music performance tips

  • How to Get More Ideas while Improvising Jazz

    The following is a guest post by Mark Mercury.

    Do you ever run out of ideas while improvising? Are you sometimes unable to solo as freely and spontaneously as you would like?

    The building blocks of jazz improvisation are original, musical ideas. Getting them requires a steady stream of creativity and inspiration. Fortunately, many aspects of creativity and inspiration can be directly exercised and enhanced, thus improving the ability to get ideas. Here are three techniques you can use:


    A simple yet effective technique is to gently push yourself to create faster than you think you can. One way to do this is to give yourself “creating deadlines” during practice and strive to beat them. It’s amazing what a deadline can do to stimulate creativity.

    Pick a medium-tempo piece that you will be performing, either one on which you are not yet soloing fluently or a piece that is completely new to you. In a practice session select an eight-bar section, and go over and over those eight bars until you have worked out an approach for playing a great solo on them. Then improvise a great eight-bar solo. There is no need to work out in advance every single note. Just come up with a good approach or framework that you can use for improvising a great solo, and then improvise.

    To create your approach use any method you prefer, such as trial and error, experimenting with melodic and harmonic tactics for specific measures and chord changes, or planning the general structure of the solo.

    Give yourself a slightly difficult deadline. For example, if you think you can comfortably work out an approach and improvise a great solo in ten minutes, make your deadline “by the end of eight minutes.”

    Keep in mind that this is a creative exercise only and that it is for use during practice. Although you are working things out in advance to a greater or lesser degree, this technique is designed to improve your ability to get completely new approaches and ideas while improvising in a live setting.

    Next, pick out another eight-bar section and create a great solo based on a completely different approach, but do so in eight minutes. Do this with many eight-bar sections from many different songs until the eight-minute deadline is easy. Then make your time limit six minutes, and create solos on many eight-bar sections. Keep reducing your time limit until you’ve considerably improved your ability to quickly create an approach and play a great solo in the first few tries.


    Working out with pencil and music paper what you hear or feel on a deep creative level but can’t immediately figure out how to play is an important and valuable tool. By “deep creative level” I mean a strong, natural, not-always-articulate, creative energy level within you providing you with ideas or directions that you instinctively feel are right.

    What you hear or feel on a deep creative level may be somewhat nebulous, and you may believe that by working only with your instrument it would take you too long to figure out how to play what you hear or feel. Using pencil and paper during practice can help you bring forth and materialize what you are sensing.

    Working with your instrument, a pencil, and music paper, write down in musical notation each aspect of what you are hearing on a deep creative level. Unless the notes come to you in waves or big chunks, work on capturing one little piece of what you hear, then another and another. If the little pieces don’t come to you easily, work by trial and error. Try one series of notes, then another and another, until you are more effectively homing in on what you originally heard in your imagination. Spend as much time as you need to experiment and discover how to express in notes and/or chords each section of what you are hearing. Go as slowly as you need to, and get as much of your idea translated into notation as you can.

    You must strive to retain your original idea in your mind while exercising the self-discipline to discover how to say it in notes and then write it down. You may find that your original idea starts to melt away or that it begins to morph into something else. Don’t worry. As you do this exercise over and over you should find that you can more readily capture what you originally heard.

    As you write your music down, don’t be too concerned with notating rhythms exactly. Unless a very interesting rhythmic idea occurs to you that you definitely want to capture, your main objective should be to get the notes and chords.

    You may feel some uneasiness as you are searching for the right notes to put down on paper. Ignore that feeling and keep working. You are doing something very slowly now so that later you can do it rapidly, spontaneously, and comfortably.


    By deciding to state your musical ideas boldly and then doing so, it is possible to excite your creativity into a higher state. Playing boldly makes you more willing to communicate your ideas to the public, and when that happens you open the door to creating many more ideas as you improvise. Also, any remaining self-consciousness on expressing your musical ideas can be greatly lessened by deciding to be bold about your playing.

    As you are improvising, practice making every phrase you play a strong musical statement. Set the agenda by musically stating ideas in a way that shows how you want them to be. You should be completely taking over the tone, style or feeling of the moment and taking the music in a direction you want it to go.

    After you get good at this, practice carefully choosing the moments when you want to play boldly. Try to pick the most effective times to do so, when the phrase that you want to play is one that can most benefit from being played boldly.

    Your ideas don’t even have to be highly original to get benefit from this technique. Just by playing your ideas boldly, you will be helping to free up your creativity. While improvising, if you ever feel that ideas are coming to you too slowly, play some notes boldly to give a boost to your inspiration.

    Don’t be timid. Be strong. Be bold. Practice being so until it becomes second nature and you have the ability to be bold or not at will.

    Teen Jazz Contributor Mark Mercury | Teen Jazz

    Written by – Mark Mercury, Teen Jazz Contributor

    Mark Mercury is an American composer, pianist, teacher, and author of the e-book “How to Get More Ideas while Improvising Jazz.”


    December 22, 2014 • Teen Jazz • Views: 1347

  • 8 Ways to Practice Your Instrument While Traveling

    I try to practice for at least an hour everyday, but when I’m on the road, it’s hard to squeeze time in for practice. Last year, I completed a project 365 where I committed to practice everyday whether in sickness or in health, at home or on the road.

    This resulted in my practicing in some rather strange places such as my car, hotel rooms or wherever else I could manage and so, I’d like to share a few tips with you for finding time to practice while traveling.

    1. Bring a music class with you. There are tons of great music classes online on everything from music production to songwriting to improvisation. Even if you can’t bring your instrument along, you can find time to practice other aspects of your music with an online course.

    2. Visualization. Read your music without your instrument. Pay attention to the dynamics, the articulation, the accidentals. Go over it in your head.

    3. Air guitar. Or saxophone. Or trumpet. Take your visualization practice to the next level by trying to finger along. You might find it more difficult than you think.

    4. Bring a smaller instrument along. Sometimes this isn’t ideal, but it’s a great way to work on a double (unless there’s a smaller version of your instrument available). For example, you could bring your soprano sax along rather than your tenor or even flute/clarinet. If you’re a keyboard player, you can bring a small keyboard along with you. As trumpet player you can bring just your mouthpiece to do exercises and warm-ups with. As a guitarist you could bring a mandolin or ukulele or a backpack travel guitar.

    5. Your voice. We’re already equipped with an instrument! No need to take an extra one along. Practice ear training by using your voice to sing the music you’re working on or sing along to recordings.

    6. Find local jam sessions. If you’re staying at a hotel, the other patrons might not appreciate you practicing (depending on how loud your instrument is), so before you travel, check out local jam sessions in the area. It’s a great way to meet musicians, get some playing time in and explore the local music scene. Check out our jam session directory to get started.

    7. Active Listening. Really listen to music. Stick some headphones on, close your eyes and do nothing but listen. Take notice of the structures of the songs, if you can transcribe any parts of the song in your head without your instrument, the melody, etc.

    8. Take a break. Sometimes a break away from your instrument and practice can do wonders for your playing.

    November 26, 2014 • Music and Career Advice • Views: 1943

  • An Introduction to the Clarinet by Rheuben Allen

    Hi everyone. This is Rheuben. Today I’m going to introduce you to the clarinet.

    The clarinet is a member of the woodwind family and is unique among the woodwinds. Most woodwinds over blow what we call an octave. When you finger a “d” and push the register key, you get a “d.” The clarinet is unique. It over blows a 12th. So when you finger a low “g” and push the register key, you get a “d.”

    So on the clarinet, you never use the same fingering twice for a note. That makes it completely unique amongst the woodwind instruments.

    Now the clarinet comes in a case, and when you open the case, you’ll see there’s a lot of pieces in it. So we’ll start with the bottom of the clarinet, it’s called the bell. This is the bell section [shows piece]. The next piece is called the lower joint. Now when the instrument is new, they come with corks underneath some of the keys to keep the keys down to keep them safe in travel. So you take a pair of tweezers and pull out the little corks. Now all the keys on this joint wiggle.

    The next piece is called the upper joint. This is the top part of the clarinet. Again, it has a bunch of little corks in it we have to take out so it will play.

    The next piece is the barrel. Now the barrel of the clarinet is very important and it comes in many different lengths. And the reason for the different lengths are because when a person plays, everyone has their own embouchure (that’s the shape of your mouth when you play) and has their own mouthpiece and the barrels come in short, about 62 mm to 67 mm in length. And so different barrels will produce different sounds, but that’s for another talk.

    Then we go to the mouthpiece. Now this clarinet comes with a mouthpiece reed and everything all put together, so we’ll take it apart and show you all the different pieces.

    We have the cap which is used to protect the reed and mouthpiece when you’re not playing the instrument. We have the ligature which is what hold the reed on the clarinet mouthpiece. We have the actual mouthpiece and, of course, the reed.

    Now the first thing I’m going to do, is I’m going to put the instrument together and while I’m doing that, I’m going to soak the reed so that you can play the reed. You must soak it and get it wet. Just put it in your mouth and soak it.

    While I’m doing that I’m going to open this. It’s cork grease. Now to put the instrument together, the clarinet has a lot of course between the connecting pieces. So you have to put a little grease on your finger, run it around the cork and make sure the cork is greased. Then you put the pieces together.

    Now when you put the barrel on the lower joint, you wrap your hand gently around the bottom two keys so that you don’t bend them and you put on the bell section.

    Then for the upper joint, the side where the keys extend beyond the cork, that goes into the lower joint so you have to put a little cork grease on the cork. When you put this piece on, it’s very important that your fingers go around and close the key that lifts the bridge key (demonstrates) so that you can’t bend it when you put it together. Close this down, hold it, and then you attach it to the lower joint so you don’t bump into the bridge key. You line it up so that this part (demonstrates) is even in the middle.

    The next thing you put on would be the barrel (puts cork grease on top of upper joint and then places barrel on clarinet). Then, the next thing you put on will be the mouthpiece (puts cork grease on cork on mouthpiece).

    Now, as you look down the back of the clarinet, you will see that the thumb rest, the octave key and the mouthpiece need to be straight in line.

    Okay, now that you have the reed wet, you put the ligature on the mouthpiece. You take the reed and you slip it underneath the ligature and line it up even with the mouthpiece. The tip should be lined up with the top of the mouthpiece. You pull the ligature down and tighten the screws. Once that’s done, you’re ready to play.

    The clarinet, like I said, over blows a 12th, so when you finger a note, like you finger a “c” (the first three fingers on your left hand pressed down), when you push this register key, it becomes a “g.” It’s not a “c” any longer, it’s a “g.” So this makes it completely unique.

    Now this works the same as any woodwind instrument (other than flute), it has a reed. You put your bottom lip over your bottom teeth. (Points to mouth) This is called your embouchure. The top of your mouthpiece goes in your mouth (demonstrates and plays) and that’s how you produce a note.

    When you get ready to quit playing, you put the cap back on the mouthpiece and that way the mouthpiece and reed are protected.

    Now to take the instrument apart, you remove the cap, take off the ligature and reed. Then you remove the mouthpiece. Essentially you do the same thing you did to set up but backwards. Take off the barrel, put it in the case.

    Make sure that when you take it apart, you press down those same keys so you don’t bend the bridge key. Remove the upper joint. Lay it in the case. Close the bottom two keys with your hand and remove the bell. Put that in the case. Put the bottom joint back in the case.

    Put the cap back on the ligature and mouthpiece and put that back in the case. Usually you have something to put the reed in to protect it in the case, I don’t have that at the moment, so you don’t just lay it in the case like I’m doing right now, but that’s that. You close up your cork grease and put it in the case. Close the case and you’re ready to travel.

    The clarinet is very light, very small and very easy to get around with. And that’s the introduction to the clarinet. Thank you so much.

    November 17, 2014 • Lessons • Views: 1926

  • Advice for Saxophonists: Article Roundup

    As a saxophone player I tend to write quite a few articles for sax players here on Teen Jazz. Here’s a roundup of all the saxophone advice you can find on the site so far.

    General Saxophone Advice

    College Audition Preparation for Saxophonists – guest post by sax player and Cal State Long Beach professor James Barrera

    Sax Mouthpiece Buying Tips – looking to buy a new mouthpiece? here’s a great place to start

    Sax Playing Tips – just a few general tips

    Tips for the Advanced Saxophonist – a bit of advice for the high school aged sax player

    Tips for the Beginning Saxophonist – a bit of advice for someone just starting to play sax

    Words of Wisdom from Phil Sobel – tips taken from an interview with saxophonist and educator Phil Sobel

    The Difference Between Tenor Saxophones With and Without the High F# Key – advice from Rheuben Allen on making a saxophone purchase

    My Tenor Sax Setup – what’s yours? share in the comments

    Repair Tips

    Emergency Saxophone Repair – written by repairman Rheuben Allen

    Basic Saxophone Repair – written by repairman Rheuben Allen

    How to Adjust the G-Sharp Spring Tension on a Saxophone


    Video Sax Lessons – from saxophonist Bob Reynolds

    Up and Coming Sax Players on Teen Jazz

    Interviews with Established Sax Players

    November 3, 2014 • Music and Career Advice • Views: 1606

  • Leo Potts: The Lindeman-Sobel Approach to Artistic Wind Performance

    Part I

    My name is Leo Potts and I’d like to share with you some concepts of the Lindeman-Sobel Approach to Artistic Wind Performance.

    The first concept we’ll deal with is “how do you play the first note of a musical phrase?”

    Now prior to playing the first note of a musical phrase, most musicians will already have the keys depressed. Let’s say it’s “b”. If I already have the key down… Now the sound is going to be produced at the mouth, at the mouthpiece, so the reed is not going to vibrate the way that it should and the sound is going to be tight. It’s going to sound like this. [demonstrates]

    The concept that I’m dealing with is that I never have my fingers down before I play. It’s all about airstream, articulating with the tongue, and fingers meeting at the same time, creating that first note.

    You know what, we can use this analogy, it’s kind of interesting. If I’m playing baseball, let’s say. The idea is that I have my bat and the pitcher throws the ball and I swing, and the bat and the ball meet to create that home run. That energy. That’s what happens when I don’t have the finger down. It’s right there.

    Now the other way, if I already have my finger down, it’s more to me like it’s like I stick the bat out there [places hands together in front of body] the pitcher throws [the ball] and I hope, that maybe, he might hit the bat.

    This is my concept of producing the perfect note. I’m not going to have a finger down before I play, so I’m feeling the pearl on my finger. Ready to put that finger down. Feeling that energy. Now I’m going to breathe from the diaphragm. In one continuous motion, the articulation, air meeting the finger as it closes. No [pause], [the air is] through into [the finger].

    Here we go. [demonstrates]

    Now just say I’m going to start the note without the tongue at all so that it’s going to be quite. It’s going to be sort of like it’s sneaking in but you’re going to hear the beginning of the note. It’s just not percussive in any way, shape, or form. [demonstrates]

    I’d like to, one more time, just let you hear what it sounds like when the key is down as far as sound is concerned, articulation, and the beginning of the note. And then when I’m doing the concept of air and fingers meeting to create that sound. So he we are [with the finger down] and it’s more a matter of thinking up here [points to mouthpiece] than here [points to hand].[demonstrates both]

    It’s a much richer sound. The fundamental of the sound is there and it doesn’t sound tight. It’s open and singing. And that’s really what I’m trying to do all the time. Air and fingers meet to create that.

    So that’s a concept that I’m dealing with. Try it. Work on it and see how you like it. And enjoy.

    For more information, visit

    Part II

    My name is Leo Potts and I’d like to share with you some concepts of the Lindeman-Sobel Approach to Artistic Wind Performance.

    This is session two, a continuation of session one. I would like to introduce you to the concept of finger technique. The tendency is to slap a key down and upon the release, let the finger fly. This is going to affect the quality of sound and pitch relationship. Let me just demonstrate that really quickly for you. I’m going to put [my fingers] down not very nicely and release them the same way. [demonstrates]

    As you can hear, the tone quality on the release, the pitch relationship is sharp and I’ve lost all the bottom int he sound. Now I’m going to do it conceptually the way that I think. [demonstrates]

    Now I’ve a balance of tone quality. Nothing is sticking out, nothing is popping out. The upper note is not exploding on me. Something I find very helpful is to practice in front of a mirror. This way, you can see your fingers. You can see if you’re really keeping your fingers on the pearls. And now you’ll be able to hear the difference. Your tone quality will be the same. The line will flow and actually, it will be easier to play.

    So the next time I’ll be in your area, I hope you’ll come and join me for my master clinic and hope to see you then. Thank you.

    October 13, 2014 • Lessons • Views: 1528

  • How to Improve Your Singing or Playing

    We recently had a question submitted by one of our readers. It was “How can improve my singing?” But since we also have a number of members who play instruments, we’ve extended the question to include “how to improve my singing or playing?”

    As part of this podcast episode, we give you tips to improve your performance – whether you sing or play an instrument with six tips. We also feature the music of saxophonist Jason Weber (you can read our interview with him here), Sudbury & Ramos, and bassist Darryl Williams (who hosts several really awesome jam sessions in Southern California).

    Don’t forget to check out Teen Jazz Radio or subscribe to our podcast on iTunes.

    October 6, 2014 • Music and Career Advice • Views: 1224

  • The First Gig

    A note from Shannon: The following is a guest post from J. M. Riley. I thought it would be fun to try something a little different and include a fictional “first gig” experience from an up and coming writer. We hope you enjoy this post and we’d love to hear about your first gig experiences in the comments below! Also, please check out JM’s site – support up and coming artists (of all types)!

    Nick walked into the venue, the rich scents and welcoming sounds of a busy kitchen greeting him at the door. The hostess caught his eye. “Hi, may I help you?”

    “Do you know where the band is setting up? I’m performing tonight.”

    She smiled. “This way.” She led him around the corner. “So what do you play?”

    He tapped his case. “Trumpet.”

    “Oh, very cool. My brother played trumpet when he was like, 11. He didn’t do it for very long.”

    Nick nodded. “That’s cool.” He’d heard similar stories but never knew quite how to respond.

    “Here you are.” She pointed towards the stage ahead of them.

    Not bad. It was larger than he expected considering the fact that the gig was in a restaurant. They had even gone all out with stage lights and a sound system.

    “Hey!” A voice called from the stage. “About time you showed up!”

    “Hey, Max.” Nick smiled as the other man jumped down from the stage to greet him.

    “I was beginning to think you’d gotten cold feet.”

    What? “I thought you said call time was 3?” He looked down at his watch. It was 2:49.

    “Nah, man.” Max laughed. “I’m just messing with you.”

    Nick sighed a breath of relief. “Where should I set up?”

    “For now, just hang for a minute. Our drummer is running late, and it would probably be better if you wait to set up around him.”

    “No problem,” Nick said. “I’m just going to warm up a bit for now, if that’s alright.”

    “Yeah, sure. I’ll let you do your thing.” He turned.

    “Hey, wait. Before you start to get ready, do you know if we are going to have soundcheck?”

    “Probably not,” Max said. “Because the drummer is going to be late, that puts us a bit behind, I don’t think we’re going to have time for it.”

    “Oh, ok. Thanks.”

    “Yeah, sure. I’m gonna go finish getting ready. I’ll see you in a bit.” Max jogged towards the stage while Nick set his case down on a chair so he could pull out his trumpet.

    The drummer had shown up 15 minutes before the doors opened and they rushed to help him set up, settling their gear into place around him. The adrenaline had distracted Nick momentarily, but as they stood waiting, his nerves were beginning to get the better of him. His stomach felt as though it was competing for the Olympic gold in gymnastics. He tried breathily deeply, to regulate his body, but his hands still continued to shake. He hadn’t felt nervous like this since his first school performances, but he couldn’t flub his solo here as he did then. He would have to play through the discomfort and play well.

    They were standing off to the side of the stage while the audience slowly filtered in and took their seats. They had turned down the house lights and the room was filled with excited chatter as everyone both behind and beyond the stage prepared for a night of music.

    Max glanced down at his phone, checking the time. “We’re up,” he said as he gestured for the band to head up on stage. “Let’s get to it.”

    Nick stepped up onto the stage and the lights hit him blindingly for a brief moment. He had to squint to see out into the audience. He was somewhat glad he didn’t have a clear view; it helped him calm his nerves. After taking their places, the band started up. Nick watched for the cue from Max, the bandleader, to indicate when to come in. Here we go, he thought as he found himself navigating his way through the melody with the guitarist. But before he could truly enjoy the brief success of their perfect unison, it was his turn to solo. He took a deep breath and began to play. And then it was over.

    Wait… he thought, was that it? What did I just play? It was almost as though he blacked out during his entire solo. He looked to the other band members who smiled at him. Then he heard something. Was that applause? He shielded his eyes from the lights and looked out past the stage to see the motion of the audience as they clapped. They clapped for him. Someone whistled. His face flushed and he bowed awkwardly, but the shaking had stopped and he started to feel just a little more confident. The rest of the night would only get easier.

    As Nick stepped down from the stage, a man stood along the side as though waiting to speak with him.

    “Nick, was it?” The man said.

    Nick nodded and extended his hand. The man took it and they shook. “Pleasure to meet you…”


    “John,” Nick repeated.

    “Hey, listen kid, you play great, but you look nervous. You gotta look like you enjoy it!”

    “I…” Nick hesitated. His first criticism.

    John continued, smiling at him. “The audience enjoys it way more when they know you’re having a good time up there. You are having fun on stage, right?”

    Nick nodded. “Yes…”

    “See?” The stranger patted him on the shoulder. “You just gotta show it. It comes with time.” He turned and began to walk away. Nick stared after him feeling somewhat shell-shocked.

    “Hey, Nick.”

    Nick turned to discover Max standing just behind him. “You heard that, huh?”

    Max nodded then grinned. “Don’t worry about it too much. Like he said, you’ll get comfortable on stage eventually, you just need to pretend a bit until you get there. Fake it until you make it, you know? Let’s just hope it’s sooner than later.” Max clapped a stack of cash into Nick’s hand. “Good job, man.”

    “Thanks.” It was the first bit of money he had made doing music and holding it in his hand felt good.

    “You free next Friday?” Max asked.

    “Yeah, I think so.”

    “We’re going to be playing again and we’d love to have you back.”

    Nick’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. “Really?”

    “Yeah,” he said. “Don’t look so surprised. I won’t lie to you when I tell you that we took a bit of a gamble on you this time, seeing as we’ve never played with you before, but it was worth it. You play well. Geoff was right to recommend you.”

    “Wow. I don’t know what to say. Thanks, Max.”

    “No problem. Listen, I gotta go tear down. See you next week, okay?”

    “Yeah, of course. See you then.”

    “You got it.”

    September 29, 2014 • Music and Career Advice, Teen Jazz • Views: 1415

  • Making Practice a Habit

    Hey everyone! Welcome to the latest emission of Teen Jazz Radio, a part of, an online community of up and coming musicians. I’m Shannon Kennedy, your host and I’d like to thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to listen to our show and to the fantastic young artists we feature as part of each episode.

    Today on Teen Jazz Radio I’m going to talk about developing good music habits. It’s important to practice everyday based on what your goals in music are and that’s easier to do if you make it a habit. Whether your goal is to continue developing your music, becoming an engineer or a songwriter, it’s important to spend time each and everyday to get closer to your goals, so we’re going to talk about how to make practicing (or songwriting) a habit.

    Also in this episode, I’m also going to feature the music of Ryan Saranich, Trifield Guitar Project, Bastian Weinhold, David Pedrick, This Time with Feeling and Jonathan Butler.

    As I mention at the beginning of each show, I know that many of you are listening to this podcast for different reasons – some of you may be here for the advice offered as part of this episode and some of you may be listening to check out the music we feature as part of the show. So, as I mentioned in the last episode, I’m going to try and space the music and the advice out evenly throughout the podcast so that there’s a little something for everyone.

    So, before we dive into today’s tips on practice habits, let’s check out our first music set. This week I’d like to introduce you to saxophone player Ryan Saranich and Trifield Guitar Project which features Alex Sill. The first song you’ll hear is I Don’t Think So by Ryan Saranich from Story and second I’m going to feature Montana Suite 3 (April Ballad) by Trifield Guitar Project from Montana Suite.

    Once again, the first track was Ryan Saranich with I Don’t Think So. You can learn more about Ryan in our interview with him on Teen Jazz or at his website, And after that was Alex Sill with Montana Suite 3. You can also read his interview with us on Teen Jazz.

    Habits, good or bad, they are part of who we are, what we do and who we become. It’s not only important to create habits surrounding our music, but good habits.

    But why are good practice habits so important? Isn’t it enough to just spend time on our instruments or writing music?

    No, and here’s why.

    Practicing something incorrectly can really hinder our playing, so it’s imperative to develop good practice habits. And it doesn’t hurt to check in with a teacher or your peers every so often to make sure you’re keeping on track! If you spend too much time trying to work things out on your own, you may find you develop bad habits that hold you back or make certain aspects of your playing/songwriting more difficult than they need to be. Someone who knows what they’re doing, like a teacher, can help you avoid this. As you play longer and have a few more years on your instrument, this becomes less important, but at the beginning when you’re first starting out, it can be crucial.

    A quick example I have is with one of my students (this has actually happened in more than one case). This particular student came to me for lessons because his mother saw that he was struggling and wasn’t as excited about music as he had been before he started. When he came in I saw that he struggled to play and was having a really hard time. I took my mouthpiece to play his sax and found that the saxophone wasn’t working. At all. He was being held back by his instrument, not by any inability to play on his part, but that frustration had made him feel like quitting. He had no idea his saxophone wasn’t working because he had only been playing a few months and one can’t have expected him to know something like that. He took his sax in to get it fixed and is now really enjoying music.

    So, to make a long story short, if you’re just starting out, it’s definitely worth checking in with someone every once in a while to help point things out you may not have noticed and give you some direction.

    Making it a Habit

    It’s been said that it takes about 21 days of consecutively doing something for it to become a habit. So if you can practice each day for at least 15 minutes for 21 days, you have a pretty good chance of it getting easier to sit down and do on a regular basis.

    So how do we make practicing a habit?

    If you hope to train yourself to develop good practice habits, to try and work on your instrument or voice or songwriting everyday, it needs to be something you’ll miss if you don’t do it. Like brushing your teeth, eating dinner or your morning cup of coffee. There are a few “hacks” to make music a more regular part of your schedule and so here are just a few ideas.

    Set aside a specific time

    One of the most suggested ways to make something a habit, is to set aside a specific time in your schedule just for whatever it is you’re trying to do. In this case, practice. The mornings are often best because you haven’t yet become overwhelmed with other side projects, tasks, calls or emails, but sometimes the evening works too. When I was in school, I sometimes woke up early to practice before classes started. Other times, I practiced right after I got home and before I did my homework so that I wouldn’t be too mentally exhausted to tackle it. It wasn’t long before it was natural to come home and open up my flute case right away.

    With this method, the most important thing is to pick a block of time and stick with it. Always practice during that time until your brain and body become so used to doing that it automatically switches into practice mode at said time.

    Create a specific place just for practice

    Another method, if you have the space, is to create a dedicated practice area free from distraction so that each time you step into that room or corner, you know what you’re there to do. When you’re in this area (or when it’s your dedicated time), make sure that others (parents, siblings, spouses) know not to disturb you.

    If you have trouble focusing

    If you have trouble focusing, try practicing for shorter spurts of time rather than trying to survive an hour long practice session. If you force yourself to sit for too long while your mind and body are fighting against it, you’re going to come away far more exhausted than necessary from your practice sessions and you won’t look forward to the next one.

    Leave off at a place that’s easy to pick back up

    When your practice time is over, try to make a note of things you’d like to work on the next time so you have a place to start the next time you sit down to practice. Sometimes one of the hardest things about practice is choosing exactly what to practice. By keeping a practice journal and making notes as you work, you can eliminate this lack of direction so that you always have something to work on.

    This will also help prevent you from hitting a plateau.

    Start small

    If you aren’t used to practicing regularly, it’s more difficult to stay on track. Your body may not have the endurance quite yet so don’t push yourself too hard. If you don’t enjoy it, you’ll come to dread your regular practice sessions and avoid them rather than look forward to them and go through with them.

    You won’t enjoy everyday of practice, but there’s not reason to dread it or stop all together! If you get too frustrated, overwhelmed, or bored, you’re likely doing it wrong.

    You don’t have to become an expert jazz musician right away – it’s something you’ll always work towards, so just take small steps towards small, daily improvement. Set small goals that you know you can accomplish and eventually work towards longer practice sessions.

    Start with just 15 minutes a day and then slowly increase it to 30 minutes, then 45, then an hour, etc. It doesn’t have to be a solid block of time. You can practice 15 minutes twice a day or 45 minutes once and the 15 minutes once to get the total amount of time, but regardless of how you do it, try to slowly increase the total amount of time you spend per day.

    Eventually you’ll find that an entire hour has slipped by without your noticing and you won’t find yourself counting down the minutes until your practice session is supposed to be “over.”

    Our second set of music for today’s show is going to feature Bastian Weinhold and Jonathan Butler. The first song you’ll hear is One for the Doctor by Bastian Weinhold from Cityscape and second I’m going to feature Sweet Serenade by Jonathan Butler from Living My Dream.

    Once again, that was Jonathan Butler with Sweet Serenade and before that was Bastian Weinhold with One for the Doctor. You can find more information about Bastian Weinhold at and Jonathan Butler at

    Follow Prompts

    There are great groups online through Facebook and the like that host “daily jams” or “weekly jams.” They pick tunes, discuss them, various recordings of them, and post videos of themselves playing them. It’s a great way to connect with other musicians, be a part of a community, and get ideas.

    There are also communities like this for songwriting. One example is FAWM, held in February. 14 songs in 28 days. You can post recordings or lyrics, get feedback, collaborate with other composers, etc. It’s a great way to get motivated and get inspired, set a reasonable goal and have the incentive to work towards it.

    Working with other musicians, or taking part in these sorts of communities is a great way to help you build focus (the other musicians help keep you accountable), and it’s a great way to get critiqued on your playing.

    Experiment with different kinds of practice

    If you start to find practicing stale, try changing up your routine with different kinds of practice. If you normally work on improvisation, try sight-reading etudes. If you normally work on transcribing, try reading through Bach cello suites. If you normally read music, try playing by ear.

    Listen to more music

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Actively listening is one of the best ways to learn. In order to truly improve your musicianship, you must listen to as much as you can. Listen to as much music as you can as often as you can. Pay attention to the musicians and what they’re doing and how they’re doing it – and not just the person on your instrument! Listen to the drums, to the bass, to the piano, the strings, the voice, the saxophonist. You can take away something from each part of a recording, you just have to listen for it. Listening will inspire you to play more and play better.

    If inspiration hits you, don’t let the moment escape you

    When you’re a creative type, you may have experienced something along the lines of suddenly waking at 3 am in the morning with an idea for a song or a lick you want to work out. If that’s the case, don’t roll over and fight that urge by trying to go back to sleep – get up and get it out of your system. Some of my favorite compositions are those that came to me in the middle of the night as I tried to get to sleep. Rather than forgetting about them and letting them go, I got up and got them down (and I slept much better after).

    Create a Plan

    Write out a list of goals you’d like to accomplish with your practicing. Both big picture things you’d like to tackle in the long-run and things you’d like to accomplish in the next few weeks. Do you want to do music full-time or do you just want to do it as a hobby that brings in a little extra money? Do you want to work as an artist or go on tour with someone else? I’d love to tell you that you can do whatever it is you set out to accomplish, but it’s really not that simple. Creating a plan, however, does give you clear, actionable steps in the right direction, so I really recommend starting with that.

    Be patient

    Success doesn’t happen overnight. Just put in regular work each and everyday and that little bit will add up. You can move mountains, but only one wheelbarrow full of earth at a time.

    There you have it. Our ideas for making practicing or songwriting a daily habit. What do you do to help yourself keep on track? We’d love to hear from you. Please visit us at and join the conversation in the comments for the transcription of today’s podcast.

    Our last set of music for today’s show is going to feature David Pedrick and This Time with Feeling. The first song you’ll hear is Ultimate from This Time with Feeling from Coming Down and second I’m going to feature Ball Vines by David Pedrick from Time Remembered.

    Once again, that was David Pedrick with Ball Vines and This Time With Feeling with Ultimate. You can find more information about This Time with Feeling at and David Pedrick is at

    Before I close out the show, I’d like to invite you all to check out Teen Jazz if you’re interested in learning more about me, Shannon Kennedy or the community. As I just mentioned it’s

    Or if you just would like to say hello, come and say hi at our Facebook page – that’s I promise to say hello back!

    All the links that I’ve mentioned as part of the show will be up on Teen Jazz and Teen Jazz Radio, so if you’re interested in learning more about these talented artists, please stop on by – I know they’ll appreciate the love! You can leave comments on any of our posts at

    If you’re interested in sponsoring Teen Jazz or our radio show, we have several affordable options available. Please visit to learn more.

    A very special thanks to Jazz and Bossa Radio for featuring Teen Jazz Radio on their web radio station. We recently partnered with them back in May to share our artists with a wider audience and we are excited to have joined the Jazz and Bossa Radio family. You can visit them at All of our Teen Jazz Radio podcasts are featured over at Jazz and Bossa Radio on Sundays at 3pm EST and on Wednesdays at 5pm EST.

    And last but not least, we appreciate your iTunes reviews! If you’ve enjoyed our podcast, please help us get noticed on iTunes by writing us a review. Let us know if you’ve found our podcast valuable or if you’ve enjoyed some of the music we’ve featured as part of the show. We’re so very thankful for those of you who have gone in and taken the time to write us reviews for Teen Jazz Radio.

    Thank you again for tuning in the Teen Jazz Radio podcast from

    In this week’s episode, you heard the music of:

    • Ryan Saranich – “I Don’t Think So” from Story
    • Trifield Guitar Project – “Montana Suite 3” from Montana Suite
    • Bastian Weinhold – “One for the Doctor” from Cityscape
    • Jonathan Butler – “Sweet Serenade” from Living My Dream
    • This Time with Feeling – “Ultimate” from Coming Down
    • David Pedrick – “Ball Vines” from Time Remembered

    August 10, 2014 • Teen Jazz • Views: 1754

  • 12 Things to Practice and How they Help You

    Last year, as part of my Project 365, I’ve experimented with several different practice materials to see what would help me improve the quickest and most efficiently. To start, I’d like to say that it’s good to mix up your practice sessions, so don’t stick to any one kind of resource. It’s good to constantly challenge yourself and try new things.

    If you’d like our free Project 365 worksheet, you can download it here.

    1. Etudes

    Etudes are really great for sight-reading and really focused studies. If you’re having an issue with any aspect of your playing, there are almost always etudes that focus on helping you improve those areas. I keep a large collection of etudes on hand in a variety of styles to keep my sight-reading abilities up.

    2. Scales

    Scales are a great way to warm up your fingers and they are also a fantastic way to familiarize yourself with various keys. I suggest learning major scales, minor scales, chromatic scales, thirds, arpeggios, fourths and other scale-like patterns in every key. They can be quite fun to play and they force you to learn to move around comfortably in the more difficult key signatures.

    3. Warm Up Exercises

    Long tones, patterns, tonguing or picking exercises are another great way to warm up your fingers and help you improve things like your tone, articulation, pitch, etc. Warm-up exercises aren’t always a lot of fun to do, but they can really help eliminate inconsistencies in your playing.

    4. Transcriptions (from books)

    Book transcriptions can be a great resource. I particularly like the Charlie Parker Omnibook and I also have a few others. I don’t seem to internalize the book transcriptions I study quite as well as the transcriptions I do from recordings, but I think they work well in that they allow you to really study harmony. You can see which notes the performers are choosing over to play various chords, what scales they’re using and which arpeggios.

    5. Transcriptions (from recordings)

    This past year, this has been the best way for me to improve. It allows me to really push myself and forces me to “use my ears.” I’ve learned quite a bit of new vocabulary studying various recordings and this has been an incredibly helpful and beneficial way for me to practice.

    6. Live Performance (tracks)

    I’m not suggesting that you should practice on a gig, but any time you’re out performing, you’re getting experience and you’re learning. Plus, you get to see which aspects of your practice “stick” in a live situation and which you need to keep working on. Playing track gigs presents the challenge of creating an energetic live performance without the help of other musicians. It also helps you build your playing endurance because you’re playing far more than you would be if there were other musicians.

    7. Live Performance (band)

    Playing with other musicians (especially when they’re better than you) is a great way to grow and improve as a musician. I recommend doing this as often as possible if you really want to push yourself. But, you can’t just go and play and expect to get better. You have to be willing to stretch and try new things, let the other musicians push you places you wouldn’t normally be comfortable going.

    8. Jam Sessions

    See live performances above. Jam sessions are a great way to “test” yourself. If you’re not sure whether or not you’re ready to gig, you can head out to jam sessions to get live performance experience and test the waters. You’ll meet a ton of other musicians at various levels, play new material, get ideas for tunes you want to learn and more.
    + Jam Session Etiquette
    + Jam Session Directory
    + How to Get the Most Out of Jam Sessions

    9. Recording

    Recording requires a completely different approach to performance than the live setting. It requires a higher level of execution and an entirely different energy. You can always practice recording yourself on your own – you can write songs and record yourself playing or singing along, you can record along with karaoke tracks or create your own tracks for your favorite songs.

    10. Improvisation

    Whether or not you play in the jazz genre, I think improvisation is a great thing to practice especially if you’re interested in composition. There are great instruction books that help illustrate improvisation methods, but you can also find a ton of videos on Youtube for free.

    11. Learning tunes/repertoire

    The more material you know, the more opportunities you’ll have to perform. I recommend learning a ton of the music in the style you perform, but it’s also fun and beneficial to step outside what you’d normally play and learn something in an entirely different genre. You never know what kind of ideas you’ll get.

    12. Learning music outside of the genres you typically play (see above)

    What do you like practice?

    July 29, 2014 • Lessons • Views: 1616

  • Finding Your Mentor and Your Voice | Katie Bull

    We’d like to thank LessonFace for sponsoring this post. You can check out their upcoming masterclass with Katie Bull here. 

    “The voice is beautifully mysterious – sound vibration is an awesome, beautiful phenomenon – sometimes joyous, sometimes scary. So it’s good to have a playful heart when you’re in that landscape.” – Katie Bull

    Our voices are the one musical instrument we are born with, and while it can be argued that not everyone “should” sing, there’s no reason that we all can’t sing. It’s only a matter of tapping into what we’ve been given and making the most of that resource.

    “But I can’t sing!” you say. Did you know that this sense of inability, of creating this sort of exclusion, the idea that music performance is reserved for an “elite” collection of musicians who have spent the time honing their craft, is a very Western (and even relatively recent) idea. There are many cultures around the world and in history that see music as a community activity where everyone participates and enjoys performing in some way regardless of skill.

    And this idea, that we just need to own what we already have, closely aligns with vocal coach Katie Bull’s teaching methods, “Ultimately, you really are designed to sing and speak, which is about communication. It seems simple, but the natural voice is about authentic conversation, something we use every day; so, tap into that.”

    In preparation for her upcoming masterclass with Jay Clayton, LessonFace recently interviewed vocalist Katie Bull on her methods and thoughts surrounding singing, and more specifically, that of being a jazz singer. The upcoming seminar, Jazz voice, features Bull’s thoughts on the African proverb “If you can talk, you can sing” and how you can use this philosophy as a pathway to develop your own vocal abilities.

    We read the recent interview and think there are several interesting things to take away from it, so we wanted to share them with you.

    Sometimes the things holding us back aren’t pure inability, they’re just bad habits

    It’s often thought that we are born with our voices the way they are, they can’t be changed. While there is some truth to this, there are things about how we use our voices that can be changed. When we first start singing, there can be certain aspects of it that are more difficult than others (like bridges) and when we’re not sure how to work through them, it can seem impossible to improve in those areas. Thankfully these things are often developed through habits and the tendencies we may have when using our voices. This means that with direction and some work, singing through them and working them out is possible.

    A good singer doesn’t mean that someone just has a “good” voice

    Good singing is so much more than having a pleasant sounding voice. It’s about the way we use our voices. Maybe you don’t have the largest range, but it’s what you do with the range you have. It’s about how expressive, emotional, and authentic you are when you sing.

    All the technical training in the world is useless unless you can connect on an emotional level with your craft

    It may be impressive to have extensive technical abilities as either of vocalist or an instrumentalist, but in the long run, it’s the emotion and meaning behind your performances that will offer you the opportunity to succeed as a performer.

    Finding the right mentor is incredibly important

    A good mentor makes the learning experience all about you – they give you the tools you need to reflect and look inward to find what works for you and who you are as an artist. Finding someone who can give you the tools to succeed on your own is important and is so much more effective than working with someone who tells you to do things without ever giving you the opportunity to ever understand why.

    Maintain a good awareness of your health

    Pushing yourself too hard and the resulting illnesses can end your career if you aren’t careful. Maintain a good awareness of your health, your fatigue (both mentally and vocally), and understand your limits. Learn to take a break and step back when you need to; it will also help you avoid burnout.

    There you have it! If you’d like to read the interview, you can check it out here.

    Don’t forget to check out the upcoming masterclass with Katie Bull and Jay Clayton over at Lessonface on Wednesdays, July 23 to Aug 27, 2014 from 5-7pm EST. The classes are recorded, so if you can’t make the scheduled time, you can always watch them later. There’s still time to sign up, so don’t miss out!

    You can learn more here:

    Katie Bull, critically acclaimed NYC-based jazz vocalist and vocal educator/mentor, took some time over the holiday weekend to answer some questions about her experience teaching vocal exploration and her approach to jazz mentorship, as a way of introducing and promoting her upcoming online jazz voice master class, that she’s teaching in conjunction with her own mentor, Jay Clayton.

    July 15, 2014 • Lessons • Views: 1743