Written by Luke Alex Davis 9:04 pm Jazz

Chick Corea’s “Cheap But Good Advice for Playing Music in a Group”

When one of the greatest pianists of all time gives you advice, you listen. Here are Chick Corea’s 16 steps to playing music in a group.

Chick Corea

Chick Corea has played with the likes of Miles Davis, Stan Getz, Hubert Laws, and Wayne Shorter so he knows a thing or two about playing music with other people. That’s why his 16-part document on “Cheap But Good Advice for Playing Music in a Group” is a must-read.

  1. Play only what you hear.
  2. If you don’t hear anything, don’t play anything.
  3. Don’t let your fingers and limbs just wander—place these intentionally.
  4. Don’t improvise on endlessly—play something with intention, develop it or not, but then end off, take a break.
  5. Leave space—create space—intentionally create places where you don’t play.
  6. Make your sound blend. Listen to your sound and adjust it to the rest of the band and the room.
  7. If you play more than one instrument at a time—like a drum kit or multiple keyboards—make sure that they are balanced with one another.
  8. Don’t make any of your music mechanically or just through patterns of habit. Create each sound, phrase, and piece with choice—deliberately.
  9. Guide your choice of what to play by what you like—not by what someone else will think.
  10. Use contrast and balance the elements: high/low, fast/slow, loud/soft, tense/relaxed, dense/sparse.
  11. Play to make the other musicians sound good. Play things that will make the overall music sound good.
  12. Play with a relaxed body. Always release whatever tension you create.
  13. Create space—begin, develop, and end phrases with intention.
  14. Never beat or pound your instrument—play it easily and gracefully.
  15. Create space—then place something in it.
  16. Use mimicry sparsely—mostly create phrases that contrast with and develop the phrases of the other players.

According to jazz drummer Ed Soph, Chick Corea typed this document on a Smith-Corona typewriter and used to hand it out at clinics (that information was relayed by Nate Chinen on Twitter). It’s the best kind of leaflet and touches on some thought-provoking ideas for musical inspiration.

Many of Chick Corea’s ideas are transferrable in sampling too. After all, it’s the producer playing “with” another artist or artists and creating space—then placing something in it is a brilliant idea. Mix this with The MonoNeon manifestos and our Sampleface manifesto and you’re set.