What do you wish you knew when you first started?

ThojoThojo San FranciscoNew
edited February 2012 in Gypsy Jazz 101 Posts: 10
Hi all,

After several years of doing not much more than just noodling around when I picked up a guitar, I finally changed some old practice habits and actually saw some improvement for once. Although I'm happy for the progress, it got me thinking that I really could have gotten to this point a whole lot quicker—maybe 15 years quicker— if I had just taken a few simple steps early on in my playing. So I thought it might be a good thread topic to see what people would have told themselves as they were just starting out...pitfalls to avoid, etc. Here's my list. A lot of these are practice-based suggestions, but some are just ideas to get through my own mental blocks.

1. Play with back-up recordings immediately. It doesn’t matter that you don’t think you’re ready, do it anyway! Play the melody over and over again and start to embellish it when you get more comfortable. Then play a couple of notes per bar, get used to landing on the root on the one beat. Get used to transitioning between chord tones in different chords. Get used to hearing that chord progression over and over until it’s nearly impossible for you to get lost. There’s a lot you can learn by doing this before you’re ready to blaze over chord changes at 220 bpm!
2. Don’t do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result. If you’re stuck –practice differently. Also, when you finally have that tough lick or arpeggio sounding good and at a decent tempo…move on to something harder. You’re done with that now!
3. Spend 25% of your practice time working on the thing that you hate working on most. There’s probably a reason why you hate working on it. It’s probably the worst aspect of your playing and the thing that’s holding you back!
4. Work on your ears. Pick up the guitar and figure out commercial jingles while you’re watching TV. Do this often.
5. Start thinking of chord progressions in 4-bar chunks. Practice these chunks separately. You’ll find they start going by a lot slower!
6. Figure out a way through lack of inspiration. When you are uninspired musically, try to spend that time working on something more mechanical. Expecting something musical to come out at that point will only make you more frustrated with the process. But do something!

Of course, this is just what would have helped me. Everyone gets blocked in different places, so I’m curious to hear your advice to your former selves! Thanks in advance.


  • Ian RossiterIan Rossiter Fort Vermilion ,Alberta ,CanadaNew
    Posts: 203
    Good Question!!!
    - Never turn your nose up at anything.Even if you don't nessesarily like the music, LEARN it!! I lost out on ALOT of opportunities as a younger man because I didn't want to play things like Top 40. The Live experience and contacts I could have made at the time could have made things turn out differently. Live and Learn !!
    - Everybody get's their asses handed to them at a gig at some point. It's not the end of the world. Put the ego aside and learn from your mistakes.
    -Wouldn't it be great if you could combine all your favorite stuff; Jazz chords,Ripping leads played with a 3mm pick on an Acoustic guitar,y'know passionate Music that Swings?? IT'S CALLED GYPSY JAZZ DUMBASS!!! START NOW WHEN YOU'RE 16,SO YOU'RE NOT ONLY FINDING IT IN YOUR LATE 30'S AND HAVING TO CATCH UP...NOW,GO HUNT DOWN SOME DJANGO!!! (Thanks)
    -Don't be too proud to ask for advice/help/lessons.
    -You know all those long nights of practicing alone in our room?? Totally worth it!! You wern't missing out on much. Alot of those Girls are Gargoyles
    Practice ,Practice,EAT PRACTICE- Tommy Tedesco
  • PiedViperPiedViper New
    Posts: 10
    Playing along with the backing tracks has been the most useful thing for me. You not only learn how to negotiate the key changes that often come with each chord change, but you also develop your sense of relative pitch. The relative pitch becomes useful when you get lost in the tune and you need to navigate where to go next based on where you currently are and your knowledge of intervals. Most importantly, as you play with these tracks you can develop a vocabulary of phrases. These are phrases over any chord and phrases to get you over difficult chord changes. You can vary these and concatenate them to form larger phrases. It becomes just like spoken language. Also, if you can play with backing tracks of the same song at different tempos, you can develop a sense of what's physically possible for your fingering.

    I also recommend playing with backing tracks to tunes you don't know. Don't look at the lead sheet, just try and play. See where it takes you. As you do this you will realize that there are some very common sequences of changes in early jazz music (the ii-V-I being the most common).

    I've found that I can study all the theory I want, but that doesn't help me much when I sit down with a bunch of musicians and play in real time. Everything moves too quickly. So, the only way for me to utilize theory is to program a lot of it into my playing, phrasing, and ears when I practice to backing tracks. That way, I don't have to think at all when I play.

  • anthon_74anthon_74 Marin county, CA✭✭✭✭ Alta Mira M 01
    Posts: 561
    The biggest breakthrough for me came lately, and I wish I had known this long ago - For each song you're working on, you need to find a way to memorize the chord shapes (e shape, D shape, A shape) for every change. You also need to understand that for all the 7th's 9th's diminished/etc etc, it's all still based on major and minor chord shapes.
    For me, I have had to do play along practice, picking one of the aforementioned shapes, and playing the basic arpeggio up and down finding that shape for all the changes. Working on the shapes separately (as oppossed to trying to stay in the same neck position, using all 3 shapes) to start off is making a massive difference in knowing where I am at all times.
    The other thing I would tell myself is - Gypsy Jazz Lead isn't a mystery of Sherlock Holmesian proportions. Don't be afraid to tackle it (Oh, and by the way, did you know you can BUY play alongs and you don't need to record your own ?) .
    I spent 6 years afraid to even try lead, and only practice pompe rhythm.
  • Bob HoloBob Holo Moderator
    Posts: 1,252
    Record yourself and listen with brutal honesty.

    What sounds good to you while you're playing is not necessarily good sounding music when you have your listening brain fully engaged and are hearing what you're doing in context... doesn't matter whether you're recording a gig or recording yourself playing over backing tracks or just recording your own rhythm to a song and playing it back for a good honest listen.

    All the kitschy little things people do... like using a particular lick too much, or inserting too many overly clever rhythm twiddles, or just playing a wrong chord in a place (or a really 'outside' chord substitution that you think sounds slick) .... all those little things will pop out like neon signs when you record yourself and listen back. It's the single best way to eliminate the schlocky twiddly crap that we all wind up doing because for some reason we think it's tres groovy when we're doing it... lol... oh brutal truth. I remember when I first started doing this... thinking: "My God... is that me doing all those irritating repetitive rhythm effects?" ... It bummed me out at first, but once I came to terms with the fact that I didn't sound like I thought I sounded... I started changing how I actually sounded. Odd but true.
    You get one chance to enjoy this day, but if you're doing it right, that's enough.
  • Getting away from paper and internalizing the songs have been a big breakthrough for me within the last year of steadily performing GJ.

    Learning common turnarounds and how many familiar progressions are shared between songs- while being able to simplify them in order to successfully improvise through the form, is IMO vital.

    Lastly, not to tense up and making sure to breathe while playing.
  • For me, I wish I would have started transcribing earlier. Everything is there.
  • edited March 2018 Posts: 4,833
    How did I miss this great thread?
    And @Thojo why did you disappear after writing this awesome post!?

    I only wish I wasn't so dumb to avoid regular practice when I was younger and had all the time in the world.

    And when I got wiser but didn't have time, I wish I knew that even 2 minutes a day is worth it.
    Every note wants to go somewhere-Kurt Rosenwinkel
  • ChiefbigeasyChiefbigeasy New Orleans, LA✭✭✭ Dupont MDC 50; The Loar LH6, AJL Silent Guitar
    Posts: 346
    That I should have started 10 years earlier!
  • The concept of practicing really slowly
    The Magic really starts to happen when you can play it with your eyes closed
  • JonJon melbourne, australiaProdigy Dupont MD50B, '79 Favino
    Posts: 391
    To start from the start with jazz and get good aural grounding, rather than jumping straight into the modern stuff that I couldn't hear (at that time). Once I discovered GJ and trad stuff (way too late), my ear started to improve much more quickly, as I could actually do some of it aurally, giving me a strong foothold to build from.

    Learning jazz harmony chronologically is a pretty good idea, I think, no matter how far out you want to take it.

    Also, memorise everything, and transpose everything. Best advice ever that I wish I'd been told right from the start.
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