A Pocket Guide to Jazz Improvisation


“Jazz Improvisation: A Pocket Guide” is a compact, 3″x 5″ book by Dan Haerle designed to be a convenient resource for the gigging musician.  As Dan Haerle says in his introduction:

This book is intended to be put into a pocket, backpack, or instrument case and carried around with you for quick reference anytime it is needed.  There are many ways to use the book for daily practice and study, or as a quick reference.  You do not need to go through it in any particular order.  Untill all of the information you need as a player is learned, it’s all readily available in this book.  Use the book as a dictionary to look up some scale or chord that you are less familiar with.  Use the appendixes for daily practice since it is easy to have the book with you anywhere you may be.  Good luck as you strive to be a better player!

For me, it provided just that.

Little Shop Of “to my Horror”

These past two weekends, I have been part of the band in a local high school’s production of “Little Shop Of Horrors.”  I had stopped by the high school to pick up my score when they finally got them in, a few days before the first show.  So, I took home the handwritten score and rehearsed the tunes for the show.  Having previously done a few musical theatre gigs, I knew the music would be tricky at best.

I get to the school, and I’m told “oh, that’s the wrong score.  The right ones came in today.  They’re in a little bit different keys, the ones the kids have been practicing with.” Well, that’s just swell.  But, it’ll be fine, just different keys… Right?  Wrong.  To my horror (pun slightly intended), it was totally different.  Luckily, this one wasn’t hand written, and was far easier to read.  But still, different.

This score had far more, and far more complex chords.  Now, being the novice jazz player that I am, I don’t use extensively altered chords all that often.  This musical, of course, had all the altered chords you could think of.  Why? Because it’s musical theatre, that’s why.  Anyway, I was fortunate enough to have this little book in my bag.  While the children on stage were yelling into their headsets to see how much they could make them feed back, I was hurriedly looking up chords and was making notes in my score.  Close one…

But Wait, There’s More!

Chords, chord voicing, and chord progressions are only a small part of this petite paperback.  It also features functions of different scales, the II-V-I progression, guide tone paths as well as major, minor, blues, and bebop scales.


Here above you have the blues scale in all 12 keys, major and minor.


Bebop scale in “C.”


6th and 7th chord variations, and suggestions on how to use them.

On The Road Again

Travelling Musicians

For those of you who are either gigging or traveling musicians, or just someone who doesn’t like to clutter their shelves with lots of books, “Jazz Improvisation: A Pocket Guide” is an ideal book to own.  You can use to look up concepts you are less familiar with, as I did before the musical.  You can use it practice scales, runs, and licks that you want to brush up on, and even create practice routines on the go.  Let’s face it, we all have things we need to work on, but who wants to drag their music theory book around with them to every gig?

giant textbook

You know, just in case…

So go ahead and do yourself a favor, and pick up a copy of “Jazz Improvisation.”  You’re lower back will notice a difference, for sure.  Aebersold Jazz also offers a whole series of “Pocket” books. For whatever else you need, there might be a pocket book for it?



How To Practice



Playing music is a skill and an art.  Practicing music is also a skill and an art.  Practicing is so important because it affects almost every aspect of one’s musical study and performance.  No matter what teachers you have, which albums you listen to, or which books you read, practicing is on you.  Now, this is not to say you should not take lessons or read books about practicing (*cough, cough, click here to purchase your own copy of “How To Practice Jazz” by Jerry Coker).  But you, being the good musician that you are, really want to practice, but there seems to be a void of information where practicing is concerned.  So today, we will look at “How To Practice Jazz” by Jerry Coker.

In many ways, practicing is directly related to your success as a musician.  If you are in a band, ensemble, orchestra, broadway show, a studio, or any other number of applications, and you do not practice, you can easily be replaced.  There will always be someone who is willing to work hard and put in the time.  This becomes even more important if being a musician is how you put food on the table, and it’s not just a hobby for kicks and giggles.

Busy, Busy, Busy!

Mr. Busy

If you are a high school student, headed for college, or a college student getting a full time job to pay the bills, or going on to graduate school, or whatever your next stage of life is that you are entering, it is going to be busy.  This has been the case in my life, at any rate.  No matter what it is, my level of busy has always increased, never decreased!  As you become busier, practice times become even more important to shield, protect and honor.  It is easy to say, “I’m just going to skip today and write this paper, do this project, run this errand, whatever, and it won’t effect me…” but the next day is the same, and you begin a downward spiral, circling the drain!



One of the first questions Coker brings up in his book is, “Why do you want to study jazz?”  If your answer is “to pick up chicks” or, “so I will be super cool,” you may start strong, but your fervor will die out quickly.  Music is hard.  Especially if you want to be good at it.  You will need a solid desire, reason, passion, or what-have-you to sustain you when times are hard.

Another question that Coker asks is, “Are you attuned to jazz?” This question is relevant to whatever style of music you are trying to learn better.  If you want to sing Opera, you should probably listen to some Golden Age Opera.  If you want to play classical Baroque piano, you should probably listen to Bach.  If you want to be a Bluegrass mandolin player, Bill Monroe and His Bluegrass Boys would be a great place to start.  But, you get the idea.  Learn the history, the famous players and composers, styles, techniques, and some of the most popular and greatest works.

Tick Tock

The book contains several practice aids that one can get to help you in your practicing endeavors.  Many of these are quite outdated (The book was published 24 years ago), such as a variable-pitch tape machine, which helps get your cassette tapes in tune with your instrument.  However, play-a-longs, transcribed solos, and methods for ear training will still be helpful through the end of musical time, even if their delivery method changes.  But, the biggest one for me is the metronome.  I am going to be perfectly frank.  I hate practicing with a metronome.  Why? Because I am bad at it! This of course speaks to a baser issue of imperfect timing, but I do not like to talk about that… In the words of my teacher, “If you’re not using a metronome to practice, you’re just playing around.” *sigh* I hate it when he says that.

What Should I Practice?

Well, I am so glad that you asked! The following is a list from Coker’s book.  Now, he makes it very clear that you should not try to tackle all of these items at once, but instead focus on a few to check off of your list.

  1. Tone Quality
  2. Intervals
  3. Chord Arpeggios
  4. Scales
  5. Patterns and ‘Licks’
  6. Fermata Practice
  7. Practicing in All Keys
  8. The Jazz Language
  9. Transcribed Solos
  10. Learning Tunes
  11. Characteristics of Tunes
  12. Chromaticism
  13. Chord Progressions
  14. Overlapping Phrases
  15. Tempo & Time

His list goes on for quite a while, and these are just techniques focusing on Jazz music.  One thing that Coker warns against is that you do not become too comfortable in your practice routine.  Many have the tendency to practice what they are good at, but nothing else.  In a sense, to prove to themselves that they can play that specific technique or tune.  While this may stroke the ego, it does not help significantly in learning new skills, techniques or tunes.

The Routine

Unfortunately, no one can tell you what the best practice routine for you would be.  We all live different lives, with different priorities, and different amounts of time to devote to practicing.  Coker provides some models in the book that you could use as a guide, with the techniques and skills previously outlined in the book.  For instance, you may take five of those options, and practice four of those for 10 minutes, and one for 20, if you have an hour to practice.  Then you could rotate routines every other day, or as needed.  If you have more time, you can dedicate longer periods to each technique, tune, etc…


The old adage goes something like, “Practice makes perfect!” Is this true? Probably not, the market on perfection is a bit of a niche… But I can promise you that you will be a lot closer to perfection than those who do not practice.  It is good.  Do it.  Practice!




The Lobster Theory


The Lobster Theory is Greg Fishman’s latest book, using eighteen of his greatest analogies to describe different elements of jazz music theory.  The illustrations are done by notable artist Mick Stevens, who has been an illustrator for the New Yorker for over thirty years.

As Greg Fishman says,

Many of the analogies are lighthearted and humorous, making them very user-friendly and easy to remember.  The book is designed so that the chapters stand alone.  You can read it cover-to-cover, or just go directly to any chapter that appeals to you.

Throughout the book, the imaginative illustrations by Mick Stevens convey the pure essence of my analogies.  This unique combination of cartoons and analogies presents advanced musical concepts in an accessible way that everyone can enjoy.

I can personally attest to the uniqueness in his analogies and musical writings.  The very first chapter, focusing on practicing, is probably the analogy I can relate to most of all.

Practicing And Lifting Weights

About two years ago, I went on a backpacking trip with some friends of mine in the Smokey Mountains.  Of course, I’d been camping, even backpacking before.  I am an Eagle Scout, after all!  Long story short, after hiking miles each day, (it was a three day trip) all uphill, in the freezing cold, my body was pretty wrecked.  This was my fitness crucible, and since then, I have been on a quest to become physically fit.

One of my friends from the trip is a Marine officer, and he invited me to come and train with him.  He trained with a combination of heavy weight training, CrossFit style WOD’s (Workout Of the Day), and Olympic Lifts.  I started lifting with him three times a week.  He started me with some primary barbell training using basic techniques, and going up in weight each time.  Quickly, I could feel and see myself getting stronger, it was great!  Then school started again, but that was fine, because I was still going two or three times a week.  Well, now tests were coming up, or a project, or whatever, and I’d take time from the gym to devote to that.  When I finally went back, I tried to squat or deadlift what I previously lifted, and I’d fail! I couldn’t do it anymore.  My muscles were weaker, I struggled to complete lifts with the right form, and I feared that I would hurt myself.  I had to work my way back up to the weight.

Weight 1

Greg’s analogy for practicing is almost the same as my personal story.  When you practice everyday, even for a short amount of time, you will improve.  Due to the way the human brain works and processes information, practicing for an hour on Monday and an hour on Tuesday is much better than not practicing on Monday and practicing for two hours on Tuesday. Once you miss a day, you can’t really “make up” for lost time in the same way.

Weight 2

Unfortunately, I can relate to this in the musical world as well as the lifting world.  I am ashamed to say there have been many weeks in my schooling where I have presentation due, or a big project at work comes up, and my practicing gets shunted to the wayside.  It’s the day before my lesson, I try and work super hard to learn the pieces I should have been working on, but it’s never enough.  I get in my lesson, and my teacher says, “What happened?”

Now, as Greg says in his book, missing a day of practice here and there isn’t going to be the end of your musical world.  However, you will play better, and enjoy your music more if you commit more time to practicing.  Even if it is merely ten minutes a day, it will make a huge difference in your performance.

The Lobster Theory

Imagine you’re at a super swanky restaurant, you’ve gone the whole nine-yards, held back no expense.  You order the lobster, because you love the buttery, delicious flavor of this clawed crustacean.  The waiter brings it to you, and you partake, but… something just isn’t right.  You ask the waiter, “Why does this fresh lobster taste funny?” He replies, “Oh, it’s not fresh, we use frozen lobster.”  If you consider yourself to be a connoisseur of fine dining, you probably will not return to this establishment because you know that lobsters spoil almost immediately.  To maintain freshness, the lobster must be cooked live, else it will taste stale.


In jazz, solos work in very much the same way.  If you get to an “improvised solo” with all of your licks and lines planned before hand, you will lose the spontaneity, or “freshness” of the solo.  Does this mean that Greg is suggesting in his book that you shouldn’t practice patterns, or scales or anything else of the like to avoid “dead lobsters” in your music?  Certainly not!  If you don’t expand you musical vocabulary, you won’t have any ideas to work with in the moment of your solo.

Whether you have a live or dead lobster doesn’t depend on the musical idea itself.  Any idea could be live or dead.  What makes it a “live” idea is the point in time when you think of it.

This is one of the truest forms of “improvisation” employed by not only jazz musicians, but actors and comedians as well.

These analogies, the second of which is also the title of the book, have far more information and ideas than I have presented here today.  These are highly abridged versions infused with my interpretations and experiences.

To see the full analogies, grab your own copy of this fantastic and innovative new jazz book today! Just click on the link below to take you to the Jazzbooks website, where you can also watch a video by Greg Fishman explaining more about the Lobster Theory.



R.E.D. on Jazz

Now, you might be asking yourself, “What is R.E.D. on Jazz?” If my title got you this far, it has indeed done it’s good work.  R.E.D. is an acronym I created, it stands for Really Excellent Dissertation.  Many people may think of a dissertation as a thesis written for a doctorate program.  Which, of course, it can be, but the word is not limited to this definition.  The definition I am working with is “Any formal discourse in speech or writing.”  So, now we know that we are talking about a really excellent discourse in writing on Jazz.  And here’s the red.


This is the free Jazz Handbook available from Aebersold Jazz.  This is a free resource that Jamey has given out for years.  It is a great resource for new and experienced Jazz players at all levels.  Let’s look at some excerpts of musical wisdom about practice, performance, and philosophy. 

General Information:

The language of jazz  or the jazz idiom is in a constant state of flux.  In order to be a part of the jazz movement one must accept change.  Jazz has changed greatly over the past 70 years and is presently in transition.  Each generation of jazz musicians  contribute their own unique ideas, feelings, and sound to the music and this is what creates change.  If you equip yourself well, you may be one of those people who influence others and set new trends in jazz.

Valuable Jazz Information:

IMPORTANT: Don’t get hung up practicing exercises and more exercised without ever attempting to improvise.  Avoid become a person who plays great exercises, but delays using their creative every until tomorrow.  DO IT NOW! IMPROVISE.  Even if you only use a few notes of the scale, begin there.  START! Don’t put it off until tomorrow or until you have the scale under better control.  DO IT NOW! The longest journey begins with a single step.  Today is the first day of the rest of your life.  The longest musical phrase begins with a single note.

Jazz: The Natural Music:

Improvising, playing jazz, is the most natural way to make music. Long before the printing press was invented people played music on various instruments and all were thought to be creative musicians. Through the ages the art of improvising on a musical instrument gradually lost favor to the printed page. In the twentieth century the art of improvising has been kept alive by the jazz musician.

Today’s jazzer is not the same as the musician of the thirties, forties or fifties. The influence of jazz education, sound recordings, videos and jazz festivals has allowed the music to reach many more people and to be experienced by almost anyone who is willing to give it a try.


For years the myth “you either have it or you don’t” was prevalent in music circles around the world. If you wanted to play jazz you had better get adopted into a musical family or by the “luck of the draw” find the right environment for your early years so by osmosis you could pick up on the hot licks and at the same time develop a great jazz ear so that when you played your instrument, you would sound like a jazzer.

Time has proven that these ideas which were very popular are not true. They never were true but many musicians thought they were and that’s what gives an idea it’s longevity. Once people from non-musical backgrounds in non-jazzy environments began playing the music and playing it well, everyone had to take another look at what goes on when someone stands up and improvises a good solo over a standard chord progression such as Green Dolphin Street, Confirmation, or the blues.

Here are several ingredients that go into making a good jazz soloist/improvisor:

1. Desire to improvise

2. Serious listening to jazz via recordings and live performances

3. A method of practice – what and how to practice!

4. A rhythm section with which to practice and improvise (via live group or play-a-long recordings)

5. Self-esteem, discipline, and determination.

Jazz musicians have always played the music of their mind—what they hear in their head. They aren’t special, gifted people who were born with more talent than others. They just had more desire and discipline than others. Their ability to mentally hear an idea and then play it comes from practice.

When you run out of ideas to practice you listen to other musicians. The joy of listening to others, coupled with your imagination, will lead to fresh musical ideas. The answer to every musical question may be found on recordings. That is why listening is so important for the beginning improvisor.


Here are several exercises every professional jazz musician has probably played at one time or another. Play these over the harmony (changes, chord/scales) to whatever song you are working on. Do this before you try to improvise.


1. Play the first five notes to each chord/scale.

2. Play the triad (notes 1,3, and 5 of the scale).

3. Play the entire scale from the root (first note) to the 9th and back down.

4. Play the 7th chord up and down (1,3,5,7,5,3,1).

5. Play the 9th chord up and down (1,3,5,7,9,7,5,3,1).

6. Play the scale up to the 9th and then come back down the chord.

7. Play the chord up to the 9th and then come back down the scale.

8. Play the scale in thirds up and down



Apart from other information given in this article format, the handbook includes and introduction to the scale syllabus, exercises in bass and treble clef reading, Blues progressions, ear training tips, characteristics of Bebop, a transposition chart, Jamey’s Jazz Theory Assignments, and much, much more.

If you have been interested by some of Jamey’s writings here, then you can request your very own free copy by following this link,

Or, if you would like to download a PDF version, simply follow this link,

As always, please keep checking back with us for more jazz information!





Update On iRig


After having used the iRig for two church services this weekend, I wanted to briefly revisit the subject with a few updates on the devices performance.

It was certainly convenient!  I left the musical I was playing, and as I walked into the sanctuary, I plugged in the iRig and turned on the app (you’re supposed to plug it in before launching the app for it to perform correctly), which took about 15 seconds to load.  My phone is an iPhone 4, so it’s pretty “old” and outdated.  I plugged it into the direct box, plugged my guitar into the iRig, and I was ready to go.

Because I was not using an amp, I had to use headphones as in-ear monitors.  Now, this might have worked better if I had nice in-ear monitors… but my headphones are really cute! They’re purple… Anyway, there was a lot of signal degradation between the guitar, phone, iRig, stereo cable, stereo to  1/4″ adapter, direct box, XLR, snake, sound board, ethernet cables, in-ear systems, and my headphones.  So, it’s to be expected.  I had to dig in and play rather aggressively to get a decent sound.  Also, there was almost no sustain.  To keep sound coming, I had to keep playing.

Once the app was running, I could put my phone to sleep, and turn it back on again without needing to re-open the app.  When we finished playing for the first time, I turned on the tuner (because that mutes the sound), and put the phone to sleep.

My Brother and Sister-In-Law came to the Sunday service, and I had asked them to tell me how my guitar sounded out in the congregation.  As I’m sure you all know, the sound you hear on stage is not the sound the audience hears.  Rachel, my Sister-In-Law, who graduated Asbury University with in Vocal Theater Performance and a minor in music told me, “Well, I don’t know what sound you were going for, but it sounded like a guitar!” My brother, Thomas, was a little more helpful.  He has been playing music as long as I have (he’s my go-to keyboard player), but took a different (and more sensible) path in college than I, and knows my tone, and the sound that I like to achieve with my equipment.  He told me the sound was decent, but it was thin, and he could tell it was  processed and digital.

This was what I expected to hear (no pun intended), but I was hoping for a little higher sound quality.  However, I doubt anyone else noticed anything different.  I specifically asked them to listen because I trust their judgement, but I’m not sure they would have noticed if I hadn’t said anything.

All in all, I think it’s a good product as a back up rig/practice tool.