Creating Your Own Solo

3 Sundays, Feb. 12, 26 and March 12

Creating Your Own Solo
Age Adult
Event Type Workshop
Department Theory and Improvisation
Day Sun
Instructor Michael Smolens
Status inperson event

As valuable as learning (or even transcribing) a role model’s amazing solo can be, being able to play it convincingly is very often beyond the technical abilities of a jazz student or even someone who is performing regularly. Learning how to create your own solo will help you to address that gap and build your confidence. How? By creating a solo that you can play with conviction, which will always sound more authentic and feel better, something audiences always appreciate (as well as your bandmates), vs. habitually trying to play beyond your ability. 


This workshop will help you expand your vocabulary, build your phrasing, clarify your notation skills, and help you learn how to patiently take apart technical issues. It will also be an opportunity for you to expand on the feel of a particular piece. You’ll learn not only how to create an entire solo from start to finish, but also how to create “partial solos” — beginnings, endings, points of arrival, textures for specific parts of a tune, and more. 


The workshop begins with an overview of over a dozen different soloing techniques. To create your solo, you’ll commit to a particular technique based upon your playing level and interests. The more advanced the player, the more techniques you’ll be encouraged to incorporate. (Pro-level players will have the option of modeling their solo based upon a recording artist’s specific style). 


* note — the workshop is structured with two weeks between each session, allowing you to put in consistent time on your solo.  

Prerequisites: ability to read music, basic background in jazz theory, and at least an intermediate level with your instrument or voice. 

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Michael Smolens has taught jazz to pianists, vocalists, and non-keyboardists for five decades. In addition to his two music degrees from UC Santa Cruz, he has studied with such innovative teachers as Art Lande, Kenny Werner, Allaudin Mathieu, Terry Riley, and Dorothy Taubman. He has published and lead workshops extensively on the art of practicing, and his teaching is informed by physical re-training principles and time management techniques. 

As a bandleader, Michael has created and performed with a myriad of ensembles, from duos to 18-person groups covering jazz, world music, and chamber music. He has recorded and/or performed instrumentally with Stefon Harris, Paul McCandless, Paul Hanson, Sheldon Brown, Erik Jekabson, David Balakrishnan, Evan Price, Zakir Hussain, Akira Tana, Alan Hall, and vocally with Rhiannon, David Worm, Bryan Dyer, Katy Stephan, Roberta Donnay, and Claudia Schmidt.

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Testimonials from Michael’s other workshops: 

Creating Compelling Intros


“I found Michael’s workshop to be filled with incredible amounts of knowledge that greatly expanded my own musical understanding. He clearly came well-prepared with an audio engineer, quality sound and multiple video POVs, written sheet music to follow along, and over 40 different examples of introductions by well-known artists and his own intros that he played . . . “

— Niko E. (pianist/composer) 

“Thanks so much, Michael. Great class! I learned so much.” 

— Socorro D.C. (pro arranger/composer) 

The Art of Practicing 


“Yesterday, my piano trio class finished with our end of quarter performance. 

And I noticed a big difference in how I approached my performance this time 

around, thanks to the practice tips I learned from your class. I focused more 

on the ‘weak welds’ in both my melodies and solos, and was able to use limited 

practice time more efficiently and produce more satisfying results. By making 

some mindset shifts, like practicing with mindfulness and self-compassion, I was 

able to relax, lean into the music, and enjoy it more. Thank YOU so much for 

teaching this workshop!” 

— Marge A. (Jazzschool pianist)


Play The Piano Like A Drummer


“Michael’s system for breaking down vamps and starting to improvise on them is ingenious. It also applies to other areas of jazz with repeated patterns, such as Brazilian music. His helpful observations about each student’s set-up and posture already helped ease pressure on my ankle when peddling. Michael very generously offered a free coaching lesson between classes to help solidify the concepts. This class should be offered regularly by CJC!” 

— Mike T. (Jazzschool pianist) 


Holiday Arranging


“His workshop on Holiday arranging was incredibly useful and he helped jump start my first large scale arrangement of a spiritual. Michael’s comments were very detailed and he spent extra time helping me between the two workshop meetings. Above and beyond! Thank you!”

— Frances F. (Jazzschool recorder player)