learn jazz

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.

Aebersold's Scale Syllabus a Lifesaver for Classical Geeks learning Jazz

Practicing has been frustrating as of late. On a theoretical level, I know what I'd like my jazz pieces to sound like. However, I've been stuck in a rut as the old practicing techniques applied in learning a Beethoven sonata does not fully apply. Studying the form helps as does studying the harmonic structure, but that's where the similarities end. How on earth am I supposed to figure out what fills, comping patterns and modes I should use in All the Things You Are? More specifically, how am I supposed to practice? I've dutifully listened to recordings for ideas but after listening to recordings of Vince Guaraldi and Keith Jarrett, my mind becomes stuck in "Yikes! I'll NEVER get this!" mode. I'm starting to sort out what inversions I want for the chords, gradually getting used to playing rootless chords. And that's where I've been stuck. My solos haven't been sounding much better and figuring out my comping patterns is haphazard.

With a colleague/friend's wedding coming up next month, I need to buckle down and finalize my plan for the jazz pieces. Derek's got it easy - he knows all the songs we're playing and has played them on piano and bass, while our other friend/colleague Melodie has sung them all. But our little trio will be in sad shape unless I get out of my rut quickly.

Derek has mentioned using a "scale syllabus" at my last two lessons. He's also dropped hints here and there that I should really start using my How to Play Jazz and Improvise book by Jamey Aebersold (so many books, so little time). Tonight, I finally added 2 + 2 together and got it! There in black in white on page 53 IS the scale syllabus!

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

Now I don't need to think so hard about which modes/scales will work on a G#7b5 chord or a C7b6 chord. What a beautiful chart it is to behold. I just need to add scale degrees so I can get the patterns more quickly. The Whole & Half Step Construction is nice, but my classically-trained mind understands 1 b3 4 5 b7 8 for the Minor Pentatonic scale more quickly than -3 W W -3 W. Practicing tonight went much more smoothly. I'm fast becoming a fan of the Minor Pentatonic ad Bebop minor scales.

Jamey has come up with a whole series of books on how to play jazz. You can find them on his website, along with a free download of the scale syllabus. Now you too can have what I'm now calling my Lifesaver Cheat Sheet.

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

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!

(c) 2008 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

April 2008 Music Celebrity of the Month

It's been such a crazy month, filled with music festival preparations that the April Music Celebrity blog almost fell by the wayside. This month's music celebrity is American jazz composer, pianist and band leader Duke Ellington. He lived from April 29, 1899 - May 24, 1974. A few of my students are studying some of his works. "It Don't Mean a Thing" is the popular choice among the group.

If you'd like to add the Duke to your music collection, check out these albums by clicking on the image below:

If you'd like to learn "It Don't Mean a Thing" or any of the Duke's other songs, head to Sheetmusicplus.com and choose which version you want.

(c) 2008 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

On Conservatory Canada's Contemporary Idioms Syllabus

Last year, Conservatory Canada released their Contemporary Idioms syllabus. I must admit, I was slow to get on the bandwagon at first, partially because I wanted to hear comments from other teachers and partially because I wanted to take my time looking over the requirements. A few weeks ago, I sat in on one of ConCan's workshops on the syllabus. Unfortunately, I could only attend one out of the four sessions.

Derek Stoll and Steven Fielder made the workshop exciting, interactive and dynamic. It's an exciting program. I imagine teachers are seeing this as a way to keep some students from quitting in frustration because "piano is boring" or because they "hate their songs".

Students study a variety of the contemporary genres: rock, ballad/blues, jazz, swing, Latin, traditional/folk and ragtime. Unlike the traditional conservatory systems, memory isn't stressed. However, students don't get off quite that easily. They need to learn their chords extremely well because they are expected to sight-read and improvise off a lead sheet (or jazz chart). They have to determine which style is appropriate for these selections (e.g., swing pattern, waltz, Latin).

In addition, the technical requirements are very challenging. My older students and I are finding that after years of playing the good old major, harmonic and melodic minor scales, our fingers and brains are running circles with the old church modes and jazz melodic minor scales. We'll get it though, with a lot of patience and practice! Thankfully, we agreed to use this year to learn the new requirements and to simply explore the program. Next year, they'll be more comfortable to take the test.

I actually don't mind learning all these "new" scales. I've been itching to play different technical exercises. Although adding a new program into my studio means the investment of more music (so close to RCM's upcoming release of their new syllabus and books), I am drooling over all these songs that I can add to my gigging repertoire.

My 10 or so students who are trying out the program are enjoying it so far. Some of them are a little frightened about improvising in a certain style or the new technical requirements or reading from a lead sheet but overall, the switch has re-energized their playing and practice. One mother commented that her daughter is practicing "all the time" now, which wasn't the case last year.

The program is not without glitches. I heard there were a few bumps during the last exam session. ConCan was quick to update their syllabus online to reflect the feedback they received from students and teachers. I wrote them yesterday, requesting they ensure the next edition of the syllabus includes the correct book titles as Rideau Music and I have had a tough time tracking down some of the books. They responded to me right away, assurring me that they will make the necessary corrections.

It's a bit of a challenge to figure out how the eight-level system compares to the traditional 10-grade system. ConCan clarified things a bit for me there as well. Level 1 corresponds to Grade 1 in the RCM and CoCan Syllabi. Level 4 is about Grade 5/6, while Level 8 is the equivalent to Grade 10 in the traditional programs. I have heard some teachers say that they're not going to teach beyond Level 4 (some up to Level 6). Lucky me, I have three in Level 4/5, three in Level 7 and one in Level 8.

The program isn't for all teachers or all students, but that can also be said for all the conservatory systems and beginner method books. Some students are clearly "Royal Conservatory" or "Conservatory Canada" material. Then, there are the students who could thrive in either system. And then, there's the group of students who are "just playing for fun".

Regardless of which stream is best for a student, we can incorporate elements from the other programs to enhance our students' musical education.

It is wonderful to see how the resources and programs are evolving to meet the needs and interests of students and teachers.

(c) 2007 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

Friday Fun Link #6

I stumbled upon A Passion for Jazz when I was searching for a good “How to use a Fake Book” recourse. There is a concise history of jazz as well as handy “cheat sheets”. The chord chart is extremely helpful! Here’s the site: http://www.apassion4jazz.net/


© Musespeak, Calgary, Alberta, Canada. All rights reserved.