(facetious title) Learning to play jazz necessary?

Discussion in 'Playing and Technique' started by cantstoplt021, May 1, 2016.

  1. cantstoplt021

    cantstoplt021 Member

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    Sorry for the long post.


    I'm currently majoring in jazz guitar performance in school and I'm not having the greatest time. I do like jazz and respect the hell out of the musicians that play it, but it isn't my main love. Also I have to admit that when it comes to jazz, guitar does little for me. I really like jazz piano, bass and drums, but guitar not so much, (I also play those three instruments to varying degrees and would be much happier majoring in them, but I wouldn't graduate on time). I've definitely become a way better player from studying jazz, but it's getting to the point where I'm just not enjoying practicing jazz guitar anymore. I still enjoy playing other styles, but practicing jazz guitar stuff is like pulling teeth most of the time. However I enjoy practicing jazz on piano, drums and bass. Go figure.

    I have two semesters left and in order to graduate I need to prove to the faculty that I can play jazz pretty well. I also have to have twenty different jazz tunes memorized (changes, melody, soloing, etc.), which for you jazz lovers probably sounds like a joke, but for me it sounds like an absolute nightmare.

    I recently discovered that I could switch my concentration from jazz performance to theory and composition and still graduate on time. If I were to do that all I would need to do is take one more theory class and another music history class. I could then focus on whatever I wanted. I wouldn't be obligated to practice jazz guitar. I could focus on my rhythm guitar, or solo guitar or rock or progressive sludge metal or whatever I actually wanted to do. Hell I could even keep working on my jazz guitar skills, but the key thing is I wouldn't have to. I could also put guitar on the back burner for a little while and focus on my drumming, bass and piano playing more (which I really want to do). At this point it kind of seems like a no brainer to me. I would be much happier. I would graduate on time (where I actually might not if I stick with jazz performance). I could focus on other styles as well as other instruments, which is what I ultimately want to do. I also wouldn't abandon studying jazz either. I would still practice it a bunch it would just be on drums, bass and piano.

    Maybe it's a pride thing, but there's a small bit of me that thinks I should just stick it out. I'm not sure why it is. I know that I don't want to be a mediocre guitarist and that jazz is a great way to learn more about the instrument than your typical rock guitarist, so that definitely factors in. However you don't have to be able to play jazz to be a great player. Hell most of my favorite guitarists probably can't play jazz convincingly. Does that make them any less great at guitar? I don't think so. Are Derek Trucks, John Mayer, John Frusciante, Mike Einziger, Eric Krasno (to name a few) any less of players because they can't rip bebop lines over a Charlie Parker tune?

    I've probably answered my own question by now. I can either stick with jazz performance, be unhappy, but learn a lot more about my instrument. Or I can switch my concentration, be happier, and have more time to work on what I actually want to. I can also continue to learn more about my instrument. I don't need to be ignorant of the instrument just because I don't want to play jazz.
     
  2. ibis

    ibis Member

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    Do you have to play Whiplash?
     
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  3. The Captain

    The Captain Supporting Member

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    It's a no-brainer. Switch and take the theory/history option and work on your other instruments.
    From everything I've read here, you are more employable as a bass/drummer/keys player, and you like them more, which means you will be better at them anyway.
    Don't worry about your pride. It's the dumb emotion that keeps us doing dumb things long after we should have quit.
    Rote learning jazz to pass an exam is a contradiction in terms anyway.
     
  4. Phletch

    Phletch Member

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    Pride? Remember what Marcellus Wallace said to Butch in Pulp Fiction.
     
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  5. vintagelove

    vintagelove Member

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    If you want to be there best guitar player you can be, stick with jazz. If you're okay with being less than that, only you can answer.

    There is a reason it's hard, because it is. The same thing goes for classical guitar. If it was easy, everyone would do it. I would tough it out, in 5 years you will be 10x the player you are now. What seems impossible today, in two months will only be very hard, in 6 months will be doable, and in 2 years you'll wonder what all the fuss was about.


    Best wishes,
     
  6. harmonicator

    harmonicator Member

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    You can learn a lot about your instrument and music without studying jazz. Western music theory exists outside of jazz. If you're inclined to be a theoryhead, go for it. Filter whatever style you like through it.

    IMO shouldn't be wasting instructors, fellow students, and an audience's time playing jazz guitar if you don't love it. I think switching your concentration is a good idea. Nothing wrong with adjusting your course as you travel along...that's why you're there.
     
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  7. JonR

    JonR Member

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    This.
     
  8. JonR

    JonR Member

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    Indeed. In the grand scheme of things, a college degree is not worth much anyhow. When you join a band, they don't ask to see your certificates; they ask you to play. Even if you're looking for session work, theatre or orchestra work, it's the playing that will get you the job, not the letters after your name or the piece of paper.
    That might suggest that a "performance" degree is the one to aim for - because it will prove (to yourself at least) that you can perform to a professional standard. But if it's on an instrument (or in a style) that is not your main love, what's the point of that? In any case, there are all kinds of professional music careers that don't depend on performance skills (certainly not on one instrument in one genre), and depend more on a wide range of skills, including theory and composition.
    What you need to take from your course is what YOU need - "follow your dream", as they say, which means your instincts. You're lucky you've realised this in time, and can switch your focus now. You won't regret it. What can your college give you that you can't easily get elsewhere? Practice skills on your instrument(s)? Nope - you can do that in your own time, in the styles you like. Theory and composition? Sounds more like it....
    I think what you mean by "pride" (reluctance to abandon your current challenges) is more about impressing those above you: your teachers, or musicians who you think are better than you, or some residual parental ambitions for you. "Jazz" has this kudos, after all. It's "grown up". It's "serious" music, so must be more "important" than rock of any kind. But who cares, really?

    Two great quotes that might be worth remembering:
    Joe Henderson, on a certain kind of jazz graduate: they play solos that "sound like the index of a book". (If you conscientiously study all the "right scales", that ends up being what you produce. You tick all the boxes, and can pass your exams, but don't actually play music.)
    Erik Satie: "When I was young, people told me: when you're 50 you'll see. Now I'm 50; I've seen nothing."
    Take confidence in your instinct. After all, you're not some lazy dude seeking to escape hard work: you want to study and succeed, but on your own terms: which is exactly how it should be. Good luck!
     
    Last edited: May 2, 2016
  9. hobbyplayer

    hobbyplayer Member

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    From an interview with Eric Johnson in the May 2015 issue of Guitar World:


    GW: Do you have any advice for younger players?

    EJ: Just find the flavor of music that really inspires you and develops your passion. That's what's going to feed you to sit and practice for hours. If somebody tells you one type of music is hip and you gotta learn that, and you're not really feeling it, then it's work. And work without love or inspiration or enjoyment will become tedious.​
     
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  10. GovernorSilver

    GovernorSilver Member

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    You posted several times over the past 2-3 years that you're more interested in jazz piano than jazz guitar. Why not just switch?

    You wouldn't be the first college music student to have done that.

    For your 20 jazz standards, you just need to learn the shell voicings for the left-hand chords and the melody line for the right hand. A shell voicing has only 2 notes. This late in the game, don't worry about building up awesome piano chops in time for graduation. You will have the rest of your life to hone your piano chops.

    I bet your school won't care if you still play guitar on the side for non-jazz stuff, as long as you keep up your grades and whatnot.
     
    Last edited: May 2, 2016
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  11. dewey decibel

    dewey decibel Supporting Member

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    That's flawed thinking. Jazz isn't a litmus test. Being proficient at it doesn't automatically make you proficient at any other styles of music. And you probably know this, but a degree doesn't make you a good player. In fact, I'll say that the majority of mediocre players I know actually have degrees.

    You seem to have "jazz guitarist" in your head as some kinda status thing, some kind of accomplishment. One common thread I think you'll find with all the top players is that they never consider themselves accomplished or finished, they're always learning and re-learning.
     
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  12. stevel

    stevel Member

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    I went through a similar issue as an undergrad. Our school only had Classical Guitar.

    I started as a Performance Major.

    But honestly - while I was a "trained" musician (Piano lessons, school band, etc.) I truthfully wasn't at the level that was necessary to pursue and be successful with a Performance Degree.

    And, honestly, I just didn't like Classical guitar. I enjoy dabbling in it, playing a piece here or there, but it's not something I want to (nor have the affinity to) work up some insanely difficult pieces for an impressive recital program to play for - what - no one?

    I had always been interested in writing and composing, and after a taking Theory, which I excelled in, I realized I could switch to composition and I would be much happier (I also thought it was "easier" and it was in many ways).

    I ended up going to grad school for a composition degree as well.

    I don't regret the decision because I feel like I learned about MUSIC, rather than "guitar", and what I wanted to learn about guitar I have been able to learn outside of an academic setting anyway. So in retrospect, it ended up making more sense to use the college experience to learn those things I'd only get through college experience (composition, theory, etc.) rather than things I could pick up (and have picked up) "on the street". And trust me, the skills I picked up "on the street" have been far more practical in terms of *playing* music.
     
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  13. guitarjazz

    guitarjazz Member

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    The best thing that happened to me was that my college didn't offer a jazz guitar major. I was able to take all the jazz courses, and make money playing gigs, doing rock,country-funk,bluegrass, and jazz. The more diverse experience served me well in band and studio situations in post-college years. I also got a more rounded liberal arts education. There was a great guitar scene and constant inspiring, friendly, competition of sorts (and exchange of musical ideas).
    A degree is cool if you want a teaching job. Now days you could be Paganini and not get a teaching job without a degree. It's kinda messed up.
     
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  14. jzucker

    jzucker Supporting Member

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    jazz is a street music. You're not going to become a jazz player "practicing" jazz. You learn to play jazz by immersing yourself in the music, copying, imitating, working the lines from the inside out and upside down, sitting in, jamming, etc. If you don't like the music, practicing a bunch of exercises is not going to make you a jazz player or even a better player though there is some marginal benefit from the knowledge you will accrue during your studies. So, my recommendation is by all means, switch your major to something which inspires you.

    Just a little anecdote to capture my feeling about jazz music schools. My teacher at the university of miami (randall dollahan) advised me to quit school because he thought I was good enough that the school was holding me back. OTOH, he advised paul bollenback to switch his major to music education because he felt paul would never be good enough to be a jazz musician. Paul went on to play with virtually everyone great in the jazz field and while I am a good guitarist, i'm still sitting at home waiting for the big cats to call me!
     
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  15. Tone Loco

    Tone Loco Silver Supporting Member

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    Since you are a music major (who wants a degree) I assume you are not in it solely as a launching pad to professional performance opportunities.

    All that really leaves is a deep appreciation/feel for music as far as any obvious motivation. Why else would one stick it out for 4 years at a point in your life where 4 years is probably a fifth of your life?

    I'd go with what really grabs you in the field of music as far as you can tell so far. Jazz guitar it ain't, from the sound of it.
     
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  16. dlguitar64

    dlguitar64 Member

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    If you aren't walking around humming Bird heads or Miles solos then you should change majors.
     
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  17. cantstoplt021

    cantstoplt021 Member

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    I talked to my advisor yesterday and I would be able to switch concentrations no problem. I think I'm going to do it. I'm really not crazy about jazz guitar and it makes no sense to focus intensely on something I don't enjoy. I really want to take the time to get my piano, bass and drum skills up to par with my guitar skills. Drums are coming along nicely as I practice them a lot, but piano and bass are lagging behind. I think I'll focus on these instruments for at least the next year. I'll still be playing jazz, it just won't be jazz guitar. Hey maybe I can learn to play upright now! Seems very hard though.

    Also I will actually get more ear training with this new concentration since I have to take another year of theory lab, which includes sight singing and other ear training things. Definitely a plus.
     
  18. cantstoplt021

    cantstoplt021 Member

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    Interestingly I went to see Julian lage perform on Monday and was able to talk to him a bit after the show. I asked him what his number one tip was, he said he didn't have a number one tip, but he would advise anyone to do what they want and play what they truly want to play. I didn't bore him with the details of my concentration dilemma, he said that on his own. Strange coincidence that he said that to me...
     
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  19. KRosser

    KRosser Member

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    I've worked with Mike Einziger, it actually wouldn't surprise me at all if he knew a couple Charlie Parker tunes but I never asked him.

    I've sat down and played jazz tunes with more than one professional rock guitarist that just never play that stuff publicly. I think it's a mistake to assume that what people do in the marketplace is all they *can* do.

    But I think you answered your own question. Why get a degree in something you hate?
     
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  20. KRosser

    KRosser Member

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    This is not *exactly* true, it's still possible to teach at a state or private university with full accreditation without a degree in the U.S., but for sure the less your academic pedigree the more substantive your body of work has to be.
     
    Last edited: May 11, 2016

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