cess can be solely about focusing on his phrasing, articula- tion and style. Trying to match the tone and inflections of what Miles played is a lot like working on pronunciation in language. Are we really saying that word exactly the way a native speaker would say it? Challenging ourselves to really sound like Miles is not only a lot of fun, but it also has a direct parallel to learning to talk like a native speaker of a language. It’s those details of inflection and tone that makes someone sound like they have been speaking a language all their life.

Tose same Miles Davis phrases that we learned to mimic also have another use. We’ve all heard about learning licks. While just playing licks obviously isn’t the same as impro- vising, those licks are really musical vocabulary and phrases that we can reuse. We can extract them from the solo we are learning in a very specific way and study them more deeply. A long lick might be thought of as sentence or saying. Shorter phrases are like individual words. Both of these types have places in our study, but for me it’s those short phrases of a few notes that really help us.

Imagine you were just taught the word for “chair” in a new language. To use your new word, you would need to start finding how to put it in your own sentences. You could just go walking around saying “Chair. Chair. Chair.” but you would probably get some strange looks. More important- ly you wouldn’t be really learning how to use the word. A better tactic is to combine your new word with things you already know and try to construct your own sentences. Maybe something like: “Is that my chair?” “My chair is blue.” “May I sit in this chair?” Eventually you don’t have to think about your new word anymore. It naturally becomes part of what you say, and that’s exactly how the process happens with this musical transcribing process. We use our knowledge of chords and scales (and our ear) to insert our transcribed musical phrase in every possible way and in every situation until it disappears into what we know how to do. Ten you start this process again with another phrase.

How to Make the Jazz Language Our Own

When I was learning to play I had a teacher show me the valuable lesson of “playing out of” and “playing into” a lick I had found in a transcription. It was his musical version of creating sentences with my new word. He had me play the whole lick by itself. Ten he had me play the first part and make up a new second part. Ten I had to play the second part and make up a new first part. I experimented with this for a long while and eventually the lick disappeared into my playing and became part of how I speak on the instru- ment. I wasn’t walking around saying “Chair. Chair. Chair.” anymore.


Working with the Miles Davis Solo

Here is a phrase transcribed from the Miles Davis solo on “So What.”

Here are two examples of “playing out of” the phrase we learned from Miles. Te examples start with what Miles played and finish with some improvised notes of our own.

Here are two examples of “playing into” the Miles Davis phrase. Tis time we start with our own improvised notes and we blend seamlessly into the last part of the phrase that Miles played.

What Else Can We Learn?

We know this exploratory process in language learning can lead us to discover connections in our vocabulary, and this is true for jazz improvisation as well. Learning “chair” in a new language means we might have to learn other related words like “seat,” “cushion,” “leg” or “sit” if we want to be able to use our new word. Our musical study works the same way. If our new phrase is a bluesy one, for example, we’ll probably need to find more bluesy phrases to go with it for it to make sense and be useful.

I discovered as a student that these transcription projects are great in groups too. And this year as a new professor at Western Michigan University I encouraged a group of my rhythm section students to transcribe together. It was a bit different than transcribing a jazz solo, but the concept is the same. Tey began to transcribe some classic piano trio ar- rangements by pianists like Oscar Peterson, Tommy Flana- gan and Ahmad Jamal and worked together to try to make

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