I WAS DOING ALL RIGHT

An aspiring jazz trumpet player's blog about jazz improvisation and ear training.

December 31, 2015 About Me 2 Comments

Thirteen-year anniversary

All of my anniversary articles: 2 years - 3 years - 4 years - 5 years - 6 years - 7 years - 9 years - 10 years - 11 years - 12 years - 13 years - 15 years

It's now been thirteen years since I started playing the trumpet again, after quitting for a period of seven years. Here's another anniversary article.

THE TRAVELS CONTINUE

Like last year, I spent the better part of 2015 traveling. This year I returned to some of my favorite cities, including NYC, Portland (Oregon), London, Barcelona, and Paris. I also visited some new countries, including Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Belgium, and Ireland. And I'm especially pleased to report that I survived driving on the left-hand side of the road during a month-long road trip through England, Wales, and Scotland. Prior to the trip, I had expected the single-lane roads of Isle of Skye to be most frightful, but nothing quite compared to driving 40+ mph through the narrow stone-lined roads of rural Wales.

norway

I absolutely love traveling and I intend to continue traveling for some time to come, but it has been difficult to maintain my trumpet practice routine when I'm away from home. When I first started traveling three years ago, I didn't bring a trumpet, and I had a really tough time getting my chops back afterward. After that first trip, I resolved to always bring my trumpet when I travel and I've been pretty good about practicing for at least 30 minutes every day.

Although I've been able to get time on the horn while traveling, I've really struggled when it comes to practicing ear training and jazz improvisation. Those struggles aren't due to a scarcity of time, however. Rather, they're the result of poor intonation and the inability to hear myself when I'm practicing quietly.

STRUGGLES WITH INTONATION AND VOLUME

When I travel, I typically stay in rented apartments or hotel rooms. To keep the volume down to an acceptable level, I always need to practice with a mute. The best mute I've found thus far is still the Dennis Wick adjustable cup mute. Unfortunately, when I'm playing at my quietest level, it can be a little hard to hear myself, especially if I'm trying to play along with a recording or one of my ear training tools.

The other problem I face when practicing away from home is intonation. The Dennis Wick mute plays fairly well in tune, but I can't say the same about my Colin Pocket Max pocket trumpet. Although the pocket trumpet has fairly decent intonation through most of my playable range, it suffers quite a bit with notes below the staff, especially those which require the 3rd valve. The volume and the intonation issues might be tolerable in isolation, but together they make it rather difficult to hear individual pitches clearly.

Since I always bring my Colin Pocket Max pocket trumpet on multi-city trips, I decided that a good first step would be to try and find a pocket trumpet with better intonation. I've often heard that Benge pocket trumpets are among the best, but used ones are expensive and hard to find. Kanstul allegedly has a good pocket trumpet too, but those are similarly expensive and rare. Wanting something in the $750 or less range, my research suggested that the Carol Brass pocket trumpet might be the best option.

A couple of months ago, I went ahead and bought a used Carol Brass pocket trumpet from eBay for about $500. I've been using the Carol Brass pocket trumpet exclusively for the past 6 weeks (I'm in Paris right now!), and the intonation is much better than my older Colin Pocket Max pocket trumpet. While I'm fairly happy with the Carol Brass pocket trumpet so far, I still need to fix the problem I have with hearing myself clearly when I play with a mute.

Earlier this year, I bought a 3rd-generation Yamaha Silent Brass mute, which I had hoped would fix the problem with hearing myself. As you may know, the Yamaha Silent Brass mute is a very quiet mute that uses a microphone to pickup the sound so you can hear it clearly using headphones. You can even mix in an additional audio source so you can play along to recordings. When I first tried it, I thought it was the perfect solution, but as soon as I tried playing pitches below the staff, I ended up with horrible intonation problems. Argh!

I've tried using the Yahama Silent Brass mute off and on throughout the year, but I've come to the conclusion that it just won't work for ear training and improvisation due to the intonation issues. All hope isn't lost, though, as I did stumble upon a new idea during my most recent trip. Using a set of iPhone headphones as a "microphone" along with my Dennis Wick mute and the Yamaha Silent Brass audio module, I can hear myself without the intonation problems of the Yamaha Silent Brass mute. It's a bit hacked together at the moment, but once I get home I'm going to experiment with a better microphone and mute configuration. I'll let you know if I come up with anything worth sharing.

2015 ATLANTA TRUMPET FESTIVAL

Once again, I attended the annual Atlanta Trumpet Festival this year and I participated in the adult trumpet ensemble. Over the years, I've had mixed results with my playing at the Atlanta Trumpet Ensemble. The ensembles always play classical tunes, but since I don't play that type of repertoire in my daily practice routine, my chops aren't always up to the task. This year I decided to prepare a bit more and during the month leading up to the festival, I devoted about 10 minutes a day to practicing trumpet etudes. That seemed to do the trick, as I played better than I had played during any prior Atlanta Trumpet Festival. If I had more time, I'd definitely keep up the etude practice, but it isn't feasible when I'm traveling.

PLAYING MUSIC WITH OTHER PEOPLE

I continue to participate in a weekly jazz jam session when I'm in Atlanta and I'm very grateful for that opportunity. During those sessions, however, I'm always reading from written music or I'm playing tunes from memory. Consequently, my playing tends to be a bit formulaic and underwhelming. I'd like to reach the point where I can rely totally on my ears in those jazz jam sessions, but my ears aren't quite good enough to handle complex melodies and rapid chord changes -- yet!

My ability to play by ear has gotten good enough, however, to play in non-jazz settings. The first of these non-jazz jam sessions occurred last year when I was traveling in Chilean Patagonia. That was the first time I had improvised with other people entirely by ear, and it's something I never could have done prior to practicing ear training. Since that time, I've continued to seek out similar improvised sessions and I've been lucky enough to participate in a few more since then.

My favorite session to-date occurred a few months ago, while I was in Portland. I found myself with two guitarists, one of whom I had met while traveling in Spain last year. The two guitarists were in a band together and they had several original tunes that they had written over the years. During our jam session, they'd start playing one of their tunes while I listened. As soon as an idea jumped out to me, I joined in, playing a fully improvised melody. I wouldn't say that everything I played was great, but on a few of the tunes, I played better than I've ever played before. I just thought of an idea and executed it perfectly by ear. And I mean, perfectly! Practicing ear training can be frustrating and tedious at times, but experiences like this have proven to me that the effort is totally worthwhile. I can't wait to see how well I'll be able to play a year from now!

August 30, 2015 Jazz Improvisation 2 Comments

Jazz improvisation recordings, 2015

recordingThis page contains my jazz improvisation recordings from 2015. As you'll hear below, these jazz recordings feature such highlights as cracked notes, poor note choice, unsteady rhythm, and meandering phrases! And that's why recording myself is so important. It's the best way to evaluate my playing and to chart my progress over time. I don't expect that I'll ever become a great jazz trumpet player, but I am anxious to hear how much better I can get with practice. As always, I welcome your comments and suggestions.

All of my jazz improvisation recordings: 2004 - 2005 - 2006 - 2007 - 2008 - 2009 - 2010 - 2011 - 2012 - 2014 - 2015 - 2016 - 2022

AUGUST 30, 2015

I've been traveling a lot lately, so I haven't had much time to record myself. Now that I'm home, I decided to fire up Garageband and see if I could record anything worth sharing. I like bits and pieces of these solos, but each have their moments of cringe -- my signature sound!

iwasdoingallright - audio clip Aebersold #40, Softly as in a Morning Sunrise

This is my second time recording "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise." The first time was back in 2006. Unlike 2006's recording, today's version eases into the improvisation a bit before building. It also extends through two choruses. There are elements of today's solo that I prefer (like the nice high C!), but I can also hear myself getting a little anxious as I tried to hold on through the second chorus without making any major mistakes that would ruin the clip.

iwasdoingallright - audio clip Aebersold #34, There Is No Greater Love

I've enjoyed "There Is No Greater Love" ever since I first heard Sonny Rollins' version on "Way Out West." I love how slowly he takes the tune, giving him time to really dig into the changes and explore the harmony (I also really like the version on "People Time" by Kenny Barron and Stan Getz).

Unfortunately, when I first tried playing "There Is No Greater Love," I found it rather challenging to play over the first four measures of the "A" sections. Rather than play something that made musical sense over the entire four measures, I'd end up playing four different one-measure solos due to the movement of the chords. I've stuck with the tune, however, and I'm finally at a place where I can occasionally play a decent solo. This might not be the best solo I've ever played over "There Is No Greater Love," but I think it meets my goal of at least making some musical sense.

July 19, 2015 Jazz Blog 2 Comments

Dave King, Rational Funk

I've been traveling a lot lately (I'm in Copenhagen right now), so it's been hard to find the time to write new blog posts. But then Dave King decided to share his expertise, wisdom, and treasured life-lessons in a series of goofy YouTube videos... and that's how you get a new blog post.

As I'm sure everybody (anybody?) already knows, Dave King is the drummer for Happy Apple and the slightly more popular band, The Bad Plus. I've seen The Bad Plus a few times, and frankly, I feel like I've been cheated. The piano or bass player typically do all of the talking, but now I know that Dave King has been sitting there the entire time with a funny comment that he's dying to share. But he can't share that funny comment, because jazz is serious!

Jazz may be serious, but drumming is hilarious. At least, it's hilarious when Dave King talks about drumming in his Rational Funk YouTube channel.

On one hand, Rational Funk is a silly, geeky, and satirical take on the world of drumming and instructional videos. On the other hand, Rational Funk is a brutally-honest criticism of popular music and the so-called music business. And on the other other hand, it's just a guy having a laugh with his off-camera cohort, Joe Johnson. I'd ask Dave King for his take on the videos, but killing cats like him are too busy shedding so he can shred on the gig.

As of the time of this writing, there are 30 episodes of Rational Funk. The last 5 or so have inexplicably featured jazz trumpeter, Ron Miles, in a buddy crime-fighter intro that has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the show. The Ron Miles intro is never explained, but thanks to its awesome 80s-themed soundtrack and hard-hitting action, I've found it to be a pleasant reprieve from all of that drum talk.

So, this is my plug for Rational Funk. If you've got what it takes, I'd recommend that you start with the first episode and work your way through all of them. If you just want a good laugh, though, I'd go straight to the following video on rap rock. It's the best of the best (and it talks about the worst of worst). Like all of the Rational Funk videos, it features lots of censored bad words, so thankfully, it's totally appropriate for children.

February 28, 2015 Ear Training 12 Comments

Ear training tool - version 3.0

Today I launched version 3.0 of my free online ear trainer!

online ear trainer - v3

This new version of my ear trainer runs natively in modern web browsers, without the need for Java or any other type of plugin. It's a nice change of pace from the security warnings and Java installation headaches of my old ear trainer (first created as a Java applet back in 2004).

UPDATE 5/21/22 - Added a new "Intervals: Key from Note" Sample Exercise, which can help help you to identify a chord's key by using a reference note. The Custom Scratchpad supports new "absolute" tags, which will force the enclosed sequence to play as written, even when you have modulated to a different key (see Scratchpad examples #1 and #8). A new <#chord> tag will speak aloud the currently playing chord key and chord type for Custom chord progressions (see example #11).

UPDATE 4/17/22 - When notes are higher and lower than the displayed range, they will now have a "8va" or "8vb" next to them to indicate their actual position on the staff. The Custom feature now supports tags to prevent parts of a script from appearing in the display. There is also the addition of an ellipsis shortcut to indicate a range of notes in Custom scripts (ex: C...c).

UPDATE 2/1/22 - The display of progressions has been improved to scale better on different screen sizes.

UPDATE 12/22/21 - The Progressions and Custom tabs now have an option for a drum stick count in, to give you a chance to prepare before the exercise starts. Keyboard shortcuts have been added for playing a middle C (period key) and repeating an exercise without also playing the starting cadence (shift+left arrow). More information on keyboard shortcuts is farther down this page. A new Yamaha DX7 piano type has been added. It's a nice quality soundfont, but due to the fluctuation in pitch, it probably wouldn't be my first choice for many of the ear training exercises.

UPDATE 9/28/21 - The Custom feature now supports variables and randomization for simultaneous notes.

UPDATE 8/14/21 - Added two new piano sounds that can be used with any exercise.

UPDATE 4/8/21 - Added ability to share the ear trainer's current configuration via a unique URL. This was you can share an exercise with other people without having to tell them each and every box to check. They can just load your saved configuration's URL and their ear trainer's settings will automatically match yours when you created the URL.

UPDATE 3/1/21 - Added some sample exercises to demonstrate various capabilities of the ear trainer and to help people get started with ear training. Also added stepped sequences to the Intervals and Melodies tab.

UPDATE 2/1/21 - The staff has been updated to support retina displays. The Custom feature now supports repeats and modulation control. Lastly, the bass clef has been improved to show notes in a friendlier octave when possible.

UPDATE 12/16/20 - The Intervals tab now supports longer sequences, so you could specify a few intervals and each subsequent note of the sequence will be within that interval. For this feature, I recommend "Random" for "Note Direction" in order to avoid octave shifts that will occur if it gets out of range. The Custom feature can now support words, allowing you to add note names and other words to your Custom scripts (for a complete list, see example #9 of the scratchpad instructions). The Progressions tab now includes Dom7sus4 and Dim7 chord types. Finally, the ABC notation processing engine has been improved to support more complex rhythms. If any of your scripts no longer sound as you expected, please let me know.

UPDATE 8/31/20 - In addition to a starting cadence, there's now an option for short drone.

UPDATE 8/8/20 - I switched to new mp3 piano sound files which should improve the audio quality for browsers (e.g. Safari) and operating systems that use mp3s (e.g. iOS). I also added an option to repeat an exercise without adding a delay (under Play Mode) and I increased the maximum repeat count to 36. This could be helpful if you want to repeat a chord/note over and over again as a drone.

UPDATE 6/13/20 - Added a version checker so the ear trainer will let you know when a new version is available. Also, Custom sequences now display the proper notes when transposed into different keys.

UPDATE 6/4/20 - Here's the largest update since 3.0 went online. I fixed a bug which logged you out after a few days, forcing you to reload the page to login. I added the ability to be logged on from multiple devices. I improved the audio for iOS devices. I added support for Major 6 chords in the Custom scratchpad. I improved the responsiveness of the ear trainer, so it resizes better on smaller screens. The initial load no longer produces no audio for the first exercise on iOS. There is now an option to have the note names read back to you. This is handy if you want to have it running in the background while doing other tasks. I was going to use SpeechSynthesis to read back the interval and chord names, but due to an issue with iOS, I had to resort to audio files. As a result, it's only going to read the note names. You can also have the results delay until you click in the staff area. That works best with Manual mode. With all that's going on in the world today, I hope you'll get some use out of this update.

UPDATE 1/4/20 - Added Major 7 b5 chord to the Chords tab. Also, in random custom scripts, accidentals are now cleared after each random sequence. Previously, accidentals would accumulate and carry over to subsequent randomizations.

UPDATE 5/10/18 - Due to a recent change in Chrome's autoplay restrictions, the ear trainer may have stopped producing audio. I put in a quick fix which may need to be altered a bit to improve performance on mobile devices.

UPDATE 5/15/17 - I added a hi-hat and ride cymbal to the rhythm sections used by the Progressions and Custom features. The Progressions section also includes the ability to choose between a single key center and a random mixing of keys when it creates a chord progression. This could be used, for example, to practice a ii-V7-I progression in random keys without pausing in between each key change.

UPDATE 10/4/16 - The custom feature now supports melodies with even (i.e. non-swing) rhythms. To enable this feature, add "R:even" to the top of your custom script. Note that this only applies to stand-alone melodies. Rhythmic accompaniments will still use swing rhythms regardless of this setting.

UPDATE 9/6/16 - This update introduces the concept of custom exercises, where an "exercise" saves the current ear trainer settings. For example, if you like to practice random melodies with a tempo of 120bpm, in auto-play mode, with 3 repeats, and random modulation, you can save that configuration as an exercise. Another ear training exercise might be random ii-V7-I chord progressions with a tempo of 90bpm. Once you save these as separate exercises, you can return to them at any time without having to manually change the tempos, repeat options, etc. You just click on the exercise names and stored configuration is loaded automatically! To use this feature, simply login and then use the "Your Exercises" link at the upper right to create a new exercise.

UPDATE 7/30/16 - Thanks to a visitor's request, I have added Sus2 and Sus4 triads to the Chords feature.

UPDATE 5/12/16 - This update adds randomization to the ear trainer's Custom tab, with a syntax like the following: { randomSequence1 ; randomSequence2 ; randomSequence3 }. As an example, if you want to play a C and then a random note that's either a G, A, or B, you'd put the following into the Custom tab: C { G ; A ; B }

UPDATE 3/6/16 - The melodies feature now includes the ability to play a cluster of notes simultaneously via the "Sequence Type=Harmonic" option. A suggested exercise for this would be to play a C major cadence followed by the note cluster. Begin with a couple of notes, and increase to as many as you can identify. Over time, this should improve your relative pitch. I also added a few new 9th chords to the chords feature. Both of these new features are the result of your feature requests, so thank you for your suggestions!

UPDATE 10/31/15 - I improved the layout of chord progressions for this update, so they should be easier to read. Also, I fixed a problem single-note melodies and and the "Restrict to Single Octave" option.

UPDATE 10/20/15 - This update fixes a few bugs, including an issue where modulation could force the jazz progressions to be played in extreme upper and lower registers. Additionally, the Custom tab's scripts will now respect the specified double bar repeat settings. To round things out, you'll find a few more examples for the Custom tab's scratchpad feature, including a listing of all currently supported chord types.

UPDATE 8/29/15 - With this update, you can click on the notes in the ear trainer's staff in order to hear a specific note. I also added a sight singing "Play Mode" where the ear trainer will show notes without playing audio. Once the notes appear, you can click on individual notes to hear their pitches or you can click the repeat button to hear the entire sequence.

UPDATE 7/31/15 - This update focuses primarily on the Custom tab. New options have been added for modulation within sequences via double bar lines ( || ). This is handy if you want to do ear training over an entire song. By adding double bar lines periodically within the song, you can repeat and modulate a series of measures.

UPDATE 5/2/15 - I added a new soundfont which greatly improves the piano sound for Safari and other browsers that don't support Ogg files. With this change, I think my new ear training application runs almost as well on Safari as it does on Chrome and Opera.

UPDATE 5/1/15 - This update fixes several bugs, adds keyboard support for controlling playback (left arrow=repeat, right arrow=next, space=play/stop), and it includes a few new chord progressions (jazz blues, minor blues, etc). The biggest change is the addition of accounts. Once you register for your free account, you can save your custom melodies and chord progressions. I still need to improve the documentation and examples for the custom markup, but hopefully the existing samples will give you enough to start customizing your ear training exercises.

October 17, 2014 About Me 1 Comment

Twelve-year anniversary

All of my anniversary articles: 2 years - 3 years - 4 years - 5 years - 6 years - 7 years - 9 years - 10 years - 11 years - 12 years - 13 years - 15 years

It's now been twelve years since I started playing the trumpet again, after quitting for a period of seven years. Here's another anniversary article.

MORE TRAVELING IN 2014

After my first trip to Europe in 2012, when I didn't play for a month and it took me two months to rebuild my chops, I now bring either my regular trumpet or a pocket trumpet anytime I travel. When traveling, I don't practice nearly as much as I do when I'm at home, but I manage to put in enough time to keep my chops in decent playing condition.

I've done quite a bit of traveling this year, beginning with an amazing trip to Chile. After Chile, I spent a month in Manhattan, followed by six weeks exploring the Pacific Northwest and the Canadian Rockies. And this past weekend, I returned from five weeks in Spain!

toledo, spain

Although the traveling puts a damper in my progress on the trumpet, I have had a few rewarding playing experiences while on the road. When I was in Portland over the summer, I had two playing opportunities. The first was with the clarinet-playing owner of our AirBnB rental, and the second was with a drummer who I met at one of Portland's many food truck parks. My favorite jam, though, occurred while I was in Patagonia, with Torres del Paine national park in the background. I don't know if I'll ever top that.

PLAY BY EAR ANDROID APP - THE END

As I mentioned at the end of last year, I decided to make the Android app available free of charge after hearing about some problems with newer OS versions. The problems persisted and after receiving a dozen or so emails, I removed the Android app from Google's app market earlier this year. I don't own any Android devices, and since download numbers were so low on the Android app, I couldn't justify the time and expense of its maintenance. If you're one of the former Android app users and you're looking for an ear training replacement, I'd definitely suggest my online ear trainer. It's what I use.

PLAY BY EAR IPHONE APP - PROBLEMS WITH IOS 8

If you've used my Play By Ear ear training app with iOS 8, then you've surely noticed that the audio isn't working when pitch detection is enabled. After the first exercise plays, the microphone turns on for pitch detection and it fails to reopen the audio channel for subsequent playback. I haven't used my Play By Ear app in a while, so I didn't realize there was a problem until I began receiving your emails. Thanks for letting me know!

Fortunately, it didn't take too long for me to identify the culprit and I've already uploaded a fix to the app store. Assuming Apple approves the update, it should be available within the next few days. While I was making changes to the app, I also improved the pitch detection algorithm and I modified the layout a bit so it stretches to fill larger iPhone displays. Hopefully you'll enjoy the new changes.

JAZZ IMPROVISATION LESSONS - THE OUTCOME

About a year ago, I started taking jazz improvisation lessons with one of my friends from the Atlanta jazz scene. In last year's anniversary article, I wrote that the lessons had me feeling discouraged about my playing. And if anything, I felt that I was playing better before I started taking lessons. I wish I could say things improved over time, but that just isn't the case. After several more months of lessons, I realized that the teacher's approach wasn't working out for me and we parted ways. The teacher and I are still good friends, but the experience was a classic example of how everyone learns differently.

May 16, 2014 Jazz Improvisation 4 Comments

Jazz improvisation recordings, 2014

recordingThis page contains my jazz improvisation recordings from 2014. As you'll hear below, these jazz recordings feature such highlights as cracked notes, poor note choice, unsteady rhythm, and meandering phrases! And that's why recording myself is so important. It's the best way to evaluate my playing and to chart my progress over time. I don't expect that I'll ever become a great jazz trumpet player, but I am anxious to hear how much better I can get with practice. As always, I welcome your comments and suggestions.

All of my jazz improvisation recordings: 2004 - 2005 - 2006 - 2007 - 2008 - 2009 - 2010 - 2011 - 2012 - 2014 - 2015 - 2016 - 2022

MAY 16, 2014

iwasdoingallright - audio clip Aebersold #50, Nardis

As I explained in my 11-year anniversary article, in 2013 I bought a new laptop and I lost the ability to use my old Firewire recording interface. That's why 2013 passed by without any new jazz improvisation clips. At the end of 2013, I solved this issue by buying a new Scarlett 2i2 USB recording interface. And after waiting six months, today I finally decided to use it!

In this clip, you'll hear me play a solo to "Nardis," a tune written by Miles Davis. Actually, since Miles never recorded "Nardis" and since Bill Evans played "Nardis" all the time, I figured it was actually Bill Evans who wrote "Nardis," with Miles snagging the publishing credits. In this YouTube video, however, Bill Evans sets the record straight. Miles Davis wrote "Nardis" for Cannonball Adderley, but the tune because associated with Bill Evans when "no one else seemed to pick up on it."

Usually, my audio clips are mixed down to "mono" so the trumpet and backing tracks are merged. I thought that Garageband did that for me in the past, but I couldn't figure out how to do it in the latest version. I don't particularly like the separation. It makes it too easy to nitpick my playing!

March 23, 2014 Ear Training 8 Comments

Ear training breakthrough

In 2002, when I started playing the trumpet again, I couldn't play anything accurately by ear. If I wanted to play something simple, like "Happy Birthday," I'd either need to have written music in front of me, or I'd have to work my way through the tune, picking out each note through trial and error. Mostly error.

During the next year or two, as I continued to rebuild my trumpet chops, I read several jazz interviews and jazz biographies, hoping to gain some insight that would help me to become a better jazz improviser. I learned a lot during that period, most of which you'll find distilled into my learning to improvise series. The most important lesson, however, was the importance of being able to play by ear. To help improve my ability to play by ear, I eventually built some ear training tools and I added at least a few minutes of ear training to my daily practice routine, which I've stuck to for the past nine years.

Over the past nine years, I've made noticeable progress in my ability to play by ear, but until recently that progress wasn't especially evident in my playing. That's because I couldn't do much with the earlier stages of my development. For example, the first time I could play "Happy Birthday" by ear in any key, I could only do so very slowly and with an unsteady rhythm (i.e. hesitating between notes). That was a major accomplishment for me, but it wasn't something I could really use in a jazz setting where I have to play at faster tempos and in time with a band.

Within the past few months, however, I feel like I've made a huge leap in my ability to play by ear. I can now listen to a jazz recording, and more often than not, I'll pick up my horn and accurately play the tune's melody or a phrase that I heard during somebody's solo. I can also listen to the rhythm section and enough notes will jump out (either from the bass or piano) that I can land on a chord tone or play something else that sounds good over the chords. I still need to improve my consistency and overall accuracy, especially at fast tempos, but I'm finally at a point where I can hear something in my head and confidently play it by ear while improvising.

PATAGONIA JAM SESSION

I recently traveled to Chile, where I spent five weeks, culminating with seven days at Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia. Traveling is still relatively new to me, but so far Patagonia is the most mind-blowing place that I've visited. It's so beautiful and remote that I felt like I was on a different planet.

patagonia

Adding to the beauty of the region, we met several other travelers and guides who made us feel like we were at a home away from home. One day, while hiking to the base of the towers (torres), I told one such guide that I play the trumpet. He asked if I had my trumpet with me, and when I told him it was at the hotel, he said, "We should have a jam session! One of the other guides plays the guitar!"

Normally, I might have panicked or made excuses to get out of the jam session. After all, I'm not that good, I didn't know what kind of music they were going to play, and I hadn't been practicing that much during the preceding weeks in Chile. Any one of those excuses would have gotten me out of the jam session, but at that point I was so inspired by Patagonia that I said, "OK, let's do it!"

patagonia-jam-session

I don't know about you, but I'm a view guy. I'm captivated by beautiful views, and I can gaze at them for hours without a care in the world. With my pocket trumpet in one hand and a glass of wine in the other, I emerged onto the hotel's outdoor patio, took one look at the mountains you see in the above photo, and any fears I might have had about the jam session instantly vanished.

As we settled into our places, I introduced myself to the guitar-playing guide and another hotel guest who had brought his ukulele. I was still looking at the mountains when the guitarist asked us what we wanted to play. Transfixed by the view, I replied, "Whatever you want," to which the guitarist replied, "How about a blues?" I didn't pay attention when he mentioned the key, but once they started playing, I relied on my ears and played a passable solo over concert E blues. The ukulele player had a tougher time with his solo, but he hung in there and made it through the tune.

After the blues, the guitarist started to play a Chilean song that neither the ukulele player nor I had ever heard before. The ukulele player asked the guitarist for the chord changes and they spent a few minutes going over them. Once we started playing, though, the ukulele player was having difficulty remembering the chord changes and we had to stop once or twice. When we did finally get going again, I just closed my eyes and played another decent solo by ear.

By the start of the third tune, I was feeling confident about my ears and had decided to just play everything by ear that night. Unfortunately, the ukulele player wasn't faring as well. He struggled with the changes again on the third tune and I could tell he was getting a little frustrated. It didn't help that by this time we had a small audience of hotel guests and staff watching us! After three or four tunes, the ukulele player decided to call it quits and he took a seat next to his wife in the audience.

What began as a trio had now become a duo. The guitarist and I continued playing for the next hour or two, never discussing keys or chord changes. He'd start playing, I'd listen for a few measures, and then I'd accompany him, playing everything by ear. To be honest, I don't know if I actually sounded good that night, but our audience clapped after every tune and everyone seemed to enjoy a wonderful evening in paradise.

The next morning while strolling along the shore of a nearby lake, I saw the ukulele player and his wife. After exchanging pleasantries, the ukulele player mentioned how he was struggling to keep up with us at the jam session. His wife then chimed in, telling me that her husband was feeling discouraged about his playing. After three years of playing the ukulele, he thought he was getting pretty good, but he was totally unprepared for the jam session. And then he said, "Yeah, I can't play by ear..."

I smiled and said, "Please allow me to introduce myself." Ok, so I didn't say that. I did, however, tell him that I too couldn't play by ear at one point, however I greatly improved my ability to play by ear after several years of ear training practice. I then told him all about my site and my ear training tools. He was so excited that he downloaded my Play By Ear iPhone ear training app as soon as we got back to the hotel.

I have to say, it was amazing enough to experience the culmination of so many years of ear training practice at a jam session in Patagonia. To then have the opportunity to get somebody else started on their ear training journey -- wow, how cool is that?!