Thankfully, today was an alert and low-caffeine day.


I first started practicing at about 10:30 A.M., 2.5 hours after I woke up. Studies by Dan Ariely and numerous others have confirmed that the brain’s peak productivity is 2-5 hours after waking, so I love to spend that time practicing.


The short version:


20 Minutes Scales

25 Minutes Chords on “Half Nelson”


10 Minutes Chords again

30 Minutes Half-Nelson/Lady Bird

I began with major scales using the Jim Gailloreto method. I referenced this method in my first ever post, and below is a video demonstrating it from the bottom and top of the horn.



Not shown in the video though, is the way I mixed it up. I would actually alternate between major scales and melodic minor scales, major going up and melodic minor going down. I also switched to ¾ time on the way down the scales. This helps keep my brain focused instead of getting bored, and also maximizes the amount of things I’m practicing in a single exercise.


After scales I began learning the tune “Half-Nelson”, which is usually played as a contrafact to “Lady Bird” (the chords are the same but the melody is different). When learning a new tune, I usually start with the chord progression rather than the melody. I played through all the chords, in time, using various themes.


My first theme was to play chord tones and always start each chord in the high range of my horn, usually the highest possible chord tone.


Second step was to play chord tones, in time, from the lowest part of my horn.


Third was trying to play all chord tones while staying in the middle range of the horn.


Fourth, I made sure to always land on the “third” of any given chord on beat 1 of every measure.


The purpose of playing through the changes this way is to be sure I can always land on a chord tone (guaranteed “right”-sounding note) in any part of the horn at any given time. It also forces me to become intimately familiar with how every chord tone of every change can lead into a chord tone in the next change. And finally, the sound of the harmonic progression really works its way into my ear.

The basic idea of the exercise is expressed in the videos below.



All in all, the chord exercise took about 25 minutes. After such a short time, I felt very comfortable with the chords both in my fingers and in my ear.


I returned to the practice room two hours later. I began with a 10 minute refresher on the changes, and had them memorized very well. Then I started to learn the head.


Slowly at first. Very slowly. I downloaded the Miles Davis All-Star recording, put it on my Transcribe software, and took it in very small chunks. I love practicing slowly because it allows me to make sure I’m playing with my best tone, articulation, technique, etc. I also don’t make mistakes if I take it slow enough, and fingers remember mistakes just as well as they remember perfection.


Before I knew it, I was able to play up to speed with Miles. So I began to improvise. I played mostly chord tones at first to make sure the harmonies were correct in the Play-Along track I used. Then I began to add licks, add rhythmic variation, add space, and employ dynamics thoughtfully. By far this was the fastest I learned a tune to the point where I felt it was memorized, I was somewhat competent improvising over it and at playing the head. I spent about half an hour on improvising.


For a few minutes, I pulled up “Lady Bird” and quickly learned that head as well just for fun. Overall, a good day.


On Friday I’ll be posting about something I do outside the practice room to help me inside the practice room. Also, don’t forget about my first interview coming Monday!


Happy practicing!





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