The Ear as Teacher

After recording an amazing interview yesterday, I re-planned my whole daily schedule to include an extra hour of practice. I was very inspired by the person I interviewed.


But today I only did an hour. After a weekend of two late gigs and one very early doctor’s appointment, I simply fell asleep for most of the day.


The short version:


20 Minutes pentatonics

10 Minutes Lower Neighbors

20 Minutes Licks

10 Minutes Donna Lee


I set the tempo back a few beats from the last time I practiced pentatonics to 101BPM in 8th note triplets. My fingers and ear know pentatonics very well now. I will spend another day or two on them before somehow expanding my exercises or moving on, but today I used them as a vehicle to really work on my tone and time.


Sometimes I play scales using my best tone and time. Times like this, I play scales to actually improve my tone and time.


Then I moved on to my lower neighbor tone exercise. It was hard to humble myself, but I recognized that I needed to play them in straight 8th notes around 80 BPM in order to do it perfectly in all the keys.


Last year, a great Turkish guitar player came to Roosevelt and gave a very interesting presentation on tendency tones. But he also talked about his time playing on a cruise ship. He spent two years playing sheet music and never having to memorize anything. When he left that gig, he said he could no longer memorize music. Not even simple short jazz standards. He said he had to re-train his brain to memorize longer chunks of music.

The licks is where the magic really happened today. Immediately I noticed that I could memorize a lick in just one or two repetitions. I think this is a result of practicing doing just that, and also I am trying hard to listen to myself more when I play, which is always getting easier as I improve my facility on the horn. So I become more familiar with the sound of a lick than the fingering of it or even the note names, which is a better method to memorization.


Since it was so easy to memorize, I had a little extra time to work it up to 170BPM. 170 felt comfortable so I am planning to head there for the next few days until I can take licks comfortably even faster.

On Friday, an incredible group called “Marbin” did a performance/master class. They asked “Why is playing fast important?”


No one could really give a good answer. They explained that the ability to play fast opens new rhythmic possibilities. A greater variety of subdivisions. The truth of that statement was very intriguing to me. They emphasized slow practice but made it clear via an amazing performance that such rhythmic ability is well worth the journey.


So that’s why I am aiming to increase my speed. Increasing my speed doesn’t mean just taking what I already practice and ramping up the tempo. It means improving my technique even more at the slower tempos so that I still play smooth and controlled at faster tempos. Keeping fingers close to keys, keeping the air supply flowing, training the tongue and mouth via different articulation exercises.


After the licks, I returned to Donna Lee for the first time since Friday. I was pleased to discover that, some small hiccups notwithstanding, I could play it entirely by memory. And because I had the tune in my ear so well, I could correct any mistakes also from memory.


Since my freshman year, my teacher has encouraged me to self-correct using my ear, but I am finally getting comfortable doing it. I am excited by the way this can help me grow even faster and in different ways.


I referenced in the beginning a truly excellent interview I did with an extremely talented guitarist from the University of Southern California. I’ll be releasing it in audio format later this week.


And as you can see, the site looks much different and much better. This is all thanks to the generosity and talent of my friend Stevan Dedovic.


Thanks Stevan, and happy practicing!

  • Stevan Dedovic

    Hi Isaiah, glad you like the site!

    Also first comment wooo!

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