Less Boring; More Practical - Part II: Not What Mr. Aebersold Had In Mind

This is the second installment in a series that provides simple approaches to working on technical fundamentals that are, as the title suggests, less boring and more practical for many of us than the miserable task of repeating something from a book a certain number of times.

Disclaimer: Nothing I will suggest in this series is meant to replace what is found in books of exercises and drills by the likes of Clarke, Schlossberg, Irons, Williams, et al. In fact, I would recommend experimenting with my approaches in combination with work on these standard materials. Use your best judgment. If you are capable of playing every drill in the most musical fashion possible, always tapping into your creative side as you work on them and never succumbing to the temptation to “just get through” something at the expense of producing the best sound you can and reinforcing your best form, then good for you and keep doing what you’re doing. On the other hand, if you are like me, and struggle to derive benefit from a primarily drill-oriented approach to technique acquisition and refinement, maybe you will find some of this helpful.

Today, I am recommending a non-standard use of jazz play-along tracks such as those published by Jamey Aebersold. The idea is simple: Take a track of your choice, and instead of working on your jazz playing, incorporate practice of fundamentals. In selecting the track you will use, consider the following aspects (some of which could easily be changed with free software to suit your practicing desires):

  • meter

  • tempo

  • key area(s)

  • groove

  • harmonic rhythm

  • harmonic complexity

I generally prefer to do this with tunes that have either modal or otherwise fairly simple harmonic underpinnings so as to be able to focus more fully on the particular technique I am trying to address. For example, in the practice session recording below, I was making use of the Aebersold Vol. 54 Maiden Voyage accompaniment track for John Coltrane’s Impressions. The technique of the moment is double-tonguing. I devise and try my best to execute simple patterns and drills involving double-tonguing. I vary details of the articulations as well as metrical placements, phrase lengths and shapes, and other elements. On one or two occasions, I rearrange the speed and accents of the double-tonguing syllables to create a light TktKtk triple-tongue effect. When my time gets lousy or the clarity of articulation suffers, I do my best to correct the defect. All the while, I strive to play with intent in terms of pitch material; using a modal tune at a medium tempo makes this much easier. For me, tunes with faster-moving or more complex harmonies lend themselves better to accompanying work on other technical challenges, such as slurring wide leaps and other examples of flexibility. From time to time, I move away from the technique for a moment to play something more or less idiomatic, but make no mistake - I am not trying to develop my jazz playing here, except in the sense that better technique in general makes for better performance in any genre. That said, from time to time, this way of practicing does lead me to something that enters my jazz playing, but my purpose in using the play-alongs for fundamentals practice is that they make the work more fun and give it some external musical context that is more interesting than a metronome. More fun and more interesting means more incentive to practice fundamentals. That is both less boring and more practical for me.

Thank you for reading and, as always, I welcome your comments and questions below!

Update: Pat Harbison, trumpet player extraordinaire and Professor of Jazz Studies at Indiana University’s world-renowned Jacobs School of Music actually has a book and play-along set available through Jamey Aebersold Jazz that is meant to make working on technique development more musical and enjoyable. You can purchase Pat Harbison’s Trumpetology here.

Nikola TomicComment