IFR Practice Group/Chat

Continuing the discussion from Looking for people to learn guitar with:

Okay, I’m going to give this a try.

I’ve been working with the IFR materials and method for a few years now. I love the approach, the philosophy, the whole system. I’m going to take on @ImproviseForReal 's suggestion and start this topic to document my practice goals and practice routine, maybe even some recordings(!).

Please feel free to participate with me, post some comments here, or start your own thread in the same vein. Not sure how this will go or develop, but here is the start. :slightly_smiling_face:

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First a little information about my musical background.

I took the obligatory piano lessons at school, not really having a strong passion for music, but enjoyed the challenge and had fun playing tunes. Learned to read music, everything was done from music books and sheet music, never developed skill of playing by ear.

From piano I tried out some guitar, fancied learning chords and pop songs but got a nylon string/classical to practice on and ended up learning some classical style.

When working life took over I didn’t spend much, if any, time on playing music, only listening. But occasionally played some guitar.

Now, I’m retired and have rekindled my interest in playing music. I have a digital piano and still have my nylon string classical guitar.

I have become really interested in traditional music, specifically Scottish, and have started learning to play the simple system flute (which is very similar to a Irish whistle only bigger and transverse). I’ve also tried learning bagpipes on a practice set because many of the traditional Scottish tunes are pipe tunes.

I am taking lessons and attend pub sessions where we play traditional tunes together, and I play with friends at informal meetups.

I’m working with the IFR materials to deepen my musical knowlege and develop my music skills. My current goal is to really strengthen the basics and fill in parts I think I’m missing. Specifically, at the moment, that’s ear training/playing by ear and harmony/chords.

I’ve re-tuned my guitar to P4 tuning (never liked the odd guitar tuning) to use to explore harmony/chords. I also bought a small tenor guitar which is more portable which I’d like to use as an accompanying instrument at sessions or in groups.

That’s about it in terms of background. In the next post I’ll focus on practice routine.


@mem This is so great, Marie-Elaine!! I will definitely enjoy seeing everything you post. I hope other people will join in!


Hi @mem I think this is great. Let me join in.

I’m a retired guy for the past 7 years, and about 20 years back decided to teach myself jazz piano. My music background is playing clarinet and saxophone in high school band, and bagpipes in college. Once tried to teach myself guitar, but failed.

My piano journey has been through a large collection of piano books, and online video lessons. Never went to a live teacher because a big part of what keeps me going is seeing how far I can get on my own. (yes, I realize music is a communal art form and that I’m spitting in the wind, but without strong motivation, things fall apart even sooner)

My focus right now is on the tunes and methods in the IFR Jazz workshop that started last September and is still running. I understand it’s being repackaged soon as a self-study course and I recommend it to all.

My other focus is on hearing the music better. I am singing the numbers daily and doing other “sing & play” exercises, which has helped me immensely. I no longer think music is something written on a page to be reproduced, but sounds in the air to which I can add my own sounds. I want to be able to distinguish the sounds I hear so they are not just a smear of sounds, and to be able to play along intelligently with tunes.

My habit these days is to focus on a different key each day. For example, today is key of Gb day. I do my ear exercises in that key, my piano technical exercises in that key. and I play the chords of whatever tune I’m practicing in that key. Been doing that for 6 months now, and I’m now able to get around the piano much better, and hear the sounds much better.

My medium range goal is to get the sounds of all the main jazz chord progressions in my ears and fingers. Things like 251, 6251, 736 progressions - the smallish building blocks of jazz tunes.

Without IFR to break me out of my mistaken musical conceptions that I inhaled during high school, I would still be trying to read notes on the page with little understanding of what’s going on for real.


Thanks @ImproviseForReal, looking forward to seeing where this goes and if course will welcome your input.

Great to have you on board @hender99. Not sure how this will progress, so feel free to make suggestions.

Jazz isn’t really my thing, although I do have the IFR Jazz Standards 1 material. Just got it to see if there was anything there I could learn from, but quickly realised it was a bit beyond my current knowledge if harmony. But I’ll probably re-visit it in future.

My focus is learning and playing by ear, ie away from sheet music. I’ve been through the Ear Training for Creativity course once, and will be going through again to try and really dial in the sounds of the tonal map.

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Bucking the trend, I’m not retired! Having been written off as a tone deaf no hoper I didn’t get to do anything musical in my school days & I was approaching 60 before I discovered that I wasn’t really tone deaf. It was not long after that I discovered IFR & I’ve been working on making the most of those discoveries ever since.

Very similar here in the sense of self motivated, using printed & online materials, and perfectly happy to play alone (even including without backing tracks).
Many people seem to consider the idea of wanting to play music, but without aspiring to play with or for others strange. Fortunately that doesn’t put me off. :slight_smile:

Trying to put it into words I think the best I can manage at present is that my desire is to play to explore rather than to entertain.

IFR provides a wonderful framework within which to explore the fascinating world of musical sounds.

Nor me. However the Jazz Study group does provide fascinating insights into harmonic relationships that can then be pondered on musically.

Not having any ‘earlier musical baggage’ I have the advantage of not having anything to move away from.

My focus is on developing basic instrument technique (I’m still very much a beginner) and making use of what little technique I have as soon as possible to explore sound worlds. I guess that’s one of the advantages of improvising, i.e. if you are ‘making it up’, you can do that at what ever level you are (providing you aren’t out to impress others). LOL!

I’m currently particularly enjoying the popMATICS ‘Campfire Challenge’ approach to ‘just making it up’, i.e. every day just hit record and see what happens in the next 5 minutes (or more) experimenting within a chosen set of constraints (Musical-U might well call this improvising within a ‘playground’?). The fact that the ‘constraints’ were devised for keyboard & I’m applying & adapting them to a fretted string instrument makes it all the more challenging & interesting. :smiley:

For those not aware of how the ‘Challenge’ works, those recordings are not things that are intended to be shared with others for discussion, they are essentially for yourself. You don’t even have to listen to them yourself! The ‘Challenge’; is to make a record each day through the ‘10 Day Challenge’. Then, having gained the habit, you may choose to continue doing so if you wish.
There are ways you could share the recordings if you wished. but that’s not the idea & there is no pressure to do so. I’ve done two runs now & I’m not sure if I recall any being posted to the popMATICS Discord? Maybe one, but I could be thinking of a post to another thing popMATICS do? The attitude towards experimentation & development that is encouraged is summed up by the line ‘Mistakes Burn in the Fire’.

Hey @DavidW, great to have you here.

I’ve been joining in with the popMatics Campfire Challenge too. Just finished my third run through it. I’ve been submitting recordings into my locker during all 3 challenges, (with one or two skipped days I must admit) but also tried to keep up the regular postings inbetween challenges. This keeps the the ideas fresh in my mind, and always for further exploration or a regular basis.

With IFR, I’m about to start again with the Ear Training course. I thought about moving on to the Recognising Chords course, but on further reflection I’ve decided to stick with melody for now.

Just spent a weekend playing flute at a weekend workshop, with lessons and sessions mixed in. This has really inspired me to concentrate on flute a bit more. I’ve been exploring guitar and harmony, and neglecting flute and melody a bit. So this has pushed into re-focusing my efforts here.

Ok, so practice today was Ear Training Lesson #1, notes 1, 2 and 3. Worked through the lesson then, to spice it up, because the lesson focusses on 1st HE where note 1 is tonal centre, I switched to 2nd then 3rd HE, using Seven Worlds Jam Tracks. Stuck with just using the 3 notes, but in each HE they sounded completely different.

Using guitar just now, but should be will try on flute as well.

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I’ve been to a few live teachers, but have pretty much taught myself, from books, video and audio materials. I do enjoy the intellectual challenges if music, but this tends ti get me “stuck in my head” and any from the sounds. Hence my current focus of working from and by ear.

I do love playing with other people, the physical experience of making together with others is hard to match. I also do a little informal performing, which is very rewarding too.

Are you going to continue with the Campfire Challenges?

@mem I certainly hope to. During the second run through I was findings things & developing understandings that I’d missed in the first month. This was especially so in the second week as the constraints are gradually relaxed more each day.

Some things translate more easily from keyboard to fretboard than others, and I’m sure that would be even more so with guitar (I’m using Chapman Stick, so I may play notes with either, or both, hands).

So here is the practice plan I’m following these days, more or less. Again I’m playing piano, and often singing along. I don’t do this in one sitting, but in pieces throughout the day. Yes, I confess that I don’t manage to do all these steps each day. But I get in most of them most days.

Each day I focus on a different musical key: it takes two weeks to go around the keys. One each for Sunday-Friday, and Saturday is a free day or a day to make up a missed day.

I have specific patterns I follow for most of the following, which I can share if there’s an interest in anything in particular.

  1. Get the sound of today’s scale in my ears for 5 minutes or so. Play and sing along. I have an exercise I made up that I call “crawling all over the scale”.

  2. Play chord triads and inversions for the scale. Play the 7th note chords. Sing along.

  3. Play the scale of the day again, along with the Barry Harris scale, and the harmonic minor scale for that key. Play the triads of the derived scales. Sing along.

  4. Play longer arpeggios for the scale of the day, and 251 and 451 cadences in different inversions. Sing along.

  5. Sing improvised melodies while playing the cadences, using mostly chord tones. Go slow. Sing slightly before the piano sounds.

  6. Play through the chords for the scale of the day using left hand roots, and right hand 37 shells. Then again with rootless voicing chords in right hand.

  7. Play the current exercise for the IFR Jazz Workshop. (or a section of whatever other tune I’m learning)

  8. Sight read some simple sheet music that is scored for both hands. (trying to get better at piano sight reading)

  9. Pick a jazz tune from the Real Book or other fake book, regardless of it’s key, and play melody and chord in right hand while playing root of chord in left hand.

  10. Sing simple song (folk song, Christmas carol, children’s song) from sheet music, but sing the IFR numbers as the melody.

  11. Improvise over the Blues progression or the Rhythm Changes progression in the key of the day. This is the “free play” part where I just let go and play where ever the music leads me.

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Wow, that’s some practice plan you have there! Thanks for sharing that. Some good ideas for varying the practice around some themes, like using the key of day.

Had to look up the ‘Barry Harris’ scale, that looks interesting, I’ll have to try it to understand how it sounds.

Are you too mainly playing for yourself, or do you play with others at all?

Who are your favourite jazz players you like to listen too?

I tried but couldn’t really get into jazz. I do listen to some occasionally, piano and guitar mainly, and some jazz singers.

@mem The Barry Harris scale is a piece of a larger system of chords and movements that give a particular sound. The pianist and educator Barry Harris formulated it, and you can hear him playing piano on Youtube videos. I’m just starting to get acquainted with that system, but I like the sound it produces.

I am playing alone, not 100% by choice. But I have family responsibilities that keep me housebound almost all the time. So music is my way to travel to another dimension.

I really love to listen to Duke Ellington, especially when his band plays something by Billy Strayhorn. For piano players, I really like Tommy Flanagan and Hank Jones, but there are so many great piano players. And I could listen to Ella Fitzgerald or Frank Sinatra all day long.

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FWIW I don’t put jazz high on my listening list, but I do occasionally listen to John Coltrane (e.g. A Love Supreme), MIles Davis, Dave Brubeck & one or two others. I’m quite partial to New Orleans jazz & Swing, and (at least partially due to some of the IFR backing tracks!) over the last few years I’ve developed something of a liking for ‘Smooth Jazz’ (e.g. George Benson).

A number of Chapman Stick players also clasify as Jazz, so you can include them too. Steve Adelson is an example (as of course was Emmett Chapman himself).

+1 to that. :smiley:

As mentioned in ‘Extended exercises for SINGING THE NUMBERS’ I’m experimenting with using abc notation to build an FtN track.

For a first cut I’m taking a ‘standard’ StN track as a strating point. I noted down the number groups for StN 19, typing them into a text file. I then applied a series of regular expression search & replace operations to manipulate the text into abc notation style melody (& ‘lyrics’, i.e. numbers) , then topped & tailed those lines this the appropriate abc markup to produce a ‘proper’ abc file my abc editor can work with (I use EasyABC).

The raw output from the basic conversion process has all notes the same lengths, which is obvioulsy not ideal! I’m currently tweaking the note lengths which is a little tedious but I hope won’t take too long (patterns build up). So far I have a file that can do a reasonable impersonation of the first 24 bars of StN 19, just the ‘piano’ (or any other MIDI instrument I choose) notes, without backing. It feels usable.

My aim isn’t really to reproduce a given StN track as an FtN equivelent. Rather, the exercise is about testing the concept of being able to use abc to produce FtN. By starting with an existing set of number groups from an StN track I’m not needing to come up with those too as part of the exercise.

Part of the appeal to me of this approach is the ease & flexibility of editing text files (it can be done anywhere, even if well away from any instruments or recordng equipment).

Having experienced the ‘real’ FtN produced by @MireiaClua & David (@ImproviseForReal) as part of Ear Training for Musical Creativity I know that they are anything but random, and nor are the reproductions of the equivalent StN tracks.

Nominally StN 19 ‘matches’ FtN 22, i.e. same level (‘week 10’ with notes, same key, same backing track and approximately the same length. However, FtN 22 does not just parrot StN19, there are some of the same sequiences, but much of it is different. Like all the ‘real’ FtN tracks it is instead a carefully constructed sequence of measures. FtN 22 makes much more use of 2 & 3 notes patterns than StN19. The patterns often run in planned groups ( e.g, 1,3 | 1,2,3 | 2,4 | 2,3,4 ), but there can also be ‘curve balls’ (e.g. reversals or jumps) within those groups (to keep you on yout toes?). I feel this helps keep the whole exercise ‘musical’, since music itself progresses in these sorts of ways rather than just randomly. The sequences also help the ear absrob the similarities & differences between groups, e.g. 5,6,7 might be followed by 1,2,3, or 1,3 by 5,7, or (ocatve)1, 6, 4 by 5,3,(root)1.

With an abc it ought to be quite easy to take one file & produce several variations in which various ‘planned sequences’ could be carefully moved about to reduce familiarity but without loosing the musical flow.

Similarly transposing to a different key would not be a big job.

Time will tell what comes of this, but I’ve made a start…

That’s quite a project! I experimented a bit with EasyABC to create a transposible FtN track, but did it manually in the editor with just one track. Your programmed version sounds a lot more useful.

I figured that abc notation is “just text” really, so it made sense to do most of the changes in the full feature text editor I use for many other purposes. A text editor is possibly my most used piece of software? Over the years I’ve used various programmers text editors. Nowadays I mainly use Notepad++.

Today I decided to switch my work in progress from being based on 1/4 notes to 1/8 notes. For me the quickest route was to copy the block from EasyABC to Notepad++, do some regex search & replace, then paste it back.

Haven’t been very good at posting here! Will try harder.

I’ve been focussing my practice on the flute, as it’s the instrument I’d really like to get really comfortable with. So, putting aside the guitar for now, and not spending much time on piano, but will endeavour to do another Campfire Challenge, just a few minutes a day to post a recording, trying out the key of C this time.

My practice is mainly on tunes I’m trying to memorise, to be able to play without sheet music, in sessions and for informal performances.

So, playing by ear is really being practiced a lot. I’m using recordings to get familiar with tunes, and referring to the music only if I need to clarify. Breaking them down into phrases and creating little maps of the tune structure. This I find useful to help create a mental map if a tune and hope it will lodge in my brain.

Reviewing lots of Sing and Feel Numbers material to help with the ear training. I’m finding this more useful when I stick to one instrument, as I’m starting to get more of a feeling of the quality of each note, I guess the timbre produced.

I’m finding it really difficult staying away from the music, but it’s so much more fun playing with others when you are able to interact.

@mem ditto, but substitute Chapman Stick for flute.

However as to what I’m playing, I’m taking an almost opposite tack.
popMATICS Camp Fire has reminded me that my real aim is improvisation, and by improvisation I don’t mean improvising over/to/with an existing tune, I mean playing what feels right just now, without reference.
The usual Jazz (etc.,) definition of improvisation is perfectly good & I’m not knocking it. It just doesn’t happen to be the thing that really appeals to me. My ‘Big Picture Vision’ aim is more like the approach Steve Lawson (aka solobasssteve) takes. I’m barely even in the foot hills, but that’s the Everest I glimpse in the far distance.

A few weeks ago the phrase “Playing to explore, rather than to entertain (or impress)” came into my head as a distillation of ideas.

So, for part of my practice sessions I’m now giving myself permission to ‘just explore’. And I record those parts of my practice. As with Camp Fire (which is where this started from) the recordings are not intended for sharing, they are just a part of making it a distinct ‘process’, separate from the rest of practice.

I’m not even obliged to listen to them myself (but I generally do listen through once, sometimes twice), nor am I obliged to keep them (but I do, so far, since modern disks are huge & they provide an element of ‘accountability’).

Maybe some day some of these recordings will be shared, but that’s not the aim or expectation of the process. If it happens it will be a separate choice, after that particular experiment is complete

There are many types of musician. There are even many types of improvisation. A fascinating part of this journey is discovering which type of musician it is that’s inside each of us - and trying to help them express themselves.

Each to their own… :smiley:

Along side (but at a different time of day) I’m also keeping on at the Sing the Numbers/Feel the Numbers based ear training too.