I also think that just having a limited set of inspiration can actually be a springboard of creativity anyway. Wes Montgomery spent a lot of time transcribing Charlie Christian. He was just obsessed with Charlie Christian. He would learn every single solo by Charlie Christian. I don’t know if he extensively did other transcriptions from other players, but once he’d kind of got that main influence, then he used that as a springboard to enhance his own playing as Wes Montgomery, okay?
So, you don’t need to study every single player out there to still have a solid understanding of jazz and a solid feel for the core approaches. So I think that’s where you have to be a bit selective. It’s kind of ironic that if you feel like you have to be a walking dictionary of jazz, you’ll find that it’s actually harder to be creative ironically, because you’re sort of locked in superficially studying too much stuff, rather than going deep and narrow on a couple of players that you really like.
I think you need to start thinking as an artist. Even from the outset as a beginner player, rather than thinking of yourself as a student that has to fill your brain up with so much knowledge, you definitely need a bit of that, but then how do I then turn that into a musical statement that’s uniquely my own? That kind of changes the whole nature of the study of jazz guitar. You can start to feel like you’re more making a creative statement, rather than just parroting something that’s been done by other people.
So when it says here five years of study, averaging around two or more hours a day are required to get up and running as a player. I know that that’s patently wrong, because I have, for example, I have a course called The Fundamentals of Jazz Guitar Improvisation in my Fret Dojo Academy membership programme. The course is structured for about a block of 10 weeks, for about 45 minutes of practise, five days a week.
By the end of that programme, and I’ve run this for a few years now, I’ve seen people do videos where they’ll be good enough to go and get a gig with the music that they’ve learned, okay? So I know that that’s not true. Once again, your mindset is everything. If you think something will take 10 years to get good, or if you think you need at least three hours a day to be able to even just play a simple song, then it will take that long. But question everything, that’s what I’ve learned. Because early on in my kind of journey with jazz, I definitely thought like that, because that’s what everyone was saying. But then when you realise that maybe that there’s another way to do it, then a whole lot of other possibilities can open up for you.
So there’s other things in here, like there are a large number of standards, songs and pieces that every jazz player knows that they can play and improvise on, all of these must be learned. Now, that’s not true. I don’t know every jazz standard, but the set lists that I do have, I know really well. If I’m collaborating on a project with someone and they want to do a few standard tunes, and some of them I would know, some of them I don’t. It doesn’t really matter.
If you know the core concepts of how to improvise over the main progressions that are featured over and over again in jazz, it means that you can solo over hundreds of tunes and do reasonably well. Once again, you don’t need to be a walking dictionary of jazz standards. I was actually talking to Howard Alden once about that and he thought it’s not like you have to learn every jazz standard. Definitely learn the main ones that you might find come up and up again depending on where you gig or where you go to a jam session or whatever, learn those ones. But then, just learn ones one at a time, or better still, compose your own standards, make your own music.
So I know I have a different point of view to some of the other guys out there, but I think definitely it’s important to learn jazz standards. In my membership, every month we’re focusing on a new jazz standard to kind of learn some of the important chord progressions and soloing approaches, and a bit of transcriptions and things like that. But it’s not like you have to learn 500 of these things to be able to do a gig. Again, it’s just simply not true.
Now here’s another point about, I’m quoting from the article here. “Although there was going to be a repetition of patterns as we go about learning all this musical material, there’s still a tremendous amount of material to study. Many great players have filled large volumes with the material they practise and have published it for other players to study. So, you can fill a room with such material and have a lifetime of study ahead of you, which is very fortunate if you love this sort of thing.”
Now again, I don’t think creative soloing necessarily comes from a large amount of material, I think creative soloing comes from actually placing limits on your material. So selecting the key approaches, the most important ones, and then going really deep on that. Not just filling your head with all this stuff that you … because when you improvise, you need to be able to spontaneously in a very natural way, kind of talk with this music, you don’t want to kind of just superficially learn a whole bunch of different stuff.
Of course, jazz is a bit of a lifetime journey, but you shouldn’t mix that together with having to feel like you need to spend a lifetime before being able to perform. So, let’s just step back a bit. You can effectively solo, learning how to solo over major 2-5-1s, minor 2-5-1s, a few secondary dominant sort of approaches, tritone substitutions, and a couple of arpeggio by substitutions or something like that.
If you can have that material, that will keep you going for a very long time, okay? That really doesn’t take that long to learn. It’s all about being selective and kind of having material that’s what I call high frequency, so stuff that’s very relevant to a lot of different songs, okay? So if you can have that kind of collection of material that’s very applicable to a wide variety of situations, then you’ll find that very quickly you can start to make sense of this kind of game of improvisation.
Now my membership programme, actually, kind of has that. I’ve documented the main approaches that are worth looking for and we work those over a variety of exercises and the most important standards. Then you can go for your life from there and apply them to a whole bunch of different tunes.
So I’m going to kind of say something a bit controversial here, I don’t think actually jazz is hard at all. Nothing in jazz is necessarily hard when it comes to learning the concepts of improvisation, it’s more a case of uncovering the most efficient and effective approaches. So it’s more a case of finding them that’s the tricky part. It’s not necessarily doing them or learning them, but it’s kind of sorting the weak from the chaff and learning the most essential aspects and approaches, and kind of techniques for learning soloing. So none of it is actually hard, it’s just something that you learn.
So having high frequency material, having a good mindset, having the understanding that if you’re consistent in your practise and leveraging that kind of inertia that happens when you start to practise, not necessarily a long time every day, but a little bit every day and being very focused on your material, you can get wonderful results.
So once I actually taught a Saxophonist over Skype. Even though I don’t play saxophone, but this person was struggling a bit to learn to improvise, and was in a situation where they had to play a lot of gigs in that style and it was stressing them out. Now I had to listen to what they had to say, and from the outset this person was saying, “I just can’t improvise, I’m a terrible improvisor,” and all that sort of thing. That was actually creating the reality of this person, okay? So, I had to really unpick that in the lesson.
After a while, she started to realise, “Hang on, maybe I can do this.” I showed her a few techniques from that Fundamentals of Jazz Improvisation course that’s on my site. But seriously, it only took about 20 minutes and she was playing a really cool natural sounding solo using some great pentatonic approaches and some blues, and she couldn’t believe her own playing. So it was mainly the mental block of thinking she couldn’t do it, and I had to just convince her that she could.
So people just need to start, okay? Make great music right now, don’t wait to feel like you have to have some qualification from someone else to get better at this stuff. I wouldn’t pay much attention to the sentiments in this article. I’m sorry I’ve kind of dished this person a bit in his podcast, but it really highlighted that kind of attitude that creates so much mental blocks in people’s abilities to just get started, and to start to make great music and start to enjoy this wonderful music that’s jazz with other people.
All right, guys. Well, let me know what you thought about this topic today and I’d love to get a bit of feedback. Either people that agree with me or even people that don’t agree with me, I’m interested to hear your thoughts and read them on my site. Please post a comment if you get to my site there. Yeah, I look forward to catching up with you in the next episode.
We’ve got some pretty cool stuff coming up in the Fret Dojo. I’ve got a great live session with Carl Orr that’s going to be on in a few weeks time in the membership, and he’s going to be talking about comping in a duo setting and some cool techniques for that. So that’s something that we haven’t focused a lot on yet in the Fret Dojo, so make sure you look out for that. Make sure you sign them up to my email list, I have lots of stuff coming out all the time, videos, new podcasts, and new courses as well.
So, okay guys, well, my name’s Greg O’Rourke. Great to chat with you today and I look forward to catching up with you in the next episode of Fret Dojo. Bye for now.