These are your Chops on Music


These are your Chops on Music

If you have little confidence improvising, or doing so negatively affects your playing from a physical standpoint you will benefit greatly by implementing an aural approach to your daily routine. A strategy called ideo-kinetics (which Bobby Shew talks about) combined with a structured labeling of sound yields fabulous results in execution and will get you rolling toward success with improvised music.

Ideo-kinetics is a practice procedure where you first sing the phrase while moving your fingers as if pressing down valves, then sing while pressing down the valves, and finally play the phrase on your horn. It’s a great way to learn material and works exceptionally well at developing musical control. While practicing in this manner experiment with labeling the sounds. In other words, sing the note’s name on the appropriate pitch. These spellings (Ab vs G#, Cb vs B, etc) are mainly dependent upon the chord/scale relationship although there will be some exceptions.

The illustrious ii – V7 – I progression:


  1. Play through excerpt (so you can hear it – if you already hear it skip this step)
  2. Sing the line with the correct spellings and finger imaginary valves
  3. Sing the line with the correct spellings and press down the valves
  4. Play through all slurred and then all tongued – this opens up facility

The above phrase is spelled (C-D-Eb-Bb-B-D-C-G-Bb-Ab-A-C-Eb-F-Gb-Ab-Gb-F-Eb-D). Remember to sing as close to the accurate pitch as you are capable at this time while vocalizing the note name.

Not all melodic statements are going to fit nicely into a theoretical box. Check out the bar of F7, beat 3. The Gb and Ab sound over F7 are what is commonly referred to as the (sharp) #9 and (flat) b9. A true #9 spelling over an F7 chord would be G#. So #9 moving to b9 would be spelled G#- Gb. This means you would be playing two G’s that sound a whole-step apart.

This is confusing and looks weird.


Ab – Gb flows better melodically and the sound of the whole step is reflected in its spelling. This can make it easier to internalize the vocabulary (especially when you get to less familiar keys) so find what spellings work for you. Be sure however to use a consistent spelling approach to all keys. Working through your less familiar keys in this manner keeps you from navigating phrases kinesthetically and gets you playing music.

Approaching practice in this way is an excellent tool for internalizing melodic structures. By using appropriate note spellings in relation to chord function you’ll be rewarded with ease in learning new materials, transposition, and improved sight-reading. Playing a musical with a key change every 8 bars? Blues in B? No problem.

As you become comfortable singing the appropriate spellings on pitch and with the valves moving visualize how the lines would look as if written down. This links up aural, kinesthetic, and visual cues in your mind which packs a big punch in recall.

Say Goodbye to Routine Monotony!

Practicing from an aural standpoint forces you to keep the melodic and harmonic materials you’re working on fresh. Why? Because it’s incredibly tedious. The novelty of cycling through different sounds becomes necessary to maintain sanity.

Internalizing the sounds of repertoire quickly grants faster access to stylistic manipulation of the parts. Developing your aural fluency shortens the distance between your mind and horn which eventually leads to a cycle of accelerated returns in which you’re soaking up musical information like a sponge and reproducing it on the fly.

After learning a few melodies in this manner you’ll soon find that it’s not about learning the “licks” so much as it is developing melodic facility in all keys. This makes it much easier to navigate the sounds you are hearing in your head. There is a huge difference between the players who are playing what they hear and those who are not.

Expand your ear and start getting the most musical leverage with the chops you’ve got.

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