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#1922151 - 07/03/12 10:08 AM Learning jazz as an adult
Elkayem Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/02/12
Posts: 159
Loc: Santa Clara, CA
I am 40, and would like nothing more than to learn to play jazz piano. I learned classical piano as a child with about 8 years of regular lessons before heading off to college. After that, I didn't touch a keyboard for 20 years. About 2 years ago, I bought a piano with the sole purpose of learning how to play jazz. (I have been a lifelong enthusiast but was tired of sitting on the sidelines and letting others have all the fun.) I have maintained a rigorous practice schedule averaging 1 hour a day, and have been taking lessons from a local jazz pianist. It took about 6 months to get my classical music back to where it was in high school, but the jazz is simply not coming along. Some well meaning friends have told me I just need to get out and play with people, but I don't feel confident enough yet to even play for the neighbor's cat.

Jazzwee, I read one of your posts on another thread, and it was a real inspiration to me: Link: Can an adult beginner ever make up for being a late starter?. I don't know if you are reading this thread, but if you have any more comments on your experiences learning jazz as an adult, I'm all ears. With about 600 hours of practice time as an adult, I recognize I have a long way to go before I should expect results.

I am plagued by self doubt, oh, about every day. My teacher reassures me that what I want is within my grasp. However, part of me wonders whether a secret ingredient is needed to succeed, an innate ability to hear and play by ear. I have a neighbor who plays casually, and can play just about anything by ear. Pick an old show tune or pop tune and she will play a nice arrangement with full harmonies in what ever key you choose. She claims she never set out to learn how to do this and has been able to do this as long as she can remember. She claims her fingers "just know what to do". (Oh yeah, and she has perfect pitch which she says is also innate. But I don't see why that should help her with anything.) I certainly can't do anything like that, and I have been actively trying to pick up this skill!

I am curious if any other members here have experience learning jazz as an adult. If so, what was your experience? How long did it take before you could play for your friends? With other musicians? Did you ever feel you had a knack for it that others didn't have, or were all of your skills hard won through years of practice? And was there anything special you did that you felt helped you to rapidly progress?

Larry
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#1922160 - 07/03/12 11:01 AM Re: Learning jazz as an adult [Re: Elkayem]
jjo Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/09/08
Posts: 593
Loc: Chicago
You can do it. I did! I played classical through college. After that, I just played pop music (Not jazz) for fun for 30 years. Then, at at 50, I started jazz lessons. To see where I've come, look at my web site, www.secondcityjazz.com. I've reached this point and I rarely practice an hour a day. I do play about every day, but an hour is a goal I rarely reach. I also cannot play by ear. I cannot listen to any tune and just play it. So this is within your grasp.

You do need to start playing with other people. Start with a Jamey Aebersold play along. No matter how bad you sound, just play along. After a year of lessons, I signed up for a jazz ensemble class (we're lucky to have great ones in Chicago). Boy did I suck, but you hang in there and slowly gain confidence. Now, I have my own band, play in a Latin Jazz Ensemble class, and I'm off to jazz camp next week!

I remember a jazz class I took where I accompanied singers. The teacher started out by telling the singers, many of whom were pretty new to jazz, that jazz is hard. It is very hard. It just takes time. And, unlike classical music, where you can learn a simple piece and play it well if you just practice hard, the only way to get comfortable playing with others is the play with others and suck for a while. There is just no subsitute.

Jazz is worth every bit of the effort. Just do two things: (1) be patient, and (2) throw yourself into playing with others, regardless of the early outcomes.

Hope this helps. Ask any questions you have.

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#1922180 - 07/03/12 12:08 PM Re: Learning jazz as an adult [Re: Elkayem]
jazzwee Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/25/07
Posts: 6990
Loc: So. California
Elkayem, my road was much harder than yours or jjo. I didn't start to play piano till I was 47 so building chops added to the challenge. You've already skipped that.

What I've discovered is that studying jazz is something that takes a long time before it all sinks in and you discover you can actually play a tune completely. Someone else made this comment and I agree. It is easier to sound accomplished earlier on when you're playing from sheet music (like playing classical). You will not reach that in jazz so quickly so it's easier to get frustrated.

Keep playing against backing tracks since it forces you to play in time and stick the form (instead of what you think the form is).

The very basic skill that you have to accomplish is to be able to "play the changes". This means that whatever chord progression is thrown at you, you are able to play some notes applicable to the chord (chord tones). One quick exercise is just to play 1-2-3-5 of each chord. You need to automatically go to each shape without thinking. This takes years to master so get cranking on it.

For many years I just focused on one tune most of the time (All the Things You Are). I found that I did not lose time by sticking to this tune instead of studying 500 at the beginning.

There's no doubt that this is all about hours. There's a massive amount of information to process. But the other part that's difficult for classically trained types is that improvisation comes from a part of the brain that has to "let go". Classical tells you to follow someone else's rule while jazz is more outside the box. If anything, this is my advantage from the beginning. I didn't mind screwing up and playing weird solos.

Over time you start to hear the problems and you fix it. You just need to let go and not censure what you do.

As far as playing with others, the fact is, you won't be able to do that until you've some semblance of basics down since no one will play with you otherwise. So start off playing with backing tracks or even playing with records.

So overall, it's quite doable. You're starting earlier than me and skipping the chops part. You can do it in less time if you spend the hours. I still practice 2-3 hours a day every day because I'm serious about it. I'm intent on crossing the line of being an "average" jazz player and it takes time. Like anything else, I'm expecting 10,000 hours and I'm only near 6K hours. But remember this includes chops for me so your journey will be shorter.
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#1922438 - 07/04/12 01:49 AM Re: Learning jazz as an adult [Re: Elkayem]
Elkayem Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/02/12
Posts: 159
Loc: Santa Clara, CA
JJO and Jazzwee, thank you so much for your thoughtful replies! You are both an inspiration to me. I am hearing 1) be patient with myself, 2) be prepared to put in the hours, 3) I eventually need to play with other people, but perhaps not just yet. I am curious about when I should think about seeking out other musicians. If I tried to now, I would get kicked out before I made it through the first chorus. Should I wait until I can play the changes on any lead sheet at any tempo? And when I do, how would I find other musicians who would put up with me while I "suck for a while"?

On the other hand, I am currently using backing tracks. I bought a copy of Band in a Box (the "everything" pack) and find it to be incredibly helpful. Maybe I'll just keep that going for a while.

Jazzwee, I followed your signature to your blog and found your discussion on your practice routine very helpful. I was really intrigued to hear you say you were glad you didn't waste a bunch of time learning a lot of tunes, and just focused on one for a long time. My teacher actually refuses to get into tunes, instead focusing on lots of different exercises like improvising on 2-5-1-6 chord progressions in major and minor and all keys. In nearly two years we have worked on only one tune, instead putting most of our effort into excercises. I actually feel guilty trying out a few tunes on the side, but I am amazed at what I can do now when I try.
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#1922442 - 07/04/12 02:10 AM Re: Learning jazz as an adult [Re: Elkayem]
Elkayem Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/02/12
Posts: 159
Loc: Santa Clara, CA
And jazzwee, listened to some of your tracks on your blog, and you sound great! Can't believe you picked up piano and jazz only 7.5 years ago. I agree I have a head start from where you were when you started, given my training 20 years ago. I was amazed at how quickly it all came back. Jazz, however, is not coming easily to me, at least not yet. I would be very satisfied in life just to be an "average" player.

I'm going to start digging into that "Jazz Study Group" discussion you started. Just discovered that thread.

JJO, tried to listen to some of the tracks on your website, but my web browser is freezing up. Looks like SCJ plays the music I love: Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, etc.
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#1922459 - 07/04/12 05:01 AM Re: Learning jazz as an adult [Re: Elkayem]
jazzwee Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/25/07
Posts: 6990
Loc: So. California
Elkayem, if other players can tolerate you, by all means, mix it up with others. But to be fair to the others, all of you need to maintain the form and keep the tempo.

Let me say that picking the right notes will be the least of your concern at that point. I really had a lot of success working with the iRealB app on my Iphone/Ipad/Android device. Simpler than BIAB since all the tunes are already there. It's good to practice staying on the form.

I bet you that the biggest concern to you as a jazz player is "picking the right notes". Yet, this is just a fraction of what's needed. Even the simplest solo would make you passable (for example just chord tones) but not being able to keep accurate time and form will shut down any interaction with others fast.

Just a quick check on what your teacher is teaching you.

Make sure you're learning two handed voicings. Believe it or not, you're spending more time on comping and voicings and playing heads then doing solos and these get ignored a lot.

I like to think of tunes in the context of a full tune like All the Things You Are (ATTYA) instead of just 3-6-2-5-1 exercises because again, the form is important.

How's your chord-scale theory? E.g. what scale do you play on BMaj7#11 or A-7b5? etc. Make sure you know this. I didn't learn this from teachers. Every teacher just expects me to know this already (meaning go through the Levine book on your own).

Doing any transcribing? There are plenty of simple solos from which you can learn a lot, like Blues or Miles Davis. All these are part of the education. When transcribing, listen to the articulation too.

What about rhythms? Doing any particular kind of rhythmic practice? On a 4/4 tune can you play in random sequence: triplet quarters, eighths, triplet eighths, 16ths, triplet sixteents and not lose time? What do you to keep yourself in the pocket?

What about swing? Are you listening to the articulation of various jazz masters and hearing the intricacies of what they're doing? Are you aware of accents? Dragging or Pushing the beat? Hard swing vs Straight? Laid back?

Given less than an hour a day so far, how much time are you dedicating to actual improvising? Remember, you have to break out inhibitions. That's what allows you to play jazz. This means you have to improvise DAILY. For me it's at least 2/3 of my practice.

On learning tunes, when I started doing jam sessions and gigging, I had to learn a lot of tunes fast. Most standards I can play immediately just by reading the leadsheet. So often the only thing to really learn is to play the head (often I'm saved by a horn or guitar player on that. The point is that most ii-V-I tunes don't require preparation.

However, my teacher focused primarily on tunes that have no functional progressions and those are more difficult to play. So I actually spent most of my "learning tunes" time on those. Then by the time I started on Giant Steps, I could mechanically do it (though it takes a lot more time to make it musical). You'll see a lot of tunes we worked on in the advanced thread fall into this non-functional progresion category. It's more challenging to approach.

The biggest thing to learn about playing with others is to learn to listen. They say you have "2 Ears". One to listen to yourself, and the other to listen to the others. Distribute your attention accordingly smile

That's a start right there...
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#1922495 - 07/04/12 07:31 AM Re: Learning jazz as an adult [Re: Elkayem]
knotty Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/01/07
Posts: 2938
Loc: Bethesda, MD (Washington D.C)
Hi Elkayem,

This is how I would go about it.

Get yourself a copy of the Jazz Piano Book by Levine and read it. By the end of the week, you'll have enough theory knowledge to last you forever. That way, when people throw complicated terms at you, you'll at least know what they mean. You may not know how to apply a tritone sub, but you'll know what it is.
That will make your lessons and reading forums that much easier.

Next, assuming you know your scales and you have basic sight reading skills, I would look into Dave Frank's Joy of Improv. Several of us are discussing and using it here:
http://www.pianoworld.com/forum/ubbthreads.php/topics/1922059.html
It's a book in 2 volumes that you can buy, but it's mostly a method for learning jazz, specifically when coming from a classical background. The reason this method is great is because it makes you learn all those things that people are talking about in order. You never get overwhelmed, but you never get to waste your time either. You'll work daily on technique, phrasing, swing, improv, 2 handed voicings, arrangements, etc ...
I don't know that Dave still accepts new students, if he did, that would be the best way to get the most out of the method, but otherwise, if you were interested, I would recommend simply joining that thread.

If your background is that you can play all your major scales and sight read the Bach prelude in C, and if you can dedicate about an hour a day to playing the piano, then in less than 3 years, you'll be out playing with others and loving how you sound.

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#1922527 - 07/04/12 09:57 AM Re: Learning jazz as an adult [Re: Elkayem]
jjo Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/09/08
Posts: 593
Loc: Chicago
If you've been taking lessons for two years, you are overdue to start playing with others. Way overdue. It's just about finding the right people. Jazz camps are great, although it' a little late in the season. Camps are good because they group people by experience level. Are there any music schools that have ensemble classes? You need to hook into what I call the serious amateur club; people who can play but aren't professional musicians. I found them in my city through a local music school.

Jazzwee's comment about two handed comping is really on point. My start was a jazz ensemble class at a local music school. I could play bad solos, but I'd never comped for a band. You need two handing comping voices. They are easy to learn. Most people will be fine if you can comp with good strong rhythm and take a short and inoffensive solo. You are part of the rhythm section, and your ability to contribute there will be perhaps more important that the quality of a solo.

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#1923041 - 07/05/12 03:08 PM Re: Learning jazz as an adult [Re: Elkayem]
Scott Coletta Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/07/11
Posts: 514
Loc: Chicago
After reading this thread the thought occurred to me to dig out the first recording I did of myself playing jazz... or trying to anyway. laugh I did this when I was 21, after 1 semester of jazz piano lessons in college. I was a music major, and accomplished at classical, but I had virtually no exposure to jazz prior to this time. Here it is...

There Will Never Be Another You (recorded in 2001):
https://www.box.com/s/3287372ebe64996ef5b4

A little about this... I wasn't able to improvise two-handed at all, so I recorded a drum track using the keyboard, with metronome. Then I recorded another track of bass, LH. Then a track of comping, LH. And finally a track of melody/lines, RH (which doesn't come in until mid-way). My timing was horrible! And I didn't know the tune, so I was reading, and frantically trying to keep up with figuring out the form/chords/scales. I would say that this was about 80% thinking and 20% guided by ear. And it sounds like it!

Now fast forward to today... I recorded the same tune this morning. This is two tracks. The first is walking bass with LH while comping with RH. The second is melody/lines with RH while comping with LH. They are panned for clarification. While it's still along way from where I'd like to be, it's vastly different than my earliest attempt. The first noticeable difference is the timing, done without a metronome, but much stronger. Also I played it from memory, not reading. And it's largely guided by ear, supported by a more-or-less subconscious awareness of the form, chords, scales, etc.

There Will Never Be Another You (recorded today):
https://www.box.com/s/f4011ca940b32d5dffc2

I just wanted to share this as an example of progress learning jazz as an adult. I've definitely practiced alot, more than an hour a day, but nothing too insane. Probably averages out to 2 or 3 hours a day. Also, I spent alot of time playing with others.

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#1923086 - 07/05/12 04:59 PM Re: Learning jazz as an adult [Re: Elkayem]
jazzwee Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/25/07
Posts: 6990
Loc: So. California
Excellent example Scott. It shows we all pretty much sounded the same at the beginning. And great playing on the latest!
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#1923102 - 07/05/12 05:45 PM Re: Learning jazz as an adult [Re: jazzwee]
Steve Nixon Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/18/10
Posts: 216
Loc: Chicago
You can absolutely learn jazz as an adult student.

95% of my my jazz students are adults. smile

In a # of ways adults have an advantage over kids because of increased self discipline and ability to understand music theory on a higher level among other things.
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#1923180 - 07/05/12 09:17 PM Re: Learning jazz as an adult [Re: Elkayem]
Elkayem Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/02/12
Posts: 159
Loc: Santa Clara, CA
Scott, thanks for the great comparison! I would definitely take your current playing. So many of the top players seem to be emerge fully formed at age 21 that it is tempting to think that jazz is a gift, and if one doesn't get it right away, one never will.
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#1923182 - 07/05/12 09:25 PM Re: Learning jazz as an adult [Re: Elkayem]
Elkayem Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/02/12
Posts: 159
Loc: Santa Clara, CA
Knotty, thank you for the suggestion of Levine's book. I have it, and to be honest haven't found it to be that useful yet. I have a few other books as well which I prefer so far. Theory is definitely not a problem for me, and intellectually I have no problem understanding jazz chord progressions and substitutions. Turning these concepts into something that swings at the keyboard is another matter entirely. I will check out Dave Frank's book. Thanks for that suggestion!
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#1923185 - 07/05/12 09:42 PM Re: Learning jazz as an adult [Re: Elkayem]
Elkayem Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/02/12
Posts: 159
Loc: Santa Clara, CA
jazzwee, I agree it is a good idea to make sure I am learning the right things at my lessons. We spend about 90% of the time on improvisation, and that reflects my practice time as well. Not on tunes though. He seems to prefer breaking things down into simpler chunks. He has done a good job showing me various choices of scales to use over chord progressions, and why they make sense, so I don't feel deprived there. We have not yet spent any time on comping. A little bit on two handed voicing mostly in the context of exercises on voice leading. I suspect there is a plan to work on comping at some point, but the emphasis so far seems to be more on solo piano rather than with a group. I have faith I am being taught the right things, and any deficiencies so far are due to my own ineptitude. When it comes to this, I seem to be a slow learner, but I will keep chipping away at it.

jjo, I am going pursue the jazz camp idea. There are a few good ones in our area. I'll register for the Summer 2013 when the time comes. That should give me more than enough time to prepare myself.
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#1923191 - 07/05/12 10:04 PM Re: Learning jazz as an adult [Re: Elkayem]
Bex Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/19/08
Posts: 94
Loc: Southern California
Jazz isn't the only music genre that uses a lot of improvisation. Baroque music also does. Many times, the composer just added some key single notes, and the performer improvised on the chordal progression and contrapuntal style.

I'm playing Bach's Partita in C minor, and I've added a very improvisatory ending.

Just my two cents.

(By the way, I play both classical and jazz. I have tons more experience on the former, but jazz is much easier with a classical background heavy on theory).)
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#1923220 - 07/05/12 11:37 PM Re: Learning jazz as an adult [Re: Elkayem]
jazzwee Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/25/07
Posts: 6990
Loc: So. California
Elkayem, sounds like you're being guided properly. I just wanted to make sure I gave you a check-list to compare against.

From what you're saying, it sounds like your teacher is trying to impart a jazz "vocabulary". So that's good and it takes awhile to sink in. Like I said earlier, picking the correct 'notes' is hardly the issue at first. So don't hesitate to play, record, hang out with the others if you can retain the form and keep a beat.

BTW, everyone teaches jazz differently so I don't worry too much about approaches. They're all good (if they can play). I've realized that learning comes from ourselves. There's so much information that if you're willing to be a sponge, you can learn regardless of approach.

One thing though is at some point, pick the style of jazz you lean to as that may direct your teacher choice later in the game. I've had 5 teachers now and stuck regularly with one that matches my interests.

Don't forget the big giant jazz thread we have here. Lots of tidbits over the years.
Jazz Study Group (Beginner)
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#1923221 - 07/05/12 11:40 PM Re: Learning jazz as an adult [Re: Elkayem]
Elkayem Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/02/12
Posts: 159
Loc: Santa Clara, CA
The beginner jazz study group thread is awesome!
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#1923721 - 07/07/12 10:50 AM Re: Learning jazz as an adult [Re: Elkayem]
Elkayem Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/02/12
Posts: 159
Loc: Santa Clara, CA
Steve Nixon, thanks for the comment. The free lessons on your signature are great! Just incorporated your 2-5-1 licks into my practice routine.
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#1924970 - 07/10/12 07:33 AM Re: Learning jazz as an adult [Re: Elkayem]
kenjazz Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/08/12
Posts: 193
Loc: Massachussetts, USA
I didn't start attempting to pick up jazz piano until I was older than 50. I'm not in a situation where I have any expectation of being able to play with any other musicians, so that is of course profoundly limiting.

What I've found to be really rewarding though, is to use the band-in-a-box software with the real soloists and rhythm sections. Then if you spend time working on your own arrangements of standards or originals and record your on versions of full jazz tunes, you may be learning a bit more than just noodling around against some backing tracks. You'll definitely learn more about what sounds good for beginnings/endings/turnarounds/style changes with other musicians.

I have a blog titled "Learning To Play Jazz Piano After Age 50+" http://kenblog05.blogspot.com, where I post each new recording on the journey and a story behind it.

Keep the faith though. I get hits on this blog from literally every country in the world from people starting with the same search: How do I start learning to play jazz piano after age 40,50,60,70!
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#1925285 - 07/11/12 12:08 AM Re: Learning jazz as an adult [Re: Elkayem]
Elkayem Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/02/12
Posts: 159
Loc: Santa Clara, CA
Ken, thanks for your encouraging feedback! I listened to some of the tunes on your blog. Sounds like you are developing some terrific solo jazz piano technique! I also enjoyed the frequent accompaniment from Cliff. You are definitely further along than I am. I can't understand why on your blog you say you will "never be able to play any type of live music". It sounds like you are well on your way. That is definitely the direction I would like to go.

My own piano instruction is focused on very narrow exercises and NO TUNES. I am doing lots of drills and improvisation in all keys. I know there is a master plan, and perhaps someday it will all come together at once. However, I do play some tunes on the side. Nothing performance grade, but enough to keep me interested and convinced my training is going somewhere. From the things you are doing, it sounds like your instruction is very different.

I really like what you are doing with Band in a Box. I use it as well (at the suggestion of my teacher) and find it is a kick. It is the next best thing to playing with a live group.

I will definitely start following your blog with interest.
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#1925346 - 07/11/12 07:35 AM Re: Learning jazz as an adult [Re: Elkayem]
kenjazz Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/08/12
Posts: 193
Loc: Massachussetts, USA
Thank you for the kind words! You are right, my instruction has been a little different than what most people would recommend.

When I took guitar lessons, I did a lot of scale drills and tried to learn a catalog of phrases, and play in all keys. And as it turned out I never had an opportunity to play with other players due to access, time commitments and lack of professional-grade skill.

So I really hated my playing because it sounded like a lot like what it was - scales, arpeggios, and phrases. What I like to listen to has a much more lyrical quality with a lot of use of space and melodic lines. I also never got around to actually making entire songs work right, with a good beginning, ending, and all of the turnarounds.

When I took up piano, I told the teacher right off that I was not going to do any scale drills at all. period. I also have no great interest in spending the time learning a tune in every key, since I won't be getting to require that on a gig. Of course my playing suffers greatly for that since I have no chops whatsoever. But I wanted to get songs to sound like, well, a whole song, with interesting chord voicings, melodic improvisation, and a flow from beginning to end. (My lack of chops is starting to frustrate me now, so I might need to go back and revisit, though)

Now I like my guitar playing a lot more too even though I only pull one out a couple of time a year! It has become influenced by the piano playing.

Since you have band-in-a-box, you might want to start trying to do whole songs every once in a while. Even better, record yourself doing it because then you can't cheat. If you ever used the Jamie Abersold CD's, they are good - but it is too easy to just lay out on the intros and endings if they are playing something bizarre. If you record yourself with a cheap little MP3 recorder, then you can't cheat :-)
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