Mar 12 2015

-Lesson 98: Trumbauer

This past week in my Jazz Theory and Performance class at KU we looked at a solo recorded in 1927 by Saxophonist Frankie Trumbauer.  The entire solo is fantastic, but in this lesson we’ll look at just one idea that he played which  I found interesting in that it uses a concept introduced in lesson 41 Shell + Tension.  The line is over a dominant 7th chord and jumps from the natural 9 up to the natural 13 (2 upper-structure tensions) followed by the “shell” of the chord (3, 1, b7).  This melody can also be deconstructed into 5 note cell i.e. the “shell” (1, 3, b7) plus the natural 9 and the natural 13.


 ~Purchase The Arco Bass Drones~

This group of 5 notes, a type of dominant 7th pentatonic that includes 1, 9, 3, 13, b7, can be used to improvise over a dominant 7th, natural 9, natural 13 chord.  First play Trumbauer’s melody around the circle of 4ths to get comfortable with the sound, rhythm, shape and basic structure, than work on improvising using just the 5 note cell (pentatonic).

Below is Frankie Trumbauer’s Sing’n The Blues solo; The short phrase we’ll work with in this lesson can be heard at the 8 second mark:

Once you’re comfortable with Trumbauer’s melody, try practicing the pentatonic scale abstracted from the line, the challenge for me with this scale is that it has no 5th and jumps from the major 3rd up to the natural 13.  Lastly, practice improvising with just these 5 notes over all 12 dominant 7th chords.  The restricted use of just these 5 notes while improvising will help you find new and interesting melodies that you might overlook if you allow yourself all the notes of the Lydian Dominant or Mixolydian scale.

Lesson 98: Trumbauer PDF

Below is a midi mp3 of the PDF above:


Mar 10 2015

Lesson 97: Bergonzi

I had the wonderful opportunity to meet composer, educator and tenor saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi at the KU Jazz Festival last weekend.  The KU faculty and students did big band arrangements of a few of his tunes and, not surprisingly, Jerry played brilliantly all night.  Outside of his great playing, I was taken by his down to earth attitude, honesty and free approach to improvising.


Among jazz musicians, Jerry Bergonzi is a household name, both as a player and educator.  I’d imagine there are very few living saxophonists who haven’t gotten way into his recording Standard Gonz (Blue Note 1991) or any number of his 30+ recordings as a leader.   I remember back in the 80’s while at studying at Berklee, there was a two waiting list to study privately with Jerry and tenor players would photo copy pages of lines and patterns from his students and pass them around like sacred texts.  His book Pentatonics sit’s along side Jerry Coker’s Patterns for Jazz – both a staple in improvisation pedagogy.  I’m also particularly fond of his book Melodic Rhythms.

After the KU jazz festival concert Jerry was gracious enough to sit in with our quartet and play a few tunes.  Below is a recording of the group playing Benny Golson’s Stablemates.  I’ve transcribed a few of Jerry’s easier ideas to analyse and put through the keys.  His rhythmic approach, sound and overall flow reflects years of experience that’s impossible to emulate but by looking carefully at a few of his ideas you get a glimpse of the depth of knowledge and experience he commands.

~ Enjoy!

Stablemates from the last A of the melody: Jerry Bergonzi Tenor, Jeff Harshbarger Bass, TJ Martley Keys, Brandon Draper Drums, Matt Otto Tenor sax (2nd solo).

Although there are countless great phrases in Jerry’s solo, I picked just 2 simple ones that I connected with that are both sophisticated and creative, rhythmic, original and but not too hard to begin to integrate into an improvised vocabulary.   Also, for a fantastic archive of Bergonzi’s original compositions, visit Jeff Ellwood‘s site.

The first short idea is at 1:22 – a great ii-7 V7 melody Jerry plays for one bar on the bridge.  It’s really easy and yet sounds great and so I was immediately drawn to it.  Simply 2 quarter notes on the minor 7th chord (the natural 11 and the b7) to a half note on the V7 chord (the natural 9).

Here’s a midi file and a PDF of the exercise I came up with (chromatically descending ii-7 V7 through the keys starting with concert C-7 , F7).

Bergonzi ii-7 V7 Melody PDF

The second idea is at 1:46 – a really nice melody over a Major 7th chord.  This phrase outlines the #11 the natural 5, the #5 the 13 (and the major 7th).

Here’s a midi file and a PDF of the exercise I came with (Major 7th chords around the circle of 4ths starting with concert C-7).

Bergonzi Major Melody PDF


 ~Purchase The Arco Bass Drones~

Feb 24 2015

Android App – Drones +

The new Acoustic Bass Drones, the Drum and Bass play along (swing in 4/4 time at 120bpm) plus drums alone play along (4 swing tempos and Afro-Cuban at 120bpm) are now available in the new app for android. app

Android App

You can find the app on the Google play store by searching for “” or any of the relevant key words (acoustic bass drones, drum and bass play along etc.).

The cost is 4.99 and will include continual updates in content – tools for practice, ear training and jazz theory study.

This app streams audio content, so you’ll need a live wifi connection or some satellite “bars” of connectivity on your phone for it to work.

The app also includes links to this blog and my youtube channel for android access to all the free lessons and content.

If you enjoy the app, please leave feedback as well as suggestions to make the app better!

~ Enjoy!

Feb 5 2015

New Drones – Arco Bass

I recently recorded new Drones with my good friend Jeff Harshbarger.  Jeff spent an afternoon over at my home studio and recorded all 12 drones with his beautiful acoustic bass and bow.

Jeff Harshbarger

Over the years, I have enjoyed using the Indian classical tambura or tampura drones and thought it would be nice to have some new Drones to practice with using a Bowed Acoustic Bass (arco).

I really enjoy these new drones as the sound of the acoustic bass is both familiar and central to jazz and other forms of western music.

Drones are great for both teaching and practice.  You can use them for ear training, to play scales, chords, melodies, songs, intervals, free improvisation or anything you can think of.

Below is a free drone track (Concert C) you can practice with to get an idea as to how rich and full they sound.  You can support the blog by purchasing the Acoustic Arco Bass Drones below:
Add to Cart

The mp3’s are “zipped” in a RAR file – Once you download them use winrar or 7zip to open the file on PC or RAR Extractor for Mac.

Thanks for your support!


Nov 28 2014

~ Drum and Bass Play Along Dominant 7th Chords

This play along covers Dominant 7th chords in all 12 keys.  I’ve been enjoying using these tracks in both my personal practice and teaching for a while.

The  bass and drums swing at 120bpm in 4/4 time while a dominant 7th shell voicing (root, 3rd, b7th) drones in the background.

This type of play along has been done before, but the use of the live bass and drums combined with a drone of the Dominant 7 shell voicing (root, 3rd, b7) makes it really easy to hear the Dominant 7th sound.

Also, since the tracks have  minimal rhythmic comping from a chordal instrument I find these play alongs less distracting when working on ear training or a specific phrase, scale or melodic idea.

Since each track is only a shell voicing plus bass and drums, you can play any type of dominant 7th chord or chord scale when practicing.

Dominant 7th play along


For example, you can put on the C7 play along (below) and improvise using C7 mixolydian, lydian dominant, altered, b9 – b13, H.W. diminished, whole tone, or any other dominant 7 chord scale, or just play free over the dominant 7th sound.

Each track plays for 5 minutes, and you can pick just the dominant 7th shell drone (root, 3rd and b7th) or the Drum and Bass plus dominant 7th shell drone (24 tracks in all).

You can download the mp3s from CD baby here or find them on any of the common online mp3 distributors.

Below is and sample C7 track you can play along to:



~ Enjoy!

Sep 13 2014

Modern Jazz Vocab. Vol. 3


Improvising over the minor ii-7, V7, i chord progression can be challenging for both the beginning and advanced jazz musician. Modern Jazz Vocabulary Vol.3  contains over 1600 Bars of minor ii-7, V7, i- melodies, licks and patterns in all 12 keys. The material is designed to help one develop an aural, technical and theoretical understanding of this common chord progression in each key. The lines use a variety of rhythmic groupings, chord substitutions, triads, triad pairs, chromatics, approach notes, tensions, chord tones, non chord tones, scales,  and both “inside” and “outside” concepts, all with an emphasis on melody.  You can click the cover art to buy the book from LULU press.  Thanks for your support!     Modern Jazz Vocab. Vol. 3   Work on the content as you like. You can focus on one bar or one short melody at a time or just play through the material. I recommend using a metronome and learning to sing the individual ideas that you find most interesting and compelling. ~Enjoy! Matt Otto


Modern Jazz Vocabulary Vol.3 ~minor ii-V-i~ PDF:

Add to Cart

Jun 26 2012

Broken Waltz ~ 4 Stars in Downbeat!

I’m  happy to announce that the new CD “Broken Waltz” is finished!  In an effort to make the music affordable for anyone and everyone,  I’m offering both the CD and all the sheet music for a modest donation of ANY amount – 1$ to 100$.  This includes both 10 mp3s (flac or mp3) and the corresponding 10 Concert pitch lead sheets (in PDF format).


~Donate with the link below and I’ll send you the recording and sheet music ASAP! ~Thanks for your support! :)

 Downbeat Magazine has given the Album 4 stars: here’s the link: Downbeat Review.


~Click Here To Make A Donation for Broken Waltz. Thank You~!


The download links to a RAR file of the recording and the sheet music.

You can open the RAR file with WINRAR or 7zip – both free to use.

You can also click here to buy the recording from CD Baby at the regular price.


This new CD features:

Leonard Thompson on Rhodes

Jason Harnell on Drums

David J. Carpenter on Bass

Brian Walsh on Bass Clarinet

Matt Otto on Tenor/sop sax/compositions

Sara Gazarek on Vocals


The recording includes 10 original songs of mine, many with a folk like quality, reflecting my early musical influences growing up listening to my parents music;  Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, James Taylor, Phil Ochs, Simon and Garfunkel, Cat Stevens, Woody Guthrie and the like.  I’m very happy with how the project turned out.

Produced by David J. Carpenter and Matt Otto

Engineered and Recorded by David J. Carpenter

Mixed by Matt Otto and David J. Carpenter

Mastered by Rob Beaton

Cover art by Jamie Rosenn


Kenny Brooks transcribed my solo on “What Democracy” from this album:

Solo on What Democracy “2000” PDF

What Democracy “2000” Solo mp3


Mar 6 2012

Skype Lessons

Having taught hundreds of Skype lessons over the last four years, I’ve come to believe that Skype is a great way to both teach and learn from the comfort of your own home. I still charge only 50$ for a one hour lesson, and interested people who are at at an intermediate or advanced level can email me to set up a lesson at: Matt Otto Skype picture

During a Skype lesson I will listen to you play/improvise for a duration and determine a course of study based on what I hear.

Some of my common teaching methods include:

Singing and visualizing melodies and harmonies over drones.
Playing ideas through keys.
Memorizing tunes and chord progressions by ear.
Displacing melodies rhythmically.
Working with a metronome with both hand drums and instruments.
Singing and playing scales, ideas, melodies, voicings, arpeggios, and solos.
Transcribing, singing, memorizing and playing solos through keys.
Diatonic harmony – sub-dominants and modulation .
Analysis of standard progressions and songs.
Chord-scale theory.
Synthetic scale analysis and application for both improvisation and composition.
Long tones, Over tones, Diaphragmatic Breathing.
Establishing an effective daily routine.
Writing contra-facts and solo etudes.
Interval recognition.
Harmonic recognition.
Singing and playing over progressions and songs.
Learning to play by ear.
Working on rhythmic feel.
Developing a vocabulary.
Working towards performance and recording.
Dealing with and working with RSI and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

I’m also willing to work on specific personal goals that an individual may have.

I’m happy to work with people who play any instrument.


Matt Otto



“What I really like in my lessons with Matt is that I feel like he really tries to understand me as an individual person and learner. He has insight into what I need to work on and has the interpersonal skill to really reach me so that I understand it. Learning isn’t always easy, but Matt’s ability to administer great advice with confidence, humility, and friendly persistence has helped me focus on what I really need as a musician.”

“I think that in my efforts to get a grip on the conventions of the jazz language I had forgotten that music could always be treated as an art regardless of the level it was being played. My focus was on craft and my lessons with Matt have reminded me that I also need to keep developing the music that I hear in my mind and working on connecting to it with my instrument. I need to figure out what I want to say and learn to say it. He has given me both the practical next steps and the philosophical context to give me direction and keep me motivated.”

~Chris Haigh – Tenor Saxophone, Canadian residing in Singapore.


“Matt Otto is an incredibly gifted teacher. I consider myself so fortunate to be able to study and work with him and I couldn’t recommend him highly enough. His calm demeanor and thorough approach create an atmosphere thats comfortable and conducive to healthy growth and learning. Matt is a great listener, as you all must know having heard him play, he gives me space to express my interests and goals and then guides and informs me how best to actualize them, with resounding success. Though I have only studied with him for six months, applying his methodology has transformed my approach to my instrument and music, and reaffirmed my identity as musical creator. ”

~Vangel Athanas – Alto Sax, Charlotte, NC.


“For me, Matt is one of the top jazz saxophonist all over the world, but, beyond that, he has the rare ability to really understand the process of learning the jazz idiom and he is able to show you, clearly, how to do it for yourself. He is the best teacher that i’ve ever met and i can not recommend Matt’s teaching skills enough. Book him right now and he’ll take you to the next level in music!”

~ Xose Miguelez – tenor saxophone, Gz, Spain


“Matt Otto is a gifted teacher and a warm-hearted person. I’ve been fortunate enough to study with him and have applied his
teachings to many facets of music-making, from sound production and ear training to improv and composition. I can’t recommend him
highly enough. He’s approachable, friendly, and has a casual way of making difficult concepts easy. His methods and philosophy
are geared toward developing the whole musician and guiding the student in finding their musical “voice”, which has been a joy
to experience first-hand! He’s been a great mentor and I would recommend him to any musician interested in improving the quality
of their playing in a way that is true to the self.”

~Peter Gilli – tenor sax, Rhode Island

I have been studying with Matt for over six months now. With his guidance, I’ve been able to move past several musical obstacles allowing me to set new goals as an artist and saxophonist. The bar has been raised, so to speak. His teaching effortlessly encourages growth within the idiom of jazz improvisation, while still maintaining clear awareness of the student as an artist in their own right. Simply put, my lessons with Matt have allowed me to deepen my relationship with music directly.

~Jason Moore – tenor sax, North Carolina


“I studied with Matt Otto from 2000 to 2006 and during that time, Matt was a true mentor. In those years of study, I developed an understanding of elemental aspects of sound, rhythm, and musicality that I felt ownership of. Matt stressed the importance of developing a personal and instinctive command of the instrument, and I credit his teaching style for enabling me to mature from student to artist. Beyond teaching, Matt produced and engineered a recording of mine, which helped me win a competitive artist’s grant from UC Berkeley — the funding from this grant payed for my travels and first year expenses moving from California to New York City where I live today. Learning from Matt and being influenced by him has been a great gift that continues to be a part of who I am both musically and personally.”

~Kenneth Auyeung – Alto Sax, Brooklyn, NYC.

“Studying with Matt is the best. He really taught me how to sing through my instrument, which completely transformed my approach to music.”

~Ryan Seward – Guitar, Los Angeles, CA.

“After years of going around in circles in my practice, lessons with Matt finally got me to break through the blocks and rise above the plateaus. His positive, encouraging approach to ear training and teaching jazz improvisation have given me the tools and confidence necessary for any measure of success I’ve reached. In short, Matt has basically taught me everything I know.”

~ Josh Welchez – Trumpet, Los Angeles, CA.

“I have only two regrets about taking lessons with Matt Otto. 1. That when my friends recommended I take lessons with Matt, I had done it sooner and 2. That I didn’t take more advantage of him when he lived in town. Matt is easily the best teacher I’ve ever had regardless of instrument. I’ve never seen anyone with a more clear approach and was so quickly able to get to the my weaknesses. Another one of Matt’s strengths was giving you a way to work on those issues that were really easy to implement. I don’t think I could have asked for more from a teacher.
With Matt’s help I was able to accepted to the Master’s degree program at Cal Arts for Jazz Studies, a feat which I never could have done without his guidance. For that I’ll always be indebted to him.” (and Sallie Mae).
~ Scott Cummings – Drums, Los Angeles, CA.

“I recently started playing saxophone again after a 10 year break. However I was dissatisfied, as many of the issues that bothered me about my playing years ago, where still present such as: solo’s that lacked thematic direction and did not ‘tell a story’, an over-reliance on ‘hot licks’ and a disconnect between my fingers and ears’ . I decided I needed to get some help If I was going to make any progress. After reading Matt’s blog and hearing him play I started taking lesson’s earlier this year and it has led to massive changes in my approach to improvisation and level of musicality.

Here are some of the things we worked on: Slow motion improvisation and using thematic development. Learning tunes inside out by singing the melody and bass, voice leading, shell & drop 2 voicing’s. Technical problems with air support and tonguing. The modes and chords of the Harmonic and Melodic minor scales. Getting a stronger time feel by using the metronome on the offbeat’s and singing along with Bird solo’s. Transcribing what I sing in order to strengthen the connection from ear to instrument. With Matt’s help I finally feel that I am starting to ‘Play what I hear and sing thru the horn’ and I am very happy that I chose Matt for Skype lessons as he is a fantastic teacher, musician and a genuinely nice guy.”

~Robert Gillespi – tenor sax , Edinburgh, Scotland

I had the honor of taking lessons with Matt Otto for an extended period of time beginning in 2008. In addition to being one of my favorite musicians on the planet, Matt is among greatest teachers I have ever had. His approach to learning is focused on the student developing his/her own unique individual voice. He made me aware of how to be honest in my playing. Many of the exercises we did involved singing over a drone (Example: Charlie Parker head). Often I would sing over the drone and transcribe what I sang. This opened up my ear immensely and is one of the best ear training concepts I have learned. I began realizing that the instrument is just an extension of my voice and we worked towards bringing out what I really hearing. Matt knows the balance of being positive and encouraging, yet challenging and demanding. I always left our lessons motivated and excited. Matt is a treasure to the jazz community.

~ Dr. Brandon Bernstein – Guitar, Los Angeles, CA.

“Matt Otto has been an incredible mentor and teacher who’s passion for the music and articulate way of teaching has not only changed the way I play, but also the way I listen and experience music as well.”

~Blake Deibal – Tenor Sax, Kansas City, MO.

“I have studied with Matt Otto and utilized the resources of his music blog for several years. In my case, as with his other students, he carefully analyzed my level of playing and developed an action plan for improving both my technical skill and my understanding of jazz improvisation and underlying harmonic structure. In addition to his vast knowledge of music and technical expertise, Matt has a very generous spirit that inspires his students to put in the work necessary to reach their individual goals. For players of all levels who wish to improve their jazz improvisation skills, I highly recommend studying with Matt.”

~Frank Martinez – Tenor Saxophone, Pico Rivera, CA.

“Matt Otto played a huge role in helping me understand and feel comfortable with jazz harmony and improvisation. He broke things down in a way that made sense to me as a singer and a musician. I’m grateful to have had him as a teacher!”

~Sara Gazarek – Vocalist, Los Angeles, CA.

“I was drawn to Matt as a teacher because of my love for his music. I sought him out, hopeful that his teaching would match the depth of his music. I was not disappointed. My lessons with Matt have been musically transformational. In my experience, he is a rare breed. His ability to get right at the heart of a musician’s strengths and weaknesses is truly amazing. He was able to quickly match up my goals with a plan to overcome my weaknesses, in some cases using ‘outside the box’ methods to deal with my stubborness. He is an incredibly patient and generous person which translates into how he deals with his students. You could not ask for a better mentor on your musical journey.”

~Jeff Stocks – Guitar, Kansas City, MO.

“Studying with Matt has been a truly eye opening experience for me. Within minutes of our first lesson, he recognized the holes in my playing and set out a concrete plan on addressing them; the time I have spent studying with him has been the most rewarding and fruitful of my learning career. The lessons posted on his blog have given me enough material for me to work on for years to come. I cannot recommend Matt’s teaching abilities enough! Not to mention, he’s a pretty cool guy.”

~Miles Freeman – Tenor Saxophone, Los Angeles, CA.