Use of the term "chops"

Will someone explain to me the use of the term “chops” as it refers to musical ability, talent, skill, etc. Please use in a sentence or two. Origin of the term, too, if you know. Thanks.

“Chops” is on this page. Sentence? Just substitute it where you might use the words above. “Jeff Myrtlebank developed his acting chops in the seedy theaters off Elm Avenue.”

My musician husband refers to “chops” when he is speaking about his musical skill level in a particular genre such as “I need to work on my classical chops” or “jazz chops”

I don’t mean to be snarky (I’m a total etymology geek) but just Google it my man. Skip Urban Jungle, go straight to word detective.

I always thought it came from brass players – you know, literally using their chops (part of the mouth/jaw) to go all Maynard Ferguson and Freddie Hubbard.

But, yeah, it just means the raw part of technique – like if you can play some scales pretty fast and that type of thing.

You can be a good musician, have good ears, and still have your chops down – not down as in good, but down as in ‘the refrigerator’s down again’ – it doesn’t mean the whole package, just that raw portion of technical ability. At least as I’ve heard it. ETA I guess I’ve heard it as above, too, like chops in a specific kind of music, like a bag.

In addition to that explanation, there’s the musician’s term “woodshedding”, which means “intensive practice”, usually playing the same thing over and over until you perfect it (the idea being that you take your instrument out to the woodshed and practice there so that you’re not annoying everybody in the house).

What else typically happens in a woodshed? Chopping wood. So one could say somebody has “chops” because of all their “woodshedding”.

That’s pretty clever.

Just saw the word detective thing – fucking a I was right! Blow over that, bitches!


I’m a jazz guitarist (amateur) and this is indeed the origin, and it spread from horn players to all musicians. I think that the term originated in jazz but I can’t prove it. Then other artistic fields started adopting it as well.

(On a related note, the guitar has been called an ax due to its shape for decades, particularly since the advent of the solid-body electric. Other musicians started adopting that term as well to refer to their instruments, regardless of their shape.)

Never knew that – it makes even more sense if you go all the way back to Les Paul’s “two by four with strings and a pick up” original design. At least that’s what I’ve heard it kind of resembled – never seen a picture of it. I guess a Flying V kind of looks like an ax from some Star Trek mining planet.

I’ve only heard sax players use ax, though, at least unironically – keys are always IME just keys or “boards.” Drums can be sticks, but never an ax, at least that I’ve heard. (Leaving aside the more florid little cliche’'s, like “radiating the eighty-eights,” “tickling the ivories”).

Serious and non- snarky question …is “ax” the recognized spelling in the US ?

Over here, we spell it “axe”.

The two spellings tend to be used pretty interchangeably here.

All my saxes are horns.

Chops I understand to be not merely technical - not even chiefly technical, altho it can be the leading factor with some musicians. Chops are the ability to be convincing on your instrument and in your style - most importantly of all, convincing to other musicians.

Well, yeah, you can look up anything on google (and one does), but 1) asking SDMB is more fun/interactive, and 2) the ensuing discussion is what I was after, not a simple definition.

guitarist use chops and licks. Maybe, they had to lick their lips after eating some tasty pork chops?

Well, gee, thanks, Mac.

I’ve never actually heard IRL any sax player call their horn a “sax” – kind of funny actually.

What’s less funny is they don’t seem to speak at all, just start blowing loud from the can and walk right on stage in front of you while gyrating and trying to blow all soulful or fonky and only speak when dividing tips. I kid! Long live Boots Randolph!:cool: They’re cute, though, with their little necklace around their neck all the time! They’re the lead guitarists of the jazz world.

You mean that guy who played Yakety, uh, Horn? :wink:

Oh, fuck yes! “The Log”! Great pictures – that dude had style even chopping up a 4x4. That guitar looks fucking gorgeous! I don’t even play and I’m getting wood.

Shit I wish I was some rich bastard to buy that motherfucker, just cause it’s so fucking cool. Shit, Flying V got nothing on The Log. Fuck yes!