When I don’t play for awhile I have way more musical ideas but no chops. When I play all the time, chops but not so many original ideas. Any advice?
When we are shedding/gigging a lot, our brains can get overloaded and saturated with sound. This can dampen our imagination, but it doesn’t have to. I recommend doing creative work in the morning when your ears and brain are still fresh. Also consider writing music away from my axe—then chops and muscle memory won’t get in the way. See my article, Transcribe the Music in Your Head.
We can also be more mindful and creative when we practice technique. Just going through the motions of a technical exercise disconnects us from our ears and imagination. Sax virtuoso Chris Potter says he never practices anything technical outside of a creative context.
How do you go about memorizing tunes? In my school, for example, I was told to memorize Body and Soul and then learn it in all 12 keys. I always hear people mention the importance of learning songs in all 12 keys and to me it seems scary how professional musicians are about to memorize hundreds of standards and then also be able to play each of them in other keys. I don’t get how people are able to do that and in a way it’s kind of discouraging because I feel like I learn a lot slower than everyone else. Thank you for your time.
Before diving into tunes, take short fragments and simple melodies around the circle of fifths so they can get used to thinking in scale degrees.
If you are working on a specific chord progression, chose a relevant tune to learn in 12 keys. If you are working on blues, pick a couple blues heads. If you’re working on ii – V – I progressions, learn “Perdido,” or “Tune Up” in 12 keys. If you’re working on minor ii – V – i progressions, learn “Blue Bossa” or “Autumn Leaves” in 12 keys. Mastering a few tunes will get you further than scratching the surface of many tunes.
Tunes like “Body and Soul” which change keys and utilize secondary dominants and mode mixture are more challenging. You need a strong foundation in analyzing and internalizing tonal harmony first (my book covers much of that).
At first, this process is really slow going. It gets easier and faster the more you do it.
Working on editing and layout of my forthcoming book Creativity Triggers for Musicians. Reserve a free digital copy.