improvisation

Jazz Music and Improvisation Guide Books

As I mentioned earlier, I recently presented to the Piano Pedagogy Group. The piano teachers in this group are currently working on their Grade 10 or their Piano Pedagogy certification through Royal Conservatory of Music, Conservatory Canada or London College of Music . They are all classically trained (translation: improvisation, lead sheets and chord charts are scary). This is a list of the "How To" books that I use whenever I teach and play contemporary music (e.g. pop, rock, Latin, jazz, ragtime) that I shared with them:

Conservatory Canada Contemporary Idioms Syllabus

How To Play From A Fake Book look inside How To Play From A Fake Book By Blake Neely. For Guitar, Piano/Keyboard. Piano. Instructional. Instructional book. Standard notation and instructional text. 88 pages. Published by Hal Leonard (HL.220019)Smp_stars40 (1) ...more info
Lead Lines and Chord Changes look inside Lead Lines and Chord Changes By Ann Collins. For Piano. Piano Collection; Piano Supplemental. Early Advanced; Late Intermediate. Book. 80 pages. Published by Alfred Music Publishing (AP.199)...more info
Volume 1 - How To Play Jazz & Improvise look insideListen! Volume 1 - How To Play Jazz & Improvise By Jamey Aebersold. For any C, Eb, Bb, bass instrument or voice. Play-Along series with accompaniment CD. Jamey Aebersold Play-A-Long series. Beginner, intermediate. Book & CD. 104 pages. Published by Jamey Aebersold Jazz (JA.V01DS)Smp_stars30 (22) ...more info
Volume 3 - The II/V7/I Progression look insideListen! Volume 3 - The II/V7/I Progression By Jamey Aebersold. For any C, Eb, Bb, bass instrument or voice. Play-Along series with accompaniment CD. Jamey Aebersold Play-A-Long series. Beginner, intermediate. Book & CD. 100 pages. Published by Jamey Aebersold Jazz (JA.V03DS)Smp_stars40 (6) ...more info
Boogie Woogie for Beginners look inside Boogie Woogie for Beginners Arranged by Frank Paparelli. For Piano/Keyboard. Keyboard Instruction. 48 pages. Published by Hal Leonard (HL.120517)Smp_stars40 (2) ...more info

There are a few more in my "To Check Out" pile. I'll add them once I've had a chance to go through them a bit.

Practicing Piano Technique by the Root

This is more for the advanced students, music teachers and anyone who wants to learn jazz chords and scales. Instead of practicing your technical exercises by key, practice them by their shared root. For example, play through:

  • C major Scale
  • C major Modes
  • C minor Scales (natural, harmonic, melodic, jazz minor)
  • C minor Modes
  • C Penatonic Scale
  • C Blues Scale
  • C Whole Tone Scale
  • C Octatonic Scale
  • C major tonic chord/triad
  • C minor tonic chord/triad
  • C7 (dominant 7th of F major)
  • Cm7 (ii7 of B-flat major)
  • Cm7(♭5) (viiø7 of D-flat major)
  • Cdim7, A.K.A. B#dim (viio7 of D-flat/c# minor)
  • and so on.

This was one of the first things I learned when I took jazz piano lessons with jazz pianist, clinician, adjudicator and examiner Derek Stoll.

On Scaring Classically Trained Music Teachers with Contemporary Idioms

Earlier this month, I presented improvisation and various elements of Conservatory Canada's Contemporary Idioms syllabus to The Piano Pedagogy Group. This was a group of bright yet frightened classically trained piano teachers. After years of being told "Play what's on the page," the sight of a chord chart or a lead sheet drew looks of puzzlement and various states of uncertainty. Conservatory Canada has recently updated their Contemporary Syllabus in such a way that makes it easier to crossover to the "fun zone". I myself haven't gone through all of the changes yet (You can find out all about the syllabus changes here). What I did touch upon was my experience delving into contemporary idioms on a deeper level. Much deeper than playing through popular arrangements by Dan Coates, Bill Boyd and Phillip Keveren.

I began by sharing my experiences taking jazz piano lessons with jazz pianist, adjudicator, clinician and examiner Derek Stoll. Then, I walked them through various elements of preparing for my Level 7 Contemporary Idioms piano exam.

The bulk of my presentation was on sharing the resources I commonly use when teaching contemporary music, in addition to my approaches to teaching technique, improvisation and learning music that isn't in standard notation. This is rather huge, I will go into each area in more detail in subsequent posts. Hopefully, this will open up a dialogue between music teachers and students who would like to delve into the "fun zone".

 

Music Group Class Round 1 Reflections

Well, students and teachers of Musespeak Studio and To the Wind Studio have survived the first round of music group classes with this new format.  I learned three main lessons:

  1. I have gotten too complacent as far as teacher-student communications go. My students, their parents and I have an established rapport. I'm starting virtually from scratch with my brother's students. Sure, we've chatted at recitals, but a five-minute chat and teaching in 90-minute stretches are two totally different things.
  2. It is important to over-plan and have several back-up activities up your sleeve. My pacing for one of the group classes was perfect. One was all right but could use a few more activities, while the other - well we raced through my lesson plan and I wound up flying by the seat of my pants for a very long time. I have Divine inspiration to thank for the "Let's Make Up a Story with Sound" exercise that I did with yesterday's students when improvising. 
  3. When teaching at another studio, have a studio contact list on hand in case you need to contact a parent in the case of an emergency or behavioural issue. 

Overall, it was a positive experience. I've learned which students I need to be firm with and which ones I can recruit to take more of a mentoring role with the junior students.

I enjoyed teaching four lovely girls basic conducting gestures and beat patterns.  They giggled a lot and had a great rapport with each other.  

The "Get into The Groove" class challenged me the most. I will need to plan more rhythm exercises, especially ones where they split off into smaller groups. As for the stubborn ones - let's just say that I'm just as good, if not better at digging in my heels. "The Art of Practicing" also wound up being a great group of music students who were very engaged. In discussing how to practice music, we discussed stretching as well as their learning styles and practicing challenges (e.g. "When I Don't Feel Like Practicing"). The conversation also lead to areas I had not thought of incorporating into my presentation - and they should be. Thanks to them, talking about how to practice when injured and speed learning will be incorporated into my presentation. I look forward to the next round of music group classes.

Music Group Classes Musings

Although summer has just begun, my mind is already focusing on the upcoming teaching year. I've made a few changes to my studio, which are both exciting and scary. Some of the ideas are inspired by music teacher, author and savvy entrepreneur Kristin Yost.
  1. Moving to a year-round curriculum: My colleagues in the US have taught year-round for many years and have found that it really works. I know I'm not the only Canadian music teacher to hear, "I didn't practice at all this summer," from a student. It takes them months before they get back to where they were the previous June. Truly, what a waste.Summer-flex lessons make it easier for families to work around their summer activities but still provide the students with that needed consistency at their instrument.
  2. Teaming up with another studio to provide more: It pays to have another music teacher in the family. I shall be teaming up with my brother's studio, To the Wind, to offer our students a wider range in their music studies. He has sound engineering and multimedia design under his belt.
  3. More group classes and more varied ones: Group classes have been extremely popular at my studio. Up to this year, they've had between three and four a year. However, starting next year, they will get six. These are just some of the ideas To the Wind Studio and Musespeak Studio have up their sleeves: Introduction to Conducting, Video Games Live - mini version, So You Want to Play and Sing at the Same Time, improvisation, piano combos, composing, Design and Produce Your Own Radio Show, essential grooves, etc.
  4. Cafe Performance: Most of our students are studying piano for cultural enrichment and recreation. Many of them loath the traditional recital format. So, shy not make it more IRL (in real life) and head to a cafe? The students will prepare a set of music, script a little patter; and their family and friends cheer them on while enjoying a delicious latte and dessert. The cafe performance, combined with adding the Video Games Live and Radio show projects to the year-end recital promise to make for exciting performances.
  5. More Optional Activities: Depending on how our students respond, we will be offering a variety of optional activities to our students, as well as opening these up to our colleagues' studios. Some examples: tour of the Cantos Keyboard Museum, tour of a piano refurbisher's workshop, How to Make a Multi-Track Project, Live Interactive or workshop with some of our colleagues from other places in the world, like David Story in Ontario,  Bren Wrona Norris in California and Liam Walsh in the UK. My involvement with Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir has opened the door to unlimited partnership possibilities with my Virtual Choir friends and colleagues.
Some of these ideas are merely an expansion of things I've already been doing at the studio. However, this is taking things to a much higher level. That's what makes it so exciting. However, to make it work, a lot of planning is needed right now. On the plus side, this planning can take place outside where we can enjoy the sun.
© 2012 by Musespeak. All rights reserved.

Improv by Eric Lewis Sparks Memories & Inspiration

I still remember the first time at university when classmate Lael Johnston performed a piece for prepared piano by John Cage at one Studio Master Class. All the piano students were shocked that bits of rubber, nuts and bolts, felt and more were wedged into the strings of a 9-foot Steinway concert grand. Lael assured us that no parts of the piano were permanently damaged. The fascinating thing was that the Steinway sounded exactly like an Indonesian gamelan.

This clip below of jazz pianist Eric Lewis brought all those memories back. Eric doesn't use rubber, nuts or bolts, but his hand technique on the piano strings is pretty impressive and creative. Around the 6'30" mark, he has a very funky groove.

It gives me ideas of things to do with any students who are easily bored or need something exciting to re-energize their playing. However, like Lael, I'll have to assure my students' parents that no piano parts should be permanently damaged in the process of unleashing their child's creativity.

Here's the clip:

(c) 2009 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.