Three things you should stop doing right now if you want to become an accomplished jazz player

The metronome is okay for young kids trying to practice beginner shit like five-finger little piano pieces or first attempts at trying to play scales, but for a jazz player, it’s very counterproductive.

Practicing time with a metronome gives the jazz player a false sense of time. Jazz time is much more flexible than strict metronomic time. While having steady, supple, and flexible time feeling, jazz must sometimes bend and remain open to small but critical nuances when playing half-time behind the beat-phrases that should be behind the beat and double-time phrases that should be played on top of the beat.

These very important nuances are completely ignored within the scope of the cold and perfectly accurate non-flexible time of the metronome. Further, playing with the metronome too often encourages non-listening of the other players.

Acquiring a great sense of flexible and steady jazz time is a long and difficult process that requires a lot of relentless dedication over a long period of time. The metronome is not a useful tool in the attempt of becoming an accomplished jazz player with all the time nuances that it requires.

The act of transcribing a solo by ear can be daunting. I know that it was for me when I tried to put pencil to paper in the 1960s in my early attempts at transcribing great solos from Wynton Kelly, Hank Mobley, George Coleman, and of course Trane, Miles, etc.

If you buy a book of transcribed solos of say, Sonny Rollins, and then memorize them, you will gain only a portion of the learning experience. An accomplished jazz musician must have a great well-developed ear, and the act of personally transcribing a jazz solo, as painful and uncomfortable as it can be, is a neccessary critically important step in developing one’s ear.

This is a very common and debilitating habit that many young talents put themselves through. “Oh man, my friend Jimmy can play circles around me!!! He is my same age but his father was a good trumpet player and played Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie recordings for him when he was 3 years old!! I am a trumpet player who’s also trying to learn but my dad was just a cab driver.


How will I ever play like Herbie Hancock or Mcoy Tyner?? I will never be that good!! Forget it!! What’s the point in even trying??

This destructive habit must be avoided. The whole point in playing jazz is to be as good as YOU can be!! Not your friend or Herbie or anyone else!


Classical music is about the composer. The instrumentalist, of course, makes his or her individual interpretation of masterpieces, but jazz is about what YOU have to say. So trying to copy or emulate Herbie and other greats is actually not the point and a big smoking mess of a waste of time!! Who wants to hear another Herbie or a shitty copy of him?  NOBODY, hopefully.


2 thoughts on “Three things you should stop doing right now if you want to become an accomplished jazz player”

  1. 1) I agree with Richie for the most part. However, I suggest using a metromone for practicing certain things like scales, patterns and so forth, but use it to restrain yourself so you can concentrate and play only the intended notes. The tendency is to rush ahead, get impatient, go too fast untill you screw up, and crash to a halt. This is time and efforet waisted. THis is NOT MUSIC and is practiced just for accuracy , relaxation, and ear training of the pattern played accurately only. Wait for the next note.
    The metronome does not swing no matter what kind of gimmicks you use. And the worst – in my opinion – is to play with it on 2 and 4. This is horrible and sounds/feels nothing like a hi-hat or anything related to swinging. It’s bad for the nerves! If used at all it should be only on 1 and 3 – those are the strong beats. This will maybe help keep from rushing. 2 and 4 is
    deadly – OK for dancing and snapping your fingers. Another taboo – in my opinion – when playing without a bass for a piano player to walk bass in the left hand. The worst! Guys who do this must not be listening because it sounds like total shit! (The Hammond Organ thing is another story.) Stride is better if you must play something down there.
    2) A written rendition of a transcribed solo is good for analysis after the fact, to spot repetition, pet devices, etc. But the real value is in going after what you are hearing and identifying it with all the nuances – sound, articulations, time feel, etc. Then write it out for later. Swing is about the energy created within each beat. (I liken it to playing with the old toy with a ping-pong type racket and a rubber band with a rubber ball at the end – controlling the tension of the rubberband after each stroke to make the ball return with force. Try it.) Looking at a page tends to subconciously make you play as written – stiff. An artist’s way of swinging can not be notated anyway. Try notating Sonny Rollins! Where within a beat does his note start? Good luck on that one.
    3) Richie is totally right on this one. Accept the fact that you will never sound like ‘Trane, Sonny, Joe, Wayne, Wynton Kelly, Miles et al.- and when you try, it sounds like a bad impression of Marlon Brando or Humphrey Bogart – ultimately embarrasing.
    When Bill Evans was asked in an interview what Miles taught him it was to concentrate and develop your own ideas, and don’t get distracted by what others are doing.
    Thanks Richie.

    1. Richie Beirach
      Richie Beirach

      Yo Gary

      Thanks bro for taking the time to comment on my writing about the things you should stop doing, etc.

      What you say makes sense of course, but I was thinking about trying to help the naive unsupervised but willing kids or adult beginners or intermediate mofos that are on the way to making the kind of bad learning errors that we all know about being teachers. I wanted to get their attention. Thats why I used shock terminology like throw away your metronome!! Of course it’s too general and over the top, but it might save a few hundred bewildered kids trying to learn about our great jazz music.

      What you elaborated on with more balanced specific guidance makes sense and thanks bro for that.

      But I must admit sometimes a flame thrower approach reaches more people and attracts more attention!!

      Long live the chateaux !!!

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Michael Lake

Michael Lake

Trombonist, author, composer, marketer

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