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  1. #1

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    Hello composition people

    Man I have hardly been able to get to my guitar for a week. Had a bit of a fiddle last night and was thinking do I spend far too much time practicing/learning top play? If improvisation is composition sped up why don't I spend more time composing? I did compose one tune last year and I thought I learnt a lot, really learnt the colours of certain sounds. Now I am answering my own questions.

    All this time we spend practicing and what do we have to show for it? How many have been practicing 10-20 years and don't have a cd of original material? Blinding flash of the obvious! Gotta get out the dictaphone.
    “When you’re creating your own ...., man, even the sky ain’t the limit.”
    Miles Davis

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  3. #2

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    Original material is not the be-all and end-all, and certainly doesn't need to occupy a full CD. Writing one or two originals for each CD release will eventually give you plenty of original material. In the meantime, one of the best ways of learning composition is from previous composers.

  4. #3

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    Quote Originally Posted by gggomez View Post
    Hello composition people

    Man I have hardly been able to get to my guitar for a week. Had a bit of a fiddle last night and was thinking do I spend far too much time practicing/learning top play? If improvisation is composition sped up why don't I spend more time composing? I did compose one tune last year and I thought I learnt a lot, really learnt the colours of certain sounds. Now I am answering my own questions.

    All this time we spend practicing and what do we have to show for it? How many have been practicing 10-20 years and don't have a cd of original material? Blinding flash of the obvious! Gotta get out the dictaphone.
    I share your thoughts. Sometimes it gets mentally tiring working on learning scales, arpeggios, maybe technique.

    When I get like this, I just start playing songs for a few days.

  5. #4

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    I think it's a provocative question - a few thoughts of the top of my head

    1. Depends what your ultimate goal is...is it

    A. to be a gigging sideman for whatever gigs you can get?
    B. to be a gigging sideman for great jazz musicians, playing 'high level'?
    C. to have your own group, albums, etc?
    D. to be a great jazz guitarist, or to be someone who creates great music? or somewhere in between? they are very much related but not the same thing?

    2. I think 'practice time' can go in phases as well - different areas get different focus at different times. Personally, I've had heavy periods of technical work and heavy periods of more so exploration and improv. I suppose if you like both, you can divide up the time weekly or you can divide it up over much longer periods of time - like two years shed, two years write, etc. I think there's value in that - digging in more intensely.




  6. #5

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    I think Jake is pretty spot on.
    At times we all hit the wall, no new ideas , tired of playing same songs. When it happens to me I step out of my comfort zone and move to a different style of music, learn some new things then return and incorporate them. I've we stop learning, we lose our edge. Just my thoughts on it.


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  7. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by gggomez View Post
    How many have been practicing 10-20 years and don't have a cd of original material? Blinding flash of the obvious!
    Composing teaches you a lot, although the hassle of getting a group together to play your compositions in this "few gigs-no rehearsal" era puts a damper on it. For me, writing arrangements is a good compromise: you start with strong material and put your own spin on it, and if it is a reasonably familiar tune it doesnt take too much work for your bandmates to learn.

    As far as CDs of original material, there are already way too many CDs lying in unopened boxes in people's closets. I've been playing guitar for 50 years, have composed and arranged a ton of tunes, and the only people who would want a CD of my playing are either dead (my parents) or not interested (my kids)

  8. #7

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    Playing 60 years now, retired but if I hear something I like , first I learn it note per note, then if I feel I can enhance it I add my flavor to it without losing the signature.


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  9. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by gggomez View Post
    Hello composition people

    Man I have hardly been able to get to my guitar for a week. Had a bit of a fiddle last night and was thinking do I spend far too much time practicing/learning top play? If improvisation is composition sped up why don't I spend more time composing? I did compose one tune last year and I thought I learnt a lot, really learnt the colours of certain sounds. Now I am answering my own questions.

    All this time we spend practicing and what do we have to show for it? How many have been practicing 10-20 years and don't have a cd of original material? Blinding flash of the obvious! Gotta get out the dictaphone.
    It's a great topic of conversation Triple G. I spent many many years focused on improv and rarely if ever 'wrote' anything. Just focused on theory and patterns and sequences and scale positions, and arpeggios, and on and on and on.

    Eventually that led me to composing. By composing I mean writing out a melody and a chord progression (sometimes an idea for a bassline figure)... essentially it was like real book style composition... lead sheets. It was fun. Really forced me to commit to ideas, forms, colors, etc. Made an album, gigged a lot.

    It wasn't until I started arranging that I actually realized just how much of a guitar player I was... totally stuck within the imagined limits of the fretboard. Arranging (along with very very very limited piano work and some study of the harmony/melody relationship... specifically with the emphasis of triads like you already know I talk at length about) forced me to get away from practicing the guitar and put me into practicing music. Sitting with a lead sheet I had composed - viewing it as the cliff notes to a book that doesn't exist yet, and visualizing the entire book from start to end in my mind - was maybe one of the best things I ever did to improve my improvisation. It forced me to think about dynamics, instrumentation, pairings and combinations, melody, harmony, storytelling, etc. I was focused on those things for the sake of hearing an entire mini-jazz orchestra in my mind... but what it unexpectedly did for me was help me strengthen my ability to forget about the fretboard and just HEAR the music. Let THAT be the focus of my attention. Not only did I end up arranging a bunch of tunes for my group and recording them - and hopefully performing them once my hand is up for the task - but it also helped me rethink and re-approach what makes great improvisation and comping.

    Truly, I think any student of jazz should be working on their arranging chops... and composition too. They both offer slightly different benefits. Even something as simple as stealing a 4 bar chord progression from a tune and writing a melody to it. Or stealing 4 bars of a melody from a tune and harmonizing different from the tune. Or write 4 bars totally from scratch without using any information from tunes. Or take 4 bars of a tune and try and arrange it for a specific instrumentation. Like pick the woodwinds section from a big band (2 alto sax, 2 tenor, sax, 1 bari sax/bass clar/etc) and try and write an arrangement for those 4 bars for that instrumentation. Or add bass and drums to it. It could be any instrumentation. But learning to hear and dictate multiple lines AWAY from the fretboard will only help us gain more mastery over that when we're ON the fretboard. If we can't hear and utilize those types of musical ideas without the guitar in hand, we're at a much greater disadvantage to pull them off when a guitar is in our hands. Just like trying to play the guitar in a nice swinging groove if we can't FEEL swing and time internally on our own.

    So, long rant short... yes... I think composing is a great idea. And equally as good, if not possibly better (IMO) is arranging.

  10. #9

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    Almost any style slow yet soul searching solos have forever ruled over speed. Think of the 50's almost all the hits were 1-4-5 chords, sixties catchy songs Tender Years,70'-80 was loud and yet leads from Led Zeppelin were pretty slow. The 90's began Alt. Music and Rap. The music that tested the time are still played today. At many times less equals more.
    In writing songs I write the words first, then feel the music come.


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  11. #10

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    My exposure in this area is limited but the other marvellous experience was playing my original with other people. Did not give them any pre conceived ideas other than a lead sheet a count in and that the a section was sad the b section happy. It was just wonderful to hear/experience what then followed. The band seemed way more into it also.

    Have been trying write a blues head for some months. Have had lots of what I think are cool ideas for the first 8 bars but like in my improv the final 4 are not want I want. I think that when I finally write that final 4 bars my improv door will also unlock.

    I hear you Jordan and man that triad thing, I was surprised when I analysed Lover Man how straight it was. Gave me hope inspiration.


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    “When you’re creating your own ...., man, even the sky ain’t the limit.”
    Miles Davis

  12. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by viccortes285 View Post
    Almost any style slow yet soul searching solos have forever ruled over speed. Think of the 50's almost all the hits were 1-4-5 chords, sixties catchy songs Tender Years,70'-80 was loud and yet leads from Led Zeppelin were pretty slow. The 90's began Alt. Music and Rap. The music that tested the time are still played today. At many times less equals more.
    In writing songs I write the words first, then feel the music come.


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    Hang on, surely you can't overlook the all important 6 chord in 50s music

    1-6-4-5

  13. #12
    I've been hooked for 5 years practicing only. But I have my old non-smartphone full with brand new breakthrough shit.. some day..

  14. #13

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    Christiam77 wanted to make a simple example, here there are players of all levels.


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  15. #14

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    Quote Originally Posted by viccortes285 View Post
    Christiam77 wanted to make a simple example, here there are players of all levels.


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    Some of us can even manage that elusive fourth chord.

    One day, I shall join their ranks.

  16. #15

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    Quote Originally Posted by AlsoRan View Post
    I share your thoughts. Sometimes it gets mentally tiring working on learning scales, arpeggios, maybe technique.
    I came to the conclusion years ago that this was generally a waste of time (practicing scales and arpeggios) for an amateur hobby guitar player like myself. It took a long time to shake off the belief, "but this is what you're supposed to do". I could play scales all over the place but couldn't play a single piece of music from start to finish. Pissed me off when I realized what I'd been doing (and not doing).

    When I get like this, I just start playing songs for a few days.
    The conclusion from above lead to me the next conclusion which was that I should just learn to play tunes since that was the goal anyway and it was all I wanted to do in the first place.

    I realize my 'revelation' won't and doesn't apply to everybody. But if you've got a busy life and can only devote a limited amount of time to playing guitar, my advice is don't waste it on scales and arpeggios.

  17. #16
    Quote Originally Posted by va3ux View Post
    I came to the conclusion years ago that this was generally a waste of time (practicing scales and arpeggios) for an amateur hobby guitar player like myself.

    Imo it's not at all a waste of time. For me 30 min a day is fine. 20 min the old stuff and 10 something new. Just have to keep in mind that it is what it is.

    Once long time a go I practiced these 7th chord conversions for a few months. Then realized that I could never use them like that, it's not gonna be some miracle method. I mean, all the comp elements(progressions, 3-4 chords in a row) had to still be learned intimately one by one.. So I though it was complete waste of many hours practicing them one at a time, up and down the neck. But turned out that it helped me so much when had to memorize a classical piece. I think the time needed to memorize a heavy piece was reduced many times. Just because all the fingerings and shapes that happen in a in them became familiar. Like oh ok, this is basically the 3rd m7b5.. etc. Before knowing them shapes like that, it's was just.. eh. Like alchemy. So, useless for jazz, huge help for classical.

  18. #17

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    Quote Originally Posted by viccortes285 View Post
    I think Jake is pretty spot on.
    At times we all hit the wall, no new ideas , tired of playing same songs. When it happens to me I step out of my comfort zone and move to a different style of music, learn some new things then return and incorporate them. I've we stop learning, we lose our edge. Just my thoughts on it.


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    That's about where I am: bored with my playing, with jazz, with busking and playing the same arrangements many times a day b/c they're 'money tunes'. But there is much reason for hope:

    I'm a huge believer in two things to grow and stave off dead ends: composition and eclecticism.

    I had my songs sung by 2 singers and some ace players last month at Smalls. There's no bigger thrill for a songwriter (I consider myself as specializing in that) than to hear your material performed by really good people. They'll find things in your songs you didn't know were there. Especially working with singers is, for me, a wonderful learning opportunity. Example: I have a song (Shelter) that has the lyric

    Hear me pray
    For the way
    To My Shelter---shelter.

    I wrote 'hear me pray' and 'for the way' with 16th note rhythms---thinking like I'd phrase it, not like a singer would sing it. Marcelino, my 'guy singer' pointed out that that sounds nervous and not natural when sung. Bingo: a great lesson. If you're a songwriter, sing (or croak) your songs before handing them out to real singers. You'll save a lot of time that way.

    Eclecticism: Well, there was a commercial some years ago with Dave Winfield and the tag line was 'you can't play another man's game'. It ended with him playing the game 'Charge' phrase---badly, on organ.

    I agree it's not good either to spread oneself too thin or try to master something you probably never will. Learning to do ONE thing well is a lifetime study.

    But we can TASTE different musics, and extract useable elements. I love Tom Harrell (the composer) for that reason (among many others). He's a real explorer who doesn't stick to one period or style, etc. His curiosity along with his great talent and experience make him someone always fascinating to hear. He is nothing if not prolific--and like all true artists even his 'failures' are more interesting than many hacks' 'successes'.

    And I bet if you asked him he'd tell you HE gets into ruts, too.

    It's called being human...
    Last edited by fasstrack; 02-20-2017 at 09:23 PM.

  19. #18

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    Hmmm. I think arpeggios are pretty useful. They come up all the time in bebop language and in transcribed solos. Also a great way to learn the fretboard and chord shapes not to mention review a tune or transpose changes to another key. Turn that metronome up and it becomes a technical workout too.

    The musicality of arps occurs when different arpeggios are played with other things like idiomatic jazz language as well as little embellishments like slides into notes. The same arpeggio over and over gets old fast, but when varied they can be quite musical when they are played 90% like an arpeggio and 10% like something else.

    Scales are pretty useful too but these days work on language that is 'scalar' rather than working on pure scales. Ditto their presence in bebop language and in transcribed solos. I find a lot of minor ii-V lines are just bits of minor-based scales resolving to the 5 or b3 of the minor chord.

  20. #19

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    Quote Originally Posted by fasstrack View Post
    That's about where I am: bored with my playing, with jazz, with busking and playing the same arrangements many times a day b/c they're 'money tunes'. But there is much reason for hope:

    I'm a huge believer in two things to grow and stave off dead ends: composition and eclecticism...


    I agree it's not good either to spread oneself too thin or try to master something you probably never will. Learning to do ONE thing well is a lifetime study.

    But we can TASTE different musics, and extract useable elements. I love Tom Harrell (the composer) for that reason (among many others). He's a real explorer who doesn't stick to one period or style, etc.
    And I bet if you asked him he'd tell you HE gets into ruts, too.

    It's called being human...
    Winston Churchill was a very prolific and well-paid writer. Many claim he was the highest paid in the world for a number of years. He was also prone to deep depressions, which he referred to as the "Black Dog". He self-medicated (1/2 btl. champagne before lunch--the rest during the day, plus whiskey), but his chief tactic was to switch gears, and projects.

    He had a famous saying "A change is as good as a vacation..."

    Musically, sometimes working on pure technique for a stretch will clear the mental cobwebs, then it's time to try to learn a few more tunes, analyze some progression or work on some new line, or riff...there's always something slightly different, but in the end, it's all a seamless web.
    Last edited by goldenwave77; 02-23-2017 at 08:46 AM.

  21. #20

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    Quote Originally Posted by goldenwave77 View Post
    He had a famous saying "A change is as good as a vacation...'
    I VERY much doubt that was his wording :-)

  22. #21

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    Anyway, seriously, I really like to take holidays away from my guitar. Now as always I'm desperate to get back to it (especially as part of my holiday is NY and I'm hearing all this world class jazz.)

    I think once the rude mechanicals are mastered it's important to avoid stereotyped boring practice and focus on doing music.

  23. #22

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    I think there's definitely such a thing as too much practice, especially with regards to specific areas. I think walking basslines in 4/4 on jazz standards is a good example; As a bassist it's definitely something I need to revisit and practice and all that, but it's not an area that is going to require daily attention or focus if you're gigging regularly. And for me, an hour of walking with a great drummer is worth more than 10 hours of solitary practice.

    So for me, the most productive areas I find for practice are areas that I'm not getting to, in the normal course of being a working musician.

  24. #23

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    Have been fortunate enough to play with n 8 piece band. Doing trad jazz. Whilst not my style a fantastic learning experience.

    All that practice I am sure it has helped but being thrown in the deep end like this to play songs off charts that I do not know this has taught me way way so much more.

    Firstly staying in time is critical.
    Secondly keeping your place in the form equally as critical.

    Then to not drown gotta keep it simple. This is teaching me the relationships and similarities of chords I can play any chord now around the 5th to 8th frets on the d to b strings. Wow the way they all overlap is so cool. To really hear the colours. From struggling to keep up, now I am starting to be able to keep the chords moving every beat if that sounds right.

    Then they yell out guitar and I get 12 or 16 bars to do something. GULP! Initially I was just a mess. Back to those basics, gotta stay in time, gotta know where you are in the form, stick to chord tones as a flat 5, 3, 9, 7 hear and there. That's it. Mix up the rhythm. Charlie Christian is becoming my new room mate.

    All that junk practicing getting nowhere. To fellow beginners get out of that bedroom and jump into a band, a jam session whatever. To sit with a trumpet and sax and be consumed by those sounds just a wonderful experience but one that I am sure will catapult your learning.
    “When you’re creating your own ...., man, even the sky ain’t the limit.”
    Miles Davis

  25. #24

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    Practice is practice and playing is playing. Playing in most circumstance will get you much farther for sure. Then you are going back over the things you need to work on from the gig.
    specializing in repair and setup, does your guitar play like it should?

  26. #25
    Quote Originally Posted by gggomez View Post
    Have been fortunate enough to play with n 8 piece band. Doing trad jazz. Whilst not my style a fantastic learning experience.

    All that practice I am sure it has helped but being thrown in the deep end like this to play songs off charts that I do not know this has taught me way way so much more.

    Firstly staying in time is critical.
    Secondly keeping your place in the form equally as critical.

    Then to not drown gotta keep it simple. This is teaching me the relationships and similarities of chords I can play any chord now around the 5th to 8th frets on the d to b strings. Wow the way they all overlap is so cool. To really hear the colours. From struggling to keep up, now I am starting to be able to keep the chords moving every beat if that sounds right.

    Then they yell out guitar and I get 12 or 16 bars to do something. GULP! Initially I was just a mess. Back to those basics, gotta stay in time, gotta know where you are in the form, stick to chord tones as a flat 5, 3, 9, 7 hear and there. That's it. Mix up the rhythm. Charlie Christian is becoming my new room mate.

    All that junk practicing getting nowhere. To fellow beginners get out of that bedroom and jump into a band, a jam session whatever. To sit with a trumpet and sax and be consumed by those sounds just a wonderful experience but one that I am sure will catapult your learning.
    Great post.

  27. #26

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    If you lose your concentration and continue practicing, you are practicing too much for that session.
    Ignorance is agony.



  28. #27

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    Quote Originally Posted by gggomez View Post
    Have been fortunate enough to play with n 8 piece band. Doing trad jazz. Whilst not my style a fantastic learning experience.
    Isn't it though? In my opinion every wannabe jazz guitarist should be forced to play trad or swing etc as an apprenticeship. I learned SO MUCH even though it's not the be all and end all for me.

    But in general, there is no substitute for getting out there and playing. To this day, gigs are where I learn the most (even if it's 'I do not know this tune' :-))

    All that practice I am sure it has helped but being thrown in the deep end like this to play songs off charts that I do not know this has taught me way way so much more.
    And transposing them into any key at the drop of a hat.

    Firstly staying in time is critical.
    Secondly keeping your place in the form equally as critical.

    Then to not drown gotta keep it simple. This is teaching me the relationships and similarities of chords I can play any chord now around the 5th to 8th frets on the d to b strings. Wow the way they all overlap is so cool. To really hear the colours. From struggling to keep up, now I am starting to be able to keep the chords moving every beat if that sounds right.

    Then they yell out guitar and I get 12 or 16 bars to do something. GULP! Initially I was just a mess. Back to those basics, gotta stay in time, gotta know where you are in the form, stick to chord tones as a flat 5, 3, 9, 7 hear and there. That's it. Mix up the rhythm. Charlie Christian is becoming my new room mate.

    All that junk practicing getting nowhere. To fellow beginners get out of that bedroom and jump into a band, a jam session whatever. To sit with a trumpet and sax and be consumed by those sounds just a wonderful experience but one that I am sure will catapult your learning.
    A friend of mine, a very good modern jazz sax player said he found playing jump/jive music much harder than bop... similar to trad, or swing... Obviously he had done more of the latter! But - there is nowhere to hide.

    There is space for waffle in modern jazz. Meaningless verbiage. I know I do it... The greats don't do this, of course...
    Last edited by christianm77; 09-12-2017 at 04:03 PM.