye
Ethereal @ 90 bpm
Southside Strut
Funk @ 100 bpm
Southside Strut
Funk @ 100 bpm
Standing outside
Bossa @ 150 bpm
Standing outside
Bossa @ 150 bpm
Groovy Jazzy
Jazz funk @ 112 bpm
Groovy Jazzy
Jazz funk @ 112 bpm
Sound Refuge
Eclectic - no temp
Sound Refuge
Eclectic - no temp
Dreaming of Mars
Static harmony without a tempo
Dreaming of Mars
Static harmony without a tempo
Beat Sweeper
Jazz @ 180 bpm
Beat Sweeper
Jazz @ 180bpm
Cruisin'
Fast Americana @ 224 bpm
Cruisin'
Fast Americana @ 224 bpm
Contemplation
Smooth @ 120 bpm
Contemplation
Smooth @ 120 bpm

This is just a fake book example for the type of website I can build for you. Just trying to use a little humor here!