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Discussion Starter #1
Happy holidays to everyone. Wishing you all a very successful 2019. In that vein, I'm attempting to "lock in" my saxophone related goals for the coming new year. I would really appreciate any thoughts, comments or suggestions related to the ideas listed below, especially if you are an advanced or expert player / teacher.

So...along with my bread and butter goals (more emphasis on long tones, improve facility on more difficult scales, etc.) I'm looking for a 1-2 big goals to work on for the entire year. The idea behind this is to really focus on an area or 2 that will significantly improve my playing. By the way, I consider myself an intermediate level player although not very strong at improvisation execution although fairly strong in theory. Lastly, I plan on spending approximately 10 hours per week working / practicing.

Some ideas I have for the next 12 months to significantly improve my jazz playing include:

1. Memorize one new standard in all keys per month

2. Transcribe one solo per month (please note I have done minimal transcribing thus far....yeah, I know ;)

3. Record and share one video per month of playing a standard plus multiple chorus solo

4. Compose one contrafact of jazz standard per month that is technically accurate and interesting to play

5. Memorize a (master's) solo and record playing for comparison against original (one per month)

Is there anything that am I missing? Which one(s) should be the priority? Am I being too optimistic / conservative?

Thoughts, comments, suggestions are kindly requested and thank you in advance for your contribution to my success in 2019.

Best,
Mike
 

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If your goal is to sound like everybody else in the pantheon of players who are trying to recreate the the 1950s/60s then you're on the right track. If you every want to play for an audience you may wish to think about a style of music that's pertinent. The Music business is about entertainment. IMHO there is more to learning an instrument than copying and getting in line to try and be the fastest horn in the west. Who listens to "standards"? Other jazz musos for sure, but not the general public. How many people want to go see somebody who's only wants to impress a listener with their technical abilities and couldn't care less about giving them entertainment?

Developing your inner voice and making your horn that voice is what made those honored musicians from 60 + years ago great. They were pioneers in their time. Will you be a pioneer or just another copier in a long line of players with nobody to play to?
 

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Do you want to get better at improvising?

http://www.neffmusic.com/blog/2015/09/the-1-thing-you-need-to-do-to-become-a-great-improviser/

I would add a daily goal on improvising. All your goals are goals someone strong in theory would choose. Maybe not #3 but #3 is not enough. If you want to get better at improvising then you have to have a specific measurable goal on improvising that you can do daily.

I would also break down the goals to daily goals or steps. #2 is a good goal but I would add to transcribe 10 minutes a day or something like that. By the end of the month your solo is done........ I think #5 is a bit too optimistic why not just incorporate this goal with #2 and try to learn from the solo you are transcribing? #4 is a great thing to do but it works best if you have a teacher to go over your contrafact and help you see where it could be better and what you can improve.

If you can do one new standard in all keys per month that is great. Most people can't especially on 10 hours a week. How many standards do you know? If not many maybe focus on one standard in one key every two weeks. Also do a blues in all 12 keys and rhythm changes in all 12 keys. Create a folder in itunes of Memorized songs and when you memorize one put the play along in the folder. Three times a week have a little jam session where you play all the songs you have in the folder by memory without looking or cheating. As the year goes on the list will get longer and longer. Those are some of my thoughts........ Steve
 

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On memorizing standards I would also strongly suggest singing the melody with the play along while you are driving and also singing the bass notes. Memorize the bass notes like you memorize the melody. This is huge. I did this with a new tune a year ago. I played it the other day and for the life of me couldn't remember some of the chords. I stopped playing and started singing the bass notes and Bam! it all came back to me and I remembered the whole tune!
 

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I'm neither an advanced nor expert player, but I liked the list you put together and the concept of creating some well defined goals/structure for your playing in 2019. I would describe my current level as comparable to what you outlined.

Personally, I don't find developing one's own voice and the list of possible ideas you outlined mutually exclusive. It's not an either or from my perspective and seems in line with that old Parker saying ... something to the effect of "learn your instrument, learn the music, then forget all that stuff and just play". To me that suggests that continuing to improve and ultimately finding something unique to say is a process ... Id think studying, emulating, and understanding what came before you, keeping what you dig and tossing what you don't, is all part of that process.

Regardless ... your post motivated me to consider creating more clearly defined and measurable goals for the new year. Let's just hope they don't go the way of the diet and exercise style resolutions!
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Thank you Steve, I really appreciate your thoughtful reply and link to the very relevant blog post. Everything you suggest resonates and I will figure out how to incorporate a measurable "improvisation" metric into my daily practice regimen. Also, I'm trying to organize a regular jam session in my area so anyone else interested can work on their chops too. Once I finalize my goals, I'll list them here for folks to view, borrow, or even critique if they're so inclined. Lastly, I'm really glad to hear that your health has improved and am looking forward to new content on your site soon.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
mpez22, thanks for your reply and glad to hear that I've inspired you :) Also, I sent a friend request here so perhaps we can correspond to keep each other accountable on progress. I certainly want to make significant progress this coming year and can use all the support available.
 

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Is there anything that am I missing? Which one(s) should be the priority? Am I being too optimistic / conservative?

Thoughts, comments, suggestions are kindly requested and thank you in advance for your contribution to my success in 2019.
All the work you do at home is great but should be put into practice. I recommend going to jam sessions at least twice a week, whether it's in a club or just at somebody's house. Ultimately, you learn to play on stage, not at home. Good luck and best wishes.
 

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You sound very dedicated and that is the main thing that will take you towards your wanted achievements. Keep your "Stick-to-itiveness" and have fun along the way by playing fun and happy songs that you can improvise with. Take time to play material that is simple and add complexity with your improvisational ideas. Sonny Rollins is known for jazzing up nursery rhymes and holiday songs making them swing with improvisation.
 

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This is a very interesting topic. I feel like you Mike, i know by theory a lot but need to work my technique, execution, ideas and musicality more. Yesterday was one of that days you play in a jam and the other sax player was killing it and i was insecure and uncontrolled, i only played two tunes but everything went so wrong for me i came home and couldn't sleep. As always i take it to the positive side and plan my next urgent goals. I like your plan but i would hear what Steve(nefertiti) says too. Also maybe is too optimistic, but i suppose you can do it, you know yourself.
Keep sharing your experiences!
 

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Do you want to get better at improvising?

http://www.neffmusic.com/blog/2015/09/the-1-thing-you-need-to-do-to-become-a-great-improviser/

I would add a daily goal on improvising. All your goals are goals someone strong in theory would choose. Maybe not #3 but #3 is not enough. If you want to get better at improvising then you have to have a specific measurable goal on improvising that you can do daily.

I would also break down the goals to daily goals or steps. #2 is a good goal but I would add to transcribe 10 minutes a day or something like that. By the end of the month your solo is done........ I think #5 is a bit too optimistic why not just incorporate this goal with #2 and try to learn from the solo you are transcribing? #4 is a great thing to do but it works best if you have a teacher to go over your contrafact and help you see where it could be better and what you can improve.

If you can do one new standard in all keys per month that is great. Most people can't especially on 10 hours a week. How many standards do you know? If not many maybe focus on one standard in one key every two weeks. Also do a blues in all 12 keys and rhythm changes in all 12 keys. Create a folder in itunes of Memorized songs and when you memorize one put the play along in the folder. Three times a week have a little jam session where you play all the songs you have in the folder by memory without looking or cheating. As the year goes on the list will get longer and longer. Those are some of my thoughts........ Steve
As usual Steve has this figured out and spoken as someone who has had a lot of students and a very good idea of what is really reasonably possible for most people. I love the idea and have tried many of these things over the years myself but this would be far too ambitious a list for me given my time constraints. I'd trade memorizing a tune in all 12 keys for memorizing it in a few of the most popular keys and memorizing/internalizing the chord progression that goes along with it. If your goal is to play tunes and improvise over the forms without needing to look at the music knowing the progressions will likely be more useful than being able to play them in really odd keys.
 

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Another thing that works for me is to hyper focus on one concept. I have never seen big movement personally when I diddle and daddle with 20 different things but when I focus on one concept and attack it everyday I see huge gains that last a lifetime. So for example, you might pick one book on a concept to master in 2019. I write out a spreadsheet with boxes. Along the top I write out all 12 keys. Along the left hand side the number of every exercise in the book. I then set a goal to master the book within the year. My personal method for each box and I can't write the symbol here is that if I can do an exercise in 16th notes in one key at 80 I put a \ in the box. When I can do it at 100 I add a / which makes a X. When I can do it at 120 I adda dot in the top space. At 160 a dot in the bottom space. At 200 a dot in the side space and at 240 a dot in the other side space. These are usually 16th notes I am playing by the way. When I can do it at 240 3 times in a row with no mistake I circle the whole thing in the box and consider it done. Then I move on to the next one and work through the book that way trying to finish it in the year.

An important step to add is that I try to review what I already mastered everyday just once. If I make a mistake I will try again and then I have to do it 3 times in a row perfect again which takes more time. This is easy at first but towards the middle of the year you have too much to review. I don't have a system but I just pick random ones that I feel I haven't done in a while and do 3-4 at the beginning of the practice session as part of my warm up.

The last thing is to have a focus to add whatever these concept are into your solos every time you solo. I would go to gigs and every solo I would try to use the devices or licks that I had been working on in the solo.

This for me is how I really make huge gains and get things into my vocabulary. But I will acknowledge that some people can't work like this. I find it very motivating to look at that list and see the check boxes and know I am moving forward. It keeps me going and inspired. Others would rather stick a long hot needle into their eye then spend a year working like this so..........take it or leave it..........
 

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3. Record and share one video per month of playing a standard plus multiple chorus solo
I think this can go a long way towards your development. Even if you only post 1 video per month, you should definitely record yourself all the time while practicing. The way we sound to ourselves while playing can be really different from how we sound to the listener (i.e. how we sound when listening back to ourselves as a listener) so critiquing yourself from a recording is a great way to hear exactly how you sound. You can then make changes for next time based on a final product (recording) as opposed to trying to remember how you sounded during the performance.
 

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Discussion Starter #14
Thanks everyone, I really appreciate all the comments and suggestions. I'm still working on the specifics but based on what Steve and others have recommended I'm thinking of breaking my daily practice session out as follows:

- warm-up playing scales, arpeggios, etc. for approx. 15 minutes
- long tones & overtones for approx. 15 minutes
- improvise freely (using pattern / lick variations) for 10 minutes
- improvise to play-along applying patterns / licks for 20 minutes
- work on memorizing tunes and solo ideas for 20 minutes
- transcribe solos or songs for 10 minutes
- track of progress in daily practice journal for 5 minutes
- additionally per Dave's suggestion I will record myself at least once per week so I can review accordingly

I think these are manageable increments and will help me to keep focus, hopefully. Also, I'm working on creating a document to this effect and will be happy to share if others will find this sort of journal log helpful.

Happy New Year!
Mike
 

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Discussion Starter #15
Atratr, thanks for sharing your comment. I can definitely relate to your experience and am trying to figure out how to best create a supportive regular jam session in my area. There are a few in Seattle (which is about 30 minutes away) that I know of but most of those are attended by pro / very advanced players and are in very public locations. I know that is too intimidating for me currently so am hopeful that I can find a location and a few folks interested in getting together a couple of times per month at least. Alternatively, maybe there would be enough interested folks in playing together virtually...if that is even possible. Anyway, glad you're able to stay positive and wish you continued great progress for the coming New Year. Cheers, Mike
 

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I think this can go a long way towards your development. Even if you only post 1 video per month, you should definitely record yourself all the time while practicing. The way we sound to ourselves while playing can be really different from how we sound to the listener (i.e. how we sound when listening back to ourselves as a listener) so critiquing yourself from a recording is a great way to hear exactly how you sound. You can then make changes for next time based on a final product (recording) as opposed to trying to remember how you sounded during the performance.
That's my number one thing to do now, recording and listening. Then plan the work.
 

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1. Memorize one new standard in all keys per month
This is good providing you memorise in a "musical way." By this I mean using the theory you know to recognise compositional patterns as opposed to what many people do which is kind of parrot fashion bit by bit and can waste a lot of time and not teach yo as much.

I agree with what whamtoncourt said in that your goals seem fine inasmuch as it is narrow genre to aim for. Nothing wrong with that at all as long as you have thought about it and decided that as opposed to it being the "default" genre for a lot of educational institutions. I would always encourage people to go for a more rounded approach to music learning and experiencing - learning other stuff as well.
 

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Great article, Steve! I have the opposite "problem" from your adult students: I start long tones and after about three, I'm already improvising. I catch myself, and start playing a few scales and... you guessed it, after about three scales, improvising again!

Maybe my program this year should be to get some discipline :)
 

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Mike - I like the idea of an SOTW accountability partner. Steve's hyper focus post was great ... that's the conceptual direction I think I need to go as i tend to try and touch too many things in a practice session. This seemed okay when I had 20 hours a week to practice way back when ... but presently I'm lucky if i can squeeze 8-10 in a week. So perhaps the hyper focus approach is the way to go. Nice thread going here.
 

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Discussion Starter #20
Just thinking out loud here, but maybe we can create a once a week "check in" via email, on here or via whatever means convenient. This could also serve as an avenue to share ideas, solicit suggestions / feedback, and provide support as needed. Perhaps we can pick a tune of the month that we all work on too? Lots of ideas....anyway, I really appreciate everyone contributing to this thread. Also, I'm just about done with my journal for logging practice and will share asap.
 
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