(Scroll to the end to get the list of daily tasks. I’m going to start with a few words about when I tried my list for the first time last month. This list is mainly for wind instrument players.)

Although I have very little drawing experience, in October I participated in Inktober, where you get a daily prompt and draw something. I was telling a student about it and we thought, “It would be fun to do something like that with jazz!” So I came up with a list of daily activities based on my years of teaching and tried it out last month for myself. I called it January Jazz, and I went for broke, deciding to finally tackle Lush Life, which has long been a favorite but it’s never called at gigs, and it’s daunting.

I made each day’s task short and easy to understand. At first I thought maybe I’d made them too simple, as on day 8 I still didn’t feel like I could handle the song. Even around day 14 I was disappointed. BUT. Sure as Billy Strayhorn is a genius, around day 26 I played a solo that I actually LIKED. And I don’t like much.

There was one task I should add to this list on one of the easy days, and that is memorizing the lyrics if your song has lyrics. I did so with Lush Life, and it’s very important for phrasing and also for the feeling behind your solo.

And there was one task I didn’t complete. I did not get very far with analyzing Coltrane’s solo. I picked out a few “destination” notes and found out what part of the chord they were and just didn’t feel like I had the focus to do it all. Call it pandemic brain, call it old age, call it the bad influence of short tweets. Whatever. I just didn’t have the mental capacity that day.

One more note. I am vehemently against teaching by scales. There are chord tones and passing tones and purposeful outside tones. The end.

Anyway, here’s the list! I’m going to use it again in March with my friend Bobby’s suggestion, Wayne Shorter’s “Yes and No.” (Or Yes OR No, depending on who you ask.)

  1. Choose a song and listen to 3 versions of it. Make sure it’s a song you can find a background for. I use the irealpro app.
  2. Write out or print out the melody and chords–a lead sheet.
  3. With the background (these are always with the background, I’ll stop saying that now) play through the melody 3x and mess around with the melody 3x.
  4. Write out the chord tones including extensions.
  5. Play 5x using only one note for each chord. (Different each time through.) Did you find any voice leading you like?
  6. 5x arpeggiating each chord. Maybe from the bottom up, then up one and down another, etc. All from the bottom up is fine if you have a challenging song.
  7. Figure out what part of the chord each melody note is.
  8. Solo 5x however you want.
  9. Solo 5x using only chord tones.
  10. Solo 5x however you want but make sure you use eighth note triplets a couple times and quarter note triplets a couple times.
  11. Solo 5x however you want.
  12. Solo 5x, each time thinking of a different sentence and using only the rhythm of that sentence.
  13. Solo 5x. If your song has any ii-V-I’s, play 1,2,3 over the ii, 1,2,3 over the V, and a 1 on the I.
  14. Listen to 3 more versions of the song.
  15. Solo 5x however you want.
  16. Play the melody, solo 3x, and play melody again.
  17. Try the song in a different key.
  18. Back to the original key, solo however you want.
  19. Solo 5x using only longer notes the first time.
  20. Solo 5x trying to depict a different color each time.
  21. Try the song in yet another key.
  22. Take one of the solos you listened to on either day 1 or 14 and figure out which chord tone each note is. Also, what sorts of rhythms did they use?
  23. Solo however you want. Go particularly crazy!
  24. Listen to a woman instrumentalist if you didn’t before. Consider sharing her on your social media.
  25. If possible, record yourself or play for someone else.
  26. Tell someone why the blues scale doesn’t work just anywhere.
  27. Solo 5x. Any time there’s a V7-I, play the 7 of the V7 and the 3 of the I.
  28. Solo 5x pretending you’re your favorite jazz artist.
  29. Play 2x pretending your favorite jazz artist is in the audience. Play 2x pretending you’re playing for a preschool class.
  30. Solo however you want.
  31. Pick a new song!