How do we get to a new level with our jazz piano playing?

The biggest challenge regarding this is that while we usually think we see the way, this often involves “more of the same.” But more of the same won’t get us there. Yes, it will make us better and more well-rounded players, but it won‘t get us to the new level that we dream of.

Getting to a new level involves taking a leap.

Sometimes it’s a leap in how we think about music. Sometimes it involves putting ourselves in a whole new (and perhaps unfamiliar) musical situation. And it often involves relaxing the effort we currently make and shifting our priorities to something that will benefit us more in the long run. (Such as establishing a truer connection between our ear and our fingers instead of memorizing riffs and licks.)

Right now, I’m recalling those times in my own musical development when I got to a new musical level, and I see that they all involved putting myself in a new musical situation or environment.

The first time was when I went to college. I found the combination of great teachers and enthusiastic students around me to be incredibly invigorating!

Another time was when I studied with the jazz pianist Billy Taylor. Being around him was like getting a huge energy boost. My playing improved by leaps and bounds in a very short time.

I also unexpectedly improved when I’ve played concerts in certain places that I considered to be exciting and important. Performing for 26,000 people at the New Haven Jazz Festival while opening for Dave Brubeck was one place. Carnegie Hall and Broadway were others.

All of these involved being in musical environments that were stimulating and inspiring. As valuable as it is to practice piano on our own, placing ourselves in these vibrant circumstances calls out the best in us.

Something similar happened while I was playing Thelonious Monk’s “Epistrophy” for my Journey Through The Real Book video series. If you’ve ever played “Epistrophy,” you know how tricky it can be to improvise over, and the fact that I knew this video was going to be posted on YouTube gave me a huge boost of energy. After I played the initial melody statement and launched into the solo section, I knew something very special was happening. I can’t quite explain it, but my hands were capturing not only the complex “4 against 6” polyrhythms of Monk’s original recording, but the specific energy of the group as well. And most astounding of all, I had never practiced or played this way before.

This is the power of challenging ourselves in new ways, putting ourselves in environments which enable our musical talents to blossom, and finding ways to energize our learning process. This is how we improve by leaps and bounds!

Here’s the video:

Epistrophy: Journey Through The Real Book #109

Every once in a while it’s helpful to look at our overall musical development and ask ourselves, “How do I get to a new level with my music?”

As always, be sure to enjoy the journey and “let the music flow!”
Ron

PS – With more and more people becoming comfortable with Skype and the internet in general, a lot more pianists have begun studying with me via Skype over the past 6 months or so. In fact, my schedule is almost at full capacity. If you’ve been thinking about taking Skype lessons with me but haven’t signed up yet, it looks like this may be a good time to begin before I have to start a waiting list. If you’re interested, please email me at rondrotos@keyboardimprov.com or click HERE for more info.

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