Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Day One

As I thought about how I would begin my new practice routine, I experienced the same trepidation I feel when starting a new composition and facing a blank piece of manuscript paper. As a composer, I’ve learned that instead of worrying about writing something wrong (which will blemish the new page), it is better to simply begin writing and have an eraser handy. Today, I had the realization that in the same way, I needed to just dive in and start playing.

It was suggested that I record myself playing each piece at the onset, so that I can provide “before and after shots”. Much to my chagrin, I did this. I doubt I will ever post the recordings. I played horribly and had trouble executing the tempos dictated by the Jamie Aebersold play-a-long CDs which "accompanied" me.  It did serve to break the ice,  get me playing, and reintroduce me to the pieces.

As I stumbled through up tempo versions of Giant Steps, Countdown and 26-2, the thought crossed my mind that at some point in the process, I will need to think of ways to approach the Coltrane matrix melodically, in a manner which provides contrast to digital patterns and continuous eighth notes.

After the brutal reality check of recording myself, I got down to the business of practicing. For about 20 minutes I worked at learning the melody of 26-2. I mostly played it very slow, in straight eighths (not swung), with 2 hands, 2 octaves apart. I worked out some left hand fingerings.

I then shifted my focus to addressing the matrix progression itself. Years ago, my friend Jim Brenan gave me the following worksheet, which originated from saxophonist Pat LaBarbera. Working through the progression in 12 keys, in an isolated manner, outside of the context of specific tunes, should prove beneficial. With both hands playing two octaves apart, I played 1 2 3 5 and 1 2 3 1 patterns through the transpositions. I did this slowly, with a metronome, without looking at the page. My brain felt a little bit sluggish at first, but I got better. Saying the chord qualities out loud, helped (“Major, dominant, major, dominant…”).


I imagine this sheet will represent a major portion of my practice routine over the next month. Gradually I will incorporate more and more patterns and increase the tempo.

Here is the gist of what I plan to do tomorrow:
  • 26-2 melody
  • Giant Steps Workout page. Same patterns as today + 2 new ones.
  • Incorporate patterns into 26-2, using slow Aebersold version (still reading the changes)
  • Play 26-2 at a slow tempo (still reading the changes)
  • Sing root motion for 26-2 and try reciting the changes in time.
  • Review Countdown’s progression and melody
  • Incorporate patterns and try “improvising” on Countdown.

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