I publish a new #InTheShed post each week. Don't miss the next one »
Here’s a question from Sam:
I was wondering if you could talk about the family/music balance. I’ve asked as many other musicians as possible and aside from one or two guys, I’ve always heard something along the lines of “If you want to have and support your wife and family, own a house and cars, you can’t be a musician. You could always keep music as a hobby.” I remember you saying it’s not a case of it being impossible, just a case of it being impossible for them. I feel as though your views on this are more relevant and will be more helpful as you have that. I’m only 17, but I’ve been raised to value family and in time I’ll want my own. I want to still have my musical pursuits as my profession – which is what I want more than anything career wise – but I don’t want to be selfish in that my spouse and future family will be in jeopardy because I don’t want to stop playing.
Too much in there to cover in one video, but this is a start. More to come on this theme, especially on balancing practice with the rest of life—pro musician or not, we all deal with this.
I recently wrote an article for Berklee Today called Focus on the Framework (pg 26). It’s about how you can find confidence from playing inside the chord changes, with a solid time feel, and how too many of us get distracted by trying to play “out”.
The solo used as a reference is one of the first I ever published on YouTube. Just playing into a crappy video camera/mic. It’s not meant to be some amazing thing (it’s not), but rather a rough demonstration of what you can do all by yourself (no band/play-along) to articulate a song as you improvise through it.
Creating an arc when soloing is something most great improvisers have in common.
But it’s a difficult thing to teach.
I stumbled on this terrific short video from a clinic John Mayer gave at Berklee a few years back. I love how he describes what makes a solo really build. (And conversely the thing so many players do that makes their solos NOT work.)
I’ve always intuited this—and John and I share a similar blueprint when it comes to this kind of thing—but I never really stopped to think of it this specifically, or give a name to it.
He gets into:
- taking your time
- earning more choruses
- the one thing you “never want people to see”
- reverse engineering a solo from your “dynamic ceiling”
John’s great at explaining things in very descriptive, visual ways. And he plays a mean blues guitar.
This post pairs well with Storytelling in Jazz: The Rule of Three
I got a pretty deep question from one of my online students. Let’s call him Doug (not his real name).
Here are a few standout lines from Doug’s email:
“I’m in a pretty tough place with my music at the moment. I’m close to dropping it all. I hate practicing, my sound sucks and I am struggling to find where my career path may go.”
“$75 bar gigs are not something you can keep a young family afloat on, and there are just SO many sax players chasing the few gigs that are going and I’ve lost the stomach for the fight.”
“I don’t want to turn into a cynical, booze soaked, nasty old jazz musician with a messed up domestic situation and masses of debt!”
I can relate. I’ve been there.
I can’t promise answers, I can only share my experience.
I touch on things like what to practice when you’re feeling discouraged, the one thing you MUST figure out if you’re going to have any chance of being successful, and more.
Hopefully there’s some helpful stuff in there.
And while you’re here, I HIGHLY recommend listening to what Steve Harvey has to say about finding your unique gift:
If you know someone who needs to hear this right now, I hope you’ll share it with them.
What about you? Have you been through this rollercoaster? Let me know in the comments below.
Recently I did a short tour with Snarky Puppy, and needed to memorize their touring repertoire…fast.
I’ve recorded with them before but live shows present a different challenge. Because the sets change nightly, I needed to memorize a lot more of their repertoire than I currently knew. And because of everything going on in my world at the time, I had about one week to do it.
#Repost @tourdesol117 ・・・ So, @snarkypuppy played the Wilma last night, and naturally improved upon my definition of stellar musicianship. However, they gave @jakesettera and I am added bonus we hadn't prepared for: in the bottom left is @bob_reynolds, who we have both followed and loved for years now! What a great night! #snarkypuppy #thewilma #missoula #snarky2016
So how do you memorize 20+ songs—many with multiple sections and intricate solis—without written music, in one week?
Here’s how I did it.
Break down the task
1. Get a bird’s eye view. Once I had a list of all the songs I needed to learn, I was ready to chunk it into pieces and get going. Think of this list like a zoomed out map of a country.
2. Create a playlist and listen on repeat. I made a playlist of all the songs and put that sucker on repeat. In the car. Running (once). While falling asleep.
3. Triage the songs. I divided the songs into 3 categories (more on this later in the process):
- ones I had played (like what I recorded on We Like It Here)
- ones I’d never played or heard before
- ones that had extremely difficult sections
Make it visible and tangible
There’s a Japanese manufacturing process called Kanban. It’s extremely effective for moving a project along because it allows everyone involved to see the progression from start to completion. In a nutshell, any task is placed on a “card” and moved from left to right. This has been adapted and used a lot in the world of software development. Sometimes referred to as Scrum.
Here’s a demonstration of Scrum according the show Silicon Valley.
OK, so that scene is hilarious, but this method works because you can see—and touch—your “to-do” list. Something I find myself missing more and more in the digital age.
That said, there is a fantastic piece of free software called Trello that mimics this concept. It’s dope.
1, 2, 3, Boss
My version of Kanban/Scrum/Trello for this project is simple: all the songs begin in the left column—???—with the goal of getting them all in the right column—Boss—by the day I leave for the tour. I move a song card into the next column to the right once I’ve fully gone through it and can play it top to bottom.
I can’t tell you what an positive effect this has—moving the physical sticky note from one column to the next. I feel like I’m actually doing something, and I can see my progress. I also know exactly where I am and what I have left to do.
You could do this any number of ways but here’s what I used:
- a 24″ x 36″ whiteboard
- 1″ painter’s tape (great because it stays in place as long as you want but comes off easily and leaves no marks)
- 1/4″ Post-It Notes (to write names of songs on)
- Sharpie marker
- iTunes/Spotify (for making playlists)
- Looping software. (I used Garageband but now use this instead.)
The song-by-song process
Here’s what I do for each song:
1. Select a song and listen 2-3 times all the way through. I recommend starting with a familiar one to build momentum (see the “triage” section above).
2. Use looping software to isolate and repeat a phrase at a time. How long you make your loop will vary but keep it short enough that you can comfortably execute the section 10-15 times in a row. This would be your “street view” map.
3. Isolate the next phrase. Repeat what you did in #2.
4. Combine phrases 1 & 2 and loop. Get the idea? You just keep zooming in/zooming out.
After you’ve gone through this process for the song—zooming in/zooming out—play the entire song top to bottom. Do it a second time if you have the time.
Then move that song’s sticky note over one column on the board and move on to the next song.
When I started day #2 I began by playing through the songs I covered on day 1. My mind had a break and time to process what it’d learned. The songs went faster the second day. And I moved those cards over another column to the right and began the process again on another group of songs.
Update: I’m happy to report this worked. I had only one or two minor brain farts during the tour. Plus, a month after going through this process, and several weeks without playing these songs, I checked back in and I could still play the set down. Any hiccups were minor and could be quickly re-memorized. This is a powerful way to work. I encourage to you learn music by ear and memorize whenever possible. You’ll be a stronger musician because of it.
This video lesson has some more nitty-gritty instruction on this process.