Out of Nowhere

At 6:30, I was on my feet. Barely. In a sleepy haze, I was out the door at 7. At school by 7:40. Class at 8, so I sat down and checked Facebook.

 

“No class” my friend messaged me. The professor had sent an email this morning. I could have screamed. I was so tired I actually don’t know, I might have.

 

I knew that if I just sat and breathed, I would be fine. Calmed down, I decided to practice.

 

The short version:

30 Minutes Long Tones

10 Minutes Diminished scales

20 Minutes Pentatonics

60 Minutes Out of Nowhere

30 Minutes Stella

 

Long tones took longer today for several reasons. In general, I simply played each note longer than usual (my endurance is growing). I had to rouse myself several times; at times I simply sat there and did nothing out of tiredness. So that all added up.

 

But I also am getting better at paying attention to slighter nuances. Experimenting with dynamics and intonation. Even tone itself. I finally hear my own sound forming after years of imitation.  One day at at a time.

 

In a way, I had mastered diminished scales over the summer. I could play them up and down and in patterns. But now that I understand their use more deeply, I decided to revisit them today. Additionally, I noticed my tongue precision and speed is slightly lackluster from all the triplets (as opposed to eighth notes), so I played the diminished scales at 180 BPM in 8th notes.

 

For long stretches I played breath accents only, which is REALLY hard at fast tempos. I’m rather proud of successfully doing it at 180 BPM considering 2-3 months ago I could barely do 140.

 

Then I would play just tongue accents. Eventually I combined them for a jazzy swinging style of articulation.

Later, I finished learning Out of Nowhere from Sonny Stitt’s recording. Really got it down. Below is a video of my playing along with the recording. I had to play my absolute softest just so you can hear a little bit of Sonny in the background. Gives you an idea for how sensitive the mic on my computer is.

I went through my harmonic and scalar exercises over the changes. This is proving more and more helpful as my musical vocabulary increases. Playing my 9-note exercise over the changes slowly allows me to explore various licks and connections in the key and the progression.

 

I’ve started combining that with certain ideas. For instance, I have played pentatonics in the 9 note pattern, enclosure/neighbor tone licks, certain simple things like scale degrees 1-2-3-5 to begin each idea, etc.

 

I improvised for a while after that. Some spots kept giving me trouble so I would listen to Stitt for ideas. I remember doing this with other artists in the past few weeks, and there is a somewhat interesting trend. Often, they simple rest or play very few notes over the trickier spots. But I was able to glean some more ideas.

 

After Out of Nowhere, I revisited Stella just to make sure it stays in my memory. I did the chord tone and 9 note exercises, then improvised, without looking at the changes unless I truly couldn’t remember them. With Stella, since I am more familiar with it, I improvised more freely. However, one habit I am building that I stuck with here is if I have a generally bad feeling about how I’m playing, I will replay either chord tones or the 9-note pattern to test out new ideas and build stronger fundamentals.

 

I also experimented with embellishments on the melody. Now that I have the changes memorized (and the melody) it is much easier to create and connect phrases around the melody.

 

Check out my interview with Roy Cho if you haven’t already. Lots of interesting practice habits and methods in that post.

 

Happy practicing!

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