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A David Baker Perpetual Motion jazz exericse

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Looking for some free brain food to boost your jazz playing? Here's one, and the price is right. But you'll pay, yes, you'll pay to get this one under your fingers. I've been playing it off and on for over 20 years.

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I was discussing this with some musician friends recently and they requested a copy, so after digging it out I thought, why not share it here?

I didn't personally write this exercise -- that credit belongs to legendary jazz trombone player David Baker who taught for years at Indiana University. I've spent more hours than I can recall using this when I needed to hone my chops, and it's a remarkable exercise that taught me much. Sadly, Mr. Baker, who I had the pleasure of speaking with to get his permission to republish this exercise long ago, passed away at the age of 84 this past March.

It's a II-V-I exercise -- the most important in jazz for my money -- that winds its way through all twelve keys. It is part of a book he authored entitled How To Play Bebop I, still available, and it's not the only exercise in the book I dig. The entire book is a treasure.

My transcription originally appeared in an interview I did for the now defunct Mandolin Magazine back around 2001 or 2002. It's Baker's exercise note for note but with tablature added, and one F# near the end of the exercise that required we go up an octave because, well, you know, that low G doesn't retune easy while you're playing. Other than that, it's all there.

What this exercise taught me: play it long enough and some of the phrasing shows up in your playing. No, not like playing licks. It's more like vocabulary. And what great finger training. Play it slowly, very slowly, with a metronome. Strive for great tone and excellent timing. It will force you to make conscious decisions about which fingers to use to play certain notes. It will force you to play chromatically which most mandolin players avoid. Concentrate on good hand and finger position. It'll take you into keys you aren't used to, and that's OK. If you can play it in an hour, congratulations. It took weeks and months for me to get it under my fingers. It'll teach you that you can connect passages with notes that aren't scale tones which is an essential skill.

When I'm playing my best, I've been working this one. When I need to improve my chops, I revisit it. It's like Bach, of which Mike Marshall said, "everything seems a lot easier after you play it." That's what this exercise is. Take your time.

Remember, they calling it playing music because you're supposed to have fun.

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Updated Oct-27-2016 at 10:12pm by Mandolin Cafe

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  1. Ted Eschliman's Avatar
    Gold. Pure gold.
  2. danielpatrick's Avatar
    Thank you for sharing!