View Poll Results: Time it takes to learn pro level Jazz improv?

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  • 1-2 years - just play what you can sing!

    1 1.85%
  • 2-5 years - learn a few concepts and get good mileage from them.

    4 7.41%
  • 5-10 years - longer and harder than law or medicine!

    16 29.63%
  • 10 years+ - It's harder than most people realise...

    33 61.11%
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  1. #26

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    In terms of sheer technical excellence, and assuming similar dedication and application, people who start in their early teens or younger may accomplish more in a much shorter time than people who start later on in life.

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  3. #27

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    Quote Originally Posted by rpjazzguitar
    One benchmark I have is that a player who has a shot at making a living at it, should sound like a pro by age 19, at least on his own stuff. Some things will take experience, but the ability should be evident by then.
    Well that may have been my case in the 70s in the rock genre. Thing is, I was beginning to get bored with all the clichés and prog (the music I was interested in) was dying a death. I sold my guitar.

    Over a period of 40 years, a pro playing and practicing an average of say, 40 hours a week will clock up 80,000+ hours on the instrument. I can imagine that could easily creep up to 100,000 hours. Over the same time, I've been though periods where I may have played well over 10 hours a week, but others where I played nothing, so I'll say 10,000 hours: 10% of the pro. (My practice schedule between the ages of 12 and 18 was absolutely like a pro's).

    In spite of this, I play (and compose) all kinds of stuff "in slow motion" and I am still in the process of absorbing those aspects of jazz which interest me. I'm not sure what the OP is asking - how long to learn a bunch of standards, mostly transcribing someone else's lines, or to become a consummate improviser with one's own voice? Very different concepts.
    Last edited by Peter C; 05-02-2021 at 06:32 PM.

  4. #28

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    Much depends on luck and timing. I got interested in playing jazz at about 15 (1969). By '72 I was gigging with a band that was playing jazz. I had the good fortune of falling in with a dedicated group of older guys that were willing to work with me. I was young enough to believe I could do it, and footloose enough to move to their town. We practiced as a group at least 4 hours a day for several years. That's where I learned how to play.

    That's the thing. As has been mentioned, you have to learn how to get comfortable in front of an audience, and how to create with your fellow players. That's time on the stage. Seems a lot harder to come by now than when I started.

    Learning the basic technique and foundation? Maybe 5 years for me. Learning how to use that technique properly? Still working on that.

  5. #29
    I got my first guitar and lesson 57 years ago.There was the citys top music store in walking distance and our neighborhood hangout. The British invasion and local niteclub musicians were our heroes. The first drummer I ever played with was named Ted Seibs and he was very talented in music. He encouraged me to move to Boston and study with Mick Goodrick and later attend Berklee. His roomates early on included John Scofield. Ted played Vibraharp so Gary Burton used to go to Ted and Johns apartment and jam a couple of hours a lot to avoid the traffic jam going home to suburbs. John often mentions Ted in his interviews about how he g ot started. My first foray into jazz was a local theater group doing Hello Dolly from a Grand piano score which my guitar teacher transposed to something simpler.Hearing Jimmy Smith Live In Paris with Kenny Burrell really enticed my to want to be able to play jazz. There were a few good B3 players kickin bass so they were local heroes,too. Ted took me to a jam session at the Copley Plaza in Boston with Carmen McCraes group piano and bass and Ted on drums and Pat Metheny on guitar. He was very impressive as they did some Wes tunes note for note on his part. Later I got to meet and hear Jaco at Poohs Pub while they worked on Bright Size Life.What a prophetic title. Anyway this is some of my background and story and I still consider myself a student who is lookin into using Skype to enlarge my vocabulary.

  6. #30

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    I think someone who is musically talented, has a solid baseline of technique and musicianship, and starts learning jazz seriously in an environment where he/she can play with other people and receive decent instruction/mentorship can go from almost no jazz knowledge to being really good at jazz within about 2 years. I've seen it happen. E.g., a good classical musician who decides to learn a bunch of standards and some degree of improv., who can be good enough to hang with a cocktail trio pretty fast.

    But I don't think most people have such straightforward, clear beginnings at jazz and arrivals at jazz proficiency. What's more common is for jazz to be woven into people's learning relatively early, or even from the start (e.g., most sax and trumpet players), and then how good they get at jazz and how quickly become a matter of how seriously they take it, as well as how much access they have to other jazz players and what instruction (if any) they get. A kid who played in his/her high school jazz band and got to be pretty good for a high school kid who then went into a solid college jazz program might be pro-level substantially before graduation. I've seen that a lot [my college didn't have a jazz program, but did have a jazz band led by a great player, and kids who passed through that band were gig-ready within a couple of years, sometimes sooner]. But how do you measure how long it took? Even if you can point to the time when they were "pro-level", when is the beginning? ¯\_(?)_/¯

    I started out as a kid taking classical lessons, stopped, restarted with blues and rock at about 16, dabbled in jazz within a year or two of that, took some jazz lessons in college. But I never had a period where I mainly played jazz until I was about 30, when I got into a playing situation with players who were much better than I was, which enabled me to learn a lot of tunes and get to the point of playing something recognizable as jazz. At that point, I could sort of "hang at that level over a variety of tunes", though I think that's a pretty low bar for a definition of "pro level". Since then, it's been kind of a punctuated equilibrium, with another big jump around 5 years ago, when I got into another regular playing situation with some really good players (including some working pros). So, I'd say it takes 2-3 years of intensive study and experience, but I'd also say I packed that 2-3 years of intensive study and experience into about 25 years of fecklessness and procrastination. ¯\_(?)_/¯

  7. #31

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    Quote Originally Posted by rpjazzguitar
    One benchmark I have is that a player who has a shot at making a living at it, should sound like a pro by age 19, at least on his own stuff. Some things will take experience, but the ability should be evident by then.
    Sounds about right to me.

  8. #32

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    Quote Originally Posted by John A.
    I think someone who is musically talented, has a solid baseline of technique and musicianship, and starts learning jazz seriously in an environment where he/she can play with other people and receive decent instruction/mentorship can go from almost no jazz knowledge to being really good at jazz within about 2 years. I've seen it happen. E.g., a good classical musician who decides to learn a bunch of standards and some degree of improv., who can be good enough to hang with a cocktail trio pretty fast.
    I've seen that too.

    There was a classical guitarist from the music conservatory of my home town who liked to attend our jam sessions we had in the local Jazz scene.

    One day he asked if he could borrow a guitar (mine) and sit in for a song. As he could technically play the guitar but never had improvised over any standard it sounded, lets say .... strange. But he caught the flame and half a year later or so he was better than most of the "old cats"!

    Edit: And that guy could read .... !!!!
    Last edited by DonEsteban; 05-04-2021 at 05:48 PM.

  9. #33

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    Quote Originally Posted by John A.
    I think someone who is musically talented, has a solid baseline of technique and musicianship, and starts learning jazz seriously in an environment where he/she can play with other people and receive decent instruction/mentorship can go from almost no jazz knowledge to being really good at jazz within about 2 years. I've seen it happen. E.g., a good classical musician who decides to learn a bunch of standards and some degree of improv., who can be good enough to hang with a cocktail trio pretty fast.

    But I don't think most people have such straightforward, clear beginnings at jazz and arrivals at jazz proficiency. What's more common is for jazz to be woven into people's learning relatively early, or even from the start (e.g., most sax and trumpet players), and then how good they get at jazz and how quickly become a matter of how seriously they take it, as well as how much access they have to other jazz players and what instruction (if any) they get. A kid who played in his/her high school jazz band and got to be pretty good for a high school kid who then went into a solid college jazz program might be pro-level substantially before graduation. I've seen that a lot [my college didn't have a jazz program, but did have a jazz band led by a great player, and kids who passed through that band were gig-ready within a couple of years, sometimes sooner]. But how do you measure how long it took? Even if you can point to the time when they were "pro-level", when is the beginning? ¯\_(?)_/¯

    I started out as a kid taking classical lessons, stopped, restarted with blues and rock at about 16, dabbled in jazz within a year or two of that, took some jazz lessons in college. But I never had a period where I mainly played jazz until I was about 30, when I got into a playing situation with players who were much better than I was, which enabled me to learn a lot of tunes and get to the point of playing something recognizable as jazz. At that point, I could sort of "hang at that level over a variety of tunes", though I think that's a pretty low bar for a definition of "pro level". Since then, it's been kind of a punctuated equilibrium, with another big jump around 5 years ago, when I got into another regular playing situation with some really good players (including some working pros). So, I'd say it takes 2-3 years of intensive study and experience, but I'd also say I packed that 2-3 years of intensive study and experience into about 25 years of fecklessness and procrastination. ¯\_(?)_/¯
    Thank you for highlighting what I view as one of the key factors in an aspiring Jazzperson's development: namely, the extended opportunity to play with others who are better than they are. Nothing focuses the mind quite like the imminent possibility of disaster.

  10. #34

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    Often wondered what level I could get to if I had the time, money, motivation, and physical stamina (I have none of these) to commit to 8 hours a day for one full year: practicing, playing with other people, focused listening, transcribing, lessons, etc. Basically full immersion, but not as a beginner, but someone who is physically comfortable with the instrument, but not terribly proficient, after various levels and periods of guitar engagement for 30+ years.

  11. #35

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    Been teaching guitar in a music school for about 15 years now. I can say with full confidence - the effort, it may vary 10 times. At least 10.
    So, if the average could be 10 years to get to "professional" level, a few can do it in 1.

    edit: sorry about the math. 2 years. not 1.

  12. #36

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    Quote Originally Posted by citizenk74
    Thank you for highlighting what I view as one of the key factors in an aspiring Jazzperson's development: namely, the extended opportunity to play with others who are better than they are. Nothing focuses the mind quite like the imminent possibility of disaster.
    I recall scuffling through a gig with some much-higher-level players and thinking, "if this was a nightly gig for a month, at the end of the month I'd be able to hang with these guys". Of course, I don't really know if that would prove true, but at that moment it seemed like the issue was familiarity.

    Another point raised in some of the posts is that sometimes progress can be made in a leap rather than a long, gradual slog.

    It occurs to me, for example, that players choose between emphasizing learning completely new things and emphasizing development of things they already can do. My experience has been that accepting some limitations while trying to exploit a few stronger points, allowed me to raise the level overall, resulting in more calls.

    And, then, there's the definition of "pro". My impression is that the players who make a living at it have a few things in common. First is great time. Second is ability to play their role in a band, meaning good comping, good interaction, good sound and decent solos. After that, it's pretty flexible. Most pros know a lot of tunes, but lots of working bands read arrangements. Some are brilliant soloists, but not all. Some can't read notes, but I've never met one that couldn't deal with chord charts. etc

  13. #37

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    If one were to compare playing pro level jazz to other professional skills this has me thinking. In the case of a physician they to medical school for 4 years then have residency and it can take somewhere between 6-8 years after graduating from standard college. During this time they spend huge amounts of time studying and working on their skills. My understanding is that during residency weeks can be 80 hours long.

    From the prospective if someone does this playing the guitar they should get to the pro level or they probably don't have the tools. That is why I put 2-5 years after they have some level of skill. Naturally as time goes on one hopes they get better but does it actually happen? My guess is Joe Pass was playing pretty pro level at maybe 15. He did get better and expand but in truth I like his early playing when he was in his 30's as well or better than when he was 55. Certainly he was better in some sense but maybe not anymore creative or at least interesting. My favorite jazz guitar recording was/is his first Virtuoso recording he did at about 44 years old. My guess he could not have done it when he was 22 but still could play pro level solo jazz guitar. By the same token he single line jazz stuff in my opinion did not get much or any better than what he did in his 30's. Just to set he record straight. From my point Joe Pass may have been the single most important jazz player in history.

    Back to my point. If I played the guitar the amount of time a physician takes in getting all the skills to be licensed and board certified, then my guess is I would be a much better player than I am now by a mile. I play a lot be never 8 hours daily for continuous years of say 5-6. That is a lot of guitar playing in my book. I personally think much of it is talent. I doubt Wes play the guitar as much as maybe a good number of players on this forum he only lived to be 44.

    Time can make one a pro with at least some talent. Huge talent with commitment can make someone a pro pretty fast. Huge talent with huge commitment probably puts one in the level of greats. By commitment I also mean playing live and gigging steady. One can play live and gig without necessarily being a pro level player. I remember the great Johnny Smith said.......practicing was practicing.........but playing out was playing and that is what got a guitar player better and was in effect the best practice. I also know that right now at almost 60 and playing 48 years my desire to sit down and continually learn and practice is not anything like it was. I enjoy playing but these days sitting down for 2 hours straight and playing intense focus does not happen much. Age takes it toll on drive and surely I am a work in progress never to get to the pro level.

  14. #38

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    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77
    Remember this - Metheny booked the gigs and drove the car in the early years of the PMG. What, do you think he was a bass player or something haha?
    In Gary Burton's autobiography, he talks about Pat being surprised when Gary tells him he should plan to lose money for the first few years of being a bandleader.

    Most really top level players sounded great when they were in high school, and/or sometimes younger. But that doesn't mean it can't take longer. My thought is, everyone's different, who cares how long it takes? It took me a long time to sound good, but giving up was never an option.

  15. #39

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    Quote Originally Posted by pcsanwald
    In Gary Burton's autobiography, he talks about Pat being surprised when Gary tells him he should plan to lose money for the first few years of being a bandleader.

    Most really top level players sounded great when they were in high school, and/or sometimes younger. But that doesn't mean it can't take longer. My thought is, everyone's different, who cares how long it takes? It took me a long time to sound good, but giving up was never an option.
    maybe, but Gary didn’t play the guitar

  16. #40
    When I was at Berklee in the mid seventies being an LA session man was stressed to motivate us to become really good sight readers and very versatile players. Tommy Tedesco was put on a high pedestal by those teachers . His son came through a while back with a presentation about The Wrecking Crew Movie which he helped produce. In Nashville I was told the guitar player who knew the best jokes would get the most sessions.Which to me meant there are so many good players here that there is a lot of who you know is pretty much King! A small percentage of players do a large percentage of the most lucrative work. There are small cliques even in big cities of the A team or first call people. What I am trying to say is you have to really refine your Goals.Brent Mason can play jazz very well but it didnt buy him a farm or anything. Of course I watched Sco,Metheny,Stern and Ritenour start out and prosper for those who think they can be Great artists that is evident pretty early say like Julian Lage at this time. In both LA and Nashville I was told you should plan on staying at least 10 years or dont even bother. Like I said earlier I think location is very very important to becoming a better player and the amount of work available.GB or general business gigs are the meat and potatoes for a lot of big city jazz players. Very few jazz superstars playing concerts all over the world. And are you willing to travel? You should be.A friend of mines son moved toNYC and got the Blue Man Group gig.So he will have to travel some.And you have to be near auditions to get the best gigs.Pat Metheny started with the Gary Burton Group.Scofield got the Billy Cobham gig.A degree from a known music program cant hurt either. Be Realistic.

  17. #41

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    I guess it takes a couple of years to learn the language. How quickly you find your voice and come up with interesting stuff to talk about is a different matter. Could take one year and it might not happen for 30.

  18. #42

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    I haven't yet read other comments to not get biased.
    Voted 5-10. After 5 years, the awkwardness and hesitation started to diminish fast.
    But that's just my case.

    edit: oh. found out i already posted something here. Decreased the years... that maybe shows hope and belief in this comes after 5