Creative Process, Jazz, Music

Tips and Tricks on YouTube

YouTube is an inspirational online platform for musicians and songwriters. It is so much more than an online-radio. We know it is an easy, free, way to simply listen to a song, watch a movie, or listen to a “TED talk” but I suspect that many of us do not explore other ways it can serve us and our musical lives.

In this post I will list some of the things I do that work for me, but I wonder how other musicians use YouTube, and other free online tools, to assist them in honing their craft? (I would love to hear your tips and tricks. Please email me or comment.)

Okay! Let’s get cracking!

Tips and Tricks for Musical Studies on YouTube

YouTube Playlists: I use the playlist feature every day. You can create 3 types based on the privacy level you want:
* Public lists can be seen by and shared with anyone;
* Private lists can only be seen by YOU and the users you choose; * Unlisted lists can be only be seen by you and anyone who has the direct link.

Here is a list of some examples of musical studies playlists I have created (along with links to some examples on my channel). This is NOT all of them! I have too many personal lists to name; they inspire me, make me laugh, teach me how to speak Italian better, how to cook something the correct way…you name it, I might have a playlist for it!

  • Songs referenced each week in specific classes I attend – Great for reference and refreshing your memory, or, when friends ask what the song was last week, or last month. I try to find the most accurate version of the song, with as little embellishment as possible – unless a class assigns an instrumental version, or particular solo to study.
    See: “Jazz Standards – Barry’s Class
  • Backing tracks  – even though I love my iReal Pro for writing new tunes and practicing, there are some cool backing tracks on YouTube as well
  • A collection of songs that are in a particular book – I add them in the order they are listed in the book so I can listen while I review the sheet; this is not always possible to maintain as YouTube often deletes videos – so sad.
    See: “Italian Standards” Book referenced is: Italian Jazz Standards
  • Personal performance examples – build your brand! Create an unlisted playlist you can share with prospective venues/contacts; and/or a public collection to build your fanbase.
    See: YouTube Channel – Laurie Early
  • Jazz Theory classes – I will admit that I am WAY behind in my theory studies. Since I cannot physically attend classes everyday it is fantastic that they are always available when I have time. I especially love the classes posted in the last couple of years by BarryHarrisVideos: part of a collection of videos which Frans Elsen recorded during workshops that Barry Harris gave at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague between 1989 and 1998.
    See: “Jazz Theory
  • Lists dedicated to particular musicians and/or songwriters
  • Songs I want to learn – I actually have 3 types of playlists to keep track of cool tunes I want to learn:
    1. Basic “mixed” playlist where I save examples of a bunch of different songs I have heard.
    2. A playlist that is dedicated to one song, where I collect versions from various musicians, and in different musical styles. If it is a vocal song I usually include instrumental versions too because those are full of rich musical gold – magical phrases to inspire my vocal interpretation. And,

3. MY FAVORITE private playlist, a “faux-loop”. I love these! I create them all the time. Find the perfect version of the song or solo you want to study and create a new playlist with it. I usually name it “LOOP SongTitle”, something like that, and then I add it to the same playlist over and over as many times as I need it to repeat. Because I like to listen and study on my phone while I am walking or on public transportation, this saves me having to hit replay each time the song ends — or worse yet having it jump to another random song.
Once and a while you will have to endure an advertisement between plays, but to to me it is still a great timesaver. (And, depending on how well I have learned the piece, I adjust the speed of the playback using “Slow it Down” — described below.)
I have taken a a couple of screenshots of what this playlist looks like. You can even add a description – in my example “Sometimes I’m Happy” I needed to have Lester Young’s solo memorized by a class scheduled for February 1st, so I noted that for myself as a reminder.

  • In addition to the personalized View All Playlists page; I want to mention that there are a couple of built-in Playlists that require very little effort to use. (If you already have an account, you can easily reset or set the privacy.)
    1. “Liked” videos – saves everything you click LIKE on; easy peasy;
    2. “Watch Later” – Click the tiny ADD TO icon underneath the video window, click the “Watch Later” tick-box, and YouTube saves it for you to …surprise…watch LATER! If you don’t have any personal Playlists created it is a great way to collect a bunch of things quickly and look at them now or later. It is really easy to delete items too. And, then, last but not least,
    3. “History” (which updates automatically whenever you watch something) – you can clear it out whenever you feel so inclined, but if you are searching on a particular song and want to go back to one you listened to earlier but can’t remember how how you found it, it should be in your history. You can turn your history on and off

Slow it down*:

When trying to learn a solo, or to transcribe a phrase that flies by too fast for your brain to register, make use of the “Playback speed” function that is accessed by clicking on the 3 vertical dots in the upper right corner of the video window.

In my “Sometimes I’m Happy” example, I found the 0.75x (3/4 speed) best for me as it did not distort the sound too much and I was able to more easily hear Lester Young’s triplets. For other songs I am studying, I have to listen at half speed in order to hear the full phrases clearly.

*A special thanks to Roger Crosdale, Saxophonist-UK, for telling me about this feature.


Subscribe to your friend’s channels  – Support your friends by subscribing to their channels and keep up with the types of things they are playing, check out their playlists, and see what channels they recommend.

Share cool stuff you find:

There is a famous line from Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire” that goes “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” It pops in my mind now as I think about how I now rely on certain friends to point me in the direction of amazing songs and solos to listen to, study and inspire my writing. I depend on them now, and I say: “I can always depend on the kindness of my dear friends.” I try to share things with them too, and I hope they find what’s exciting to me to be equally exciting to them.

Change the start time:

Is there a specific section of a piece you need to reference, or share with a friend? YouTube has a way to narrow down where your video to start.

Let’s say you want to share Barry Harris’ version of “Un Poco Loco” from his “Live in Tokyo” album with a friend who is interested in that Bud Powell classic. It starts at about 36 minutes and 57 seconds into the full album linked here: Select “SHARE” in the bottom of the video window, click the little square that says “Start at” and then click on “COPY”. (The url will now look like this: ) After you have your final url you can “paste” this address into a reference list, an email, or a social media post.

Problems you may run into:

As with everything in life, some things need to be tended, they cannot stay intact on their own, this is true of YouTube playlists as well. If you do not regularly listen to a public playlist, something you have created to share with your friends or the world at large, you should check it once and a while to make sure that videos have not suddenly been deleted or become private. You will need to manually delete them from the list so it flows easily from one video to the next. Unfortunately, there is no way to know what video has become unavailable AFTER it has “gone gray”, so if a particular list is needed for any reason it is a good idea to keep a record of what you had there, either in a real notebook (I’m talking hold in your hand, made of actual paper notebook), screen shots of your list, or other note-keeping app. This way you can search on YouTube to see if the video can be replaced by another version that IS available.

Another issue that I have experienced is getting an error message that a video is not available in your country. Make sure you test videos for proper playback before adding them to your playlist; if it doesn’t work for you, search for a version that does.

**NOTE: Mosaics featured on this page are of, and by, the artist Chuck Close (and others). They are photos taken in the 2nd Avenue subway stations. It was a special joy to visit there and see the wonderful, George Braith, and his “Braithophone” double-sax, immortalized in beautiful tile.