I recently got a letter from a former student. Here's an edited version of what he asked:
If you don't mind, could I ask you a few questions (and I'm sure many more will continue to arise) that have come up while working on some concepts?
When we would talk about transcribing solos, and you said that just those little parts of solos were enough, did you mean, for example: taking a line from that solo and playing through the keys, both hands and then maybe modifying it to personalize it? Would it be advisable to spend a lot of time really learning one song inside out while working on repertoire, or to spread the learning of concepts over many different tunes?
Also, when you said you were practicing 8 hours a day in your younger days, how did you make that work? Were you alone, where nobody could find you?! or just waking up really early?
This is a version of how I responded:
You are exactly right, take any part, big or small (smaller to start) of a transcribed solo and move through the keys, through tunes, any place you think it might work. And modifying it will also be good. In a sense, it's more the rhythms and the shapes that are important, more than the notes. If you know which notes to use from scale and chord awareness, then you add rhythms and linear shapes to that, and you are there!
And it's true: between 1991 and 1994, I practiced around 4 to 8 hours a day, every day. I wasn't in school, and my only other responsibilities were eating Chinese food every day and playing gigs on piano. I wasn't traveling much either. My best friend is a bass player, and we were roommates for part of that time; all we did was listen to CDs, go to Tower Records (which was right across
|Our apartment was actually behind this Tower Records in Rockville, MD|
I think it's hard in a smaller city or town to get pushed in the right way. I was a mediocre trumpet player due to my lack of good embouchure, and my teachers probably were too lenient with me because they had sympathy for my frustration. But when you are on a bebop gig, especially with older, crusty players, there is very little patience for young cats. So that's where I got my ass kicked:playing with older cats on the local scene. I wanted to learn all the tunes and all the styles so I could be THE BEST, at least in Baltimore and D.C. And then when I went to New York, I wanted to be THE BEST in New York, and maybe the World. Well, that's all subjective at a certain point, but I can say that at least I've rubbed elbows with THE BEST on occasion.
Speaking of getting up early, I remember complaining to my trumpet teacher, Wayne Cameron, in college about how I had a hard time practicing in the morning because my lips were puffy and it took a while to warm up properly. " Well, get up at 5 AM, then..." he snapped. "How bad do you want this?" I said, " I want it bad!" He said, "Well, remember, there's always somebody out there who wants it badder than YOU...somebody who WILL get up at 5am so that he can practice."
So this is motivation. What's motivating you? How bad do YOU want it? And there is no right answer. I'm 42 and part of me STILL wants to be THE BEST . Part of me just wants to take a nap and sit in the hot tub. I think you have a lot of potential and I would love to see you do this at the higher levels. But it will be hard to get pushed in a smaller town, unless you can push yourself. I always had a lot of motivation within;sometimes I think, even if I lived in Regina, I probably would have still practiced a lot.