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I practice a transcription that involves more elaborate jazz chords, modal sus9 and 13-chords, those kind of things, occupying many or all of the hands' fingers. I've played such things before (for instance, we did a cover of Robert Glasper's Better Than I Imagined) but failed thoroughly at the chords at the concert.

My problem is that these complex chords goes very slowly, with long time between the repositionings.

Theoretically I know what I play ("there's the 9th, there's a dominant", etc.) and I play without score after I've learned a section.

But it still remains, how do I get up to the intended tempo?

My answer is that the answer isn't fancy and there's no shortcut. Once basics are in place, push the tempo notch by notch together with the metronome (or perhaps no metronome).

Beyond that, what advice do you have to give me?

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  • My problem seem to be "pre-load" my chords, to think ahead, and that positioning the chords takes a long time. So the playing stalls and staggers.
    – Frans
    Aug 1 at 10:41
  • I recommend the practice technique described here: music.stackexchange.com/a/105124/70803
    – Aaron
    Aug 1 at 12:03
  • Interesting, I followed up in that thread.
    – Frans
    Aug 2 at 19:57
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Playing transcriptions can be beneficial to any player but because of the abundance of information and technology out there, learning to play something someone else already played is becoming much too commonplace in my opinion. This is sometimes at the expense of learning proper technique and vocabulary. I don’t know you and am not making any judgements here, I just think this is a good setup for my answer.

Take a break from transcriptions, in the end you will only be learning to play one thing well rather than improve your overall skill level.

My suggestion is to expand your knowledge and vocabulary of voicings and chord progressions. I assume you are playing rootless 2 hand voicings but it doesn’t really matter, it could be LH bass and RH chord, quartal, drop 2, drop 3, whatever. What I suggest you do is learn to play common chord progressions in all 12 keys, for example:

IIm7-V7-Imaj7 (or I6/9)

Imaj7-VIm7-IIm7-V7-Imaj7

I’ll abbreviate a few more:

1-4-3-6-2-5-1

2-5-3-6-2-5-1

Cycle of 5ths dominant chords are also great, C7-F7-Bb7 etc.

Do them in either chromatic sequence (C,Db,D etc) or in cycle of 5ths (C,F,Bb)

It could be anything, also do minor progressions as well.

Getting proficient at this type of thing will very likely make whatever you encounter in a transcription more familiar and easier to play in the long run.

5
  • Good answer. Furthermore this will expand your toolset to fill a reading gap. (Instead of just falling silent at a live situation) Aug 2 at 6:49
  • I can see both sides. I do some exercises (all major and minor chords up and down chromatically 3 octaves, and their voicings up and down). While I'm happy with those, the problem I have with them is that they're endless, and it's so hard to see a result, for me. You never reach an end. Tunes are more pragmatic. Another name for them is etudes ;-) I think the concern of hard-to-motivate-exercises is valid, and for instance Nahre Sol suggests augmenting them with improvisation, in this video: youtube.com/watch?v=FOkgrfemsuU .
    – Frans
    Aug 2 at 20:25
  • One of my current project is a song looping over a measure of E13(sus4), F#13(sus4), C#13(sus4), D#13(sus4), same voicing for all. I'm happy for it, I see it as an exercise/etude in suspended chords. I definitely see your point. If one plays standard repertoire it's difficult to not know 2-5-1 in popular keys, somewhat at least. Thanks for your suggestions of progressions/cadences, I will replace an exercise or two over time.
    – Frans
    Aug 2 at 20:33
  • 1
    It is good at some point to practice chord voicings chromatically up and down the keyboard but playing progressions that are commonly used and even full tunes in a few different keys for that matter is much better because if gives you practical experience on how chords and voicings interact with each other in a harmonic flow. Of course if you incorporate improvisation into the mix that’s great as well and will make it even more fun and interesting to practice. Doing all this will improve your technique, harmonic vocabulary and recognition of things you might find in transcriptions. Aug 2 at 22:21
  • 1
    Exactly. Learning pieces one by one has never been considered the best way by me, for students. Learn the nuts and bolts, and apply them to songs. No immediate 'I can play this song now' - but in the long run, 'I can play any song now!' +1.
    – Tim
    Aug 4 at 7:39
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Practice slowly but accurately. Like REALLY slowly, if that's the speed you can be accurate at. You can do this yourself.

If a particular section is a problem, look at your fingering choices, hand positions etc. and check you're not sabotaging yourself. You'll find a teacher very useful here.

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Try out this "technique" by analyzing 9th, 11th and 13th chords as a sum of 2 chords: ii/V or vii7/V and ii7/V IV7/V.

This way will help you constructing, writing, reading and fingering these chords.

Edited: 2t chords => 2 chords

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  • Interesting, I want to understand what you say, @Albrecht. Are you talking about stacked chords? For instance, that "Dm/C7" is one way to see a C13? Your notation, "ii/V" etc, makes me think of how secondary dominants are notated (at least in Sweden). So, G13 is V in the key of C. How would you deconstruct it, in the way you write here? Also, what is "t2"? I associate to "triad", "ternary", but can't make sense of it.
    – Frans
    Aug 2 at 20:07
  • 1. Yes, I mean Stacked chords: Dm/G = Dm above G etc. 2. Yes, you are correct: ii/V actually means somethung different: like V/V stands for secondary dominant. 3. This was just a typo: t2. I will edit this one, thank you. Aug 3 at 21:32
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If learning efficiency is your goal, a good principle to apply to any piece is to break it up into small sections. Bear in mind that this is not necessarily the most enjoyable way to learn.

For example, let's imagine you have 16 chords to learn and have 30 minutes to allocate to the task.

  1. Separate the sequence into pairs of chords.

  2. Practice playing the first pair accurately, until you develop 'muscle memory', and can transition smoothly between them without looking at sheet music.

  3. Repeat the process for chords 3 and 4.

  4. Repeat the process for chords 2 and 3.

  5. Now play the first 4 chords in sequence.

30 minutes should be sufficient to give you a good grip on these 4 chords. By this I mean that when you return for your next session, you should enjoy a pretty good level of muscle memory and visual recall.

In 4 - 8 sessions, you will have come close to learning the 16 chord progression, from memory. Don't assume a 30 minute session is best for you. 15 minutes might be adequate/appropriate for your purposes. 15 disciplined minutes spent learning 4 chords goes a long way.

If you get bored with this process, that's fine. You may enjoy improving over the right hand, then improvising under the left for a bit of variation. Your progress with the chord changes will be slower, but you will be enjoying yourself and learning other valuable things which are relevant to the piece.

If you can tolerate the repetition, this is a very, very effective way to approach chords and melody. It rewards you with recognisable outcomes from each session, which can in turn motivate future practice sessions.

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