Friday Wisdom

This was too good to pass up.

I watched the documentary Before the Music Dies one more time and was struck again by the smart words for musicians from Branford Marsalis, the commentary on the music industry by Dave Matthews and just the general survey of the land the movie offered.

However, the highlight the second time was the interview with Erykah Badu. In a word: amazing. She had one of the best quotes I think in the movie, on what it takes to a successful musician these days.

In her mind you need to be, "...buck naked with glitter and a beeper."

That's probably about right.

Where do I get a beeper?

(Coming up: filming video on how to begin playing out. Stay tuned...)

Pentatonic Fluidity

My previous posts about Pentatonics focused on Kurt Rosenwinkel's ability to play them fluidly, through chord changes, without jumping around on the neck. His method consists of coming up with some random chord changes and then playing the appropriate Pentatonic scales as the chords go by rapidly.

So once you've gotten this together (you have been practicing this, right?) what's the next step?

Applying this concept over a real tune. If you don't do this, you're going to be stuck in abstract practice-land. And you don't want to spend too much time there–remember, the reason we're doing all this is to make music.

In the video below, I first demonstrate Kurt's method of playing minor Pentatonics over minor7 chords going up in whole steps starting on Bminor7. Then, I move on to playing Pentatonics over Coltrane's "Giant Steps." This is a difficult tune for any improviser, which is why I chose it to demonstrate the strength of this concept. The chart can be found below the video.

Now let's get to the music!

(Click on the image to see the larger version)

Some notes about the video:

For clarity's sake, the Pentatonic I'm using in both demonstrations is the standard minor Pentatonic known by most musicians: 1 b3 4 5 b7. Using notes, a C minor Pentatonic would be: C Eb F G Bb.

Many musicians think this is the Pentatonic scale, but Pentatonic just signifies a five-note scale. It could be any grouping of any five notes.

Some of you may wonder why I chose the particular Pentatonics I did for "Giant Steps." Without going into music theory, the answer is simple: these Pentatonics sound good over these chords. Why? Because they happen to contain a lot of notes from the basic chord, so I end up outlining the harmony clearly yet there are still some interesting color tones in there as well.

This is a pretty inside way of playing (here's more on outside playing) but it's a great start to getting this concept together. Here is the basic system if you're not familiar with it yet.

Over a minor7 chord, play the Pentatonic with the same root. So, over Aminor7, play A minor Pentatonic.

Over a dominant7 chord, play the Pentatonic a major 6th up/minor 3rd down from the root. So, over D7 play B minor Pentatonic.

Over a major7 chord, play the Pentatonic a major 3rd up/minor 6th down from the root. So, over Gmajor7 play B minor Pentatonic.

There are many more colorful approaches to improvising with this scale, but I'm purposely staying away from implying substitutions or upper structure sounds. My goal was to hew as close as I could to the basic harmony while utilizing only minor Pentatonic scales and keep it relatively simple. There's always time to make things more complicated.

And stay tuned- I'll demonstrate some of the more colorful approaches you can take with your Pentatonic playing in a future video.

Finally, and this is for guitar players, I purposely limited myself to a relatively small space on the neck (on other instruments, you could limit yourself to a narrow melodic range, say from middle C to an octave above that). This is to force me out of using the patterns I'm comfortable with, and into thinking in a more horizontal manner. I want to be aware of where I'm at, what's coming up, and how to get to the next note without necessarily using position playing. There's freedom in that limitation.

Hope you enjoy this one. It was a fun concept to explore.

P.S. A few of you have asked me about the backing tracks to this video. Here's a link. You'll need Apple's Garage band to use it.

[December 2, edited for accuracy: reader Animals2 on Harmony Central caught a discrepancy between blog post and Pentatonics used on the chart]

Out Cat, Out: Steve Coleman Transcription

I got a lot of hits and emails on my post about Drew Zingg's solo on Steely Dan's "Peg," mostly from players wanting to know more about his approach to playing "out."

If you're working all the time on playing the right notes and avoiding the wrong ones, how do you suddenly turn around and play the wrong ones on purpose?

Playing out is a tough subject to cover because there's many ways of doing it, just like there are many ways of playing inside.

Ornette Coleman
Purposeful out playing, in which you're superimposing dissonant harmonic ideas or systems over the main harmony -- think playing "Giant Steps" lines over a Blues tune -- is one way to do it. This also has the benefit of giving your lines an inherent logical structure. On the other end of the spectrum is pure free playing -- think Ornette Coleman's groundbreaking records of the '60s (though much of his improvisation can be analyzed in functional harmonic terms). Then of course there are those moments where you forget what key you're in and you're making clam salad on the bandstand. Good times.

What's the key to successful outside playing? I think it's the same as successful inside playing: phrasing.

For those of you who think that playing outside is just playing a bunch of random, dissonant notes, here's an idea: over a tune or ostinato in C, just play random notes from the key. Who's going to pay to listen to that? Nobody. Why is that? Because you have to have good phrasing. There has to be shape and purpose to the line. It's hard to play well inside and it's just as hard to play outside.

So how do you begin to learn this kind of improvising if you've never done it before?

Listen to someone who does it well first.

Steve Coleman is many things-- consummate musician, writer, intellectual, composer and an absolute monster when it comes to improvisation. If you've ever heard any of his work, you've probably had your mind blown.

Steve has a brilliant solo on "The Oracle" (on Dave Holland's record Extensions) where he carefully and beautifully balances his inside lines with outside ones. This particular tune is a great starting point for understanding and learning outside playing because the harmony behind the solo is static which makes hearing the outside versus the inside lines very clear. If you're listening to complex changes and the soloist is playing out on top of them, it can be very difficult to hear the relationship between the two. Here on "The Oracle," Dave Holland plays an ostinato in Bb minor so you can clearly hear Steve's lines and their relationship to the home key.

The reason why I think this is a successful solo is Steve's use of tension and release. Notice how he'll play a phrase completely inside (bars 1-7) and then the following phase he adds tension by dropping in very dissonant notes and sitting on them purposefully (bars 10-13: note the held B natural in bar 11).

And I can't let this transcription go without calling attention to Steve's use of rhythm. If you're looking for ways to break out of your usual lines and licks, copy out some of the rhythms from this solo (bars 3-7 are a great example) and with a metronome, plug in your own notes. I promise you Steve's rhythmic concept here has enough material for you to work on for months.

Coming up, I'll have a video of myself playing over this ostinato, demonstrating inside and outside ideas.

Here's the video of the solo and the full transcription is below.

The Eb chart can be downloaded here in PDF format.

The Bb chart can be downloaded here in PDF format.

Click on the charts below to see full-size and download. Charts are in C and sound an octave lower than written. If enough people bug me, I'll put up a guitar chart with tab and a Bb version.

(Special thanks to my friend Alex Lacamoire who helped me decipher a particular rhythm in one bar of this solo that threatened to push me into a work release program.)

[Edit: Added Bb chart December 1, 2015.
Edit: Added Eb chart October 30.
Edit: Fixed Eb chart up an octave, November 1.
Edit: sharp-eyed reader musicjazzguitar caught my key mistake, the correct key is Bb minor]

What's That on Your Face?

I've been busy working furiously on a Steve Coleman transcription and video for this blog, which by the way, is one of the more difficult transcriptions I've ever done. Since it's been a while, I thought I'd offer a little inspiration for today. I know I need it, this transcription is kicking my ass.

I was watching some clips of Allan Holdsworth tearing stuff up at some small club or another and there was a brief interview with him at the end where he was talking about the process of improvisation.

A small aside. I had the pleasure of meeting Allan once and got to talk with him at length about music and his learning process. We were interrupted constantly by fans at the club we were at, who kept telling him how "awesome" he is.

Pro tip: when talking to someone who is awesome, you don't need to tell them that -- they've heard it at least once or twice before. Why not try learning something from them? But I digress.

So in this video clip, Allan related a quotation about improvisation that I thought was inspirational as well as reassuring. Gary Husband, a frequent collaborator of his once told Allan, "If you start digging deep you can't expect to come up with no shit on your face once in a while."

The truth always has a directness to it, doesn't it?

I have a similar story. I attended a master class while in school with legendary saxophonist Dave Liebman. One of the other students raised his hand during the question period and asked how to learn how to stop making mistakes while performing.

Interesting question right?

I thought Dave's answer was amazing. He said, "That's impossible. I make mistakes all the time, still. The difference between you and me is when you make a mistake, you throw up a red flag telling everyone you've made one and call attention to it. I make a mistake, and I just move on."

So, if you get shit on your face while fumbling around looking for something good, just wipe it off, and keep going.

It's How You Say It: Part Two of Pete Anderson Transcriptions

Back this week with Pete Anderson's second solo in the Dwight Yoakam song "Guitars, Cadillacs." For the transcription to the first solo, click here.

Pete's solo here is a more developed solo than his first in that he uses plenty of guitaristic techniques throughout and even steals a few from pedal steel.

Again, the analysis (in blue, under the standard notation staff) falls flat in accurately describing what's going on here. The key to playing this solo well and the reason why it's so good is Pete's feel. Again, it matters what you say, but it really matters how you say it.

Pete swings like Tarzan, really stretching and pulling the time feel which adds a lot of rhythmic tension to his lines. You'll notice too, like in the first transcription, he knows how to construct a solo. He uses double stop 6ths as a recurring motif to tie everything together and he works them through the two different harmonies in the song. Notice too, the figure that starts the solo-- it's a call-back to the key thematic figure he used in his first solo.

As a guitar player, a highlight for me is bars 7 through the end where he makes use of a pedal steel sound (bar 8) with a nice bend on the G string from G# down to F# while holding the high E, and then use of different strings to play the same pitch (A) four times, one after the other (bars 9-10). That's the kind of thing you can only do on a stringed instrument and it really has an impact.

I discovered that the video I had linked to on YouTube has been taken down due to copyright restrictions so here it is on another site. The second solo begins at around 2:03 in this video.

Click on chart to see full-size

It's How You Say It: Pete Anderson Transcription

I like to check out a lot of different kinds of music even though my focus as a musician is Jazz. Recently, a Dwight Yoakam song caught my ear, one, because it was a good song all on its own and two, his guitar player's outstanding solos.

If you're a jazzer, you're probably thinking, "what can some country player teach me about improvisation?"

A lot. Here's a couple of things to start. Firstly, working within the confines of just two chords (not even a IV chord?!), Pete Anderson, the guitar player, manages to wring out a beautifully phrased, perfectly formed Country solo. The strength of the solo relies on two things-- the simplicity of the idea that he works with and repeats throughout (see bar 3 of the transcription for his basic idea) but even more importantly, it's the articulation of this idea.

In my transcription, I have a basic harmonic analysis of what Pete's doing as it's good information for structuring your own solos, but it doesn't even begin to approach what he's doing here. Pay attention when listening to his attack and phrasing, how he bends these notes and uses pull-offs to shape the lines rhythmically. That's how you make Pentatonics sound like music.

If somebody put this chart in front of you and you played the notes in perfect time, like the way a computer would read it down, without bends, without the slurs and pull-offs I guarantee you'd think it was a terrible solo. Too square, too obvious, too simple-- boring. But the way Pete articulates these simple lines is what gives the solo life. His phrasing is killing. He swings.

That's something to remember in your playing. A lot of times we think we'll be saved if our ideas or lines or chords are complex and hard to play. Surely everyone recognizes how hard it is to play that Pentatonic stuff you've been shedding for the past couple of weeks. How come no one's banging down your door? Cause it's how you say it that matters.

Some of Miles Davis' greatest solos were basic modal lines full of whole and half notes. Very easy to play, but the magic was in the phrasing and articulation.

Check out Pete's swinging solo in the video. It starts at around :53. The transcription and analysis is below and I'll have the second solo transcribed for next week.

Click on chart for full-size

I'm a Beginner

If you haven't listened to WBGO's "The Checkout," do yourself a favor and add it to your rotation. They have a podcast on iTunes or you can listen to it directly from the site linked above.

I was listening to some archived shows recently and ran across an interview with the members of Sangam: tabla master Zakir Hussain, saxophonist Charles Lloyd and drummer Eric Harland.

The always excellent interviewer, Josh Jackson, was talking to Lloyd and I thought his response was amazing:

Josh Jackson: Master Lloyd, Charles Lloyd...

Charles Lloyd: I'm a beginner.

Josh Jackson: (Laughs) I believe that, in some sense.

Charles Lloyd: I have beginner's mind and as Zakir often reminds me of a statement I made in one of the joint interviews we did -- I think it was in Switzerland -- someone asked me about the music and was I gonna do this or do that and I told them I had never gotten good enough to quit, yet, and so I'm still looking for those sounds that will deliver me home...

I've been posting transcriptions and writing about technique and ways to make both yourself and myself a better musician. When you're practicing, sometimes it's easy to get frustrated by things you can't do yet or things you think you'll never be able to do. It might even make you want to quit. Ego takes over and you start to believe you're worse than you actually are.

Charles Lloyd is 71 years old and refers to himself as a beginner. I think every time you sit down to play or to practice, it's helpful to think of yourself that way. There's always more to learn, always something you can't do yet. We're all beginners, every day.

"Peg" Gets Pegged by Jon Herington

In my ongoing effort to transcribe everything around me, I decided to deconstruct Jon Herington's live solo on the YouTube video of Steely Dan's "Peg" I wrote about in a previous post.

Unlike Drew Zingg's approach to this tune, Jon quotes from the original Jay Graydon solo and then expands on what he was doing. This solo is more in the spirit of the studio version but with definite modern and personal touches from Jon.

Check it out (Jon's solo is the last one about 1:41 into the video):

Like Drew's, what stands out to me is the clarity of his ideas and his fantastic phrasing of them. The structure of Jon's solo is impeccable. He alternates at the beginning between quoting Graydon's signature double stop opening with open G-string pull-offs, back to the double stops and then more pull-offs, only pausing to drop in some nice string bending technique, the last one with an added right-hand tapped note to a high B to nail the 3rd of the G chord in the harmony. This is like a rock soloing 101 class.

The rest of the solo is Jon showing his taste and chops with melodic bends and phrases interspersed with some really nice line playing and even returning to some more open string pull off lines. Interestingly he finishes the solo with a chromatic sequence that is not that different from the one that Drew Zingg employed in his solo. Maybe Donald Fagen requests that of all his guitarists.

Check out the transcription, my analysis is below each staff in blue.

Click on score to see full-size

Les Paul

Les Paul died today. I don't have a whole lot to say about it above what others have said already.

My first, good guitar was a Les Paul Custom that was heavy as hell and sounded amazing. I saw the man himself play last year and he was a fantastic performer. He was a little rough around the edges, guitar-wise, but the guy was 94. If we could all be that fortunate. Rest in peace Les and thanks for changing everything for the better.

(Photo by Ric Molina at Molinaville)

Kurt's Sonic Part Two: Pentatonic Revenge -- The Shredding

Where were we?

Oh yeah, tearing up some Pentatonic lines.

One thing we learned from my last post on this subject is Kurt Rosenwinkel has spent a bit of time getting his Pentatonic playing together. I'm guessing probably a little more than a bit.

If you're brave, check out the YouTube video about 1:40 into it.

Here, Kurt again tackles playing minor Pentatonic lines rapidly, over minor 7 chords going up in whole steps (Eb, F, G, A, B, C#), generally sticking to a harmonic rhythm of one chord per two beats.

A couple of things about this part of the video and his performance struck me. The range he plays in is quite low and he keeps to a pretty narrow zone on the neck. This again really demonstrates the wealth of harmonic possibilities available in a very limited area and shows you don't need to be jumping all over the place in order to grab the notes you want. Like McDonald's, there's probably one near you.

Notice the shape of this extended line too. He has a nice ability to make what would otherwise be a dry demonstration musical by not just moving in one direction and using the same patterns. The line grows and shrinks organically, peaking at the end when he hits the high C and comes back down. He's making music out of an exercise. Pretty cool.

And along those lines, if you look at the transcription carefully, you'll see there's some fudging. He's not strict about two beats per key, there are a couple of passing tones here and there and at the end he essentially plays an Am11 figure, not fully keeping to the strict idea of the demonstration. To me that's reassuring-- he's not a robot, he's making music out of this challenge. That's what you should do too.

Here's the transcription (tempo is not indicated as he speeds up pretty quickly into it):
Click on the score to see it full-size

Mads has a nice blog about Kurt's music that addresses this seminar as well. Check it out:

Like a Boy Scout

Be prepared. That's what I learned this week.

While I was in the middle of a project in midtown, I got an unexpected call from a musician who is, shall we say, famous. "Can you be at a jam session in a couple hours?" he asked.

No warning, no music- no instrument, even- I was just told where to show up and there would be a guitar waiting for me.

A couple of things went through my head: "I can't believe who I'm talking to." and "I'm going to look like an idiot in front of these people."

I looked for a comfort zone and asked, "Can I get a recording or music beforehand?"

"Nah, you don't need it," he replied. "We're just going to play."

Was I crapping my pants? Yeah. But then somebody close to me reminded me of a few things: that through studying improvisation I had in fact practiced to expect the unexpected, and learned how to thrive in it. She reminded me that unfamiliar situations were what I had prepared for and that's all this was, just another unfamiliar situation. Also that I should take at least 10 deep breaths.

The truth is, it was hard to keep all that in mind, but I did decide to let go of being intimidated by the situation and instead, just grasp the opportunity- and I'm happy to say for the most part I did. By the end of it, I realized the advice was right. Because I had constantly kept practicing and primed my myself for challenges and unexpected performances, everything turned out pretty well.

So how did the one hour jam session go? It ended up being closer to three hours, and I think we wrote two songs. I didn't really keep track, though. We really were just playing and enjoying the moment.


Now, check out Ricky Skaggs shred on some Bluegrass in preparation for the weekend. I'll be back next week with another Rosenwinkel Pentatonic transcription.

"Peg" gets Pegged by Drew Zingg

I came across this video on YouTube where people are asked to rate these different, live guitar solos over Steely Dan's "Peg."

Jay Graydon's original solo on the studio album is one that's become a classic and now is inexorably linked to the song. (Imagine a different solo at the end of "Stairway to Heaven." Same kind of thing.)

Interestingly, if you've seen the documentary on the making of "Aja," you'll know that Jay's was one of a few different solos that were competing for the final mix on the studio album.

Among these live solos on the YouTube video, three caught my ear.

Admittedly, I'm biased towards two of them: Wayne Krantz' for his brave take off and total disregard for the original (disclaimer, I'm friends with Wayne and took a few lessons with him when I first arrived in New York), and Jon Herington's model of how-to-improve-on-a-classic (second disclaimer, I'm friendly with Jon on a professional level).

But, Drew Zingg's drew (har) my attention for a couple of reasons. First, it was easy to hear what he was doing due to the clarity of his phrasing (and the recording for that matter) and second, he does a really nice job of working in some chromatic, and extended harmonic lines over the original harmony while employing some classic blues figures. Good reason for a transcription to figure out what he's doing!

Have a listen (Drew's is the second solo in at about :25):

Nice job Drew. OK, here's the transcription with my quick analysis (written in blue below each staff line). A PDF of the solo with TAB is at the bottom of the article (Edit: sharp-eared reader Walter Gross in the comments below pointed out that I missed a couple notes in this. Below is the corrected transcription. Thanks Walter!).

Click on chart to see full-size

So what's going on here?

Drew is using a general G tonality for his "base" and extends his lines from there, mostly returning to it for harmonic stability.

He begins with G blues lines for the first four bars and then begins opening it up. For me, the most interesting section is measures 5-8, specifically measure 5. Notice he begins measure 5 with a G triad over the CM7 chord (making CM9), pushes up a tritone to a Db major line, then back to a G triad (with a #11 passing tone) then back up a tritone, this time using a Db minor sound. This is all within the space of 1 bar.

Cool right? Make no mistake, this is planned out and practiced. I doubt he played this solo the same way every night, but his ideas are very sharp and phrased clearly which tells me he's not just blowing-- he's thinking about what he's doing here.

Here's a good chance to get this into your playing.

Practice switching between two tonalities using a metronome or, to really hear the harmonic superimposition, over a sequencer playing these chord changes (two beats of CM7, two beats of Gsus2). The idea is to do a consonant tonality over beat 1, an "out" tonality over beat 2 for tension, back to a consonant one for beat 3 and so on.

So, for beat 1 (the CM7 chord), play a G triad or G major type line, beat 2 switch to a Db major triad or Db major type line, beat 3 back to G major, beat 4 back to Db major.

You'll notice if all you employ is triads, the lines won't necessarily be as melodic, that's why Drew is mixing up playing triadic based lines with scale based ones. There's nothing wrong with doing just triads, it's its own sound -- you'll see what I mean.

What will happen after practice is you'll start to see the G major triad/lines as your home base and a comfort zone and you'll be able to look ahead to your next leap to a more out tonality like Db major. When you get to that point, you'll know your starting to nail it.

Experiment with other triads or scales as your out target as well. This is a great way to introduce harmonic complexity into your playing while still keeping some logic and melodic things happening.

Coming soon, a transcription of Herington's solo...

P.S. You can follow this blog on Twitter at

Edit: July 8, 2010 -- edited for clarity. Alert reader and guitar player Mark Schuh caught a couple accidental accidentals in the wrong place. I blame Finale.

A .pdf of the solo with TAB is available here.

Branford Rants, Actually Makes Sense

Another quotation from Before the Music Dies.

If you haven't watched this movie, do yourself a favor and do it now. I'll wait.


Not only does it have great performances, there are some amazingly insightful interviews with Erykah Badu, Dave Matthews and Brandford Marsalis among others.

One of moments that hit me as a practicing musician and someone who is constantly trying to get better was this:

Interviewer: "What have you learned from your students?"

Branford Marsalis: "What I've learned today from my students, is that students today are completely full of shit. That is what I've learned from my students.

...much like the generation before them, the only thing they're really interested in is you telling them how right they are and how good they are. That is the same mentality that basically forces Harvard to give out B's to people that don't deserve them out of the fear that they'll go to other schools that will give them B's and those schools will make the money.

We live in a country that seems to be just in this massive state of delusion. Where the idea of what you are is more important than you actually being that. And it actually works as long as everyone is winking at the same time. Then if one person stops winking, you just beat the crap out of that person and then they either start winking or they go somewhere else.

But it's like, yeah, my students, all they want to hear is how good they are, how talented they are they're not really -- most of them are not really willing to work to the degree to live up to that."

I've talked to a couple of friends about this and have gotten various reactions, some positive and some negative.

But I think he has a point. Especially the negativity of, "the idea of what you are is more important than you actually being that."

It's tough to take a real assessment of your ability as a musician. It requires being objective about your playing which is nearly impossible while you're doing it: you're the performer, not the listener.

So how do you get an idea of what you sound like?

When I took some lessons from Wayne Krantz he made me buy a $20 Sony cassette recorder. Cheap, crappy and it works. It's also completely objective about your playing.

Record yourself. Play something you think you're good at, record it, then listen back. I'll bet it's not as good as you thought. How bout this: do you think you stand up straight? Have someone take a candid picture of you walking or talking to someone.

There's a lot of stuff we do we're not aware of and it follows into your playing as well.

So make recording a regular part of your practice. Maybe five minutes a day of just performing into a tape recorder and listening back to it. Acknowledge the things that are good, and pay attention to the things that aren't, then figure out how to fix them. And stand up straight while you're at it.

This is the hard work that Branford is talking about.

Something to Think About on Monday

"The 20 million people who buy a Britney Spears record aren't music fans, they're popular culture fans."

-- from the documentary Before the Music Dies

Kurt's Sonic: Goes Pentatonic

While looking at seminars on YouTube I came across this one of Kurt Rosenwinkel filmed in Italy.

In it, he talks about something I heard him discuss in a master class he gave a number of years ago while I was at Berklee-- the idea of playing "through" changes. At the time he was talking about his song "Cubism" that he had written using all 12 keys in order to force himself to improvise through them. The idea intrigued me and I ended up writing the song "Absolute Convolute" using the same idea.

Though any great improviser plays through chord changes, perhaps even coming to this naturally after years of practice and performance, it's rare you hear a professional musician talk about a method or practice technique in order to get there. Kurt clearly thinks about what it is he wants to be able to do and then devises ways to accomplish it. That's a good habit to get into.

Here's the seminar. Below it I have a transcription I made of the first minor Pentatonic example he gives at about 39 seconds into the video:

The transcription of the line at about 39 seconds in:

(click on chart to see full-size)

Great, right?

Notice how he's not jumping around to different positions on the neck each time he announces what Pentatonic he's playing. He just grabs the next available note from the scale and continues from there-- that is playing through changes.

This is not easy to do. It's challenging for any instrument but especially on stringed instruments that deal with positions. The challenge on guitar especially is to not start each key change on the root or move to comfortable positions but to stay relatively close to where you are on the neck and just shift to the next scale. Kurt does this beautifully. You're looking at the result of hours of practice here.

Is it hard? Yes. Is it doable? Definitely.

I think I might be most impressed with his ability to speak while playing this line. Improvising while talking takes practice. Maybe that's my new regimen...

Mads has a nice blog about Kurt's music that addresses this seminar as well. Check it out:

How do you practice this? Unless you're already prodigious at quickly switching between Pentatonic scales, I would suggest breaking things down.

Set your metronome to a comfortable tempo for you to play the scale, then:

1. For guitar, start with one key and every measure move to a different position in order to make sure you're comfortable playing in all of them. On other instruments, make sure you're proficient in playing the Pentatonic scale through the full range of your instrument.
2. Add another key. Every bar, switch to the other key. Example-- Bar 1: C Minor Pentatonic. Bar 2: A Minor Pentatonic. Bar 3: C Minor Pentatonic and so on.
3. Add a third key and continue the method.
4. Try it over a pattern like Kurt has done-- chords going up in Major Seconds -- or chords going up in Major Thirds, Cycle of 4ths etc.
5. The real world challenge! Try it over a song like a blues, "Cherokee", "All the Things You Are" or "Giant Steps".

You can see the possibilities for this are virtually limitless, the idea is to get comfortable wherever you are on your instrument so you can play what you want, when you want. This is always the goal, everything else is just a way to get there.

Bonus Bonus:
Here's my song "Absolute Convolute" mentioned above with a chart. There are 12 bars and every bar is in a new key. It starts in the key of B and goes through the cycle of 5ths (B, E, A, D, G, etc.). I've put the key of every bar below each staff and the analysis (at least the way I like to think of it) above the staff in red.

(click on chart to see full-size)

Though you could probably get this together relatively quickly, it's difficult with this much static tonality (just the Major key) to play musically, at least I find it to be. When my group plays this live, I always have a mixture of excitement and dread.

Easy to play, difficult to master. Enjoy.

So Much Sound Is off the Ground

"Improvisation is like a conversation: you say what you know, but you don't know what you're going to say." --Marcus Roberts

A friend of mine once had a short conversation with Marcus Roberts a number of years ago about improvisation and this was the money quote. Even his remarks swing. Amazing.

I've shared this quotation with many people and thought a lot about how it pertains to writing and improvising music. It's easy to focus on the brilliance of his idea, an idea that seems obviously true as soon as you hear it.

But what if you don't know anything?

That's the reason to practice and listen and check out other musicians and go to jam sessions and buy books and talk about music. So we can learn something. So we can be inspired and create something new. So we have something to say when the time comes.

I'm starting this blog so that when you go to those jam sessions, or have a gig or sit down to write a song, you don't repeat yourself. You'll have something new to say, and the best part is, even you don't know how it's going to come out.

That's the fun of creating.