This is the first of a two-part series on linear improvisation using guide tones in jazz. The ear naturally gravitates towards strong chord tones, and building around them will give your lines a stronger structure and shape. I’m using a common progression (Autumn Leaves, Theme from M*A*S*H) to demonstrate how guide tones (derived from harmony) can help you create beautiful, flowing lines. At 8:14 I demo and improvise over the four formulas that are discussed in this video.

Here is a link to Part II of this series “Creating Counterpoint Using Guide Tones in Jazz Improvisation

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This must only be 16-year old Dakota Lichauco’s second or third jazz transcription, and she proved she had BIG ears! Here’s her playing Kenny Barron’s piano solo on ‘Have You Met Miss Jones” (by Richard Rodgers), along with a recording of Mr. Barron himself (live In Japan, 1995).

When a student successfully turns in an assignment of this nature, it’s a reason to share it in the hope that it inspires other students to transcribe tunes and solos they are attracted to. In the course of working on ‘Turn Out The Stars”, I requested Matar Maoz (online piano student residing in Tel Aviv) transcribe Bill Evan’s solo from the album “Since We Met”. (Bill Evans Trio – Live: Since We Met, ℗ 1991 Fantasy, Inc.). He did an impeccable job – here he plays it along with the Bill Evans recording.

A few months ago, Rubi Lichauco, my student, obtained the score of Cristal by Cesar Camargo Mariano, a tune she was attracted to when she heard it played by Cesar himself. Here, the original composition for solo piano was adapted for piano and jazz guitar (Noel Borthwick). Despite Rubi’s busy schedule, she has pursued music in more ways than one and it is wonderful to see her commitment and perseverance pay off!

Here’s a reharmonization of the popular Irish ballad ‘O Danny Boy’ (a.k.a. ‘Londonderry Air’) that I did using techniques such as modifying chord color as well as time/meter changes, inserting chromatic passing chords among others, to enrich a standard tune. (Song starts at 1:05).

(Recorded on an Estonia L-190 using the wonderful Earthworks PM-40 PianoMic system, straight into Cakewalk SONAR X2 Producer. Some very basic mastering was done to add a touch of eq, dynamics and reverb).

A question I often get asked by my students is how to reharmonize a tune. This is a brief video outlining some methods I use. It is assumed that you are already familiar with jazz chord voicings, extensions/alterations & substitutions. Here is the leadsheet containing the reharmonization to Ode To Joy.

Reharmonization is a vast and beautiful area in which I continually encounter new insights and surprises. There are many books available on this subject, and transcribing reharmonized tunes by jazz greats will not only improve your ear, but give you a first hand look at how they approach improvisation on the new chord changes as well.
P.S. A minor slip of the tongue at 3:42 – the chord is a Gm9sus (not G9sus) and at 4:55 C#dim (not Cdim).

[This article was published in the June 2007 issue of the Qatar-based feature magazine ‘New Era’]

When asked to name someone who has had a major influence in their lives, most people choose to mention a mentor figure – a teacher, sports coach or counselor. Having had a succession of piano teachers in my learning years, I can attest to their influence not only on my musical growth, but also in areas personal and psychological.

I began learning the piano at age six. In the years to follow, my teachers were chosen for me. If at all there was an interview, it was the teacher who had the final say in choosing the student. Understandable. For the most part, they were wonderful human beings, but their undemanding teaching methods (at least where I was concerned) and indulgent style left me unchallenged and I carried a certain void with me.

Recognizing the need to be challenged, I set out to find a teacher in my early teens. I was already in love with the piano, working zealously and enjoying practice as much as I did performance. Impatient to move ahead in my musical growth, I welcomed criticism, objective observation and discipline. My ideal teacher would be someone who would recognize my musical aptitudes and deficiencies, while shaping a curriculum that would bring out the best in me while setting a high standard of goals.

If you want to study music privately, recognize that you are a free agent, and can and should interview prospective teachers. As a teacher, I encourage students to query about my teaching methods & lessons before they sign up. Just as you might seek the opinion of two or three doctors on a medical issue before accepting one diagnosis and treatment over the others, I see no reason why a student shouldn’t take trial lessons with a few teachers before deciding on whom to study with eventually. Continue reading