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Frazier Piano Studio

Isolate Create Imitate

Here is a framework for learning.


Be very specific about the thing you want to improve and work on.

This could be a blues lick, a jazz voicing, or a passage from a piece you are learning. For the example here, let's say we are transcribing a blues solo and there is a lick we like. We isolate this blues lick.

The more specific you can be about what needs fixed or what you are trying to improve the better your progress.


Once you isolate it now create variations on the thing. For the blues lick, how many different ways can you play it? Does it work for other chord progressions? Can you sing it?

If you practice the same thing over and over eventually the brain starts to tune out. If you create something with it you will stay engaged and discover new things.

Another way to say it is that you integrate the material.


Still using the blues lick as an example, now go back to the recording. Can you make it sound just like the blues artist? Are there similar variations of this lick that you could isolate? After listening some more, does it inspire you to create something else?

These 3 areas feed on each other. I find this framework leads to an enjoyable and productive practice session.

This doesn't just work for jazz. If I were working on a classical piece and I am having trouble with a difficult passage. I go through the same process.

Isolate the passage. Be very specific about what makes the passage difficult. Is it a fingering? Is it the counterpoint or the harmony?

Then I create variations on the passage. Is there an easier way to play it? Meaning, can I simplify or change the notes to something else that is easier?

One common way to do this is practice hands alone. This isolates the hands. But you could go further. Can you simplify the left hand to something easier? Can you sing the melody in the right hand as you play the left hand? Can you play a simplified block harmony in the left hand (or with both hands) while singing the right hand? If it is a large leap can you double the leap distance and do that? How about make the distance smaller and do that? The variations are endless.

Then you could find great players playing the passage. Watch them or listen to them. Your teacher might also play it for you. This is the imitate phase.

This process of Isolate, Create, and Imitate is not linear. Just like learning is not linear. It is much like trying to reach your destination by wandering through a strange forest. The adventurer gathers items and friends that will help him along his journey. What you find might be unexpected and surprising.

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