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21 Great Ways to Become a Monster Jazz Musician by Chris Punis

Copyright 2008 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

21 Great Ways to Become a Monster Jazz Musician by Chris Punis

Editor: Ken Hiatt Illustrations: Chris Punis Cover and Interior Design: Chris Punis 2008 by Chris Punis All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without written permission from the publisher and Chris Punis. Chris Punis Learnjazzfaster.com Printed in the United States of America

Copyright 2008 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

21 Great Ways to Become a Monster Jazz Musician by Chris Punis

LearnJazzFaster.COM

The Monster Jazz Formula


21 Great Ways to Become a Monster Jazz Musician

Chris Punis

Edited by Ken Hiatt

Copyright 2008 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

21 Great Ways to Become a Monster Jazz Musician by Chris Punis

How to Have Your Practice Routine Make You Want to Sprint to the Practice Room with a Smile on Your Face Instead of Procrastinate with a Lump in Your Stomach.

The Most Important Secret to Becoming a Monster


(AKA Prioritize Your Values)

Lets face it, you didnt get into music because your best friend told you about this hip new thing called practicing scale patterns or ear training interval drills. You got into music because you heard something that made you stop dead in your tracks and say, Damn that sounds good. It made you want to dance, shout, and jump around your room like a fool (or am I just weird?). There was something different about this music. You connected with it. It lit a fire in your belly, which, despite the worlds best efforts to extinguish it, is still burning, or else you wouldnt be reading this article. Then a few years laterwhile trying to simultaneously learn to voice lead, play Tranes solo on Giant Steps, transcribe the head to Ornithology, groove in 7, swing at 350 BPM, understand the Lydian Chromatic Concept, play a bossa nova, memorize scale patterns #176 from your chain-smoking, coffee-chugging teachers book and learn to play a second instrumentyou realized that something wasnt working. And to make matters worse, you havent seen your girlfriend/boyfriend in a month, done your laundry or paid your electric bill (hope you play an acoustic instrument). If this sounds familiar, then your values may be out of whack. In fact, you might have no idea what a value is, let alone what yours might be. Your values are your priorities in life. They determine whats important to you. They determine what you believe, who you are and, most importantly, what you do. All great musicians (and great people in general) know who they are and what they want. Their
Copyright 2008 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

21 Great Ways to Become a Monster Jazz Musician by Chris Punis

actions reflect it. They practice the important things, take the right chances, meet the right people and experience success and great achievements. For instance, think about Thelonious Monk. Was he known for his ability to play at breakneck tempos? How about virtuosic piano technique? Then he must have been known for his beautiful voicings, right? Wrong. He wasnt known for any of those things. He was known for his completely original sound and approach. Nobody played rhythm like Monk, composed like Monk, or played as colorfully as Monk. He knew what he wanted his music to sound like and he played it that way. Imagine if Monk thought he had to have chops like Art Tatum, improvise in 5/4, or play funk. Luckily for us he didnt. He played his thing only and he did it better than anyone else. Whether they thought about it or not all of the masters played with great integrity and an intense code of values. Just think about Ornette Coleman, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Duke Ellington, Eric Dolphy, Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Elvin Jones, etc. They all stuck to their values and played the music that was important to them, even in the face of intense criticism from the audience, the press and their peers. And in doing so they became monster jazz musicians. They created and transformed the art-form of jazz. Heres a sports analogy for you. Have you ever heard of an athlete who was a pitcher, catcher, outfielder, 1st baseman, shortstop, quarterback, center, goalie, fullback, gymnast, sprinter and a square dancer? Yeah, me too. We call them elementary school gym teachers, not world class athletes. Now, dont get me wrong. Gym teachers have a noble profession. But they dont fit into the world-class athlete category. Or the monster category, for that matter. Disclaimer: it is very important to expose yourself to a wide range of music, play different styles and learn different concepts. But you come to a point where you must focus more and more on music thats truly important to you.
Copyright 2008 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

21 Great Ways to Become a Monster Jazz Musician by Chris Punis

But Ive only been playing jazz for a year, you might ask. How can I choose my values? Very good question. Your values will change as you learn and progress. Determining your values is an ongoing process. It never stops. Your valuesand then your goals, and then your actionsbecome clearer and clearer as you go. And when this happens you progress faster and faster and become more and more productive. Choosing your values now brings focus to your practicing, listening and all of your musical activities. Youll change and rearrange them over and over again, each time picking up speed and progressing faster. To quote the great twentieth century spiritual master Mr. Rogers, Youre special. He was right. You are. Each of us has a unique set of experiences, dreams, goals and values. If you are true to yourself, and live by your own code of values, you are destined to become a truly individual and original voice in jazz. Faster than you ever thought possible. Action Step 1: Write down the names of your favorite players. What do you like about these players? What qualities in their playing are you drawn to? What could you do to develop those qualities in your own playing? Your answers will give you some big clues as to whats important to you. Use these answers to decide what to practice, who to study with and who to play with. Action Step 2: Plan out your practice session before you start to practice (more about that in a few days). Then, as you go down the list, ask yourself, Is that the most important thing I could be practicing? Is that skill important to me? Will it help me make the music thats important to me? Or is it something I think Im supposed to practice? Again, use your answers to make choices about what to practice, who to play with. Soon your practicing will be more focused, much more productive, and youll be sprinting to the practice room with a smile on your face (not to mention that youll also get more gigs).
Copyright 2008 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

21 Great Ways to Become a Monster Jazz Musician by Chris Punis

Why the Heck Did I Just Spend 4 Hours in a Stuffy Practice Room Working on Chord Scales, Anyway?
In the last lesson of 21 Great Ways to Become a Monster Jazz Musician we talked about musical values. We talked about how making choices based on our values will focus our musical efforts and ensure an individual and original sound and approach, the goal of all jazz musicians. In this lesson we will talk about being on a mission. Now that you have determined your values and whats important to you musically, the next step is to create your mission statement. In a nut shell, this is the ultimate purpose and objective of your practicing, gigging, listening, studying and composing. This is a sentence that explains what you are aiming to accomplish. Think about it this way: When NASA sends a shuttle on a mission to space, they have a reason for it. They dont just say, Hey, weve got nothing to do today, lets send the shuttle up into space, for fun. They send it up for a reason. They send it up to put a satellite into orbit, to repair the XYZ doo-hickey on the space station and to complete a particular experiment. Now, it seems ridiculous to send the space shuttle into orbit and spend millions of dollars and thousands of hours of work for no purposein other words, with no mission. So why would you want to spend thousands of hours practicing and thousands of dollars going to school and studying with no purpose for your music? Write down your mission. Write down in words what it is you plan to accomplish with music. What is your main focus? Dont rush this. Spend some time thinking about it. Writing down your mission or major definite purpose will have profound effects on your musical progress. Without a mission its as if you are on a road trip with no destination or reason in mind. This might sound like fun for awhile, but unless you are extremely lucky and the exception to the rule, you will end up nowhere. If you intend to make a major
Copyright 2008 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

21 Great Ways to Become a Monster Jazz Musician by Chris Punis

contribution to jazz and become a monster jazz musician, you must have a purpose and a mission. Heres a great exercise to help you get started on your mission statement: Write a eulogy for yourself. What would you want people to say about your music after youre gone? What do you want to be remembered for? What will be your legacy? If you know the answers to these questions, you are in the minority and on the fast track to realizing your musical dreams. Once you have crafted a mission statement, use it as a springboard. Refer to it when you are making your practice routines. Refer to it when you start a new musical project or even buy a new method book. Use it to help you make all of your music-related choices. Action Step1: Write your own eulogy. How do you want to be remembered? Action Step 2: Get a blank piece of paper. At the top write your new mission statement. Remember, this is the ultimate goal of your musical journey. Next, write your list of values. These will be your guides and signposts on your mission. Refer to the list of your favorite players from Lesson One if you need inspiration. You have now begun a strong foundation to support yourself on your way to success. In our next lesson well start to get down to the nitty-gritty and talk about deciding exactly what you want to learn and achieve with music.

Copyright 2008 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

21 Great Ways to Become a Monster Jazz Musician by Chris Punis

Has anyone seen the map? Should I turn right or left? Wait a minute, where are we?
In the last lesson we talked about being on a mission. Its your purpose for playing music. You might decide to change your mission in a year or in a week. But all of your musical energy right now is focused on fulfilling your mission. Now, lets talk about the map analogy. Suppose for a minute that your mission is to visit the largest cities in the US. First of all, thats a bit general. What do you mean by largest? Is it according to geographic area, population size, or something else? Once youve determined that, I would also add a number; your mission could be to visit the top 5 largest US cities. Thats clear and measurable. You can tell when youve accomplished your mission. But its still pretty vague. You could simply drive through the city and consider your mission accomplished. So you need to determine exactly what you want to do or accomplish while youre in those cities. Read more Lets say you now decide to visit the most popular jazz club in the top 5 largest US cities. Now youre getting somewhere. Next, you need to decide who you are going to see perform at these top jazz clubs in the largest US cities. Ok, now you know who you want to see, what clubs you want to visit in what major cities. Great, youre done, right? Lets pack the car and get going. Wrong. There are a few unanswered questions. Like WHERE ARE YOU? Even if you have a map, you cant get anywhere if you dont know what road youre on and what city youre in. How are you going to get to the 5 largest cities? Do you have a car? Do you have money for gas? Do you know the way to each major city? Once you know exactly where you are and exactly where you want to go, you can connect the dots. Suppose your mission is to become excellent at bebop. You can pick the top 5 bebop musicians, the top 5 bebop tunes and the top 5 musical skills you need to acquire. Then you can keep getting more and more detailed, all the
Copyright 2008 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

21 Great Ways to Become a Monster Jazz Musician by Chris Punis

way down to what you are going to learn to do in the next 30 minutes of practice. Sample Practice Plan: Learn the rhythm of the first 4 bars of Ornithology by ear. Tomorrow learn the notes. The next day learn the accents. The next day learn the articulation. Then repeat with the next four bars Two week later you have the tune memorized, and you can play it along with your Charlie Parker CD with the same articulation and accents as his and up to tempo. Now heres the kicker: When you go to learn your next bebop head, youll do it faster. And the next one even faster, and so on. Now, what you decide to practice depends first on what you want to achieve and secondly, but equally importantly, on where youre starting from. If you dont know how to put your saxophone together by yourself yet, well, youre not going to start off by learning Ornithology by ear. However, if youve just spent the last 10 years studying classical piano and can improvise in the style of a Bach fugue, your plan will be a little different. Either way, you must know where you are going and you must know where you are. What if you dont know where you are? Or what if you cant figure out how to get where you want to go? Simple: Dont be afraid to ask for directions. Find another musician and ask him or her. Read a book. Search on the Internet. Or, best of all, get a great teacher. Find someone who is already doing what you want to do and learn from him or her. But what if youre from a small town with no musicians, or the library doesnt have any books about jazz, or the closest jazz club is 50 miles away? Or what if you only have one computer in your house and little brother is always on there playing video games? Fooey! Those are all just excuses. If you want it bad enough, youll find a way to make it happen. Figure out where you are, figure out where you are going, buy a good map and before you know it, youll be putting a check next to that goal and youll be planning your next.
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21 Great Ways to Become a Monster Jazz Musician by Chris Punis

Action Step- Decide exactly what you want. Using your mission statement as a reference, choose a goal that fits into your Major Definite Purpose. Be sure that you make it as specific as possible and, most importantly, make sure it is measurable. You should be able to track your progress and know exactly when your goal has been accomplished.

Copyright 2008 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

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21 Great Ways to Become a Monster Jazz Musician by Chris Punis

Attention Future Monster Jazz Musicians: You are about to learn about the most powerful tool in the world.

The Goal and the Plan

Ok, once the hair on the back of your neck has gone down we can get started with the planning process. I dont know what it is about planning that gets so many of us creative types squirming in our seats. Ive had monumental arguments with fellow bandmates over planning and Ive even had bands break up because of it. Musicians seem to think that goals and plans are anti-creative or anti-artistic. That couldnt be further from the truth. Goals and plans serve to focus our energy and focus our creativity. They actually help us produce more and better art. If you only absorb one concept from this set of 21 let it be this: Set Goals, Make Plans to Achieve Them, and Work on Your Plans Everyday. Nothing else can mobilize you and move you forward faster than a good plan and a little discipline. Now lets talk about how to make a plan. 1 Decide Exactly What You Want. Pick a goal. If youre new at this, start small. You dont have to reinvent jazz with you first goal. Pick something that you know you can achieve. Something challenging but doable. If you dont believe that you can achieve it, you will not. Make sure that it is measurable, that you will be able tell when you have completed it. Make it detailed and specific. For instance, dont say I want to become better at playing in all twelve keys. Instead, decide to memorize the melody to the song I Got Rhythm in all twelve keys and be able to perform it at 160 BPM in any key from memory. 2 Write It Down in Vivid Detail. Write it down on paper. With as much detail as possible. What exactly will you be able to do when your goal is accomplished? How will you know when youve accomplished your goal? How will you measure it? The more clearly defined your goal is, the greater the likelihood of achieving it. Physically writing it down on paper can not be over-emphasized.
Copyright 2008 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

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21 Great Ways to Become a Monster Jazz Musician by Chris Punis

Write and re-write your goals daily. This will keep your mind focused and your eyes on the target. 3 Give Your Goal a Deadline Without a deadline a goal is simply a wish. Decide when you will achieve your goal. On what date will you be able to perform I Got Rhythm in all twelve keys from memory? If you find that you are not going to hit your deadline, simply create a new one. Not to say that deadlines should be changed on a whim. You should always strive to hit your goals on time, but there will be occasions when you will have to modify your plan. As you practice this method you will get better and better at estimating how long a goal will take to complete. 4 Make a List Write down everything you can think of that you will have to do to achieve this goal. List every single step. Break your goal down into tiny bite-size pieces that you can complete in one practice session. As you think of more steps, add them to your list. This is how you accomplish a big goal. You have to break it down into the actual steps that you will complete in your daily practice sessions. 5 Put Your List in Order Now turn your list into an actual plan. Put every step in order. What will you have to do first? Second? And so on. This will now serve as your blueprint. This blueprint will move you forward fast. With out a blueprint you are at the mercy of luck and chance. You are simply meandering around aimlessly. Its kind of like firing a bow and arrow with a blindfold on. Its worse actually. Its like firing a bow and arrow with a blindfold on and no target. You could hit anything, but chances are you will hit nothing. With a plan, its as if you have a target in front of you, theres plenty of light and your blindfold is gone. You can work until you hit the target, and then move on to the next one. 6 Take Action Go practice. Get busy. Work on your plan. Action is the key to success. Without action you cannot accomplish anything. With action you will accomplish great things. Even if your plan is flawed you can accomplish a lot, simply by taking action. Action, Action and more Action.
Copyright 2008 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

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21 Great Ways to Become a Monster Jazz Musician by Chris Punis

7 Practice and Work on Your Plan Everyday Develop the habit and discipline of practicing and working on your plan every single day. Even if you only have twenty minutes to practice, do it. Learn something or take a tiny, tiny step forward. You will be amazed by how much you can learn and how fast your music can progress by utilizing this formula. This is the most powerful tool to help you progress on your musical journey and become a monster jazz musician.

Copyright 2008 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

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21 Great Ways to Become a Monster Jazz Musician by Chris Punis

Its Time to Get Your Vision Checked.


Expand your vision or keep your day job. Jazz leaders and pioneers have vision. They think about where they are going and what they want to accomplish. They have BIG plans for their music. They have long-term perspective. They think in terms of years: 1 year, 5 years, even 10 years or more. If you want to become a monster jazz musician, you already have vision. Now, take it further. Think BIG. Dream. There are no limits to what you can accomplish. How far will you take your music? Start thinking about that now, no matter what your current level. Chops are easy to get. Anyone with a plan, a teacher and some dedication can become a competent musician in a relatively short period of time. A few years, really. But if you want to go for the top and become a monster, you need vision. Decide to become a visionary leader. All great jazz musicians, and all great men and women for that matter, were and are visionary leaders. The farther backward you can look the farther forward you can see. - Winston Churchill How far ahead you go depends on how far back you are willing to look. Creativity doesnt happen in a vacuum. Neither does vision. Dig deep into jazz history. Study the early pioneers, the modern ones and everyone in between. The past will act as a springboard to the future. The fuel for your creativity will come from the past. Move in both directions at once. While digging into the tradition and studying the masters, you can begin to carve your own path forward. Musicians of all levels should exercise their creativity. Creativity is not magic. It is a mindset and a habit. Like a muscle, it
Copyright 2008 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

Dont know what youre going to practice tomorrow, let alone what youll be doing in 5 years?

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21 Great Ways to Become a Monster Jazz Musician by Chris Punis

can and should be exercised regularly. Create, compose and improvise with your instrument everyday. Dream about what is possible and what you would like to create and accomplish musically. Connect the dots. Jazz pioneers and leaders have vision. By thinking about the future and developing your own vision, you become a leader yourself. Once you have vision for the future, you must connect the future with the present. Your values (lesson 1) help determine your vision. Your mission, goals and plans (lessons 2, 3, 4) connect your vision to todays practice session. If todays practice session is tied into your vision for the future, you will be excited and inspired. You will bring more focus to the practice room. You will move forward faster and faster. The law of attraction. Ok, Im gonna get a little new age on you here. The law of attraction states that we attract into our lives the people, ideas, circumstances and resources that are in harmony with our dominant thoughts. You will seem to stumble upon the players, records, teachers, concerts, experiences, books, etc. that you need to realize your vision. So think about your vision. Keep it on your mind. Hang pictures, posters, signs and quotes on your practice room walls and throughout your apartment or house to remind you. Talk about it with your friends and family (but only the positive and supportive ones. More on that in a future lesson). Its OK (and recommended) to be flexible. As you put energy (hard work, practice, etc.) out into the universe, opportunity will come to you from all directions. Especially from places you never imagined. Chances are you will end up somewhere completely different from what you initially thought. Embrace that fact, and embrace the opportunities. Adjust your vision and dream new dreams. Dream big. Turn your dreams into vision. Turn your vision into goals. Turn your goals into plans. Practice and work on your plans everyday. Hold your vision in your sights, and sooner than you think you will be living your musical dreams.
Copyright 2008 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

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21 Great Ways to Become a Monster Jazz Musician by Chris Punis

Action Step: Write down ten goals for your life. Let your imagination run wild. What goal would you dare to dream if you knew you could not fail? Later you can edit this list and begin to sharpen your vision. But for now there are no limits.

Copyright 2008 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

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21 Great Ways to Become a Monster Jazz Musician by Chris Punis

How to Keep Your Creative Musical Fires Burning Strong


In the last lesson of 21 Great Ways to Become a Monster Jazz Musician we talked about the importance of going in both directions at the same timein other words, simultaneously creating your own original music while studying the tradition. The past serves as your springboard to the future. Its the fuel for your creativity. This is such a critical part of becoming a great musician that I dont mind repeating myself for a moment. Digging into the past is one of the most important things you can do as a player. Creativity doesnt happen in a vacuum. Highly creative people have simply fed their minds with fuel for their creative fires. That fuel comes from the past. This is how you get roots, even though you came up in the 2000s, not the 1940s. Other factors existlike the zone, trust and confidencebut without fuel there can be no creative fire. Now lets talk about some practical ways you can dig into the tradition and feed your fire. Create a history playlist. When I was coming up, my teacher (an absolutely amazing teacher and musician named Hal Crookcheck him out if you can) had me create a history tape. He had me choose a track from each 20-25 year period of jazz, from the beginning to the present. I then compiled those tracks onto a cassette tape (obviously you would now use a CD, a playlist in iTunes, etc.) in chronological order. Next, I would listen to this tape everyday as part of my practice routine. The key to this exercise is to have a focus for your listening. For instance, you would want to listen with one topic in mind, such as vocabulary, time-feel, articulation, phrasing, etc. Ask yourself as you listen how your topic changed over the years and from player to player. What stayed the same and carried over? What are the similarities? What is different? For me, this exercise had the effect of blowing the doors open to the whole tradition. Before this

Copyright 2008 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

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21 Great Ways to Become a Monster Jazz Musician by Chris Punis

I was stuck in the 50s and 60s. Suddenly, the entire tradition became fair game for study and I loved it all. Check out the in-between guys. Miles and Trane are great. They are two of the greatest musicians to ever live. But they arent the only two musicians. There are literally thousands of great, masterful musicians who simply didnt have the same commercial success as Miles and Trane, or whom popular history has seemed to have forgotten for one reason or another. There is a lot to learn and benefit from studying these lesser known jazz masters. Start with the sidemen of the greats you already know. Google them and find their discographies. Who else did they play with? Then ask, who else did those musicians play with, etc. Its an endless pursuit. You will never run out of music to check out. Pick a master to focus on. Another idea is to pick just one player to focus on. For instance, you could have a player of the month. Say you decided to focus on Lennie Tristano. For one month you would devote a period of your practice session each day to listening to and studying Lennie Tristano. Buy a few of his recordings. Read his biographies. (Biographies tend to be hit-or-miss. Some have great substance. Some are just fluff.) Search on youtube for footage of him performing. Transcribe a few of his solos. Learn to play them. Emulate his articulation, phrasing, rhythmic feel, tone, dynamics, etc. Then, after a period with Lennie, move on to someone else. Perhaps move on to a contemporary of Lennies. Or jump around in the tradition to, say, 1970s McCoy Tyner. Become a vinyl head. If you dont already, start buying vinyl records. Im not one of those audiophiles who thinks that vinyl sounds better than CD. It certainly sounds different from digital music. But I personally like them both. I buy vinyl because of the music that is available there that isnt available on CD. There is a ton of old music that is out of print but still available in used record stores. You can find a lot of great old stuff, cheap. You can also pay
Copyright 2008 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

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21 Great Ways to Become a Monster Jazz Musician by Chris Punis

$87 or more for one record if youre a serious collector. But there are a lot of records available for a few bucks or even a dollar. And again, theres stuff you just cant find on CD or iTunes. There is really no reason not to buy records. Write about music. Write essays and articles about music. Ok, when I say this, people think, That sounds an awful lot like homework. Unfortunately, school often has the effect of turning people off of learning. Well, not monster jazz musicians. Its time to throw your school baggage away and become a serious student of jazz. No one ever became a monster jazz musician without being a serious student of jazz first. Writing essays and articles makes you think and then focus your thoughts. You could write essays comparing and contrasting two great saxophonists, or two solos. You could write an informational essay describing the ballad style of Elvin Jones. Choose a focus for your essay, do your research (listen to the records, take notes, think, etc.), write your outline, and then write your paper. The act of explaining something in written words to an audience (the reader) will help to focus your thinking and knowledge of a subject immensely. Besides, as a monster jazz musician, someday you may be writing your own book about music, or an article for JazzTimes magazine. Writing about music (and talking about music, for that matter) with the hopes of teaching someone else your ideas is one of the best ways to learn music. Feed your creative fires with the past. Youll discover that a lot of the hippest new music actually was conceived of and played in your grandfathers day. The most creative people are the ones most steeped in the tradition. Youll discover ideas and musical avenues that you can explore. You will never run out of music to check out or ideas of your own. Become a serious student of jazz. Become a lifelong student of the tradition. Action Step Create a history playlist. Put together a chronological collection of masterful jazz tracks from the 1920s to the present. Pick a focus and follow its evolution through your playlist.

Copyright 2008 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

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21 Great Ways to Become a Monster Jazz Musician by Chris Punis

Action Step Choose a player of the month. Buy recordings, find videos on youtube, transcribe a few solos, emulate that player, read a biography. Immerse yourself in one players music for a period. Then move on to another master whose music is important to you. Rinse. Lather. Repeat.

Copyright 2008 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

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21 Great Ways to Become a Monster Jazz Musician by Chris Punis

The Jazz Musicians Great Paradox


The Great Paradox Young and less developed musicians always seem to be in a hurry to get somewhere. They are certainly not happy where they are, but someday they will arrive and live happily ever after. They will become great players and then their life will begin. Wrong. Even if this methodology worked and they somehow became great players, they still wouldnt be happy. It still wouldnt be enough. Even worse is the fact that being in a frantic hurry to achieve their goals (although they probably dont even have clear goals) is akin to shooting themselves in the foot before running the Boston Marathon. Herein lies the paradox. Going fast usually means slow progress or even complete paralysis. Going slow, conversely, usually means faster progress. Slow and steady wins the race. Bill Evans, the great jazz pianist, was once asked what he practiced when he was coming up. He answered, As little as possible. Many young players practice as much as possible. And they scramble along from topic to topic trying to get there as fast as possible. Im not saying that becoming an accomplished musician doesnt require a lot of practice, a lot of time in the shed, and study of a lot of topics. It does. But how and why you practice is sometimes more important than how much and what you practice. Becoming a high-level, advanced jazz musician, a prerequisite for monsterdom, is actually pretty easy. It requires trust above all else, coupled with discipline, excellent practice, excellent teachers, experience, taking chances and, of course, taking action. With trust you can move ahead surely and swiftlytaking the time to thoroughly learn the material, acquire excellent skills and lay down the solid foundation required to build greatness. Trust-Based Practice You are already there. You are at exactly the point in your progress where you are supposed to be. If you accept this fact and trust yourself, you will not be in a hurry. If you are not in a hurry, you will be able to summon up the necessary discipline to
Copyright 2008 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

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21 Great Ways to Become a Monster Jazz Musician by Chris Punis

acquire excellent skills. You will take chances. You will make mistakes, fall down, pick yourself up and continue on your path. Your dreams, vision and goals will feel inevitable. You will feel invigorated, inspired, strong and confident. You will move through life with purpose and poise. You will walk tall. You will become a magnet for opportunity. You will actually become a monster jazz musician faster than you ever thought possibleif you let go of your fear, trust yourself and move slowly but steadily forward, knowing that your goals lie ahead and that you will come to them when the time is right. Fear-Based Practice Fear is the opposite of trust. Fear paralyzes many people and holds them back from ever achieving their goals. Fear makes us practice things that are beyond our present abilities. Fear makes us practice too many things at once. Fear makes us doubt ourselves and change directions and practice topics too soon. Fear keeps us from taking chances. It keeps us locked in a practice room. It keeps us down. Fear makes us afraid of failing. We become afraid of rejection (from the audience and our peers). And we even become afraid of success (of making it and then being found out to be a fraud or a mere mortal). Fear makes us live unbalanced lives, forget our values and, in worst case scenarios, really screw things up. Like destroy a relationship or become an alcoholic or an addict. The good news is you have a choice. You are responsible for and in control of your own state of mind. You can decide to act from a place of fear or from a place of trust. Decide today to become more aware and conscious of your thinking and your state of mind. Choose to act from a place of faith and trust. Soon you will keenly know the difference between fear and trust. You will see the subtle ways in which fears manifest themselves and hold you back. Soon you will see fear coming around the corner, and you will be able to stop it before it arrives. Your practicing will become more focused. It will become more pleasurable and inspired. Your whole life will begin to change. As the great success guru Brian Tracy once said, Change your thinking and change your life. Trust will ripple through your
Copyright 2008 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

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whole life, making your gigs more inspired and bringing boundless opportunity to your doorstep. Action Step Take a mental snapshot of yourself when you are performing at your best. How do you feel? I would bet you feel confident, calm, inspired and trusting. Try to notice as many details of the experience as possible. Later you can consciously return to this state. This skill of transmuting will become easier and easier with practice. Before you practice, take a few minutes to center yourself and return to this state. Do the same before a gig or any other time of the day, for that matter. Action Step Visualize your snapshot in your imagination. Take a few minutes each morning or before practice and visualize yourself in a confident, inspired and trusting state of mind. Imagine as many details as possible. How do you feel? Are you relaxed? What are your emotions? How are you performing? Visualization is a powerful tool for change. Experiment and create your goals in your mind first.

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21 Great Ways to Become a Monster Jazz Musician by Chris Punis

Play Jazz Like Its Your Job


(And pretty soon it will be) Play music like its your job. If youre like most jazz musicians, you could sound better right away simply by adjusting your attitude and your work ethic. Now, I know you already have a great work ethic. You practice hard everyday for hours and hours. You listen to music every free minute you have and would rather rehearse with your band then eat or sleep. Im not talking about that kind of work. Im talking about the kind of work you get paid for. Im talking about your job ethic. If someone is serious about their job and intends to succeed and advance to a more fulfilling and higher paying position they are going to focus on fulfilling their responsibilities to their boss and once thats done then they may decide to do a little more to get ahead faster. But they must take care of their basic job first. Its the same for musicians. First you must do your job. Play the tune, swing your butt off, play the changes and lock up with the band. Once you can do that then you can think about taking it out, playing some fancy substitutions or cross rhythms. But first things first. This brings us back to the last lesson about trust. Musicians who are not happy where they are play things that are beyond them. I play in the house band for a jam session at a club here in Boston from time to time. I see less musically mature players making this mistake all the time. They come in trying to impress their peers and the audience playing their latest Tony Williams lick or George Garzone pattern and they end up dropping beats, turning the beat around, stepping all over their fellow band mates and causing musical train wrecks. They come in with the intention of looking cool, and they succeed at looking like a fool. And sounding terrible. Whats worse is that they dont even know it. The more you focus on the fundamentals and your core responsibilities the better you will sound. Your responsibility is to the band and the music first. Play as if you were an audience member. What would you want to hear? A swinging player with clear ideas
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locked in with the rest of the band. Or a self-indulgent jerk stepping on everyones toes? So dont over complicate things. Keep it simple. Youll sound better immediately. People will respect your musical maturity and your professionalism. They will want to call you for gigs because you help them sound good. Soon music will be your job. Action Step: Write a list of your top five musical responsibilities. These will vary depending on your instrument. Record yourself at rehearsals, sessions, and gigs and ask your self am I fulfilling those responsibilities? If not adjust your playing, simplify and repeat the process.

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Guard Your Musical Dreams Like Your Life Depended On it.


(Because it does) Your dreams, goals and musical aspirations are the most important things you have. They are what later become your life. In the big picture sense they are your life. They are your accomplishments and successes in the embryonic stages. They must be guarded, nurtured and cared for until they come to fruition. Be very careful who you share them with. Be sure to only share them with people you are confident will be supportive and encouraging. This is especially important when you are in the early stages and if your goals are particularly ambitious. When you are going into new territory and aiming high you need people around you who believe in you. Avoid negativity. Avoid negative people. Avoid people who tell you you cant, or that what youre aiming to do is not possible. At best this is simply energy draining. While you hold your ground, defend your dream and maintain a positive attitude youre wasting energy that you could direct towards your goal. Conversely people who encourage you and believe in you actually give you energy and add to your momentum. At worst negativity can actually be dangerous and derail you from your path. It can cause you second guess your self and choose security over success. Seek out successful people. Seek out people who are already doing what you plan to do. Listen to their advice and emulate them. Success leaves tracks. Learn from those who have achieved it. Find the people who say you can. Put on success blinders. Focus on what you want. Focus on results. Keep your eyes on the target. Anything is possible so long as it doesnt violate natural law. If someone else has done it then you can too. Focus on the goal. Ignore the reasons why you cant. Ignore the resources or advantages you dont have. Instead focus on the
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reasons why you can and focus on what you do have. Obstacles will arise. Trust yourself, persevere and you will overcome. Action Step: Take a look at your musical associates. Who are the people that you spend the majority of your time with? Are they positive and supportive or negative and discouraging? If you answered the later you may want to reconsider that relationship. Or least limit your time with them and guard your dreams. This is one of toughest exercises to complete. Its not easy evaluating long standing relationships in this way. But if someone is keeping you down with negativity, you owe it to yourself to do something about it.

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How Teaching Jazz is One of the Most Powerful Ways to Learn Jazz
Teaching other people is one of the best and most powerful ways to learn. By having to articulate and explain a subject, you clarify the subject in your own mind. You stumble upon new connections and analogies. You increase your depth of understanding and achieve mastery. Here are a few ideas to apply this concept to your own musical growth. Find students and teach them about what youre working on. Teach your parents, your little brother or your girlfriend. Teach your musical buddies and your friends about what youre working on. Now a question you might be thinking is what if they dont know anything about jazz drumming, how am I going to teach them about it? All the better. Some times a student with no background in your subject can be very advantageous. It means you will have to simplify down to basic principles and explain it with out the use of jargon. Youll be forced to come up with creative everyday analogies that they can relate to. By going through this process of explaining, simplifying and answering questions you will gain a deeper understanding of the basics and fundamentals of your subject. Their questions will bring to light the areas you are unclear about, thus informing you where to focus next. Go into a lesson assuming or pretending that you are going to have to teach a class about that topic. Whether you are attending a class at the local music school, taking a lesson or simply watching an instructional DVD think about how you would teach the material to a student. This will help to keep you focused and give you a purpose. Having a purpose always intensifies the learning process. You will be searching for the principles and for ways to explain them. Write a lesson plan. Create a lesson plan for what ever it is you are working on. Even before you completely understand it. Write
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down an outline with bullet points that you could use to present a lesson on the material to a student or class. Next write down all of the potential questions that your students may have. Simply going through this process of organizing the material will greatly increase your understanding and clarity. If you want you can go further and teach this lesson plan to someone (as mentioned above). Or you could record yourself giving the lesson, then listen back and decide if your points were clear and concise. Was your information clear and meaningful? Have someone else listen to it and critique it. Using these methods will greatly increase your depth of understanding and mastery of any subject. It will also prepare you to work as a teacher. For many musicians teaching and performing go hand in hand. Its a great way to supplement your income, help others achieve their goals and its an extremely powerful tool to enhance your own musical development.

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As an aspiring monster jazz musician, youve spent countless hours in the shed, working on various topics over the years. How do you measure your progress? How do you know when youve mastered your current topic and are ready to move on to the next? These can be tough questions. A new musical concept or instrumental technique requires all of your attention as youre practicing it. Its hard to step back and hear yourself at the same time. You cant work on something new and evaluate yourself simultaneouslyat least not effectively.

The Power of Recording Yourself

A Mirror for Your Ears

Thats where modern technology comes in. Today its easier than ever to record yourself and then listen back critically. Whether you use a digital recorder, a mini-disc, or an old-fashioned tape recorder, it doesnt really matter. Recording yourself allows you to focus all of your attention on your practicing. Later, you can listen to the recording and figure out whats working, and whats not. So all of your focus and energy gets directed properlytowards practice when youre practicing, and towards critique when youre listening. Its one of the most effective and efficient ways to become a monster jazz musician. A combination of practice and evaluation based on your recordings is probably twice as powerful as just practice alone.

Youll be amazed at what you hear. Sure, you can figure out how youre progressing with your current practice plan, but youll also notice details about your playing that youve never heard before. Maybe your swing feel isnt as strong as you thought it was. Maybe you have a tendency to lose focus near the end of your solos. Or maybe your tone is actually closer to your ideal than you realized, and now you want to experiment with it a bit. So dont just record yourself practicing a specific topic; record yourself improvising and just playing tunes as well. Youll discover all kinds of things about your musicianship. Youll also start to become an expert on your own playing, which is one of the key steps on the path to monsterdom. Know thyself, as the ancient philosophers said.

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Another great benefit of recording yourself is that it gives you a clear way to compare your playing with that of the masters. Say youre a pianist really digging deep into Monk, and trying to figure out what makes his music so great. Record yourself playing the head to Straight No Chaser, listen to it a few times, and then compare it with one of Monks recordings of the same tune. Maybe youre playing the same notes in the same rhythm, but there is probably a world of difference between the two recordings. Why is that? What does Monk do that you dont? What doesnt he do that you do? This kind of study is also one of the most powerful ways to improve your playing. If you want to be a master, you have to learn from the masters, and a direct comparison like this is one of the best ways to learn. Like anything else, the more you listen back to your recordings and critique your playing, the better youll become at this skill. Youll hear more and more details in your music, and youll become a keen judge about whats solid and what needs more work. Youll also notice that youre becoming a better critical listener even as youre playing. Your ears just become sharper, even if most of your attention is focused somewhere else. Then your practicing becomes even more effective, because you can hear yourself on a deeper level and make the appropriate adjustments.

Action Step: Record yourself playing a specific exercise youre currently working on, or a melody you know pretty well, or an improvised passage. Just a few minutes should be enough. If you record more than that, then you might be less motivated to take the time to listen back afterwardswhich defeats the whole purpose. Its also a pain to be fast-forwarding and rewinding through long recordings just to find the important parts. How do you sound? Are the topics youre working on showing up in your playing? Are you making progress toward your goals? Are you surprised by anything? Does your recording suggest you should change your practice plan in any way, perhaps to focus on other, more important topics? Are there aspects of your playing that are better than you thought?

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Make this a regular part of your practice routine. Record your gigs as well, and see if youre playing changes noticeably in a performance situation. The time you invest in listening to yourself critically will pay back huge dividends.

Its a Long StoryWhere Do I Begin?

Practicing with a Purpose

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When many young (and not-so-young) musicians first gain some facility on their instruments, they often want to play all the time. The sheer joy of making their own music and sounding good on their ax is irresistible. They noodle constantlybefore the song, during the song, after the song, when someone else is talking, when no one is talking, even when theyre talking themselves. Maybe you play with one or two musicians like this in your own bands, or perhaps you have them as students. While their enthusiasm and energy are certainly great assetsand youd never want to put a damper on themthis is not the best approach for an aspiring monster jazz musician. Your playing, and therefore your practicing, must have focus.

But how do you choose a topic to focus on? There is a seemingly endless list of stuff to practice: tone, articulation, swing feel, learning tunes, transposing tunes, improvising over changes, improvising free, etc. It can be overwhelming when you think about it. That might be why many musicians practice the same tunes or exercises all the time. They know they can improve in many areas, but they dont know where to begin, and so they fall back on whats familiar. While repetition is certainly a key component in the learning process, after a certain point repetition simply becomes a rut. The best kind of practice forces you out of your comfort zone. You have to work on the unfamiliar and the difficult in order to improve. And so the musician who always practices the same stuff is just as unfocused as the player who cant stop noodling. They both need to bring some purpose into their musical lives. Practicing with purpose means being conscious of what youre playing. Whether its a new tune, a tricky chord progression, or an unusual rhythmic feel, its a topic that you have specifically chosen to focus on. Ill even go out on a limb here and say that what you practice is less important than how you practice it. Working on any reasonable topic will only make you a better musician. But working consciously, carefully, and consistently will make you a monster musician.

So choose any practice topic that intrigues you. If you have trouble coming up with something, record yourself playing your
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instrument and listen back (see Lesson 11 for more details)I guarantee youll discover several aspects of your playing that you want to improve. Then, set aside at least some time in every practice session to work on your topic of choice. Stretch yourself: try things that are difficult, explore areas that seem just out of reach. Play slowlythis is one of the best things you can do when practicing new concepts. Slow tempos give you time to think, to adjust, to get your body in synch with your mind. And be patient with yourself. The most profound learning experiences can be difficult. Your weaknesses will be exposed like never before. But dont let that discourage you. Continue on your path, knowing that you have already achieved a new level of musicianship, and even higher levels are right in front of you. Now youre practicing with purpose. Action Step: Choose a musical topic that is challenging for you. If you are a beginner, this does not mean improvising over Giant Steps at 300 bps. A challenging topic is one you can work on, but with some difficulty. Focus on this topic every day, even if it is only for a short time. Before you begin practicing, think about what you hope to accomplish that day in your pursuit of this topic. After you have finished practicing, ask yourself what you actually learned about your topic. The before and after meditations might often be quite different, but thats perfectly fine. The important thing is that youre practicing consciously, with a purpose. Before you know it, your playing will be more musical than you ever imagined it could be.

If youre like me, you find it much easier to start projects than to finish them. Coming up with goals, brain-storming the individual
Copyright 2008 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

Developing the Habits of Follow-Through and Completion

Are We There Yet?

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steps of an action plan, and working out a schedule are all activities that seem to flow pretty naturally from my head, through my fingers and a keyboard, and onto the computer screen. Even implementing the first few steps of a plan seems to be easier than following through on the last parts. Somehow that initial spark of interest in a new project fades out over time. But if you want to achieve greatnessin particular, if you want to become a monster jazz musicianyou have to develop the habits of followthrough and completion. They are the traits that truly differentiate those who realize their dreams from those who dont. Well, the good news is that there are specific skills you can practice to become better at finishing what youve started. The first one is probably the most important: choose clear, detailed, finite goals. Dont just tell yourself, I want to become a better jazz player, or, I want to build up my chops. While these are certainly admirable aspirations, they are too vague to be useful. Youll never know when youre done (in fact, youll never really be done with projects like thesetheyre lifelong pursuits).

Focus and articulate your goals so that youll know exactly when youve achieved them. I will learn the melody and chord changes of All the Things You Are in all twelve keys over the next two monthsnow thats a clear, specific goal youll be able to track and measure. When the going gets tough, when your initial enthusiasm starts to wane, you can strengthen your resolve by checking your schedule and seeing how far along in your project youve come. Another important skill in developing the habits of follow-through and completion is the ability to adjust and reevaluate your goals. Maybe All the Things You Are is just too tricky in the key of F#, and it will take you a disproportionate amount of time to get it down. Or maybe two months is too ambitious a time-frame for your project. Whatever the problem, those who are skilled at finishing off tasks know when they need to modify their plan, and they adjust accordingly. So dont be afraid to edit your goals: learn the tune in the nine most common keys you play instead of all twelve, or take three months for the task instead of two. Youll still be accomplishing a lot and getting closer to your dreams.
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Its also important to defuse your perfectionist tendencies if you have them. No task is ever truly complete, particularly if you set challenging goals for yourself. There is always more to learn, more to practice, more to perfect, even within the most focused projects. Accept the fact that you dont have to master every new topic you pursue. You probably wont play All the Things You Are flawlessly in all twelve keys if youve just learned it recently. Youll certainly sound better in some keys than in others. And thats fine. Learn the tune, play it well, and then move on to your next project. All of this is not to say that you can be sloppy and rush through your schedule mindlessly. Obviously, you want to do the best job you can. But the best closers strike a balance between being thorough and finishing tasks off.

Finally, keep track of your completed projects just as you keep track of goals for the future. Write down exactly what you accomplished and learned. If you made changes to your original plans, describe what those changes are and why you made them. Keeping a record of your accomplishments can be great motivation as you pursue jazz monsterdom. You can look back and see how much youve learned, which should provide you with the confidence you need to learn even more. Ive found that I often get more done than I might originally think, and its only by keeping track of my completed projects that I realize this. I think youll find the same is true for you as well. Action Plan: Choose a clear, specific musical goal that you can easily track and measure. If youre already working on something, just write it down in detailed language. Include a schedule. Your project probably shouldnt last any longer than two or three months. Keep track of your progress as you go, and be prepared to make adjustments to your plan. Then, when youve completed your task, write down what you did and what you learned. Youll have an inspiring record of your accomplishments, and youll be motivated for your next challenge.

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For aspiring monster jazz musicians, the best learning resources are not books, videos, the latest technology, or fancy new equipment. These can all be powerful tools, but your fastest and
Copyright 2008 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

How Being the Worst Member of a Band is Actually the Best Opportunity You Can Find

The Virtues of the Weak Link

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most effective growth will come from associating with accomplished players.

Maybe you take lessons with an experienced musician. Thats great, and its certainly one of the best ways to improve. Or maybe you are friendly with some skilled jazz players in your hometown, and you can talk about music with them occasionally. Thats also a good avenue for expanding your knowledge. But theres another, extremely powerful way to learn from great musicians: play music with them!

Sure, it sounds simple, but its too often overlooked by less experienced players. Theyre usually just too shy and insecure to initiate a session with better musicians. But, as I hope to show you in this lesson, the benefits are so great that you should really learn to set aside any feelings of embarrassment or fear of rejection. Be the worst member in a bandits one of the best things you can do for your musicianship! Ask any athlete about competing against (or even training with) better athletes, and youll hear the same response: Its one of the best ways to improve in your sport. Sure, your pride might suffer a bit as youre being pushed around the court or the field, but those feelings quickly fade as you observe how these skilled athletes play their sport, and as you start to judge what you must change in your own game in order to keep up. Music isnt a competition, of course, but similar dynamics are at work. Playing in a live situation with accomplished musicians gives you an up-close view of what its like to make music at a very high level.

Youll notice the details that define a great band: the way the drummer recognizes your rhythmic patterns and highlights them, or how the bassist seamlessly leads you into the chord changes, or how the horn player has complete control of his solos. Youll step up your own playing in order to keep up with them. Youll also see clearly how much work you have to do to reach that level of excellence. Playing with great musicians is like going to the
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Empire State Building and taking the elevator to the top, instead of just reading about it or looking at pictures in a book.

I know what youre probably thinking: Being in a band with great players will certainly help you, but whats in it for them? Why would they want to play with a less experienced musician? Or even worse, what if they embarrass you or put you down? Well, first of all, let me say that this probably wont happen. Its true that there are some good musicians out there who are nevertheless insecure about themselves and who take their anxiety out on those around them. But, in my experience at least, these people are the exception, not the rule. The really great musicians understand that all sincere learners are on the same path, and theyre more than willing to help others along the way.

The more important lesson here, though, is that jazz is bigger than our own small fears and insecurities. Dont let your musical development be held back because youre worried about what some people might say about you. Playing with great musicians will help you tremendously, so set aside your fears and seek out those opportunities. Once youve done this a few times, youll find that youre less anxious about yourself and your music. Youll gain better perspective on whats important and whats not. Youll be less concerned about how people might criticize your playing, and youll be more focused on the music itself. Being the worst member of a band will improve not just your technical skills, but also your whole mental approach.

Action Step: Seek out accomplished musicians and ask to play with them. Maybe youll be lucky enough to audition for a great band and land the gig. Then youll be able to practice regularly with better players. But even if thats not a possibility, there are plenty of other avenues. Go to local jam sessions and introduce yourself to the house band. If they know youve come specifically to play with them, theyll usually give you that opportunity. If you like the scene, keep going back for a few weeks. Get to know the good players and invite them to your own sessions. The more you play with great musicians, the faster youll become one yourself.
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In our last lesson, we talked about the virtues of being the "worst" i.e. the least experienced or knowledgeablemusician in a band. Playing with better musicians simply makes you better. Today, though, I want to take a look at the opposite situation: What happens when youre the "best" musician in the room? This can also be a great learning opportunity, provided that youre willing to do a lot of work.
Copyright 2008 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

How Being the Best Musician Is Also an Opportunity for Growth

The Benefits of Strengthening the Weak Link

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I should probably be more specific, though. Sometimes the strongest musicians are simply brought into a musical situation as hired gunsthey play a specific role in a band, but someone else is directing the music. Thats not what Im talking about today. If youre the best musician in a group that plays together regularly, eventually the other band members will turn to you for guidance. And thats where a unique opportunity for growth appears: the challenge of leading a band.

One of the most important skills for a band leader to have is the ability to listen to the whole group, even as he concentrates on his own instrument and parts. And just like any other skill, it can be practiced and developed. You must learn to divide your attention between yourself and your band mates. Of course, the better you know your own parts, the easier it is to listen to the other instruments as youre playing. This is a tremendous skill to have, since your own playing will become more informed by the music being created around you. Your level of musical communication and interaction will deepen considerably. As you become more comfortable dividing your attention between your own musical responsibilities and the sound of the band as a whole, youll start to notice areas that need to be improved. Maybe the groove just isnt strong enough in one particular tune, or the comping on another tune is too muddled. Here is where another key skill of a band leader is required: the ability to diagnose musical problems. This can be trickier than it might seem at first. It may be fairly obvious that the rhythm section isnt tight enough, but figuring out why thats the case can take a lot of careful listening and analysis. Maybe the drummers swing feel is slightly different from the pianists. Or maybe one of the horn players is rushing a bit during his solos, and the bassist is following him but the drummer is not. There are dozens of variables and possibilities, but a skilled band leader will be able to root out the problems. Sometimes this is too great a challenge to overcome in a live situation, so recording rehearsals and concerts can be a great help (see lesson 11: A Mirror for Your Ears).

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Figuring out what exactly is creating your bands musical problems will sharpen your ears and greatly raise your overall awareness.

Once youve identified what needs to be changed, you might also have to help your band mates do the actual changing! Your pianist and guitarist may be stepping on each others toes harmonically, but they might also be so used to playing a certain way that they dont know what to do differently. And here is another learning opportunity for you as the band leader: To help the other musicians, youll have to learn their parts. Knowing exactly what the pianist and guitarist are playing will give you a new perspective on your own instrument and role within the band. As you help your band mates improve, youll also be making yourself a better musician.

Action Step: Play regularly with musicians who are not as knowledgeable or experienced as you. Once youve earned their trust as a source for guidance, start to listen for musical areas that can be improved. Try to hear the band as a whole even as youre concentrating on your own parts. Think about what needs to be fixed and how you can go about fixing it. Youll learn a lot about how bands work and how different instruments approach the music. Some of you might be wondering how I can advocate being the worst musician and being the best. Its simple, really: all playing situations are learning opportunities. You should take advantage of as many of them as you canwhether youre the most knowledgeable musician, the least knowledgeable, or somewhere in between. Try to grow as much as you can no matter where you find yourself playing. Its the surest path to becoming a monster jazz musician.

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Theres no such thing as (JAZZ) ghosts.


Are you stuck in the past? Are you afraid of ghosts? Listen, Im the first person to tell you to check out the past, study the masters and dig deep into the tradition. But the only reason to do that is to use that experience and knowledge to springboard yourself into the future. You use the past to create the future. You dont need to recreate the past. So many jazz musicians and jazz educators have ridiculous opinions about what is jazz and what is not. They put limits on themselves and on their music. They pigeon hole the music and in doing so they pigeon hole themselves. They get caught up in the details and lose site of the big picturethis is jazz, that is not; this is real bebop, that is not, etc.
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That sort of thinking only has the effect of limiting your creativity. Jazz doesnt care what you do. Charlie Parker doesnt care what you do. Just because Charlie Parker did something one way (either in music or in his personal life) doesnt mean you have to. He doesnt care. In fact if he were still alive I would bet he would applaud you for creativity and originality not imitation. I heard a story about Thelonious Monk, and if I remember correctly heres how it went. Monk was at a club watching a young piano player perform. Now, this piano player had clearly done his homework and really checked out Monks music. Seeing that Monk was in the audience this player decided to perform one of Monks tunes. He pulled out all of his Monk licks and played the tune as close to how Monk would as he could. He imitated his tone, his feel and his vocabulary. So, what was Monks response? I already know how I would play it; I want to hear how you would play it. There are no rules and there are no mistakes. The only thing that matters is self-expression and connection with other people. Thats it. This sort of limiting belief pops up in all sorts of ways. As a drummer I like to experiment with time-feel. I use this as a device to create interest and tension in a piece of music. I might change the time feel (i.e. Latin feel for the bridge, rock feel for the tag, modulate to another meter for the C section, etc) through out a piece of music. I might change for each soloist, or maybe just for the bridge. Ill change only sometimes on the bridge or change in different ways, never locking myself into anything. The bass player I play with most often (in several bands) is hip to this and is a creative and openminded person himself, so he goes with it and enjoys the interest created. Heck, he does it himself. But sometimes Ill use this stuff with less creative people and I get responses like actually the bridge on that tune is supposed to be a swing feel or actually, so and so always played it this way. So What! Im not so and so. So study the tradition and study the rules. Then throw them away as fast as possible. Do your homework but then let your ears and
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your heart guide your music. There are only two types of music in the world: good and bad. Good music is any music that moves you and inspires you. Draw on all of your influences and roots. If you grew up playing punk rock before you starting checking out jazz, that music is still in you. If it comes out in your improvisingTHATS GREAT! Its part of you. Its part of your artistic voice. Your punk rock energy combined with your jazz sensibility could come out sounding fantastic and totally original. Jazz is all about originality and individuality. Innovation is the tradition.

Dont forget to play music.


Many up and coming jazz musicians get so caught up in learning their instrument that they forget to play music. They spend all their time in the shed working on the techniques and concepts of jazz and never play music with people. That akin to a baseball player spending all of his time practicing fielding ground balls, or sprinting around the bases, but never actually playing baseball. Playing the game is as important to becoming a monster jazz musician as practicing the techniques. There are many skills that can only be developed while playing with a band. For instancelocking up with the groove, playing in tune, listening and reacting to the other players, recovering from form mistakes, ending tunes, blending, interacting, and comping to name but a few.
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21 Great Ways to Become a Monster Jazz Musician by Chris Punis

I learned this lesson the hard way. I was once that guy who practiced, practiced, practiced, then I got my butt kicked. I went to Berklee College of Music. They used a numbered rating system to place students in ensembles. I had wanted to take one of Hal Crooks ensembles for the entire time I was there, but I didnt have high enough ratings (his required ensemble ratings were among the highest). I auditioned every semester to raise my ratings. Finally after two years my ratings were high enough. I joined his ensemble and showed up for the first day. He called a standard (What is this thing called love-I believe) and then counted it in at breakneck speed, well above my comfort zone. I got my butt kicked. After the class I went right back to the practice room. I practiced hard all week trying to prepare for next weeks class. When I showed up the next week there was already another drummer behind the kit. I figured out pretty quickly that I was being kicked out. (To make matters worse the other drummer was a friend of mind who felt terrible about the situation) Hal showed up a few minutes later and took me out into the hall way to talk to me. He said Chris, youre not ready for this ensemble. I could keep you in the class and kick youre a## all semester, but that wouldnt be good for either of us. What you need to do is play one session with other players everyday for a year, then call me and well talk. Play duos, trios. Play with other drummers. Get any playing experience you can. You dont need to be a better instrumentalist; you need to be a better musician. Needless to say that was a rather crushing blow to my ego. Here I thought I had finally arrived; I mean I was in Hal Crooks ensemble. Then I got booted. After a few days of feeling sorry for self and walking around with my tail between my legs, I got over it, and I got to work. I scheduled every session I possibly could. I would literally book 15-20 sessions per week. Honestly about half of those would inevitably end up being cancelled but I still ended up with at least one session per day and a couple of days with more than one. I met several musicians with whom I became great friends with and developed long and fruitful musical relationships. I played lots of duo sessions, with saxophonists, guitarists, bass players, piano players
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21 Great Ways to Become a Monster Jazz Musician by Chris Punis

and even other drummers. I developed regular practice bands with weekly rehearsals. I began to learn how to play music, instead of just my instrument. I learned how to follow, how to lead. I learned about group dynamics, and the bass/drum hook up. I learned tunes, practiced following endings, and had a lot of fun doing it. The result? A year later I called Hal and we played a session-just me, a bass player and him. I nailed it. He shook my hand and told me hed call me next semester for an ensemble spot. I took two ensembles with him and then went on to study privately with him. So go out and play with people. Chances are you already have several musician friends. Become the organizer and start setting up practice sessions. If you dont have many musical friends then start looking for them. Its really easy to meet people. Go to local jam sessions. Be sure to show up early and watch the house band. Introduce yourself on the break and sign up to sit in. Hang out and talk to the other attendees. Be present on the scene by attending the sessions week after week. Then simply ask people if theyd like to play a session. If youre in music school then thats a no brainer. There should be tons of people to play with. Or you could use Craigs List. Gradually you can become more picky about who you play with but at first just start playing. As you meet better and better players you can invite them to your sessions. You cant learn jazz in the practice room alone. While practicing is important it must be combined with playing with other musicians (And listening, and playing gigs, but more on that later.). When youre putting together your practice plan and routine, schedule in time for sessions. Sessions should be thought of as part of your learning strategy. Its a bit of a balancing act but its one that worth striking. Try playing regular sessions youll see what I mean.

Copyright 2008 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

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21 Great Ways to Become a Monster Jazz Musician by Chris Punis

Three Powerful Ideas to Get the Most Out Of Your Jazz Groups Practices
Choose a purpose for the group When putting a practice group together it is important to decide upon a purpose or focus for the band. What does everyone hope to get out of it? What areas of music will you focus on? The clearer the group is on this the more productive your practice sessions will be, much more productive in fact. So decide ahead of time. You could focus on any element of music really, but here are a few ideas for you. Learn jazz standards Learn bebop tunes Study the music of one musician
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21 Great Ways to Become a Monster Jazz Musician by Chris Punis

Study the music of one period of jazz Explore one aspect of musicianship like dynamics, phrase length, thematic development, etc Write original tunes Learn familiar tunes in all twelve keys This focus might shift after a period of time say after a month with one topic, or it might be the whole focus for the entirety of the project for instance you might decide to learn the Bebop repertoire and spend two years learning tunes and arrangements by Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Lennie Tristano, Bud Powel et al. Having this kind of focus will have a profound impact on your practice band. Set parameters Setting parameters for a piece of music will make the piece more cohesive and logical. This is helpful at all levels and with all styles but it is particularly useful with free playing. For instance, you may decide to play free with only the following stipulation: each member of the band must leave a big chunk of space (5 or more seconds of rest) in between every phrase. This will help the band to see the impact of leaving space and will create some really cool textures. Or you could decide to play with a wide range of dynamics or at only one dynamic level like PP (really quiet). You could all place limits on your instruments: So maybe the bass player can only play on the D string with his bow, the drummer can only play on his cymbals, the guitarist can only play rhythmically on muted strings and the saxophonist can only use her left hand. Placing limits like this on your playing, while frustrating at first, can really force your creativity to wake up and make you think about making music in a different way. Or if you are playing a tune your parameters could be as follows: Play the entire piece with a two feel Each soloist can only use chord tones to solo You have to switch time feels every chorus with one person assigned to cue and communicate the change
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21 Great Ways to Become a Monster Jazz Musician by Chris Punis

Play the entire tune with one big dynamic shape- each solo build upon the last and climaxes right before the out head (melody). OR perhaps a scenario like this: the saxophonist plays bass lines, the guitarist solos, the bass player plays rhythmic single note comping ideas and the drummer improvises counter melodies to the guitarist The possibilities are endless. The great thing is that once you do a few of these predetermined scenarios youll start to see more options at your other sessions. These parameters and scenarios will start to happen naturally. Then youre truly improvising and making music on the fly, instead of just playing notes and rhythms. Talk through the arrangement ahead of time Rather than just getting together and blowing on some tunes (Which is fun and is an important part of the learning process) put your creative minds together and come up with an arrangement. It doesnt have to be great and it doesnt have to be on par with Duke Ellington. Keep it simple at first.

Here are some examples of ways to start tunes, end tunes and ideas for the body of the tune as well. The band plays the changes from the last 4 or 8 bars as an intro One instrument plays the first A section out front rubato then sets up the time and cues in the band The drummer takes 8 bars out front Play the A sections swing feel and the bridge a Latin feel Play the A sections Latin and the bridge swing Experiment and mix up different time feels on different sections of the tunesswing, double time, Latin, rock, half-time, calypso, Bossa Nova, Afro-Cuban, two feel, metric modulation (go to 6/4 or 3/4). The possibilities are endless Bring the dynamic way down on the bridge
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21 Great Ways to Become a Monster Jazz Musician by Chris Punis

Have the comping instrument drop out for the first chorus of every solo Write rhythmic kicks that the band (except the soloist) plays during the first chorus of every solo Tag the turnaround and fade out End on beat one of the top Learn classic jazz endings and apply them to the tune Tag the turnaround and switch the groove End on the melody and have the saxophonist play a credenza Thats just a small sampling of what is possible. Use your imagination and start with what you know now. As you do more and more of this you will get better and better at it and you will come up with hipper ways to arrange a tune on the fly. Eventually these things will start to happened spontaneously, and thats the whole idea. The more focused your rehearsal the more productive they will be and the better your band will sound. Play like this for awhile and soon the band will develop a group sound. Be sure to get together with like minded musicians who are interested in learning and challenging themselves. Soon your band will be killin it on the bandstand too.

Is Your Brain About to Explode?


Ive had many students over the years who complained of being overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of learning to play jazz. There is so much to learn and it can be difficult to know where to start. Theres instrumental technique, theory, the fundamentals, improvising, ear training, composing, playing with a band, intonation, arranging, reading, execution, musicality, a myriad different styles, learning tunes, and on and on. You cant possibly work on all of these areas at once. Trying to wrap your head around all of this can literally make you feel like your brain is about to explode. Trying to comprehend every step of a huge process, like learning to play jazz is futile. This approach will only serve to stress you out, keep you unfocused and halt your musical development. A much
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21 Great Ways to Become a Monster Jazz Musician by Chris Punis

better approach is to limit your studies to a few areas at a time. If youre relatively new to jazz you may start with instrumental technique and the fundamentals. If youre a seasoned pro, you may focus on improvisation or composition. It all depends on your present abilities and priorities. But even these smaller categories can be overwhelming. Suppose you want to get your fundamentals together. If you are thinking about learning all the major & minor scales, arpeggios, the modes, altered scales, mastering intervals, scale patterns etc, at the same time think again. This unfocused approach will slow you down, no matter how important you may think learning the fundamentals is (And it is). I once tried to write down every aspect of music I wanted to explore. I made a giant mind-map and had to stop, not because I ran out of ideas to practice and study, but because I ran out of space on the paper! The more you learn about jazz the more aware you will become of just how vast it is and how many possible avenues there are to explore. When I stepped back and looked at this mind map, I almost fell over. It was like 30 years worth of practice and study. This was a great exercise. It certainly helped me develop my long term vision for my music, but theres no way I could possibly set achieving this thing as a goal. It was huge. I had to take from it the most important couple of ideas and go with them. If I tried to wrap my head around all of that my brain most certainly would have exploded! (Mind-maps are a powerful tool to brainstorm and organize your efforts in a very visual way. I wont explain how they work here for lack of space, but Google mind map and you will find tons of information about them.) Here are a few examples of potentially overwhelming, unbelievable goals: 1. Memorizing every tune in the real book.
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21 Great Ways to Become a Monster Jazz Musician by Chris Punis

2. Transcribing every Charlie Parker solo ever recorded 3. Learning every major scale, minor scale, bebop scale, arpeggio, inversion and mode in all 12 keys. 4. Memorizing every Bach invention 5. Mastering every permutation of a pentatonic scale in all 12 keys. (If my math is correct thats 1,140 permutations) 6. Learning every tune from the second classic Miles Davis Quintet catalog Now, your goals are going to vary depending on your present abilities and what goals youve already achieved. If youve already memorized Real Book Volume 1, its not that big of stretch to see yourself memorizing Volume 2. But if you only know 1 tune by memory you will probably not be able to see yourself achieving this goal. If you dont truly believe you can achieve a particular goal you wont achieve it. What ever the mind can conceive and believe it can achieve Napoleon Hill So start with a goal you believe in. Make it your goal to learn one tune. Then, learning a second wont seem so tough. Once you know two tunes it will be reasonable to believe you can learn five. And so on. Now dont misunderstand me. Big goals and vision are important. So, while in the back of your mind you know you want to become a great jazz musician, master the fundamentals and so forth, keep your immediate goals challenging but doable. As you achieve your smaller goals you can set bigger and loftier ones. Each time you achieve a goal you will build your confidence and accomplish more and more. And then one day youll reflect and think wow, I really have accomplished a lot!

Copyright 2008 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

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21 Great Ways to Become a Monster Jazz Musician by Chris Punis

7 Tips for Succeeding At Jam Sessions


In a previous lesson we talked about the importance of getting experience playing music with other people. Learning to play jazz doesnt happened in the practice room alone, and local jam sessions are a great place to get some experience playing with people, get experience playing in front of an audience and to meet other musicians. Here are a few tips to help you get the most out jam sessions. Show up early and watch the house band This is important for several reasons. First of all, its important to see/hear live music. Its an important part of learning music that is far too rare these days. You will learn a lot about your instrument by watching a more experienced musician perform. You can learn about
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21 Great Ways to Become a Monster Jazz Musician by Chris Punis

posture, technique, embouchure, expression etc. You can see how the band interacts with and responds to the audience and vice versa. Secondly, if the house band sees you showing up to support them and enthusiastically checking them out they will appreciate it. And believe me, they will notice if youre one of those musicians who rolls in right after the band finishes just in time to sit in and then takes off when youre done. So support their music, and get to know them. In return theyll take care of you, and make sure you get to play. And who knows, after awhile they may call you for the gig! Focus on blending and connecting with the other musicians Make it your goal to make the band sound better. If youre a horn player try to blend with the other horn players. Use this as an opportunity to learn to play in tune. If youre a drummer, focus on locking up with the bass player and supporting the soloist. If youre a guitarist be clear with your comping. Let the soloist know where you are. Aim for clarity. No matter what instrument you play listen for the dynamics. Blend in with band so that you have a presence but be sure not to bury the other musicians. If you dont know the tune, sit this one out If you dont know the tune that was called you dont have to play. Its better to sit one out and jump back in on the next tune than to make the whole band suffer because you dont really know the changes. This is a sign of confidence not weakness. The other musicians will appreciate it. Dont try to show off After spending hours and hours in the practice room developing your chops and learning some hip new bebop licks its very tempting to try to impress the other musicians with your new found hipness. But its a dangerous trap. You will most likely come off looking bad and making the music as a whole sound worse. Youre there for the music first and foremost. Do your job as a musician first. This is a sign of musical maturity. After you can do that then worry about being hip or modern.
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21 Great Ways to Become a Monster Jazz Musician by Chris Punis

Be respectful and supportive of the other musicians This is just simple etiquette. Encourage the other musicians even if (And especially if) you are much more advanced then them. Be positive. Pay attention to their solos and get involved by clapping and cheering them on. When its your turn to solo, keep it short. Especially if there are a lot of people sitting in or waiting to sit in. There is nothing worse than that guy who shows up and plays a 25 chorus solo while 10 people are waiting to sit in. This professionalism will benefit you as well. People will enjoy when you show up to play. You will easily meet new musicians to play with and ultimately gig with. Be proactive- learn the tunes Learn from the session. If a tune was called that you didnt know, take the time to learn it during the week. Then at the next session you can sit in on that tune. If you do sit in on a tune and suddenly learn the hard way that you dont really know the bridge (even though you thought you did) be proactive and practice it during the coming week. Notice what tunes are called each week. There is relatively small group of standards that will be called week after week. The more of these tunes you know the more productive and enjoyable your experience sitting in will be. Roll with the punches If you totally bomb at a session, dont take it too hard. Learn from it. Try to figure out where you went wrong, what you could practice to improve. Remember, jam sessions can be very difficult situations to perform in. You may not know any of the musicians sitting in. The musicians may all be at very different levels of abilities. You may struggle with a tune because the bass player is unclear, or the drummer keeps turning the beat around. By dealing with these realities of music you will become a stronger musician. Youll learn how to recover when things go awry, and even have a chance to develop leadership skills (Be the guy who holds the band together).

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21 Great Ways to Become a Monster Jazz Musician by Chris Punis

Seven more ways to maximize your practicing


An ounce of preparation The more prepared you are when you begin your practice session, the more productive the session will be. By a lot! Be sure to have a plan and a purpose for your session. Know exactly what you hope to accomplish that day. Gather all the materials you will need ahead of time. This means your guitar pick, your sticks, your reeds, your instrument, your CDs/IPOD, your metronome, your manuscript paper, a pencil, etc. Having everything you need to practice will allow you to focus on the task at hand. If you have to stop your session to go search your house for a transcription or your metronome, you will break your momentum and it you down. It will take time to get back into the groove and continue learning. This may seem obvious, but its so obvious that most people tend to overlook it. This act alone can make your sessions significantly more productive
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21 Great Ways to Become a Monster Jazz Musician by Chris Punis

Have good records Im not talking about vinyl here (although thats a good idea too). Im talking about a practice journal. Keeping a journal about your sessions has several benefits. First of all it helps you to track your progress. Looking back through your journal can help you to realize how much progress you have actually made. That will keep you motivated. Second, its a great tool to decide what to practice at your next session. You can reread it and pick up where you left off. This will add continuity and consistency to your practice sessions. It doesnt have to be fancy; just a few notes about your session will be beneficial. Fend off interruptions with a stick The vast majority of people in all walks of life are too generous with their time. Schedule your practice sessions and stick to them. Dont bend your schedule for anyone except in extreme situations. Dont let people interrupt you. If you need to keep a big stick next to you to fend them off, so be it. Just kidding. But make the people around you understand that you are not to be interrupted during your practicing. Explain to them the importance of focused practicing and dont let them steal your time. Ask them to respect that time. Push the envelop Each and everyday you should push forward slightly. Whatever you accomplished yesterday, you should pick up where you left off and push a bit farther. If you are in the habit of always learning something, always getting better in some way, no matter how small, you will achieve your musical goals. Here are few ideas you can apply to just about any practice topic to take it farther: 1 2 3 4 5 6 Increase the tempo Decrease the tempo Learn it in another key play it with a different time feel Play it in a different meter Add dynamics
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Copyright 2008 Chris Punis & Learn Jazz Faster LLC

21 Great Ways to Become a Monster Jazz Musician by Chris Punis

7 Learn more of it (another scale, another page, another tune, another bar, etc) Under promise/over deliver Plan your practice sessions so you can finish your routine and plan the majority of the time. It feels great to accomplish everything you set out to do and then some. If youre always leaving things undone and not getting through your daily plan then your plan is unrealistic. Youre over promising and under delivering. This will cause you stress and anxiety. By all means push yourself, but you want to see yourself hitting your daily goals. This is how you gain mastery and increase your musical confidence. Celebrate your victories When you accomplish a goal, no matter how small, take a moment and bask in the glory. If you learned a new tune, or finished a method book pat yourself on the back. Youre moving forward with your music and you should be proud of yourself. Play for the spirit of the music Dont forget about the whole reason you started playing in the first place. Its easy to get caught up practicing and forget to play for fun. Schedule time into your practice session simply to play, the way you did when you first started out. No limits, no judging. Just for fun! Dedicated to Your Musical Success, Chris Punis chris@learnjazzfaster.com

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