I recently attended a lecture on listening and came away with a number of perspectives on not only the importance of never to stop nurturing this art in life during personal conversations – but of its’ profound application in playing jazz.
Guitarists have the unique ability to play a continuous stream of notes as the technique of playing the instrument does not demand a “breath” be taken to produce sound. I feel this is often why most guitarists’ play too much in achieving what they actually want to “say”. The clarity we seek gets lost in an ego-driven attempt to conquer the instrument and “impress” during a solo. Ironically, this blocks any real conversation/communication with an audience and the other musicians – the exact opposite of what you want to achieve and hopefully the real reason we want to play music in the first place – to communicate.
To communicate in conversation we need to listen to others and the same is true while playing jazz music but exactly how can we cultivate and “practice” this?
One suggestion is breathing. Start by first becoming aware of how you breathe during your improvisations. Are you taking short, shallow “snorts”, or perhaps not breathing at all until absolutely necessary? Whatever pattern, it probably directly relates to what, how, and when you play – what you play. Become aware.
- Experiment playing less by actually stopping a phrase unless you truly hear it continuing.
- “Let go” of the technique of the instrument. Focus on what someone else is playing and while doing so – don’t play.
- Begin to recognize this while listening to great players (Jim Hall and Paul Desmond – masters of this). Why does it “feel good” to listen to some players and not as good to others?
- While playing with another musician practice “call and response” style phrases. This promotes the experience of stopping and waiting and thus being “in the moment” – an essential element in great jazz playing.
- Silence…..We know that what is unspoken has enormous consequences in how we relate with others verbally so let’s use that knowledge and truth when playing the guitar. The parallels are the same.
- Consider that during a concert performance an audience does not really connect to flashy technique and ego after an initial tune or two. They “remember” a performance and connect spiritually with the sense of communication they feel when we are truly listening and responding to our fellow bandmates. Lets seek those moments as a worthy goal in playing.
Great jazz guitar performance demands years in the study of instrumental technique usually accompanied by countless hours spent alone – practicing. To share this work with others is essential to our spiritual and musical growth. Let’s all stop … to listen ………
Please check out John Basile’s website at www.underhilljazz.com to see what else John has to offer.