Jazz Lesson Musings

After years of thinking about it, I enrolled in jazz piano lessons this year. I was motivated by my students who are "pumped" about Conservatory Canada's Contemporary Idioms syllabus and the Teacher's Choice Study in the Royal Conservatory of Music syllabus. I was also looking for ways to "jazz" up my gig repertoire. I am currently studying with Derek Stoll, an accomplished jazz pianist and examiner for Conservatory Canada. These lessons are so different from the traditional piano lesson. We really go with the flow. I am currently picking out Christmas tunes by ear, then harmonizing them, then "jazzifying" them.

It's quite the process. Fun, but boy do you ever give your brain a workout from all the keyboard harmony. I am still trying to commit the octatonic scale to memory (I have no problems writing it, playing it from memory is another story). Theoretically, I understand what an A7 with a sharp 5 and flat 9 is but my brain and hands aren't completely in sync there either. Voice leading? Again, good with writing it down but still learning to think on my feet (er, fingers).

Some stuff is starting to stick. I'm looking forward to my next gig, where I can try out what I've been working on.

One colleague recently asked me whether my teaching style has changed. I'm getting my students to start looking at the shapes of chords more. They're all picking out Christmas songs by ear and personalizing them. I'm also getting them to analyze their chords more and more. Probably the biggest change is that I'm really, really harping on them about getting their technique up to snuff. Several have expressed an interest in improvising and embellishing their songs. In response, I show them this clip:

Predictably, their eyes go round and their jaw drops. Then, I explain that Keith Jarrett is merely (ha! merely) improvising on scales, modes, chords and arpeggios.

Since starting my jazz lessons, I've decided I'd like to take a Contemporary Idioms exam - for fun. Since I began teaching, my scales, chords and arpeggios and ear training are better than they ever were when I took exams growing up, so I'm relishing the thought performing well on a test in these areas. I guess I should start picking out my program and get cracking!

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