Tag Archives: practice

Journey toward jazz

I guess 38 is as good an age as any to become a jazz cat, and 2020 as good a year. Technically, this journey began last year. Or maybe it began in 2003 when Black Tie Elephant played our take on the Charlie Parker tune A Night In Tunisa; however, I’ve hit such a concentration of jazz-related milestones over the last two years that I decided to make a list. My goal: track progress over the last two years, stay positive, and stay motivated. In particular my most recent milestone, which I achieved last weekend thanks to #stayhome, has me really feeling like a real jazzer. This all said, the main musical takeaway of #stayhome, for me anyway, is the importance of being together in playing music. So, following the list of milestones I’ve listed a couple of goals. Top of that list: putting some real life, in-person jazz jams on the calendar at Soapbox.

20 Milestones:

  1. My brother recommending Duke Ellington when I mentioned being interested in finding some jazz with “great chords and voice-leading.”
  2. Listening to the Okeh Ellington (late twenties) collection non-stop for about three months.
  3. Discovering twenties NYC/Chicago jazz, and New Orleans trad jazz as separate and unique musical styles.
  4. Transcribing (well, starting to transcribe) my favorite two tunes on the Okeh collection.
  5. Transcribing a few solos from those tunes.
  6. Learning to play the solos on cello.
  7. Buying some Ellington piano books.
  8. Reading Ellington’s autobiography Music Is My Mistress.
  9. Jamming on cello on some blues at the open mic at Rosa’s with the remarkable Chicago blues pianist Ariyo.
  10. Arranging an early Ellington tune for my high school string group.
  11. Receiving impromptu jazz theory lessons from the high school jazz band teacher at the school where I teach.
  12. Learning from the jazz band teacher about the importance of the Dominant 7 flat 9 chord to early jazz.
  13. Going deep into diminished chords with Chromawheel and cello.
  14. Discovering Eddie Lang, the king of diminished passing chords.
  15. Discovering Joe Venuti, one of the OGs of jazz violin.
  16. Starting an all strings early jazz group, the Knights of Jazz String Band, and arranging a bunch of tunes for them.
  17. Performing Mack The Knife and Ellington’s It Don’t Mean A Thing in a combo with the jazz band teacher on trumpet, a professional jazz guitarist, and some talented student players.
  18. Starting to actually hear the chord quality of ii-V-I progressions in tunes.
  19. Starting to actually hear diminished chord quality in tunes.
  20. Thanks to #stayhome, ‘shedding a tune for the first time. By this I mean playing It Don’t Mean A Thing in all 12 keys. And even focusing on the “dark side of the moon”: the keys of Db/C#, Gb/F#, and B/Cb.

Some future goals:

  1. Play with more jazz musicians as soon as this quarantine is lifted! Invite Jacob, Trumpet Tom et al to Soapbox jazz jam.
  2. Continue shedding tunes in all 12 keys.
  3. Continue getting comfortable with diminished chords.
  4. Transcribe some trad jazz clarinet ossia lines since some are just incredible. For example https://youtu.be/pwhQ918ZYFI?t=45m27s
  5. Do another arrangement for string jazz band.
  6. Write some Cello Blues.

About Practice

Here’s a good write-up about daily practice for parents with young students.   Thanks Billie!


The success of all educational pursuits is in large part determined by consistency.   This is especially true for string students.  For them, the consistency required for adequate progress must be the result of a collaborative effort between parent and teacher.   It is the teacher’s job to fill the lesson with activities that prepare students for success.  It is the parent’s responsibility to develop and maintain an environment that allows daily reinforcement of what occurs during the lesson.

We know that there are days when it is not possible to fit in a practice session.  However, there are three guidelines to keep in mind when scheduling your child’s week:

  • No week goes by without a minimum of five days of practice.
  • Even under extreme circumstances, never allow two days in a row of missed practice.
  • The first practice session should take place within 24 hours of the lesson.

The best results come from cumulative, daily practice; what we do in the lesson can never make up for lack of practice.

The child who practices at the same time each day makes significantly greater progress than the child who does not.  Because each child has a different schedule, the best practice time is one that suits him or her.  With this in mind, you and your child should set aside a mutually agreed upon time to practice.  This time should be used only for practice-  no interruptions from phone, video games, tv or errands.  Children practice best in private.  Most successful students seem to practice right before school or immediately after dinner.  Don’t allow anything short of illness or emergency to interfere with this schedule.

Practicing is not so much a matter of time spent, but a matter of mind spent.  Your child should practice long enough to cover the entire weekly assignment, including warm-up scales/exercises, new music and review pieces.  Practice should be short enough to stay within the student’s attention and interest span.  Therefore it may be beneficial to schedule two shorter periods to practice each day, rather than one long period.

Other suggestions:

  • Immediately after the lesson, ask your child what they learned that day, and to show you the new assignment in his or her lesson book.
  • At the first practice session following the lesson, spend a few minutes helping practice one or two pieces.  Even if you do not play an instrument, encourage your child through instructions on the assignment sheet in the lesson book.
  • If there are questions about assignments,  do not hesitate to contact me!