This is my first post, and I didn’t have to rack my brain too long to think of something to share with all you gypsy jazz enthusiasts; something of the utmost importance in playing gypsy jazz:
Economy of motion in both hands while playing.
Having seen and/or played with Angelo, Bireli, Stochelo, Andreas, and countless other “masters” of this genre I realized that to successfully play this music, there are essentially 2 mountains to overcome:
A. Mastery of technique
B. Mastery of improvisational vocabulary
This post covers both points. To develop the kind of technique that the aforementioned masters possess, I recommend a 3-fold approach.
#1. Daily technique exercises – Exercises that include scales, 3 octave arpeggios for all main 5 arpeggio types with their applicable extensions (b5th, #5th, 7th, 9th, b9th, #9th, 11th, #11th, 13th, b13th):
- Major, Minor, Dominant, Diminished, and Augmented
- Now to overcome Mountain #1, I recommend something that classical guitarists call the “minimal movement principle”. It basically states that you employ the smallest amount of movement and muscular tension in both of your hands while playing. So to be successful in the application of this principle you have to audit yourself while playing and make the appropriate changes to fall in line with it. Basically, you have to determine, from the musculature of your fingers, and the action of your guitar how much movement and pressure are necessary to produce the most authentic and pleasing sound when you both pick and fret the notes you are playing. I have seen, for example, Stochelo burn through a tune while smoking a cancer stick and smiling (he was super relaxed to say the least) and I could barely see his pick hand moving while he was playing. I mean, it moved, but very minimally. When I saw Bireli play his fretting and picking hands moved with such minimalism he was able to pull off some rather amazing things (we all know this of course).
I have some excerpts for picking exercises from the book that I wrote a few years ago. If you want them, just send me a message.
Caveat – ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS USE A METRONOME for this portion of your practice regime.
#2. Transcribe Django’s Solos note-for-note and try to capture all the nuances of phrasing, attack, dynamics, etc. Utilize this list of great solos by Django if you were wondering which ones to do. By studying Django’s solos first, you build the same foundation of vocabulary and improvisational ideas that the modern masters have; as they ALL studied Django from their early years. Additionally, because Django’s technique was so incredible, you too, after having mastered several of his solos, will develop great technique, in addition to his unique sense of time, phrasing, and note choice (vocabulary)
#3. Transcribe the modern master’s solos – Do this only AFTER you have spent a considerable amount of time with Django’s solos. I say this is because Django is the most melodic gyspy jazz player who ever lived. The modern masters are great, no doubt, but they are not Django. Several modern masters come really close, such as Angelo, and Stochelo (his newer stuff anyway). Additionally, the modern masters solos are, most of the time, harder to play than Django’s stuff, as they all involve all 4 fingers at tempos Django rarely played at. If you spend a lot of time with Django, then these modern players solos are a bit more approachable then if you came at them with no Django foundation. Always use a program that can digitally slow down the solo (I use Amazing Slow Downer) and progressively increase the tempo on this solo (a couple of percentage points per day) until you can play it at 110% speed or greater. By playing it faster, you are really getting it under your fingers! This is what Stochelo does with Django’s solos (listen to his solos on Caravan). He always played them faster than Django did, most of the time.
By carefully following these 3 steps, utilizing the minimal movement principle, and being patient with your progress (Rome wasn’t built in a day!) I believe a rank beginner can achieve some measurable success. It worked for me! I transcribed all the time, initially with Django’s solos, then moved on to Stochelo, and Jimmy. Now I am working on Angelo and Bireli (my 2 favorite players in this genre). Just be patient and mindful of your movement; eliminating any extraneous movement and/or pressure from both of your hands.
Email me if you have any questions!