Thursday, February 24, 2011

Jazz Improvisation: The Theoretical Approach

When it comes to learning jazz improvisation the theoretical approach is probably the most taught method in schools and books.  Why you might ask?  Well unlike other methods that teach students to improvise the theoretical approach to jazz gives the student a background and structure to learn from.  For most beginning jazz improvisers their main concern is, "What notes do I play?"  Typically the beginning jazz student wants to sound good, but they really don't know how to improvise.

The theoretical approach is a improvisation method that teaches jazz students what does and what doesn't work in a theoretical manner.  This also provides the student with a concrete way to go about learning to improvise over tunes, and it also teaches a student how they can approach new tunes with confidence.

So what is the theoretical approach to jazz improvisation?  The theoretical approach  is the process of learning to improvise over jazz standards by understanding music theory.  In this case you would call it jazz theory.  In simple terms the theoretical approach to improvisation is the study of jazz theory.

Ok, what does this mean.  This means that the jazz student needs to learn and master the basic components of jazz music.  This is done through understanding chord scale relationships.  Jamey Aebersold's books and playalongs go into great detail about how to utilize chord scale relationships to develop a strong jazz solo.

So lets recap.  The theoretical approach to jazz improvisation involves learning jazz theory so that the improviser knows what notes do and what notes don't fit the chord progression of the tune they are playing.  This process is typically learned through understanding how chords and scales relate to one another.

Sounds simple enough right?  Well the concept is simple, but it does take work to master.  A student who wishes to use the theoretical approach to jazz improvisation embarks on a journey where they must learn a lot.  To master jazz improvisation through the theorectical approach a jazz student must learn how to build chords, they need to understand what scales and modes work with the varying types of chords, and they also have to gain an understanding on how the chords within a chord progression relate to one another.  Once these skills are mastered the jazz student will have a strong understanding of jazz harmony and what notes they can use to improvise successfully over a tune.

Well that's all for today.  Until next time.


Monday, January 24, 2011

Jazz: The Art of Improvisation, Creativity, and Self Expression

Creativity, self expression, and improvisation these are the words that describe Jazz.  Of course this is subjective, as many things are, but I think in its essence creativity, self expression and improvisation are key elements of jazz music. It's true people may disagree with me but that doesn't matter.  I've been wanting to write about how I personally feel about jazz music and improvisation in general so this is that description.

When I consider what draws me to jazz music and what joy I get from it, the three elements that always come up are creativity, the ability to express oneself, and of course improvisation.   So in simple terms jazz is the art of improvisation, creativity, and self expression.  So why do I say this?

First jazz has always been a flexible music.  It is always evolving and changing.  This can only happen when there are opportunities to be creative.  From the early days of jazz you see the desire of the musicians to tell a story in there own creative way.  The first jazz musicians didn't follow the tradition of western music instead they took the sounds surrounding them and made them their own.  They weren't afraid to be brash sounding or wild.  Whatever communicated their story the best was what they used.  In this creativity we also see their individuality and voice.

With all the freedom that jazz seemed to have you can see how it easily became a great form of self expression.  There really wasn't a right or wrong way to play as long as it told your story.  The whole history of jazz music is about musicians being creative and telling there own stories through written and improvised music.  From what I can tell creativity , improvisation, and self expression all come together.  Really the greatness of jazz and its vitality all stems from these traits.

When I look at my own experience with jazz music I see these same traits.  The first time I remember hearing jazz music the thing that grabbed my attention the most was the life the music had.  It was so expressive, and colorful.  It was full of emotion.  I thought it was wonderful.  Until I heard jazz I had never had music really strike me, but jazz did.  The reason jazz struck me so much was because it was a true expression of the musicians and there feelings.  I also believe it struck me because of the improvisation.  Most music repeats the melody over and over again, but jazz didn't just repeat the melody it changed and made new ones all in the same song.  The music became organic.  This can only happen because the musicians truly expressed themselves and weren't afraid to be creative, and they did this through the medium of improvisation.

Now today when I play jazz myself these same traits are what makes me love it and want to explore it so much.  The opportunity to improvise and express myself is such a fulfilling experience that I keep coming back for more.  I think that we all have the desire to be creative and express ourselves in our own ways.  For me jazz music provides that opportunity to do so and to grow at the same time. It is my hope that others will feel the same way or at least see and appreciate the potential that jazz music has.  For those who truly want to do there own thing and wish to tell their story through music jazz is a great option.

Well there you have it.  In my opinion jazz music is the art of improvisation, creativity, and self expression.

Until Next Time,


Friday, January 7, 2011

Saxophone Tip #4: Take One Step at a Time

It's time for another Saxophone Tip.  Today's Saxophone Tip is inspired by the holidays or I should say today's tip is inspired by the Christmas movie Santa Clause is Coming to Town.  This was one of my favorite holiday movies while growing up as a kid.  There is one particular part I especially like.  It is the song " Put One Foot in Front of the Other."  If you haven't seen this movie I suggest you get it and check it out.  It is full of great messages.  Today I want to focus on one particular lesson which is contained in the "Put One Foot in Front of the Other," song.
Here are the Lyrics.

Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you’ll be walking cross the floor
Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you’ll be walking out the door

You never will get where you’re going
If you never get up on your feet
Come on, there’s a good tail wind blowing
A fast walking man is hard to beat

Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you’ll be walking cross the floor
Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you’ll be walking out the door

If you want to change your direction
If your time of life is at hand
Well don’t be the rule be the exception
A good way to start is to stand

Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you’ll be walking cross the floor
Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you’ll be walking out the door

If I want to change the reflection
I see in the mirror each morn
You mean that it's just my election
To vote for a chance to be reborn

Ok, So what does this have to do with playing the Saxophone?  How can Putting one foot in front of the other be a Tip?  The answer is simple.  When learning to play the saxophone you have to remember to take things one step at a time.  In my last Saxophone Tip Enjoy The Journey I made reference to this idea.

Learning the saxophone is very rewarding and fun, but if your not careful you can become distracted from your goals or discouraged because you feel that there is too much to master.  What I want to stress today is you can accomplish anything as long as you have a plan and you take things one step at a time.  That's what I like about "Put One Foot in Front of the Other" Christmas song.  The song mentions that until you take the first step your not going to get anywhere.  It also mentions that by just focusing on one thing in this case taking a step one at a time soon you will be walking through the door.

This relates to the saxophone in the way that by practicing a little everyday you will make progress.  By focusing on something long enough  you will reach your destination.  You can't let the big things scare you to the point that you don't do the little things.  When it comes to learning to play the saxophone mastering the little and simple things leads to mastery and the accomplishment of big and great things.  So take one step at a time and you will be amazed how much you will grow musically and how talented you can become.  Use this Saxophone Tip with all the aspects of your life and you will see great growth.

Until next time