Finding Your Own Sound

I once asked my friend this question: “How can I ever find my own sound?” Wait… did I say once? Because that question was the most stressful thought that crossed my mind for years. Sound familiar? OK. So I don’t know about you, but I get really stressed sometimes about the level of competition out there in the music industry. Let’s face it, if you’re an artist of any sort, you’re going to face some very, very stiff competition. But here’s the thing, and I warn you, this will sound incredibly simple despite the fact that it took me years for it to really sink in. Competition has nothing to do with art, because yes folks, you are unique and your art will without question be unique. What’s the one exception? When you try too hard to be someone else. I will make you an ABSOLUTE GUARANTEE RIGHT HERE RIGHT NOW— If you are completely honest with yourself about who you are, what art you like, and what you want your art to be, YOU WILL be a unique artist and you will do things that have never been done before. Now, let me explain this a little just to clarify. As far as being honest with yourself goes, this means you have to toss aside everything that people tell you. You have to forget about the norm, forget about what other people like. Let me give you an example. For a long time, I would listen to music based on other people’s suggestions. I always thought that if, well, this guy said it, that means I should listen to it over and over. But I didn’t really like it! Forget what people tell you. Do what you love. Listen to what you love. Create what you enjoy creating! Develop what you LOVE developing, and if you do these things, I promise you that you will know yourself better than ever before and create art that cannot be reproduced by any individual out there no matter how hard he/she tries.

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Bud Powell’s Solo on “Celia” – Transcription by Greg Chen

I am very excited to post the first jazz piano transcription to the site for our free consumption! Thanks to Greg Chen for providing his beautiful work!!!

Bud Powell’s Solo on Celia

About Greg Chen:

Growing up in San Jose, California, pianist Gregory Chen first found his passion for music
in the works of classical greats such as J.S. Bach, Beethoven, and Chopin and at the age of thirteen fell in love with the sound of jazz, finding it to be a natural extension of his classical training. Soon, he was experimenting with and combining a variety of musical styles including funk, fusion, rock, gospel, and Latin music. By the age of eighteen, Gregory had already played at venues such as the Kennedy Center, Avery Fisher Hall – Lincoln Center, World Trade Center 7, Gramercy Theatre, Symphony Space in Manhattan, Puppets Jazz Bar in Brooklyn, the Jazz Showcase in Chicago, Jazz at the Bistro in St. Louis Missouri, Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, the American Jazz Museum “Blue Room” in Kansas City, and the World Association for Symphonic Bands and Ensembles in Cincinnati, Smoke Jazz and Supper Club in Manhattan, among other venues. He has appeared at the Monterey and San Jose jazz festivals, among others. Gregory has had the opportunity to perform with such jazz musicians as Wynton Marsalis, Lee Konitz, Candido Camero, Ambrose Akinmusire, Steve Wilson, Jon Gordon, Julian Lage, Bobby Watson, Anton Schwartz, and Mike Tomaro. He has studied with Garry Dial, Ted Rosenthal, Peter Horvath, Michael Zilber, Frank Sumares, and Pablo Mayor among others.

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How to Sound Like Oscar Peterson

For all you jazz pianists out there, I’d like to point out a few simple techniques that Oscar Peterson commonly uses:

1. Bluesy licks – If you listen closely, you’ll notice that his lines characteristically have little bluesy inserts within them, or often at the very beginning. I would recommend transcribing some of these and playing them at the beginnings of your lines.

2. Arpeggiated lines – Oscar often plays quick arpeggios up simple chords. Listen carefully and you’ll notice this happening often in his improvisation. The best part is it’s not that hard to do once you practice it a little bit. For starters, try practicing a g minor triad arpeggio and running it quickly up and down the piano over a C7 chord.

3. Oscar regularly uses riffs and repeats them over and over to build tension and interact with the band.

Eventually I’ll post a video to give you a better idea of how these techniques work. See if you can pick out the different ways he uses the above techniques in this video of C Jam Blues:

Something else that you’ll notice is that Oscar had a very strong grasp of how to play like other pianists. In my opinion, the work you put into practicing the styles of those who came before you will contribute greatly to your ability to discover your own way of improvising. Notice who Oscar’s influences are in the video below. Oscar wouldn’t have had Brad Mehldau on his list, so by listening to Brad, you’re already developing your own style. I highly suggest you watch this video and think about what it means to you:

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Twitter Tips for Musicians

Do you ever wonder how to market yourself as a musician by using a site like twitter? Because I wondered for a very long time.

So here’s how to use Twitter to your advantage.

Twitter is great for a couple reasons:

1. Everything you tweet (a tweet is basically like a little status update) is searchable. That means that Google will find your tweets if you include keywords in them (see the earlier post about using keywords if you don’t know what they are!).

2. Twitter is a constant gigantic conversation. If you look in the right places, you can meet lots of interesting people who could really help you down the road. (That being said, if you don’t look in the right places, you’ll find a lot of spam and people who really don’t care about what you’re doing.)

Some extra basics for new twitter users:

  • A tweet can be many things.
  • Everyone can see any of your tweets.
  • If you click reply, then you communicate with someone else by mentioning them in your tweet so that they see it. This doesn’t stop anyone else from seeing it.
  • When you click retweet (two overlapping arrows under a tweet), this basically just repeats what someone else tweeted as your own tweet.

The basic point of twitter is to gain followers and interact with them. You have to be constantly sending out tweets and “replying” to other people’s tweets. If you like someone else’s tweet, then you can “retweet” it out to the twitter world form you account.

How do you get followers? Well, there are lots of ways to get followers. Like all social media, what it comes down to is making sure you direct people to and from your twitter account. So, for example, if you have an email newsletter, make sure you have a link to your twitter account in the letter. If you have a website, make sure you have a link to your website on your twitter profile.

The only other sure way of gaining followers is by following people in the first place. There are some tricks to doing this effectively, however. I would highly discourage you from going out on twitter and following tons of random people for no reason.

Here’s a step by step. We’ll use the fictional example of jazz pianist John Sailor, who lives in New York, NY:

1. Make sure your profile description is concise and to the point. John’s will say: “Jazz pianist from New York, NY.”

2. Search for people with whom you have a common interest. John will search for keywords like “jazz pianist,” “new york jazz musician.” When you’re sorting through people, click on people’s names to make sure they use twitter frequently and aren’t spammers. Follow them.

3. Make sure to engage with anyone who tweets to you by replying to them and retweeting their tweets.

4. After a few days, you will need to unfollow the people who didn’t follow him back. Go to tweepi.com and sign in using the free version. You will click “flush.” This will allow you to unfollow people.

5. Follow back any people who follow you, after you make sure they’re not spammers, that is.

5. Repeat steps 1-5 and make sure you continue to tweet regularly!

Important extra tips:

  • If you sign up for a Hootsuite account, you can schedule lots of tweets in advance so that you don’t have to be on twitter quite as much.
  • Try changing your profile description every once in a while. This might help you attract new followers. For example, maybe John grew up in New Haven, Connecticut. He should put this in his description before he goes onto twitter and follows people from New Haven.

If you enjoyed reading this post, please go to the top right of the home page and click “follow.” Much more to come!

Brad Mehldau: Eloquence With Words

Brad Mehldau happens to be one of my favorite musicians. The biggest reason for this is that he is far from just a jazz pianist. This becomes apparent when reading the articles he has posted on his website. His ability to emote with his music is supplemented by his articulate use of words. Brad is a great example of an artist whose music comes from more than just exercises and practice. His music comes from his personality, stories, etc. His latest album, “Highway Rider,” actually features a story that he wrote to go along with the music. Here is a link to a great article he wrote on the wisdom that is often conveyed in music and where it comes from. (you can find links to many of his other articles here as well).

http://bradmehldau.com/writing/papers/september_2011.html

On another note, Brad Mehldau has a new trio album coming out tomorrow!!! —— http://bradmehldau.com/music/ode/index.html