Things to Think About: Handout for my USC students


This is a beginning of semester handout I distributed to all our jazz freshmen and sophomores. My vision of what students of the music should be working on/thinking about. Hope you find it useful!


1. What a band leader looks for:

Players who have a positive attitude, are respectful, communicative, encouraging, show up early, contribute to all aspects of the activities of the band, answer phone calls and emails promptly, and, on the rare occasions they are unable to make the gig/ rehearsal, give advance warning and offer a sub who has seen/learned the music. Band leading is labor intensive. Leaders (band mates) don’t need nor appreciate drama.

Players who study the music/recordings thoroughly and in many cases memorize the music. They typically learn the form and solo changes even if they are not soloing. You never know when the opportunity will arise for you to solo on a tune.

Players who are versatile.. Good soloists in a variety of styles, good readers, team players (good ensemble players), active participants in rehearsals, composers/ arrangers who contribute to the repertoire.

Players who seem like they want to be there (even if they don’t), who participate, don’t talk/text excessively during rehearsals, and generally seem engaged and interested in what’s going on.

Your teachers and class mates are perspective employers and partners in future creative endeavors.

2. What are the musical skills you should be working on right now and for the rest of your musical life:

  1. playing your instrument at a high level
  2. having a vast vocabulary in a variety of genres of music.
  3. having a vast repertoire which includes standards, a variety of jazz tunes, your

    arrangements of standards.jazz/pop tunes, and original material, classical music, and

    musics of Brazil, Africa, and anywhere else that may attract you.

  4. being an accomplished composer/arranger who has considered how to use

    composition as the vehicle for their playing.

  5. organizing reading sessions of your music/establishing relationships with like minded

    players. Making demo recordings of the music. Your calling card!

  6. Becoming fluent in using Sibelius/Finale, Pro Tools, and some video capabilities.
  7. Having some idea of what you are trying to convey with your music and what are the

    specific components that make up your sound, how they work and why.

  8. Pounding the pavement! Send your demo tapes around to festivals, schools, clubs. record companies. Instigate! Don’t personalize rejection. Lots of that to go around.

    But the energy you put into developing playing/recording situations will eventually

    come back around.

h. Efficient use of your time. Lots of things to work on. Try to structure your time so that

you cover the areas you need to in regular (daily) small doses. A good 45 minute

practice session where you cover the critical areas can be better than practicing for 5 hours.

Example: You have 6 things to work on (homework, writing, shedding tunes, etc)

Spend 20-30 minutes on each area and move through all the areas, even if it feels like you need more time on something.. Go around a few times. By coming

back to an area fresh you avoid the risk of getting stuck or burnt out.
i. Listening to all kinds of music for inspiration and information. Select the music that

really rings your bell and get inside that music through transcription and extraction.

Being in school can be a daunting experience. You are still forming as a creative artist, and part of you wants to just stay in the shed and work on your music. You are inundated with course work, and you are getting some calls for gigs. Remember that musical expression reflects the whole person. You want to be well read, articulate, able to manage your time well, comfortable in your own skin. A lot to deal with!

Some life stuff that may halp:

USC and most universities are a petrie dish for viruses and other fun diseases. Be sure to:

1.Eat well! Read: “It Starts With Food” by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig) Eat nutritious foods! Don’t eat foods with empty calories. (More energy)

  1. Have a short exercise regimen that you roll out of bed and do every day. (More energy)
  2. Get enough rest. Go to bed early and get up earlier. You will do your best work in the morning when you are fresh. (More energy)
  3. Stay away from drugs and alcohol. They are the opposite direction you want to go in. (Lots more energy!) Success in life is contingent on good connections with people. Drugs and alcohol obscure and cloud those connections.
  4. Start the day with a positive affirmation. You have another shot today at working on music, learning about the world, learning about how to deal with people in all kinds of situations.
  5. Try to get in the habit of focusing on what you are grateful for. Make a list if

necessary. It will help you to be a person others want to be around.



  1. Gregory Dudzienski
    Posted April 28, 2015 at 1:52 am | Permalink

    Hi Bob…thanks for sharing this! I wonder if you can share some ideas about exercise routines that work well for you?

    I travel a good bit and would like to learn more about this…



  2. admin
    Posted April 28, 2015 at 11:07 pm | Permalink

    I think you have to find what works best for you, Greg. I’ve compiled a series of exercises over the years that keep me limber (some yoga, stretches for ham strings, back and upper body), strengthening exercises to keep muscle tone reasonably good (pushups, sit-ups, chins on the bathroom door, some isometrics), and some level of cardio (running in place, some of the strengthening exercises get your heart pumping as well) The regimen takes 30-40 minutes. I always feel great if I do this every day. I rarely miss a day. Sometimes on the road I will exercise rather than take a nap. I find I sleep better at night if I do this.

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