What have I been practicing?

Here is an idea of some of the things I have been working on in my practice, and ways in which I need to develop further.

  1. Sound – Woody’s sound is one of the things that attracts me most to his playing. I have been playing long note exercises, really focussing on the sound I am making. My aim is a full, fat sound in all areas of the instrument. I have also been working on vibrato exercises and gradually I hope to include more vibrato in my playing. I have also been attempting to include a wider range of articulations and inflexions into my playing. The way for me to tell if these exercises are helping my sound is to record my playing and I hope to be doing this with a band very soon.
  2. Time/feel – I have been working a lot with a metronome on the Herbert L. Clarke Technical Studies book, trying to increase the speed and regularity of my fingers and tongue on basic scale and arpeggio exercises. I feel my articulation has improved since I started working regularly on these exercises, but I still have some way to go until I can match Woody’s articulation skills. My aim is to slowly keep on notching up the metronome markings once I have mastered the previous mark, and to keep on pushing myself by playing at fast tempos. I had a gig in Liverpool last week with the band Marley Chingus which was a real workout for me as they like to play tunes at incredibly fast tempos – however, attempting to play at fast tempos is part of the process of improving and I feel it was very beneficial for me.
  3. Pentatonic scales – I have been working with Jerry Bergonzi’s Pentatonics book, trying to gain fluency with the various patterns he mentions and working out in which contexts various pentatonic scales can be used. I have also been practicing the ability to link together pentatonic scales a certain interval apart in various rhythmic groupings, and I have been studying various contexts where these linked pentatonic scales could be used – I will go into this in more detail in a future post as my ideas are still crystallising. Again, I feel I have improved in this area and pentatonic scales are now an essential part of my improvisational vocabulary. I now need to gain even more fluency, especially when linking scales in irregular rhythmic groupings.
  4. Outside playing – I have been attempting to play outside the harmony a lot more than I used to, and I have been trying out a few ideas, with mixed results. This is the area where I need to put in the most thought in the upcoming weeks and months. The pentatonic approach seems to be to be a fruitful one, especially the linking together of scales a minor or major 3rd apart. I also need to try out the idea of using bebop language in an unconventional manner, as Woody did on his solo on Zoltan. To judge my improvement in this area I really need to record my playing and then transcribe what I played, analysing it to see what I did in what context, and picking out the ideas that worked best to develop further.
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