So far in this series you’ve learned about the core philosophies of musical success, the 9 laws of musical success and you’ve gotten the proper mindset in place. You’re ready to start kicking some musical butt.
Now, it’s time to jump in and create your own foundation, ritual and practice plan.
I’d like to start by introducing you to the idea of Musical Rituals.
I like the word ritual in particular for a number of reasons.
It denotes importance and a certain ‘seriousness’. A sort of ‘religiousness’, if you will.
And although playing jazz certainly is ‘fun’ it can truly be a religion and a discipline for many cats.
And the very best cats have habitual musical rituals that they adhere to religiously.
These rituals can include everything from:
- Your practice preparation
- Your practice ‘on-ramps’
- Your warm-ups
- Your practice routine
- Your practice habits
- Your playing habits
And as you know the whole point of this series is to get your ‘process’ dialed in. And as a big part of that we’re gonna create a daily musical ritual that basically puts your progress on auto-pilot.
We’re gonna start with The Big Picture – Your Foundation – and then work our way down to your day-to-day habits. Along the way we’ll craft a powerful musical ritual that will help you become the player you want to become.
Remember, we want ‘getting better’ to become habitual. We want progress to become ‘the way it is’ for you.
You’ll need to stick with your ritual long enough for it to become habit. But, once it does, your ritual will take on a life of its own. And getting better will simply happen for you every day and every week. Enough productive days in a row and you’ve transformed your playing.
I understand though, that at the moment, struggle and musical frustration may be habitual for many cats reading this.
Let’s change that and put empowering habits and rituals into place instead.
This framework is the antidote for musical overwhelm.
It’s the antidote for spinning your wheels with playing.
When you create and use this simple framework for your own music you will experience more clarity, more purpose and more progress with your playing then you might believe possible.
Combine that framework with the key pieces of the jazz puzzle– the primacy of the ear, aural imagination, learning by doing, building vocabulary, etc – and you will be unstoppable.
The next step is to design and put that framework into place.
I believe that a good ritual and a good process need to be created on a strong foundation. So we’re gonna start there.
Your foundation for musical success consists of your musical values, your beliefs, your ideals and your ultimate musical purpose.
Here’s the idea. We live in a post-modern world. Really, just about anything goes these days.
There are endless styles, sub-styles and copious amounts of cross pollination among these styles.
There are combinations and fusions of the many musics spanning the globe all drawing from the whole history of these musics.
There are no more clear paths to follow. Especially, in the jazz tradition.
A musician simply cannot learn it all. Not if you had 25 lifetimes.
So you must choose and create your own musical path. And in doing so create your own musical voice.
And the best way I’ve found to do that is to first get clear about a few things:
- What music do you truly love?
- What music do you feel you belong to?
- What do you believe about music?
This clarity will give you a strong foundation to build from.
This foundation will:
- Help you make choices about what to practice.
It will help you choose goals that are actually meaningful to your musical path.
It will help you navigate that ocean of ‘stuff to practice’.
That quote above from Alvin Toffler sums it up perfectly. Here it is one more time:
“You’ve got to think about big things while you’re doing small things, so that all the small things go in the right direction.”
The ‘small things’, of course, refers to your daily musical activities.
The ‘big things’ refers to your foundation and your bigger goals.
When today’s practice session is aimed at your bigger musical vision you bring purpose, passion and power to your practice.
Without a foundation, you’re just a noodler working on chord scales.
Don’t be a boring, run of the mill, mediocre noodler. Let your unique voice shine through. Get that foundation in place.
Your ‘Why’ – Why Do You Play? What Do You Stand For?
Let’s face it, you didn’t get into music because your best friend told you about this hip new thing called “practicing scale patterns” or “ear training interval drills.” You got into music because you heard something that made you stop dead in your tracks and say, “Damn, that sounds good.”
It made you want to dance, shout, and jump around your room like a fool (or am I just weird?). There was something different about this music. You connected with it. It lit a fire in your belly.
Then a few years later—while trying to simultaneously learn to voice lead, play Trane’s solo on “Giant Steps,” transcribe the head to “Ornithology,” groove in 7, swing at 350 BPM, understand the Lydian Chromatic Concept, play a bossa nova, memorize scale patterns #1-76 from your chain-smoking, coffee-chugging teacher’s book and learn to play a second instrument—you realized that something wasn’t working.
If this sounds familiar, then your values may be out of whack. In fact, you might have no idea what a value is, let alone what yours might be.
Your values are your priorities in music. They determine what’s important to you. They determine what you believe, who you are and, most importantly, what you do as a musician.All great musicians know who they are and what they want. And their actions reflect it. Click To Tweet
They practice the important things, take the right chances, meet the right people and experience success and great achievements.
For instance, think about Thelonious Monk. Was he known for his ability to play at breakneck tempos? How about virtuosic piano technique? Then he must have been known for his beautiful voicings, right? Wrong. He wasn’t known for any of those things.
He was known for his completely original sound and approach. Nobody played rhythm like Monk, composed like Monk, or played as “colorfully” as Monk. He knew what he wanted his music to sound like and he played it that way. Imagine if Monk thought he had to have chops like Art Tatum, improvise in 5/4, or play funk. Luckily for us he didn’t. He played “his thing” only and he did it better than anyone else.
Whether they thought about it or not all of the masters played with great integrity and an intense code of values.
Just think about Ornette Coleman, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Duke Ellington, Eric Dolphy, Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Elvin Jones, etc. They all stuck to their values and played the music that was important to them, even in the face of intense criticism from the audience, the press and their peers. In doing so they created and transformed the art-form of jazz.
***Disclaimer: it is very important to expose yourself to a wide range of music, different styles and different concepts. But you come to a point where you must focus on music that’s truly important to you.
“But I’ve only been playing jazz for a year,” you might ask. “How can I choose my values?”
Very good question. Your values will change as you learn and progress. Determining your values is an ongoing process. It never stops. Your values—and then your goals, and then your actions—become clearer and clearer as you go.
And when this happens you progress faster and faster and become more and more productive. Choosing your values now brings focus to your practicing, listening and all of your musical activities. You’ll change and rearrange them over and over again, each time picking up speed and progressing faster.
To quote the great twentieth century spiritual master Mr. Rogers, “You’re special.” He was right. You are. Each of us has a unique set of experiences, dreams, goals and values. If you are true to yourself, and live by your own code of values, you are destined to become a truly individual and original voice in jazz. Faster than you ever thought possible.
Take your time and meditate on those questions. Put on the records and listen to the music you REALLY connect with. The music you feel you belong to. Not the music you’re supposed to study for school or your lesson. What do you REALLY love. Dig it and reflect on it. Write down your answers as you listen and absorb.
Then you want to take your answers and begin to organize them into values. Using your answers pull out your top 5-7 musical values. In other words what are the 5-7 most important aspects of music FOR YOU? What gets you fired up?
Put those values in order of importance. Now, at this point I would take a day off and let this work marinate in your brain. Sleep on it, in other words. Then come back tomorrow and do the next step:
From those values, create a sentence that sums up what’s important to you and what you want to stand for as a musician.
Let’s call this statement ‘Your Big Why’. It’s why you play. We’re gonna move on to ‘what’ and ‘how’ in the next few lessons. But, your WHY is what drives you and what steers your musical ship.
Now, don’t worry about getting this ‘right’ the first time. There is no true ‘right’. In fact it’s entirely personal to YOU. And besides, it will change as you grow, develop and gain clarity on your musical path. It’s a living statement, so to speak.
Just going through the exercise will give you more purpose & clarity and it will have tremendous impact on your music.
And as you move along, you’ll tighten it up, refine it and make it more and more powerful.
Then in the next few steps we’ll use it to build your plan and get your daily practice rituals in place.
So you get better faster, AND move in a musical direction that is truly meaningful to you. That’s key.
Your Ultimate Musical Vision.
Once you know WHY you play and WHAT you value, it’s time to get clear about where you want take your music.
You want to develop a vision for where you’re going to take your playing down the road. The point of having a clear vision is twofold:
- Your vision will inspire you and keep you motivated.
- It will serve as a compass keeping you on track and keeping your practice activities focused in the right direction.
This vision could mean 1 year from now or it could mean 10 years from now.
It really depends on you. On what works for you and what you’re comfortable with. I would say that as a rule of thumb the further along you are with your playing the further out in time you’ll be able to imagine.
Now, this is a two part process.
- First, we let the old imagination run hog-wild. No rules, no limits.We dream. We don’t censor. And we don’t make excuses for why we can’t do certain things with music.We go absolutely nuts and dream up the ideal situation. I.E. If everything was freaking amazing with your music what would that be like?
- Then in the second step you focus that raw material into a clear, concise vision, you create goals and you get down to the actual actions you’ll take to advance your musical plan.
But first you dream. And you do it with abandon.
Here are some musical dream exercises to get the creative juices flowing.
(These are straight out of The Monster Jazz Formula, BTW.)
- What one musical dream would you dare to dream if you knew you could not fail?
- What have you always wanted to do but have been afraid to do?
- Who are your top five musical heroes and why? What do like about them? What do they stand for?
- Now, write down 10 musical dreams. Don’t concern yourself with being ‘realistic’. Let ye ole imagination run hog-wild.
Do these exercises and write them down before going on to the next step.
Crafting Your Vision Statement
Just to be clear, I’m not talking about ‘seeing’ music or anything weird like that;)
I’m talking about a ‘vision’ in a very broad sense.
More like: where can you ‘imagine’ yourself being down the road.
And the first step was to let your imagination run wild with musical dreams and possibilities. You did do that step, right?
Okay, so now we’re gonna take the work you’ve done so far – Your Big Why, Your Musical Values, Your Big Musical Dreams – and we’ll focus it down into your Ultimate Musical Vision.
This is basically a statement you’ll use to guide your musical activities and choices.
Your Ultimate Musical Vision is the grand ideal outcome for your music and/or music career sometime in the future.
It’s what your music and music career would be like if you stayed true to Your Big Why and achieved your wildest musical goals.
This ‘vision’ must be big, bold and exciting. It must inspire you, focus you and get you juiced up about your musical future.
To become a Monster Player you must have big vision for yourself and your music.
>>>Nothing great has ever comes from an average vision.<<<
Now, this takes courage. There is pressure on us all, from seemingly every direction, to be average, to be mediocre, and to be ‘safe’.
I say screw that average, mediocre and safe nonsense!
You’ve got one life here to make your musical mark. Why not go for being the absolute best you are capable of?
Once you have created your foundation everything you do musically must be focused on being true to your Big Why and on bringing that ‘vision’ into your reality.
Everything you practice, play and listen to is focused on that vision. Every goal and target you create in and out of the practice rooms moves you towards that vision.
With enough of the ‘right’ actions combined with persistence and follow through you will eventually bring that vision into being. Or at least something pretty damn close. Cheesy as it is: Shoot for the moon and even if you miss you’ll land among the stars…
So, for this step, I want you to write down your Ultimate Vision for your music.
If your music and music career were ideal 5 years down the road, what would it look like? What would it feel like?
Let your imagination run wild here. Don’t worry about being ‘realistic’.
You want to create the most inspiring, exciting description you can possibly muster up.
You’ll deal with the details of ‘being realistic’ when you’re talking about what you want to accomplish in a single practice session or in a week. Being realistic is for the details and the short term.
In the coming steps we’re going to begin to put the rituals and the process in place that will move you forward towards that Ultimate Vision each day with your practice and your playing.
We’ll deal with the day-to-day nitty-gritty of the practice room.
But first we lay your foundation and figure out where you’re headed.
Then you simply take one step after the other until you begin to manifest that ‘vision’ in your real musical life.
Table of Contents
1. The Ultimate Secret to Learning Jazz
2. The Core Philosophies of Musical Success
3. The Big Jazz Puzzle: Part 1
4. The Big Jazz Puzzle: Part 2
5. The Big Jazz Puzzle: Part 3
6. Mindset & Mental Clarity
7. Laying Your Foundation For Musical Success
8. Creating Your Master Practice Plan
9. Putting Your Daily Practice Ritual In Place
10. Maximizing Your Musical Progress