I’ve discovered a useful way forward, for myself involving the use of the Aebersold books and both cornet and keyboard. I arrived at this idea by playing with some of the Aebersold “dominant seventh workout” tracks sitting at the piano, cornet in hand, playing alternately on each instrument and wondering if the constant transpositions from C to Bb and back again was going to help my “feel” of cornet pitch or just confuse me. I could see that this alternation of instruments was going to be very good for me, for a couple of reasons. One of the issues Hal Crook is very hot on, in A New Approach to Practising Improvisation, is learning how to leave spaces, i.e. not to keep playing all the time – a huge problem in improvisation. He devotes a large chunk of the book to saying over and over again how important this is and giving technical exercises to get used to leaving gaps in solos. At first I thought it was going to be easy, but now I can see why he attaches such importance to it – it’s so bloody difficult to do it! I keep finding myself playing continuously, which doesn’t give me time to think much about what I’m going to play and tires out my lip in no time. Alternating keyboard and cornet solves this problem easily, for both instruments, so that’s two solutions for the price of one.
While alternating between piano and cornet I had the idea that it would be a lot easier if the keyboard was in Bb. Thus I rigged up the the little Yamaha DJX synth I bought last year (for the kids, ostensibly, but so far they only play the preset, which I always turn off) to transpose two semitones down and soon discovered what a useful tool this was going to be.
One of the problems I still have is that my fingers and chops keep playing away but my mind loses track of at notes I’m playing. Alternating with the keyboard, with its visual reminder of exactly where I am all the time is going to be a brilliant trainer for me – I think. So, I feel this is a really positive step.