I’m a total self-development Junkie. But if you’ve been following learn jazz faster for any length of time you already know that.
So the other day I was on amazon.com looking through various suggestions for books that I might like. And I came across one called Taking The Stairs by an author named Rory Vaden. It looked interesting enough so I grabbed a copy
In one of the first chapters Rory shared a metaphor for life. And I immediately saw the parallels with jazz musicians. So I figured I would share it with you here today.
Okay, so what can you possibly learn about jazz from a buffalo?
Let’s take a little trip out to Colorado…
Now, what many people think of when they hear the name ‘Colorado’ is mountains. They think of the Rocky Mountains and skiing, snowboarding, hiking, etc.
Colorado actually has two very different terrains. There are the mountains of course. But there are also these vast rolling plains to the east of the mountains. And apparently there big crazy storms that frequently come roaring through those planes. Usually from the West.
Now the other interesting thing that Rory shared in his book is that Colorado is one of the only States in the U.S. that has cows and buffalo living in close proximity. And apparently cows and buffalo approach these big crazy storms in very different ways.
Let’s start with the cows. Imagine a herd of cows is chilling somewhere on the plains. Eating grass, lying in the mud, hanging out doing what cows do. And off in the distance to the West one of those intense Midwestern storms brewing. There’s thunder, lightning and ominous black clouds heading quickly towards the herd. The herd gets spooked. And, naturally, the cows run in the opposite direction, away from the scary storm clouds.
Seems like a normal reaction right?
But here’s the thing:
Cows are not very fast. So eventually the storm always catches up. But the cows keep running. The cows end up running with the storm. While trying to run away from danger they actually end up spending more time inside the big, scary storm.
Obviously a flawed strategy.
Here’s the deal:
If you think about it, this is what many people do throughout their lives. They run from the storm. They run from the danger. They run from discomfort and pain.
And, of course, the irony is that they end up spending a greater amount of time in discomfort and pain..
Buffalo on the other hand do something very different from cows.
There we are again, on the wide open Colorado plains, but this time we’re with a herd of buffalo. That big ol nasty storm is brewing off to the West. The Buffalo sense it. They hear it, see it and feel it bearing down upon them. So what did they do? Do they run? Do they hide? Do they just stand there and weather the storm?
No, they don’t do any of those things. Instead they run directly into the storm. They run West. Naturally they find themselves inside the storm more quickly than the cows do. They find themselves uncomfortable, and in danger & pain more quickly than the cows do.
The thing is…
They keep running and running and running. They hit the storm and they still keep running. But soon enough they get through the storm and they come out on the other side.
They face the pain. They face the danger. They face the discomfort. And they get through it quickly.
This reminds me of the quote: If you’re going through hell, keep going!
The metaphor is pretty clear. If you think through your life you can think of a lot of different examples where avoiding the pain actually hurts you in the end.
Avoiding a health situation like not going to the dentist because it sucks will actually cause you to deal with more pain in the long run.
Ignoring other health complications like slight chest pain or a weird rash you might get. Those things will typically come back to bite you in the ass harder than the discomfort of dealing with them right now.
Okay okay so what does this have to do with music? As I read this story in Rory’s book it occurred to me that music students often opt for the cow’s strategy when it comes to practicing & learning.
They resist & avoid difficult, challenging and uncomfortable things in their music. They don’t face the pain.
And again the irony is that they end up spending more time struggling with music.
Okay, so how does this play out in the practice room?
Example #1: Ear Training & Listening Skills
Let’s take ear training as an example. The vast majority of music students don’t include ear training and listening skills as part of their regular practice.
Why is that? Music is the art form of the ear after all, right?
There’s nothing more important than developing your ears and your listening skills. Why would a musician want to avoid doing that?
Because it is often challenging and difficult. It takes you outside of your comfort zone. You see, ear training is a somewhat nebulous practice. It’s a passive practice. It takes significant concentration, mindful repetition and patience to develop your ears and your listening skills. Those listening skills develop slowly over time. Not after one practice session. It can be hard to know if you’re making progress or if you’re even doing it right. There’s a reason it’s often called ‘Ear Straining’!
BUT! If you neglect your ears eventually you will hit a wall with your playing. Sooner rather than later.
The best players are the best listeners, the cats with the best ears. Therefore, you simply must develop your ears. And avoiding it will just cause you frustration in the long run. The frustration of getting lost on the form at gigs and sessions. The frustration of not progressing as quickly as you’d like to. The frustration of not being able to play what you hear.
This is why LJF’s very own Joel Yennior baked ear training right into The Real Jazz Method. In fact the most important (and often most avoided) practice topics of all time are baked right into The Real Jazz Method in a truly step by step approach.
The next example is a perfect example.
Example #2: Playing In All 12 Keys
Another topic that is a necessary skill and also a highly avoided practice topic is improvising in all 12 keys.
Pro jazzers can play in any key. Easily and fluently. In fact you have to be fluent with the music in order to truly improvise and have freedom to express yourself. Yes it’s a difficult challenge to overcome. Especially when you’re first getting started with it. It can seem like an insurmountable Mountain.
Yet, playing in all 12 keys is a required skill for any jazzer worth his/her salt. A pro simply must have that skill set. It’s not just for talented cats, or extraordinary players. All jazzers must acquire this kind of musical control. And the only way to get the ability is to ‘do the work’. Chip away at it everyday, and overtime you’ll be able improvise in any key.
By putting off this work – because it is painful, uncomfortable and challenging – you are merely ensuring more pain in the long run. You’re setting yourself up to fail as a jazz musician. You’re holding yourself back as a player.
Again, Joel Yennior has his students playing in all 12 keys from day one. In a simple and doable way. In a way that they can actually succeed and build upon that success and become fluent with jazz over time. And this approach is also baked into his course, The Real Jazz Method. By starting simply and building over time using powerful learning strategies like ‘playing at the edge’ and ‘deliberate practice’ you develop a strong foundation in jazz. Strong listening skills, fluid improvisation and harmonic control will become second nature for you.
Example #3: Learn By Doing
Jazz is an art form you learn by doing. You must practice ‘doing’ it and blowing over real changes, progressions and tunes. Again, there’s no way around this.
You can run scales, scale patterns, arpeggios and exercises until you’re blue in the face. But you won’t become an improviser until you practice improvising. Until you practice ‘doing it’.
Many cats get stuck in a kind of technical quagmire – perpetually preparing themselves to improvise, but never actually ‘doing it’. Always working on technique and chops, but never using those chops to make music.
And yet, you will not develop the ability to fluidly improvise over tunes unless you practice improvising over tunes.
Will it be difficult? Yes, but if you simplify things enough it will be doable – challenging, but doable.
And if you face these challenges head on you’ll see that it won’t be as bad as you thought.
With patient and consistent work on your ears, will come better listening skills and deeper aural awareness.
By working on playing in all 12 keys – from the beginning, no matter what level you are currently at – you will develop this skill overtime. Whether that storm and soon enough you can play in all 12 keys, without even trying.
Practice USING your improvisation chops by creating solos on real chords, progressions and tunes everyday. Whether this storm and improvising will become natural for you. It will be a skill, a part of you mastering your craft.
Will it be challenging? Yes. Some things will be harder than others. Sometimes you might even hit a plateau that you struggle to get past.
Persevere and you WILL get through it. Face the storm head on, and run into it like the buffalo. You’ll come out on the other side more quickly that way. And you’ll avoid much more frustration in the future.
Get out of your comfort zone, face the perceived musical danger, and deal with the ‘hard stuff’ now. Just about anything that is wrong with your playing can be fixed rather quickly by just facing the music.
This is why I love Joel Yennior’s approach to teaching and learning jazz. His Real Jazz Method helps you make this journey. It focuses on these key areas and utilizes jazz education best practices to make the journey tenable and enjoyable for anybody. In addition to strengthening your ears & listening skills and developing your chops in all 12 keys you’ll also learn to improvise by ‘doing it’. From lesson 1 on you’ll apply your skills to real tunes. Everything is broken down into ‘easy to win’ steps so you can start blowing over real changes. Within 5 weeks you’ll have a solid foundation in improvisation A foundation that you can use to take jazz as far as your imagination permits you.
So, don’t practice like the cow. Face the danger, and get to the other side more quickly. Be like the buffalo.