So It Begins! (Part 2)


I’ve been practicing with the first set of exercises in Volume 1 for Guitar, and I’m feeling pretty good about them.  I’ve been using the Dorian Minor scale shapes to improvise with the play-a-long tracks, and it’s sounding alright, if I do say so myself.  But on page 42, we move into a scale that not only has an added note (8 rather than the standard 7), but is supposed to be played on certain beats to acquire the “jazzy” sound. Here we go…

The Bebop Scale

I’m not going to lie, I’ve never used the bebop scale before… And that made me a little nervous.  The bebop scale only adds one note to the four most used scales, the major, dominant 7th, minor, and half-diminished.  To get the desired uplifting jazz sound we are looking for, the added scale tone must always land on the upbeat.  For each of these scales, a different note is added (for Major, you add a #5, for Dominant 7th, you add a natural 7th, and so on).  Many of these scales contain the same combination of notes, and can therefore be used interchangeably, G7=Dm=B Half Diminished.  Because it wasn’t already complicated enough.

For myself, the bebop scale is not intuitive.  I’ve got to really think about what I’m doing to fit it into my music.  But, perhaps that’s why it became such an iconic sound in jazz music?  This whole section of the book, while only three pages, is packed with information on this scale, and how much it’s influenced the sound of jazz music.

Make friends with scales, especially the bebop scale.  It’s the “glue” of the jazz language. Don’t leave home without it!

Maybe the next book I should look at is “Bebop Scales?” *Insert shameless plug here*


Ear Training

Following directly after the uniquely sounding bebop scale is a section of helpful hints on page 45 how to train your ears.  One of the greatest traditions in jazz music is playing by ear.  In fact, jazz music being written down in a book is a fairly recent development.  Early jazzers had no choice but to learn by hearing the music.  Now, some might tell you that a “good ear” is something you’re born with.  It cannot be learned.  Thankfully for me, that is not the case.


There is a reason ear training is required by every university music program that I know of.  Just like anything else in music, it can be learned and developed, and should be.  Let me clarify, by no means do I have a fantastic natural ear for picking out a tune.  However, through quite a lot of practice, I learned, and I got better.  It’s still something I work on to this day, but I have seen enormous progress.  A little back story to help.

I come from completely non-musical stock, absolutely no natural talent in the realm of music.  In fact, my dad’s toneless whistling is something of a joke among my siblings, my mom, and I.  My brothers and me (who respectively play drums and keyboard) did not grow up around performing musicians, bands, instruments, live music, or anything of the like.  But one day, my older brother Thomas decided he wanted to learn to play keyboard (just like his favorite artist, Sir Elton John), and Sam, my younger brother, and I jumped right off the musical cliff with him.  We all started learning music together.  If only we’d had a fourth brother, we needed a bass player!

About three years ago, I sat down in my first ever college course, “Sight Singing and Aural Training.”  Probably not the best choice for my first class, but I didn’t know any better.  To say I learned a lot would be a tad of an understatement.  While this is a good place to start, listening to real players, and figuring out how they do what they do has helped me more than anything.  My point in giving this little abridged history is this; if I can learn to train my ears, just about anybody can.

In music, your ears are your best friend.  The sound comes into your ears and your mind processes the music.  Well-trained ears can be had by everyone if they take the time to develop them.

The Pentatonic Scale And Its Use

Ah yes, the pentatonic scale.  Now that your brain is sufficiently wrung from thinking about the bebop scale and training your ears, we can move on to something a little simpler.  This is probably the first scale that many guitarists (if not all musicians) learn.  For those who don’t know, the word “penta” originates from the Greek word “pente”, meaning “five.”  As you may have guessed, the pentatonic scale consists of five tones.  Because of its simplified nature, the pentatonic scale can be widely used in many genres of music without much adaption.  Especially popular amongst blues players, a pentatonic scale based on the “I” of a I/IV/V progression will work fantastically well.  You can play a major or minor pentatonic scale, and so it can be used over major or minor chord progressions, not to mention Dominant 7th, Half Diminished, Diminished, and Whole Tone scales.

People use the pentatonic scale more during a blues progression than in any other harmonic sequence in jazz- especially young players.  There are books on the market which advocate using the pentatonic scale as a means to solo on the blues progression.  The pentatonic scale should be thought of as a small part of the overall musical spectrum.

The tracks that we first used to practice our Dorian Minor scale can also be used to practice the bebop and pentatonic scales, and improvise with them in various keys. I’ve got some new things to work on!  I’m just scratching the surface (not to mention my head!). Please check back for more updates as I work through Volume 1 for Jazz Guitar

One…two… a one, two, three, four!

The Office

Why Musicians Can’t Dance

There is a strange phenomenon in the world of musical arts, and that is the mysterious inability for musicians to move their bodies in a graceful manner in response to music. The closest I’ve ever seen to a dancing musician was a guy playing the ukulele while singing and riding a unicycle (incredibly, he didn’t even have a music degree!) While this is a quite impressive feat, it doesn’t really count, does it? I’ve really never met a musician who could truly dance. Like Rodents of Unusual Size, I don’t think they exist.

Point of proof: Myself.

When I was very young, my family once visited a rather sketchy “Native American” village, where ornately attired participants demonstrated a “traditional” ceremonial rain dance, and a few of us tourists were invited to try our hands (or, feet, as it were) at it. I gleefully took my place in the circle, and much to my delight, after only a few steps it actually started to rain – in reverse! A veritable torrent of rain drops began sweating out of the earth and bursting skyward! “What did you do?!!!” the feather-clad emcee screamed in a thick Brooklyn accent, as he proceeded to hurl himself head-first into a replica tee pee.

“I just danced!”

My Native American Tourist name is now “Tears From Earth.”

If pointless arrhythmic pitching and yawing to and fro, with no obvious rhyme, reason, or pattern, is ever considered “dance” — then I’m Friggin’ Fred Astaire (yes, “Friggin’ Fred” was his given name– look it up on Snopes!).

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been tackled on the dance floor by a frenzied crowd of people, with someone inevitably crying, “For the love of all that is holy, somebody grab his tongue before he swallows it!” Indeed, this has happened so often that I am actually learning to like it. Needless to say, I’m now forced to wear a medical alert tongue stud which simply states “Trying to dance – please do NOT administer CPR.”

Other than secret Government experiments performed in the 50’s (leaked recently by Edward Snowden – who also can’t dance, BTW, and is therefore forced to try and get by on his good looks and Government secrets), there’s been no serious investigation into this chronic affliction. The experiments were eventually terminated because the sight of musicians trying to dance was freaking out the lab rats, prompting PETA to organize large scale demonstrations that eventually lead to “rat’s rights,” clearing the way for them to eventually take their places in society and congress (but, I digress). No one seems to know the cause, but, to be sure, many musicians have taken it upon themselves to try all manner of ill-advised pharmaceuticals to fix it. And failed. Even today, the world’s finest minds are still hard-pressed to explain this phenomenon.

But they never asked me…

My own life-long struggle with this situation (known by those in medical fields as Tuleftfeet Syndrome, abbreviated 2-LF), has prompted decades of introspective consideration on the subject. As such, I have concluded that, along with a natural 2-LF predisposition, we musicians suffer from a general lack of dancing experience. Unicycled savants aside, we obviously cannot be dancing and playing at the same time, so while civilians are dancing and honing their steps, we are the enablers allowing them to do so at great personal cost to ourselves. In other words, we facilitate our own demise and no amount of outside training, coaching, or solitary practice regimen, can overcome this lack of experience. Alas,  we continue to flop around desperately like gaffed tuna on the deck of a ship. It is, sadly, a lost cause.

The Good News

The most recent issue of the American Journal of the Science of Terpsichore (Oan Lee/Joe King Publications) contained a groundbreaking article, “2-LF: Tripping Over the Light Fantastic” that has caught the attention of a much broader demographic than the small community of researchers focused on Tuleftfeet Syndrome. The article is making the rounds of large networks of enterprising music agents, wealthy art patrons and protégé-seekers worldwide, and rapidly turning the world of music on its ear.

The article posits that there is strong statistical and anecdotal evidence that symptoms of 2-LF begin to appear at an extremely young age. Using the time-honored practice of pseudo-logical if/then assumptions, the very presence of these symptoms would indicate a strong predisposition towards musical talent. Extrapolating that line of reasoning, severe affliction could be an indicator of savant-like musical talent!

Like the shot heard round the world, this single article has spawned a fledgling industry of scouts and talent agents, devoted to locating and nurturing the next generation of musical prodigies. As of this posting, most major music schools are already networking with various “Jack N Jill” styled dance schools all around the world in hopes of getting the jump on the next Chris Potter (terrible dancer – practically born with a saxophone in his mouth!) Specially trained preschool “croppers” identify specific dance patterns (or lack thereof) in young children and report them immediately to the national 2-LF databank. Letters of recruitment to the parents generally follow within days.

The article goes on to state that when properly diagnosed in early childhood, steps can be taken to match 2-LF victims with qualified specialists (band directors, piano teachers, etc.) Putting the right tools in the hands of 2-LFs and cultivating a healthy focus on musicianship early on can, theoretically, keep these dance floor menaces on the correct side of the footlights, and reduce the chance of them doing greater harm to the general public.

Knowing if you have 2LF

In the interest of the public welfare, below is a short listing of sample diagnostic criteria for A2-LF (Adult Tuleftfeet Syndrome) copied from the original article:

6 Signs That You, or Someone You Love, May Have 2LF:

  1. 1. “Actual” dancers smirking, pointing in your direction, and mimicking grand mal seizures to thunderous laughter.

  2. 2. Counting out loud while dancing. (Example: “1,2,3, oops -1,2, Sorry! Um…1…1,2…wait a minute…can we try that again?…I’m lost.” *

  3. 3. Choosing only dance partners with attractive shoes.

  4. 4. A detached awareness of one’s surroundings, and a fixation on those shoes.

  5. 5. Distinct indications of extreme wear on the toe area of your partner’s previously attractive shoes by the end of the dance.

  6. 6. Accepting cash, meals, drinks, or livestock in trade for musical performance.

* Actual transcripts from 2LF sufferers. Tragic!

There are, obviously, many, many more diagnostic criteria – the above is just the tip of the iceberg.  Likewise, there are additional criteria for diagnosis of 2-LF in children, but this is best left to the professionals. It is recommended by the TS Foundation of America and Other Places That Are Not America that all children be screened for 2-LF before entering preschool.

If you, your child, or somebody you know displays any of the above symptoms, please don’t wait. Take him or her to a music teacher, musical-care provider, or specialist in dance conversion therapy immediately. In many cases, denial is as harmful as the disease itself.

Classic symptoms of 2-LF and undiscovered musical talent:

Recently released archival footage of a musician trying to dance. *Warning* Content may not be appropriate for all ages.  Viewer discretion is advised.

Next Post: Why Dancers Are Great Musicians


The Office

Just a “Gig”-olo

How Far Are You Willing To Go To Play Professionally?

In an era when modern tastes and technologies are undermining live entertainment at an astounding pace, today’s jazzer needs to be more adaptable than ever just to get by.

One day in the early 1980s, I got a call for a gig. The sweet young voice on the other end of the phone shyly asked if I could play with a pianist for a couple hours for her wedding. It sounded pretty standard.

“Sure, I can do that. $100.00 bucks for the both of us “(remember, this was the early 80’s).

“That’s wonderful. Can you play flute?”

Primarily a saxophonist, my flute chops were less-than stellar, but what the heck, it would be a challenge.

“Sure, I can do that” I said with some hesitation.

“Wonderful, now… I have some Elton John songs I’d like to hear – a whole set if possible. I have sheet music.”

This triggered a somewhat queasy feeling in my stomach and I thought to myself what am I getting into here? Maybe I should consider bailing on this one.

“Bring what you have and we’ll do the best we can”, I replied.

Then, the kicker.

“My fiancée and I met while working at a charitable event. We were both dressed as clowns. Can you wear a clown outfit?”

Wear a what?

“I’m not sure I’m the best guy for this job. I think you’d better call the union.” I politely gave her their number and hung up; my artistic integrity intact and untarnished.

Had that call come today, I would have been noting in my calendar, “6 p.m., bring floppy shoes and green wig.”


10 years later, I was playing a one-nighter on a popular Mississippi river boat that catered mainly to retirees (or in this particular case, the parents of retirees); one of those lazy Summer river cruises where TAPS could be heard every 10 minutes followed by a loud splashing sound. After our one-hour set with an appreciative audience, the house band began setting up to take over for the evening. Since we had a couple of hours to kill before escaping at the next dock, we decided to hang around and see just how lame the house band was. After all, it was a less than plush iron mud hopper, distinctly bereft of any of the luxuries you’d expect on a “real” cruise ship. “I’ll bet the band is the captain’s son-in-law’s country band” I thought to myself. “This should be gooood!

Then, as they filed onto the stage, I recognized someone – the trombonist. He was a nationally well-respected musician who had played and recorded with everybody; the consummate “musician’s musician,” and everyone in the band could flat-out play! At the break, I asked how they ended up in – well, this place – he simply said, “Hey, it pays the bills.”

blog gigolo boat pic copy

Hardly lacking evidential experience, I submit one more – a shorty:

Sometime later, I was playing a festival when I spotted a very non-Latino lead trumpeter I knew from College, playing in a make-shift mariachi band. He was sight-reading from a book and quite smartly attired in a rented outfit, complete with sequined white pants and a tasseled sombrero. Not able to resist, I quipped “Nice outfit.”

“A gig’s a gig” he said.

mariaci suit

A Gig’s A Gig (It Don’t Mean A thing If It Ain’t Got Ka Ching!)

Indeed, “a gig is a gig,” and to be a working musician today means taking the work that’s available, not the work you want to be available. The “joy of music” has become the “joy of playing” and, in particular, the joy of getting paid to play.

Except for a very few elite players (and, umm… yeah, I’m not one of them) it’s a standard assumption these days that a musician must oftentimes leave his or her artistic statements at the door (or boat ramp) and be prepared to take anything that comes along. Or stay home.

The desire to work in ones’ preferred musical idiom has been taken off the table as a possibility in most cases, and the only thing that fills the void and keeps a lot of us going is the joy of playing our instruments, regardless of genre or venue. In many ways, we have become the proverbial choice-less beggers.

But, So What?

While crossing-over into other musical styles is hardly a new phenomenon, the necessity of doing so to maintain steady work is. This new generation of players knows very well that the opportunity to play at all is better than…well, not playing at all. They know that they can’t always pick the style or venue, and they are much better prepared musically and mentally for whatever comes their way. They have learned that there is usually (with some caveats, of course!) some amount of musical pleasure to be derived from nearly any musical situation. It’s always a challenge to play well, no matter what you are playing.

So, are all those music lessons and years of high-powered education wasted when you gig with a 3-chord blues band? Of course not. Where do you think you got the ears and facility to play 4 hours of blues in E? Same goes with country bands, ethnic bands, wedding bands, etc… If anything, a jazz education prepares you for anything and is therefore never wasted!

Armed with a jazz background (and chameleon-like stylistic sensitivities), today’s jazz player’s can competently hear and play almost any style of music, making them musical omnivores ready to devour whatever gigs come their way.

And It Doesn’t Stop With Just Playing

To stay exclusively in the jazz arena, top tier jazzers have crossed over (or, more like “crossed across”) into the educational realm with clinics, websites, videos, online lessons, etc…. With jazz clubs drying up, internet piracy, and other modern challenges, it’s the logical direction.

Many lesser-known players are joining in as well, with fully functional websites and youtube videos of varying quality, ranging anywhere from really bad to pretty darn good (but that’s a subject for a future post). With the field getting so crowded, is it the “wild-wild-west” or a new “jazz age”?

blog web lessons copy

So, the next time the audience yells “Yakety Sax!” don’t say “Not on my ax!” Even though it does have a nice rhyme to it.

Stay tuned.


So It Begins! (Part 1)

As with any good story, this one starts at the beginning.  Specifically, Volume 1 for Jazz Guitar.  This book was written by Jamey Aebersold and was adapted for the guitar by Corey Christiansen.  It incorporates guitar diagrams and tablature as well as standard musical notation.


I have been a musician and played guitar for some time now, but I have yet to wade into the deep and treacherous waters (or so they seemed to me!) of jazz guitar.  That is, until now.  I have always loved the sound of a good jazz box guitar and great players like Django Rheinhardt, Tal Farlow, and Wes Montgomery.  Like many musicians and guitarists, the tunes, the modes, the seemly frantic playing, all intimidated me.  Could I learn how to play like these men? It seemed so foreign to me! However, the introduction of this book immediately contradicts this presumption.

I have never met a person who couldn’t improvise! I’ve met many who think they can’t.  Your mind is the builder and what you think… you become.  A positive mental attitude contributes to much successful improvisation.

Practice and Learning

There are many practicing and learning techniques that are suggested to help in mastering the material presented in this book.  All of the techniques could be applied to any instrument, tune, or playing technique that one wished to learn. Jamey’s points for learning to improvise and play jazz are:

  • Desire to improvise
  • Listening to jazz via recordings and live performances
  • A method of practice – what and how to practice
  • A rhythm section with which to practice and improvise
  • Self-esteem and discipline

This volume with two play-a-long CDs (one is regular tempo with examples played by Corey Christiansen, the second is a slower tempo to play along with until you can play the examples at full speed) is designed to help a player with the development of all these skills and more.

The examples and text are filled with little nuggets of musical wisdom, such as;

The principle is always the same… know the scales and chords to the harmony of each tune or musical track; keep your place and play from your musical mind when you improvise

As well as humorous aphorisms like;

Music is not meant to be complicated (but musicians may be!)

Finally, we get to guitar specific diagrams.  These first diagrams show movable scale shapes in both one and two octaves for the Major scale, Dorian Minor, and Mixolydian.  These scale shapes make up the majority of the first exercises in the book, and indeed, are the most commonly used by beginning jazz improvisors.  These examples are played in three keys, F, Eb, and D.

Scale Diagram

The First Exercise

As I worked through the first exercises using the Dorian Minor scale, I started to noodle with the scale shape presented in the first few.  Fortunately for me, I was already familiar with the Dorian Minor scale shape used in the first examples.  Unfortunately for me, because I already had this head start, I wanted to rush through the examples I could play without truly absorbing the information given there.  However, when I went back to play with the recording, I was stumbling all over myself, losing my place, and getting flustered! So, to give myself a break from frustrating myself, I flipped back through the first pages, and I see something that I had already read, but clearly not taken to heart:


This book contains much information. It’s not intended that you race through it.  Take your time and feel good about absorbing the material and ideas I am presenting.  It has taken years to garner the knowledge with you hold in your hands.  Don’t expect to assimilate and digest it overnight

This sobering lesson may be one of the best in music.  It is so simple, and because it is so simple, it often gets overlooked.  I am not proud of forgetting this maxim, but it is better that I am reminded of it now rather down the road on my foray into jazz guitar.  Learning anything, not just music, takes time.  Sure, there are a few players who are naturally talented.  But if they don’t practice and take time to learn new things, in a short amount of time, talent is surpassed by learned, practiced, and hard earned skill.

I’m looking forward to continuing to delve into this volume for jazz guitar! Please check back for updates as I continue to work through this book.  With that in mind, I’m going to get back to practicing!

One…two… a one, two, three, four!



Highlights from Volume 76, “How To Learn Tunes” by David Baker



For the jazz musician, it is important to know a large repertoire of standard tunes.  Perhaps you get the chance to sit in with another band, or meet a great group of players whilst traveling? Maybe you are not the quickest sight reader, or printed music simply isn’t available.  Perhaps you merely want to improvise on a tune without having to learn it simultaneously.  Whatever the reason may be, it is not a bad idea to know some tunes.

If you are like me, memorizing endless songs, chord progressions, and melodies is a long process of repetition.  I usually do not have that sort of time on my hands, so I do not assume that anyone else does, either.  Apart from that time restricting thing we know as “life,” the way jazz and music in general is taught has greatly impacted how we as musicians learn.  For much of its’ early history, jazz music was an aural tradition.  You learned jazz music from other people, and maintained if by playing it all the time with your friends.  Nothing was written down.  Now we have so many resources and learning opportunities compared to early players.  Now, instead of learning the music from a fellow performer, most jazz education takes place in a classroom in front of a white board, not on the bandstand.  Many will learn to read music, but never really play it.  Imagine if you learned to read an write the English language, but never actually spoke with anyone.  When the time came to speak, do you think you will be good at it? Probably not.  Playing jazz is just the same.


Now, do not get me wrong, I am not bashing music education in the slightest.  I am, after all, a student of music right now.  Music education is wonderful, and I am glad to have taken part in it.  While it is a beneficial thing, it is not the same thing.  Together, a classroom education paired with a “jam session education” will make for a well rounded player.

As David Baker says in the introduction, “Tradition and necessity demand that the most performed tunes be at the player’s fingertips, to be played without the use of a fakebook or other written materials.  This is a necessity in many situations, including jam sessions, hastily organized gigs and/or recording sessions, and when joining a group which is already working or when the player in question is beginning with a new group.”

Toward this aim, Baker also give us eight main goals of Volume 76, “How To Learn Tunes.”