7 Highly Effective Habits to Make You a Better Jazz Musician – You’ll Hear It

On a very self-help themed episode, Peter and Adam discuss some good habits you should get into if you want to be a better musician.

Adam Maness: I’m Adam Maness.

Peter Martin: And I’m Peter Martin.

AM: And you’re listening to the You’ll Hear It Podcast.

PM: Daily jazz advice comin’ atcha.

AM: Comin’ atcha today sponsored by Open Studio, go to OpenStudioJazz.com and check out all of our courses. We just released this…

PM: Owl!

AM: Owl of our courses!

PM: We are almost in owl season.

AM: Oh yeah, hoot. Man, I saw…

PM: Hoot, that was good!

AM: I saw one of those…

PM: I was having a hoot the other day.

AM: When I was getting in the car this morning the most, like, the biggest, most beautiful spider like was forming this web, you know, ’cause we’re almost there in this time where they’re starting to get out there. Scary but beautiful.

PM: Scary AF and I bet you rammed through it with your ICE vehicle, didn’t you?

AM: No, I’m not, I’m not good like that. But we are brought to you by Open Studio. We have a ton of new courses, you know, I just released a mini-course last week called Jazz Piano Basics – Volume One: Lead Sheet Breakdown in which…

PM: Could you shove a few more words into that title please?

AM: Yeah, it was ill conceived.

PM: ♪ Lead sheet breakdown ♪

AM: Lead sheet breakdown. I’m going through the lead sheet, I’m explaining how to approach a lead sheet, basically how to sit down at the piano with a lead sheet and then play a good version of the tune from the lead sheet with just that information.

PM: It’s super cool and what I realized is this is for people that when they look at a lead sheet, they’re like, “I cannot make this sound good. I know that this tune is good, I don’t know if it’s something wrong with me, I don’t know if it’s something wrong with the lead sheet.” We’ve all been there. But that there’s so many challenges we have in playing jazz piano. The actual process of how you interpret what you use, what you can ignore, reference recordings should not be a barrier, and I think that you did a great job of kinda laying that out.

AM: Yeah, and then just breaking down some basic solo piano voicing techniques that’ll get you there and make you sound grooving and good and with like solid harmony. It’s been super popular already. Go check it out. Andrew let’s put a link there. It’s only 39 bucks, check it out.

PM: Oh man…

AM: Openstudiojazz.com

PM: We’re making a meeting to raise the price on that bad boy just so you know.

AM: Alright well then get it today before Peter decides to jack it up.

PM: Alright.

AM: So today, why…

PM: Giving this stuff away, we’re not doing that anymore. Come on man.

AM: What are you talking about? Is this how to win jazz friends and influence jazz people? No, seven highly effective habits to make you a better jazz musician. I like this. This is nice. This is like right in my self-improvement wheelhouse.

PM: We thought this would be fun because, you know, we’re both…

AM: Growth mindset.

PM: We’re both in the growth mindset and really the seven highly effective, what is it, the seven highly effective habits of successful people?

AM: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

PM: No, how are…

AM: Unsuccessful people would be as eye opening.

PM: Right, right,

AM: Because I’d be like, “Oh, I’m doing like three of those things on the regular.”

PM: Stephen Covey’s masterpiece, which I read years ago, seven highly effective, look, I’m putting it in now – is that falling down?

AM: Andrew, the pod cave is still, look at this, oh my gosh. Andrew.

PM: We joked yesterday that the pod cave’s falling apart! Look, on the show!

AM: Oh my gosh.

PM: The seven habits…

AM: Seven highly ineffective habits of the pod cave maintenance.

PM: We just lost 20% of the pod cave. The sound is gonna be jacked up on your side. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. Oh, did you know that he did The Seven Habits of
Highly Effective Teens?

(Adam laughs)

PM: No, it says that.

AM: That’s ridiculous.

PM: I don’t even think that’s
legal to put that out.

AM: That sounds like a money grab.

(Peter laughs)

AM: So we put together a little list of some effective habits that you can put in place in your routine to make you a better jazz musician.

PM: Right, big shout out to Stephen Covey, please don’t sue us. This is all with love and everything.

AM: Lots of love, yeah, yeah.

PM: So seven highly effective habits to make you a better jazz musician. Let’s first just kind of talk about habits because I think a lot of times people pass over that part, they wanna get right into the kind of tricks or tactics and that kind of thing and I think, you know, because these are, in order for a habit to be effective, you need to be doing it regularly. It’s actually very simple. A lot of times people think, like, “How do I build a habit, how do I do this?” Let’s just talk about, let’s paint it finished, and talk about the end result of a habit. A habit is something, look, we come into the pod cave, and stuff falls down ’cause it’s out of the habit of falling down, right? No, we come in here and we’re going like lemmings, I mean you could put acid in this cup at this point and I would just pick it up and drink it because I’m in the habit of drinking this when I’m in here. For better or for worse. So when we’re talking about these kinds of habits…

AM: You’re talking about coffee, right?

PM: We’re talking about coffee.

AM: There’s not actual, oh okay,

PM: There’s not acid. There is not, many people thought whiskey. There has been at times but we do not put whisky in these glasses, we put them in clear
containers, right? Go-cups they call them in New Orleans.

AM: And you can tell ’cause the general quality of the content here goes way down.

PM: Exactly, you don’t even have to look at that, you can just listen to it. No, but, a habit is just something that you do automatically and we’re gonna be talking about what we think are good habits. But bad habits, good habits, in between, it’s just something that you do regularly.

AM: That’s right, and you know it’s easy to put into place but it’s hard to maintain, so pick habits that you can stick with that you know can fit in your schedule. It’s not a good idea to say like, “Oh I’m gonna put on this habit, this takes four hours for me to do every day.” That’s not gonna be an effective habit, something that you can do on the regular is what works.

PM: Well if you were like some kind of religious guru that went and like prayed for four hours a day and you were, that would be effective.

AM: That would be effective.

PM: It’s a different kind of lifestyle.

AM: But also realize that these are the things that are gonna make you better. Like, if you’re wondering, “Why is my left hand not as good as my right hand?” Well, probably ’cause you don’t practice it ever.

PM: Exactly.

AM: That’s exactly right.

PM: #GeoffreyKeezer

AM: Yeah. #Keto

PM: Not, I mean, because he plays left hand really well not because he’s… Yeah, so um, you know, to that point I think that,I always like to think about it too in a positive way. Like, we talk about, I don’t know, anybody that we love hearing play. Reuben Rogers, our friend Reuben is a great bass player. Sometimes I’m like, he’s stuck in playing really good. Like, I mean, it’s funny, like, he’s not the flashiest bass player all the time although he can do that, but one of the greatest skills he has is like, he always sounds good. It’s like he’s gotten in the habit of sounding good. And so that’s like, it’s very complex how he got to that point but the end result of that habit of sounding good, when we talk about, “Man, he’s so good, he’s so bad,” as in a good way or, “that’s a great player” or “she can really play her ass off” or whatever, what we’re basically saying is, they’re just in the habit of playing good. They might have built up a – and I’m sure they have built up a number of sort of daily practice habits to get to that point. But now, when they pick up their instrument, the default is to sound good. Like if they play something bad, it hurts and sometimes their hand can’t even go there.

AM: Let’s get into it.

PM: Okay.

AM: Okay, number one.

PM: Am I pre-rolling it too much? My bad.

AM: I mean we are setting this up.

(Peter laughs)

AM: So, number one:

PM: Listen.

AM: Yeah, imagine that.

PM: Okay. Man we’ve been two, I think
we’ve been a couple weeks without doing that. So I feel better already.

AM: Man, I listened, speaking of listening, a few weeks ago I listened to this amazing audio book about sort of this: The Creativity Curve. And they were, it’s a book about all these studies done about great artists, right, and what their habits were actually. And so, one of the things that struck me is that great artists spend two to three hours every day ingesting what their art is. Not their own stuff but…

PM: I love that, ingesting.

AM: And then there’s, and they ingest a mix of new things and old things, right? So like, if you’re a jazz musician, two to three hours every day should be spent listening to music, old stuff and new stuff if you wanna be good. That’s sort of this, what the data points, I mean it sounds very sterile and analytical but it’s really, really interesting…

PM: Data driven.

AM: …that the same data points were true from like someone like Leonardo da Vinci with painting or you know, and someone like Beethoven with music that two to three hours every day of ingesting music that’s, you know, helping them become a better artist. So, think about that, think about when you can use free time or commute time or at work time or whatever to ingest what you’re doing. Like, it’s part of getting better and it’s a super important part.

PM: And I mean, this doesn’t change, as you say, since da Vinci or Beethoven or even before, you know, in the creation of art. None of this has changed. Technology changes but that really, there’s parts of technology that make it harder to do this because we’re in a distracted world so we get on this thing, you know, “I don’t have time.” But it’s all about priority. But technology also helps, as you say, during our commute, any time we have access in a way so we need to be able to limit and push out the noise, get the signal going, which is ingesting like the concept. And that’s just what, for us is listen. And I love the way that you put it, “ingest the art.” For being an effective jazz, a better jazz musician, it’s listening.

AM: Well, and you know why it’s so important. Like, so, since I’ve read that, I started doing this on the regular like really making it a priority for me because you get distracted with phones and Netflix and all this stuff or whatever so I’ve really tried to make this priority of like, okay I want to be a more in depth listener, I want to keep it a regular part of my day without getting distracted by all the noise. And so, since doing that, I mean, music starts to take on this whole other, this whole other tone when I listen to it ’cause you come so seeped in it all the time. It just becomes part of your brain waves almost. It’s an important part that can get, can go by the wayside too quickly if you’re…

PM: And it’s so good, I mean, I know for me I’ve gone in and out of this habit over time. I’ve been kind of in it for a while now where it’s pretty habitual, but the fun thing is if you do fall off this habit, and look, everybody falls off some habits at some point. But if you do, it’s so exciting when you get back in it. Actually, some of the times I’ve fallen off or on have been when I’ve gone on like vacation. I’m not a good vacationer, we’ll talk about that in another episode. Seven ways to be a better vacationing jazz musician. Bring your steel pan drum with you, then you can do gigs, that’s number one. But the idea of when you have been off and you get back, you realize how important it is, how inspiring, how invigorating it can be to the rest of your routine.

AM: That’s right, and don’t freeze up thinking you have to listen to some important stuff every time. Just listen…

PM: Just listen to stuff you like.

AM: Listen to whatever you like, whatever that is, allow yourself to listen.

PM: Connect with the music.

AM: Alright, number two.

PM: Number two: daily practice. This is number two of our seven highly effective habits to make you a better jazz musician. Why is this one so important that it sits at position number two for us?

AM: We wanna keep a daily connection to whatever instrument we’re playing. It’s the easiest way to grow, it keeps you sharp, and it helps you discover new things that you have to put into your practice routine. If you’re not hitting your instrument for at least like five, ten, fifteen minutes every day, you’re not gonna grow as fast as if you do. It’s just true, you know, and the easiest way to do this is just to carve out some time on the regular. Whether that’s at lunch or in the early morning or before you go to bed to just sit at your instrument and be with it, you know?

PM: Yeah, and this one is so binary that it should be simpler. Like we can get, we get into, and we’re gonna get into some other things a little bit but like this is literally, I mean, just the, as you say, sitting at the instrument and playing the thing, then you’ve accomplished it. Of course, you want to, you know, do many of the other things we talk about it and stay longer and be effective and everything, but when you
commit to daily practicing, connecting with your instrument every day, you either do it or you don’t.

AM: Yeah for sure, cool, number three.

PM: Number three: practice patience.

AM: So it’s not just be patient, but it’s practice patience. It’s tell yourself that, “I have as much time as I’m alive to be a musician so I don’t need to become Bill Evans this morning, like I can just be here with it, I can listen to what I want to listen to. I can practice what I wanna practice. I can make sure that I have, you know, my goals set and just sit in
that and not be in a hurry to be great.” And that, ’cause that’s not how it works.

PM: Right, that’s great, I love that. One way that I kind of think about this, ’cause this is more of a conceptual side of it too that you can kinda be almost on the back of your mind all day long. Practicing patience is to think about it like, you know, most people grossly overestimate what they can do on any one day, especially when they’re inspired about something. And I’ve been, I’ve fallen prey to this many times. But then on the other hand…

AM: Don’t we know it.

PM: But then on the other hand, they underestimate what can be done in much longer spans, like a year or something. Like if you look a year forward and you think what you can get done as an individual or as a band or as an orchestra or as an organization, it’s very easy to underestimate until you look back and you’re like, “Wow, we got all this done.” But on a daily basis, a more granular level, it’s very easy to try to push too many things in and basically do things that are gonna keep you from being patient. So when you take that
breath, even as you are wanting to accomplish a lot in your practice routine, transcribing, whatever the other things we’re gonna talk about, you also, it forces you to, the great thing is if you listen to the music and the flow and the spirit of this music and interact with the community, that’ll force you to be patient. The music will force you to be because you cannot rush through the important things. If you do, you’re playing will be lacking. So as long as you get into an organic flow with the music, the music will actually teach you how to be patient.

AM: That’s right, and it’s just that mindset of, “Hey, I’m a musician, I’m a musician for my whole life, I have my whole life here to work on this, I don’t have to do it all in one day. I can take care of those details that need to be taken care of because that’s important.”

PM: And even if you could do it in one day, think about how unsatisfying that would be for the art that you created. If this was something we could get in one day or one week or one year…

AM: Video game mode on easy.

PM: I mean, I’m, it’s like I’m hearing Herbie Hancock at Newport Jazz Festival this summer and I’m hearing, you know, 76 years of accumulated patience and knowledge.

AM: Yeah, of course.

PM: And he was good at 16 probably. So that would have been fun too but I mean like, I mean, it’s such a joyful thing to be able to see this. You know, it’s like, you see LeBron James play now and in some ways it’s his most exciting and I think, I mean, some people are like, he’s on the downswing. I think he’s at his best, athletics your body does start to break down so we have an advantage that we can keep on that upslope. So be patient, keep that in mind.

AM: That’s right. All right, number four is a practice journal. We preach about this all the time, keep a practice journal, keep what ideas you want to practice in the future. You’re gonna wanna record yourself and really try to honestly pinpoint some areas of growth that you need to hit. But, you have to write this stuff down or else it’ll get lost in the shuffle. Write down what you’ve practiced so you know where you’ve been, the keys, the tempos, keep a journal of tunes you want to learn, or concepts you wanna learn. If you like don’t have it together with two-handed voicings in all keys, that’s like something you can make a little chart of and keep that in the practice journal. And like, if you’re practicing patience, a few months, maybe a year, or whatever…

PM: Oh, it’s so fun to look back and be like…

AM: And be like, “Oh my gosh, I couldn’t believe I couldn’t play drop two in G flat last year and now…”

PM: Hey why are you always teasing me about the drop two? I’m gonna get it.

AM: ‘Cause it’s like…

PM: I’m gonna get it, I’m gonna get it. Or at least understand it.

AM: Alright, what’s number five?

PM: Well just one more thing on the practice journal: the art, the thing of writing it, like I’ve heard this from enough reliable sources now, that I really believe it. I already felt it but I didn’t know if it was ’cause of how I came up in the non-digital age as a very young boy. There was none of this, I don’t know if you knew this shiny object did not exist at one time, young Adam.

AM: I can’t believe it.

PM: No, but the idea of like, ’cause people are always like, “Should I do it on my phone?” And I’m like, it doesn’t matter, just do the system, it works. But I really believe now, you should write it somewhere because it’s been shown, and I think even more so in this day and age because everything’s like coming and going. The process of writing, it gives it a significance to yourself, not only that yeah, you can go back but just as you write it, like, you’re putting a stake down. So you’re not gonna do everything you do, say, but you’re gonna remember it and it’s gonna have that impact. And hey, you might go back and cross it out, you might correct it. But things like having a page
like, “Things I Suck At:” and then a list, can be very effective.

AM: Totally agree.

PM: A little negative reinforcement.

AM: Alright, number five is transcribe. Is this important?

(Peter laughs)

PM: I don’t know, I mean, I feel like, so these are, first of all, these are not in order of importance except number one, right? These are all equal.

AM: I would say number one and number two are in order of importance for sure.

PM: So, transcribe, look, this is just a habit that is going to make you a better player and if you get into the habit of it, this one is one that’s a little trickier because I think you can get to the point where you, you definitely will get to the point where you’re not going to be doing this every day but remember, we didn’t say daily habits. I mean most of these are daily habits but this is one I would say, you’re gonna go into periods where it should be a daily habit but you have to maintain your connection and mainly through listening where you’re planning your next transcription. But, I mean yeah, it’d be great if you could do it every day but I don’t know if that’s
necessarily necessary. But I’ve never met a great jazz musician that didn’t do a beep ton of transcribing.

AM: Yeah, it’s mentioned so much because it’s such an important part of the process. Not only are you learning tons of key information about the language, but you’re also developing other skills as you do it, you know, ear training and technique that you don’t, normally wouldn’t do in the comfort of your own hands learning from the masters. So transcribing has gotta be a huge part of it.

PM: Right, good stuff. Number six: scales, ooh.

AM: Yes, I love me some scales man.

PM: Okay, so now we’re getting real nitty gritty, we’re getting a, we might get a little dogmatic. But this is just, there’s something about scales being, they’re one of the main building blocks of melody and harmony, the connection, and really rhythm too in what we play, all instruments, that connects all instruments in individual ways that are very specific to their instruments but they’re, the scale notes are the same for everybody. But how, but what we wrestle with as pianists is different than what a bass player wrestles with, the ranges, the fingerings, playing in different keys, this key’s easy, that key’s hard, why do bass players always write in E, A, D, and G, because they’re open, you know, all these things, but the notes of the scale are the same and they’re so, it’s just like that base level of vocabulary that you have to be constantly playing them and then once you master them, (“master them”) it’s something that good jazz players are always having that effective habit of revisiting them in some kind of systematic way, I believe.

AM: That’s right and just like transcribing, you have all these added benefits. Scales – you’re leaning about music theory, you’re leaning about melody, you’re learning…

PM: Ear training.

AM: Ear training, you’re learning about technique on your instrument. It’s a very, it’s like the pushups of music, right?

PM: Exactly.

AM: It’s just like a basic exercise that you have to be able to do to be fit.

PM: Yeah, and I was, yeah, and I think that’s a great analogy. It’s like, of course you can’t only do that but if you were stuck on an island, you had no equipment, and you only knew one exercise and all you did was pushups, you could probably stay in pretty good physical shape. It’d be better to add the other things but it’s great to have that base level.

AM: That’s right.

PM: Number seven:

AM: Compose.

PM: Ooh, now this one, I threw this one in there ’cause I thought it might be a little controversial, not for you, but to some folks saying, “Why do I have to have that habit? I just want to be a jazz player.” So why do you think that’s important?

AM: Well, because to be a good jazz player, you have to be a good composer. That’s what an improviser is, we’re composing on the spot. So it doesn’t hurt, and in fact, it really, really, really helps for you to sit down and try to compose something that’s not improvised, but actually try to work on something, to craft something. And the craft of composing can teach you so much about your improvising.

PM: Yeah, absolutely, and I think, the reason I think this works so well as an effective habit for everyone to get into is because it’s something that you can actually just schedule and sit down and do. You’re either doing it or your not. Now, I’m not saying that what you’re doing is composing a Mozart symphony masterpiece but you can sit down and say, “I’m gonna compose…”

AM: Speak for yourself.

PM: Say, “I’m gonna compose for 30 minutes.” Whereas improvising, that’s more of a by-product of all of these things. Something that’s gonna happen if we do all these things. But you get in the habit of composing, I remember Ray Brown told me, he went like 30 days where he said he was gonna write – and this is before like, self help books were available on Audible and Kindles and stuff. I’m pretty sure. He was just like, “I’m gonna write a tune for 30 days, for one month, a new tune every day. It’s gonna be finished.” And he was just like, “None of them except one really came out to be anything that I used.” But he wanted to get in an effective habit is what I took that to be and I think it helped him beyond just being a composer. It helped his playing, it challenged him and so I love stuff like that.

AM: Yeah, you know, this is one that I have to really keep in mind for a priority for me or else it’s another one that will, like, kind of go by the wayside when I get busy or stressed or whatever. I have to carve out time every week to compose a little bit or else I’m just, it’s not a happy Adam.

PM: Yeah, no,

AM: You know what I mean? But also…

PM: It’s hangry Adam.

AM: It’s hangry.

PM: Oh no, that’s different, that’s different.

AM: It’s #keto Adam.

(Peter laughs)

AM: No, it’s, I think it’s a super important part. I’m glad you include it here at the end of our list. That’s seven, let’s break ’em down from the top to the bottom again. Number one is listen. Number two is daily practice. Number three is to practice patience. Number four is a practice journal. A lot of practicing going on here.

PM: Oh, I know. Oh I’ve got a bonus too just in case anyone is gonna tune out, I just thought of.

AM: Number five, transcribe. Number six, scales and number seven, compose.

PM: Alright.

AM: Our bonus:

PM: After we tell you that we are sponsored by

Both: Open Studio Jazz dot com.

AM: We got a link here to the new Jazz Piano Basics – Volume One: Lead Sheet

PM: We’re still hyping that thing up, man? Come on!

AM: That was at the beginning of this episode, bro!

PM: Oh, that’s true, that was today, that’s right.

AM: That was today, that’s what I’m sayin’. This was a super long episode.

PM: That’s what I’m sayin’, I’m overestimating what can be done in one day.

AM: I’m starting to fidget man, let’s get the bonus going.

PM: The second part…

AM: Pod cave is literally falling down around us.

PM: Okay, let me do it before it caves in on us. Okay, bonus, I’m gonna say, I’m gonna throw an audible here and say community as a highly effective habit of being a better jazz musician. Being a part, and that can be an online community, like we have, that can be a jam session, that can be somebody that you get together and play with. This is a communal music and the more, like, we wanna encourage and I think we’ve done a good job of like talking about, a lot of this is personal practice, and that’s a huge part of it. But when you come together, you’re gonna be able to put these effective habits in place and I would say, that’s in a community. So you have to be in the habit of doing that and because you can’t wait ’til, “Oh once I get to a certain level, then I’m gonna become a part of a jazz community.”

AM: No, no, no, no, no.

PM: You gotta start now, you gotta get in the habit of doing that, you gotta do some failing so that you can get back up. Get back on that horse.

AM: But find your peers, find your mentors, you know, and actually find people that you can mentor because you’ll learn from that as well. I think it’s, you’re spot on, that’s a really, really good bonus.

PM: Awesome. Well, ’til tomorrow,

AM: You’ll Hear It.

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