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Getting More Out Of Transcriptions- Part 1: Etudes

You've finally given in to all of your teachers and peers telling you that the only way to learn to play jazz is to transcribe solos. Now you've found a player you love, and have lifted a solo or two off of the records and can finally say that you have a certain amount of vocabulary ready to go when you play your next gig!

Unfortunately, you're not really done yet. Over the next few posts, I'd like to write about a few ways to use some of the language you've picked up and getting it into your playing in an organic way. There's obviously a lot of material out there on the internet and in books on this kind of thing already but hopefully this adds something of value to the massive pile of information that exists today.

This post will be focused on making an "etude" out of transcribed material. I took this concept out of a fantastic book called "A Practical Guide To Jazz Improvisation" by Ben Markley. The book focuses on the teachings of David Hazeltine, a New York jazz pianist. Basically the goal is to first transcribe several solos (I think he recommends 7 or so but I'm working with less here) and then to concentrate the material into an etude that is to be practiced daily until the player is comfortable with it. Obviously this is a fairly academic approach to Jazz, but I think it's still pretty clever. Remember, the idea here is to have everything internalized so ALL TRANSCRIPTIONS MUST BE FROM MEMORY. Do not lift lines straight out of a book, it just won't work. Remember, the lazy man works twice as hard.

For my etude, I'm focusing on one of my favorite drummers of all time, Max Roach. I've been in love with his playing for years and can do a pretty decent Max Roach impression while playing since I've lifted so much of his vocabulary. Here's a short page of a few "Max-isms" that I'll be making the etude out of.

So when constructing the etude, I actually didn't use one or two of those lines listed above, however I did add one or two lines that I knew I've heard him play, such as the ending and a few parts here and there. So here are the parameters I wanted to use when making this etude

The etude would be 32 bars long

The etude would be more or less grouped into 4 bar phrases

The etude would utilize space and "filler" in a way that's in line with Max Roach's playing

The etude would end in a typical ending I've heard Roach do on a few different solos.

With all of that in mind, here's the etude I ended up with:

So after practicing your etude daily, after a few weeks you should find that it becomes a part of your DNA. The reason I like this exercise is because at the end of the day, improvising and composing are two sides of the same coin. If you can't make a cohesive solo with the language you've learned away from the band stand, then you really don't have much of a chance when you do get on the gig.

In the next post, I'll be talking about more concepts you can take to the practice room with your newly acquired jazz vocabulary. I hope this post was helpful to somebody out there, I definitely had a good time writing it! Until next time!

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