Byte-Sized Guide to Musicianship

I’m relaunching this site as Nanoversity of Jazz – a digital platform combining the solopreneur approach of nanobreweries with the structured curriculum of universities. In the next few days, I’ll create a page on Patreon where you can support the project and unlock rewards such as practice exercises. I’ll also be launching the “Nano Jazz” videocast soon, in which I’ll perform and discuss jazz with musicians of various instruments, styles, and backgrounds. In the meantime, here’s my “byte-sized” guide to musicianship, which will serve as the basis for future blog content.


Step 1: Select one or more tunes for practice

  • Find leadsheet(s) for each tune (or transcribe melody and chords)
  • Listen to as many recordings of each tune as possible (preferably in multiple styles)
  • Identify each tune’s key elements (style, form, etc.)

Step 2: Study each tune’s harmony

  • Identify the function of each chord (in Roman Numerals, noting modulations)
  • Write out the arpeggio of each chord (up to the ninth)
  • Identify and write out the corresponding scale(s) of each chord

Step 3: Write parts for each tune

  • Transpose the melody to the clef and key of your choice (if needed)
  • Compose 1-2 chorus’ worth of timekeeping (basslines, comping, etc.)
  • Compose 1-2 chorus’ worth of solo (using transcription material if desired)


Step 4: Take time before each session to prepare

  • Gather all necessary materials (including journal to set goals and note trouble-spots)
  • Use a full-length mirror to stretch and check your stance (whether sitting or standing)
  • Tune your instrument (if applicable)

Step 5: Take time at the beginning of each session to warmup

  • Play technical exercises for your instrument
  • Learn chord arpeggios from each tune
  • Learn chord scales from each tune

Step 6: Conclude each session by learning parts

  • Play parts (melody, timekeeping, and solos) at a comfortable tempo
  • Troubleshoot material by slowing down, isolating, and looping passages
  • Practice improvising variations (notes, rhythms, etc.) for each part


Step 7: Sync timekeeping roles

  • Play 1-2 choruses of basslines and drum patterns
  • Add chordal instrument(s) on comping for and additional 1-2 choruses, making sure they balance duties (when applicable)
  • Add melodic instruments on backgrounds, making sure they’re able to keep their place in the form

Step 8: Construct each tune’s arrangement

  • Have each musician play through the melody (including drums), troubleshooting and repeating as needed
  • Have each musician improvise a solo, then troubleshoot and repeat
  • Determine the arrangement (intro, melody, ending, etc.) and solo order, then run through the entire tune

Step 9: Prepare arrangements for performance

  • Determine a set list, keeping in mind time restrictions, variety, and pacing
  • Rehearse the entire set in concert formation, if possible, troubleshooting as needed
  • Determine contingencies – such as what to do if musicians get lost


Step 10: Take time before each performance to prepare

  • Visit or research the venue and find out about gig attire
  • Make sure you’ve organized your music and packed all necessary gear
  • Allow extra travel time and have a contact for emergencies

Step 11: Take time during performance to focus

  • Set up in and maintain a good stance and mic position (if applicable)
  • When playing, pay attention to your bandmates parts and be ready to reset if anyone gets lost
  • When not playing, stay focused on (and out of the way of) soloists and take some deep breaths to relax

Step 12: Take time after performance to address logistics

  • Pack up your gear quickly and discreetly, asking for help if needed
  • Make sure you’ve taken care of payment and any other issues
  • When possible, debrief with the other musicians about what did and didn’t work, as well as how to improve future performances

Author: Leah Pogwizd

Bassist and Instructor

2 thoughts on “Byte-Sized Guide to Musicianship”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s