Paulo Almeida

Paulo Almeida, drummer/percussionist, arranger, composer

Drummer/percussionist, composer and arranger of multiple music genres.

The Mind needs to be Minded

When I was studying saxophone, I had my first jury and was quizzed on major scales.  I was asked to play two octaves (up and back down) of G Major, then Bb Major, then E Major.  For the life of me, I could not figure out why E didn't sound right.  I gave it a "go" three times.  I later realized it was because I was missing the D#.  Why?  I practiced my scales every day!  It should have been no big deal!  I realized that it was probably because I practiced my scales the same order every day.  If wanted to be able to play E Major, I had to play C, G, D, and A Major before to warm up to E.  The reason for this is that I built my brain to play these scales in this order and if I deviated from this order, I would miss it once I played scales with 4 or more sharps/flats.

Our brain is made up of millions of synapses that are like little roadways that enable us to be able to perform tasks and functions.  Everything!  Typing, riding a bike, speaking language, playing an instrument, using a fork and knife to eat, and everything else!  When you build a synapse by doing an action, you further strengthen through repetition.  This is especially true for musicians who spend HOURS working on the performance of their instrument, be it their voice or an external instrument.  So because I was only practicing my scales in that same order every day, I was only building on that synapse that worked fine if I always did it that way, but from an improvisation and testing stand point was not very practical.  How many jazz tunes do you know that only move by the circle of fifths?  Maybe a couple, but not many!  

So how did I re-train my brain?  I set up my scale practicing to be random.  I got a hold of a deck of cards that I kept in my sax case and as I learned new scales, I wrote the scale name on a card, even when I moved on to natural minor, melodic minor, harmonic minor, whole tone, diminished, and blues scales (I had to use almost two decks by the end of my undergrad studies because I was expected to know so many scales).  By following this method, I never again practiced my scales in the same order twice.  I used the cards because they are easy to shuffle quickly.  I set up a metronome click and did my best to minimize the amount of time between playing each scale so that I would further force my brain to be able to recall individual scales with little time to search through my "memory banks".  

Anyone who is challenging themselves to learn scales, chord patterns, number patterns, or specific jazz licks could use this method to strengthen their familiarity by training their mind to think quickly.  It helps you to avoid dependency on following the same pattern over and over to better recall more challenging scales, chords, and patterns.  Try it out!!!!!