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I recently came across the book Improvising Jazz by Jerry Coker and that made me think whether there is a specific strategy to reading method books about jazz or music in general.

I have had a couple of books about jazz guitar like the Hal Leonard jazz guitar method to name a few and I had difficulty in following the book. I would start with some of the exercises in the book and get really busy with that and not use the book for a couple of months and when I would get back to reading it, a lot of the content would seem very hard to grasp/play. I continued like this till a point I lost all interest in the book and was back on the internet.

Has anyone else faced similar issues with method books and if so then do you have any tips or tricks to use the books in a better way?

Thanks

  • I don't think books can force anyone to learn anything. The internet is even worse, because it offers endless amounts of "look at me for instant gratification" waste of time. This very site might be a part of the problem. There are books and web sites about running marathons, losing weight, learning jazz guitar, etc. You need a strong motivation and self-discipline, preferably real people and a purpose. – piiperi Reinstate Monica Jan 8 at 15:21
  • I agree with pilperi. What you should be doing is reading a section and then trying to use that info in a session with other musicians, or as a compromise, with recordings that reinforce that concept. There's no better way to learn than to play notes. – Duston Jan 8 at 16:14
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A method is a means to do something, but a method is not a reason to do anything. "When there's a will, there's a way." A method book can provide a way, but it can't provide the will that's necessary.

So, how to get motivated? I've heard that there are two sorts of motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, and out of these two, intrinsic motivation is better for learning. Intrinsic motivation means that the skill you're learning gives you challenge, excitement, enjoyment, fun or fascination. Extrinsic motivation is something secondary, not for the thing itself, but for getting paid or avoiding something bad like a punishment or shame. Sometimes there are situations when you're locked up in a dead-end when it comes to enjoyment and fun, and in those situations some extrinsic motivation can help, for example in the form of a teacher who you don't want to let down. Or a performance or exam... But IMO performances should, at least at some point, become enjoyable. If they don't, then something is wrong.

So, with a bit of copy-paste from another answer of mine, you might find enjoyable performance situations in:

... in school, in church, at home, family get-togethers ... accompanying songs and playing small solos.

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I think an approach you can take is to first assess the method overall and ask yourself: "what goal is this method designed to reach?"

When you have an idea of the method's goal you can better fit it into your own plans and goals.

Sometimes you see a resource like (made up title) 100 ii-V-I licks. Things like that certainly present technical challenges. If you want to practice pure technique, it could be useful.

Another resource may teach about understanding chord tones in progressions as a path to improvisation. This is a more abstract approach that can be applied to any progression. The focus is less about technical performance, but rather about how chords and melody relate.

Some methods teach how to play from a lead sheet. You get some accompaniment patterns, maybe some tips for how to embellish a line, etc. The goal is about starting to build a repertoire of songs, and quickly get up to speed to actually play a song (even if it isn't a breathtaking improvisation.)

You could go on and on describing the focus of different methods. But the point is to make this kind of assessment of the method and then decide how you want to use it, or if you want to use it at all.

I can share a personal anecdote. For a long time I was try to learn from "book of licks" type resources and making no progress from it. Then I tried some lessons about walking bass and comping (piano) and suddenly I felt like I was making music! It made me realize my actual goal wasn't improvising crazy lines, but laying down the foundation of a song.

Maybe you need to match up goals for what is important to you.

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First I select study materials, in this case, a Method book that doesn't speak over my head, something I can understand without running to the dictionary for words in every paragraph. After I've found a good source of information, I use study habits I learned in school where I read the material and make notes. For some reason, the process of writing out the notes, helps me comprehend and retain that information so that when I work on the exercises that help develop my playing skills, I understand the purpose of the exercises and what it is I'm actually trying to accomplish. For me, understanding my goals helps me feel motivated and able to focus on those goals. Of coarse it helps if your interest is high and you are able to spend the time required to do the extra work. I've found that study habits I learned in school are still valuable to me as I continue to learn and grow many years later.

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