How to learn Jazz: improvisation (I)

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    How to learn Jazz: improvisation (I)

    Contrary to what many people believe, to learn Jazz is not a mystical
    or unusually complicated process. Like any other art form, it can be reduced to a few simple, structured guidelines to focus your mind and body, and let your creative spirit soar where it may. The four steps for learning to play jazz are:

    1. Practice Fundamentals
    2. Technical Practice
    3. Play Music!
    4. Listen
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    • Fundamentals. This is the bread and butter of your practice routine, and is the first thing that you practice every day. Listen to almost all great jazz players (especially those of the modern era) and you will notice one thing in common – they all play their instrument extremely well. I cannot over-stress the importance of this part of your practice, particularly in the early stages of your musical development.
    • This is the time when you learn how to use your tools and perfect your technique. Anything that you might ever need to play creative and inspiring jazz must be worked on here, including sound, pitch, time, range, dynamics, breath control, finger dexterity, extended techniques, and anything else that you will help you excel on your instrument.
    • Technical Work. This type of work is where you develop your vocabulary, and is encompasses most of our work in a jazz improvisation class. Stick to mostly jazz-related practicing here, including scales, arpeggios, modes, patterns, licks, and anything else that you can think of that will give you a more complete “toolbox.”
    • There are literally hundreds of books full of examples of this sort of
      thing (find them in our Library). Some of the best are Jerry Coker’s “Patterns for Jazz”, David Baker’s “A Creative Approach To Practicing Jazz” and the amazing Jerry Bergonzi’s series “Inside Improvisation”.

    It is especially important for you to be creative in this type of practice. It is
    extremely easy to get bored playing nothing but scales and patterns all day, which is the last thing you would want. Anything that you can do to create interest in this type of practice will greatly help you.

    Play scales forwards and backwards, in different intervals, and starting on each note. Practice technique with play-along records. Trade off scales and patterns with a friend. Make up games to challenge yourself. Work on soloing over songs using only one specific technique at a time.

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    Play! At this point, you’re just working on music, so turn your brain off and leave all the technical work in the practice room. If you’ve worked on it enough, you’ll have the licks when you need them. Fundamentally, jazz is about making a creative musical statement and sounding different than anyone else, which is hard to do if you’re simply combining different patterns in a practiced or calculated way. Try to say something emotional with your music. Tell a story!

    Again, there are many ways to work on music, so mix it up and keep
    yourself interested. Play with play along sets (the best being the 100+ volumes in the Aebersold and Hal Leonard series, from our Library) and computer programs like Band-in-a-Box.

    Perform along with actual recordings -use headphones or turn the volume up enough so that it sounds like you’re actually in the band. Even better, play live with other people. Put together jam sessions. Grab a piano player and play tunes together. Find any opportunity to actually play music, and the more talented the other players, the more you will learn. Remember, all the technique in the world matters little if you can’t make music.

    Listen Actively. Jazz is one of the few forms of music were not only is it
    okay to imitate others, it is often considered an honor. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a recording is worth a thousand textbooks in terms of the sheer amount that you can learn. Your jazz collection should be constantly expanding, so look to sources such as used-CD stores and online for cheap recordings.

    It is generally not enough to just have music going while you are in the car or otherwise occupied —set aside actual time for dedicated listening. Better yet, listen with a friend and discuss what you hear. Included with this is transcription. Learn solos and melodies both by writing them down and by learning by ear and playing on your instrument. When transcribing, try to learn everything that the artist is doing, not just notes and rhythms. From local groups at clubs and coffee shops to major artists performing in concert halls, there is constantly jazz going on around you. Listen!

    Remember, jazz is FUN! Practice hard, practice smart, and play MUSICALLY!

    Download Jazz Improvisation resources (1)

    Major and minor Scales, Arpeggios, Blues scales, Blues Bass lines, Blues Piano “Comping”, Modes, Pentatonic scales, Jazz Chord Progressions, Jazz Licks, Digital Patterns, Circle of 4ths (or 5ths), How to Read Chord Symbols…

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    How to learn tunes

    1. Listen to the song! Listen until you have the major details memorized. Try to not only pay attention to the melody line (or your own instrument) but spend some time focusing on each member of the rhythm section. Can you hear the chord changes? Can you find the form? If you can, find multiple recordings.
    2. Learn the melody, by memory, if possible. Play along with your recording. If the melody has a verse at the beginning, learn that too. Even better than reading the head out of a fake book is learning it by ear from a recording.
    3. Determine the form of the tune. Is it blues? AABA? ABAC? How many bars is it? If it falls into one of these standard types, it will make your job much easier.
    4. Learn the chord changes. Use a fake book if necessary, but be careful to find one that is reliable. The Jamey Aebersold’s Play Along series of books (and MP3 audio) is usually very accurate.
    5. Work over the chord changes. Play scales, arpeggios, and digital patterns. Hold the 3rds and 7ths. Use a play-along record or a metronome to help you keep good time. Can you say the 3rds and 7ths in time with the metronome?
    6. Find the connections between the chord changes. Is there a section that is repeated in a different key? Is there a series of dominant seventh chords descending in whole steps? Where are the ii-V7-I’s?
    7. If there are chords or sequences of chords that you find difficult, isolate them and practice them individually. Use a play-along, computer software, or just play with a metronome. Don’t be afraid to write in ideas in your music. Jazz masters such as John Coltrane and Clifford Brown would spend hours practicing the exact licks that they would later perform.
    8. Improvise on the chord changes. Again, use a play-along, computer, metronome, or find a friend to comp on piano. Play at a variety of tempos and styles. As soon as you are able, play from memory. Don’t forget to utilize your “tools” – don’t just play a boring stream of eighth notes!
    9. Learn the tune in a different key. Particularly if you have to play with singers, songs may not always be in the expected key. Plus, it’s great ear training, and you might be surprised at how much differently you improvise in Db than C.
    10. Are there lyrics? Learn them – it will make a difference how you approach both the melody and the improvisation.
    11. Finally, have fun! Learning jazz is serious work, but performing it is a thrill that you are lucky to have experienced!
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    How to transcribe from a recording?

    Transcription can be one of the most valuable ways to learn jazz. All of the book learning you can ever do will never compare to the amount of information you can get from a single recording. While there are many books of transcribed solos available, the real value is in doing the work, and you will not learn nearly as much by playing off of someone else’s transcription.

    Here are some basic steps to follow:

    1. Listen to the tune! Before ever picking up a pencil or your horn, you should be intricately familiar with the tune and the solo you are about to work on. Listen not just to the notes and rhythms, but also to dynamics, articulation, inflection, and what the rhythm section is doing.
    2. Plot out the form of the tune. How many choruses does the soloist play? How many bars in each chorus? Is the form AABA? ABAC? Blues? Rhythm Changes? Sketch out empty space in your manuscript book that shows the form, drawing double bars often to delineate new sections. Make sure to leave enough space to fill in the solo.
    3. If you can get the chord changes, it will be extremely helpful. For more advanced transcribers, try to figure them out by ear. If you are having a difficult time, look up the changes to the tune in a fake book. Beware of inaccuracies—use a reliable source!
    4. We recommend working in sections from here, 8 or 16 bars at a time. That will allow you to focus on smaller parts of the form while still seeing quick results.
    5. Figure out the rhythm of the solo. You might want to sketch it into your transcription or make notation on some scrap paper. If it helps, tap your hand or your foot. Saying the beats out lead also helps in more complicated solos.
    6. Figure out the pitches for the rhythms you just identified. You may need to play the recording a number of times to hear them. A quick trigger finger on the “Pause” button will help considerably. You will probably need your horn or a piano to help here. If you are having trouble, look to the chord changes for guidance. Does what you’re hearing fit?
    7. Add dynamics, articulations, and inflections. Be thorough and specific, adding word descriptions such as “Lay back” when necessary. Try to capture as much of the artist’s sound in your transcription as possible.
    8. Play your work with and without the recording. Memorize it. Analyze it.
      Borrow licks and use them in your own solos. Learn them in all 12 keys. You will be amazed at how much you can get out of each transcribed solo!
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    Essential Jazz Musicians

    Nat Adderley, Louis Armstrong, Chet Baker, Bix Beiderbecke, Wayne Bergeron, Terrance Blanchard, Randy Brecker, Clifford Brown, Don Cherry, Miles Davis, Kenny Dorham, Dave Douglas, Harry “Sweets” Edison, Roy Eldridge, Jon Faddis, Maynard Ferguson, Dizzy Gillespie, Tim Hagans, Roy Hargrove, Tom Harrell, Freddie Hubbard, Ingrid Jensen,
    Thad Jones, Wynton Marsalis, Lee Morgan, Michael Phillip Mossman, Fats Navarro, Joe “King” Oliver, Nicholas Payton, Claudio Roditi, Red Rodney, Arturo Sandoval, Woody Shaw, Bobby Shew, Marvin Stamm, Byron Stripling, Clark Terry, Cootie Williams

    Bob Brookmeyer, David Baker, Robin Eubanks, John Fedchock, Carl Fontana, Curtis Fuller, Urbie Green, Slide Hampton, Conrad Herwig, J.J. Johnson, Albert Mangelsdorf, Grachan Moncur III, “Tricky Sam” Nanton, Edward “Kid Ory”, Bill Reichenbach, Frank Rosolino, Jack Teagarden, Juan Tizol, Steve Turre, Bill Watrous, Phil Wilson, Kai Winding

    Bill Barber, Howard Johnson, Rich Matteson

    Cannonball Adderley, Benny Carter, Ornette Coleman, Hank Crawford, Paquito D’Rivera, Paul Desmond, Eric Dolphy, Lou Donaldson, Gary Foster, Kenny Garrett, Bunky Green, Johnny Hodges, Lee Konitz, Eric Marienthal, Jackie McLean, Roscoe Mitchell, Lanny Morgan, Oliver Nelson, Greg Osby, Charlie Parker, Art Pepper, David Sanborn,
    Sonny Stitt, Bobby Watson, Phil Woods

    Eric Alexander, Gene Ammons, Bob Berg, Michael Brecker, Don Byas, Ed Calle, George Coleman, John Coltrane, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Joe Farrell, Frank Foster, Von Freeman, Stan Getz, Benny Golson, Dexter Gordon, Johnny Griffin, Steve Grossman, Billy Harper, Coleman Hawkins, Jimmy Heath, Joe Henderson, Clifford Jordan, Harold
    Land, Dave Liebman, Charles Lloyd, Joe Lovano, Branford Marsalis, Don Menza, Bob Mintzer, Hank Mobley, James Moody, Chris Potter, Joshua Redman, Sonny Rollins, David Sanchez, Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp, Wayne Shorter, Zoot Sims, Sonny Stitt, Stanley Turrentine, Ben Webster, Walt Weiskopf, Lester Young

    Pepper Adams, Nick Brignola, Harry Carney, James Carter, Serge Chaloff, Ronny Cuber, Gerry Mulligan, Gary Smulyan

    Sidney Bechet, Jane Ira Bloom, John Coltrane, Jan Gabarek, Kenny Garrett, Steve Lacy, Dave Liebman, Branford Marsalis, Wayne Shorter, Grover Washington

    Paquito D’Rivera, Eddie Daniels, Buddy DeFranco, Johnny Dodds, Eric Dolphy (bass clarinet), Pete Fountain, Benny Goodman, Jimmy Guiffre, Woody Herman Pee Wee Russell, Artie Shaw, Tony Scott

    Joe Farrell, Raashan Roland Kirk, Yusef Lateef, Hubert Laws, Dave Liebman, Herbie Mann, James Moody, James Newton, Joaquim Oliveros, Lew Tabakin, Dave Valentin, Frank Wess

    John Abercrombie, George Benson, Kenny Burrell, Charlie Byrd, Charlie Christian, Larry Coryell, Al DiMeola, Herb Ellis, Tal Farlow, Freddie Green, Grant Green, Jim Hall, Stanley Jordan, Barney Kessel, Earl Klugh, Russell Malone, Pat Martino, John McLaughlin, Pat Metheny, Wes Montgomery, Mary Osborne, Joe Pass, Bucky Pizzarelli, John
    Pizzarelli, Jimmy Raney, Django Reinhardt, John Scofield, Mike Stern

    Toshiko Akiyoshi, Monty Alexander, Kenny Barron, Count Basie, Shelly Berg, Paul Bley, Joann Brackeen, Dave Brubeck, Nat “King” Cole, Chick Corea, Dorothy Donnegan, Kenny Drew, George Duke, Duke Ellington, Bill Evans, Victor Feldman, Tommy Flanagan, Hal Galper, Red Garland, Benny Green, Herbie Hancock, Lil Hardin-Armstrong, Barry Harris, Hampton Hawes, Earl Hines, Ahmad Jamal, Bob James, Keith Jarrett, Hank Jones, Wynton Kelly, Kenny Kirkland, John Lewis, Ramsey Lewis, Jim McNeely, Marian McPartland, Brad Meldau, Mulgrew Miller, Thelonious Monk, Phineas Newborn, Danilo Perez, Oscar Peterson, Michel Petrucciani, Bud Powell, Marcus Roberts, Ellen Rowe, George Shearing, Horace Silver, Art Tatum, Billy Taylor, Bobby Timmons, Lennie Tristano, McCoy Tyner, Chucho Valdez, Fats Waller, Cedar Walton, Kenny Werner, Mary Lou Williams, Teddy Wilson, Joe Zawinul

    Joey DeFrancesco, Charles Earland, Larry Goldings, Richard “Groove” Holmes, Hank Marr, Jack McDuff, Jimmy McGriff, Jimmy Smith, Lonnie Smith, Larry Young

    Jimmy Blanton, Ray Brown, Ron Carter, Paul Chambers, Stanley Clarke, John Clayton, Bob Cranshaw, Richard Davis, Jimmy Garrison, Eddie Gomez, Larry Grenadier, Charlie Haden, Percy Heath, Milt Hinton, Dave Holland, Marc Johnson, Sam Jones, Scott LaFaro, Cecil McBee, Christian McBride, Marcus Miller, Charles Mingus, George Mraz, Walter Page, Jaco Pastorius, John Patitucci, Gary Peacock, Heils Henning, Orsted Pedersen, Oscar Pettiford, Rufus Reid, Slam Stewart, Steve Swallow, Miroslav Vitous, Buster Williams, Victor Wooten

    Louie Bellson, Ignacio Berroa, Cindy Blackman, Ed Blackwell, Art Blakey, Terry Lynn Carrington, Sid Catlett, Joe Chambers, Kenny Clarke, Jimmy Cobb, Billy Cobham, Steve Davis, Jack DeJohnette, Baby Dodds, Peter Erskine, Al Foster, Steve Gadd, Sonny Greer, Louis Haynes, Roy Haynes, Albert Heath, Billy Higgins, Steve Houghton, Elvin Jones, Jo Jones, Philly Jo Jones, Connie Kay, Gene Krupa, Mel Lewis, Victor Lewis, Shelly Manne, Joe Morello, Paul Motian, Adam Nussbaum, Sonny Payne, Buddy Rich, Danny Richmond, Max Roach, Zutty Singleton, Ed Soph, Grady Tate, Ed Thigpen, Peter Washington, Chick Webb, Dave Weckl, Lenny White, Tony Williams, Sam Woodyard

    Gary Burton, Terry Gibbs, Lionel Hampton, Bobby Hutcherson, Milt Jackson, Mike Mainieri, Steve Nelson, Red Norvo, Tito Puente, Cal Tjador

    Alex Acuna, Don Alias, Ray Barretto, Candido Camero, Luis Conte, Paulino de Costa, Giovanni Hidalgo, Airto Moreira, Tito Puente, Bobby Sanabria, Mongo Santamaria

    Regina Carter, Stephane Grappelli, Ray Nance, Jean Luc Ponty, Randy Sabine, Stuff Smith, Joe Venuti

    Ernie Andrews, Louis Armstrong, Chet Baker, Tony Bennett, George Benson, Ray Charles, Freddy Cole, Nat “King” Cole, Harry Connick Jr, Bob Dorough, Billy Eckstine, Kurt Elling, Giacomo Gates, Joao Gilberto, Miles Griffith, Johnny Hartman, Jon Hendricks, Al Jarreau, Eddie Jefferson, Kevin Mahogany, Bobby McFerrin, Mark Murphy, Lou Rawls,
    Frank Sinatra, Clark Terry, Mel Torme, Joe Williams

    Karrin Allyson, Leny Andrade, Carmen Bradford, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Betty Carter, June Christy, Rosemary Clooney, Natalie Cole, Madeline Eastman, Ella Fitzgerald, Nnenna Freelon, Astrud Gilberto, Billie Holliday, Shirley Horn, Nancy King, Diana Krall, Cleo Laine, Peggy Lee, Abbey Lincoln, Carmen McRae, Jane Monheit, Anita O’Day, Dianne
    Reeves, Vanesa Rubin, Diane Schuur, Janis Segal, Bessie Smith, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, Cassandra Wilson, Nancy Wilson

    The Bobs, Boca Livre, The Four Freshman, The Hi-Lo’s, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Lambert, Hendricks, & Ross, Les Doubles Six, M-Pact, Manhattan Transfer, New York Voices, Rare Silk, The Ritz, Singers Unlimited, The Swingle Singers, Vocal Sampling, Voice Trek, Take 6, Toxic Audio, Vox One, Zap Mama

    Toshiko Akiyoshi/Lew Tabackin Big Band, Count Basie, Bob Brookmeyer, Cab Calloway, Carnegie Hall Jazz Orchestra, Benny Carter, Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, Jimmy Dorsey, Tommy Dorsey, Billy Eckstine, Duke Ellington, Gil Evans, Maynard Ferguson, Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Goodman, Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band, Fletcher Henderson, Woody Herman, Bill Holman, Harry James, Quincy Jones, Thad Jones/Mel Lewis, Stan Kenton, Gene Krupa, Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Rob McConnell’s Boss Brass, Glenn Miller, Bob Mintzer, Benny Moten, Sammy Nestico, Rob Parton, Don Redman, Buddy Rich, Doc Severinsen, Artie Shaw, Maria Schneider, Claude Thornhill, U.S.
    Air Force Airmen of Note, U.S. Army Blues, U.S. Army Jazz Ambassadors, U.S. Navy Commodores, Paul Whiteman.

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    Jazz Standards to know


    “C” Jam Blues – Afro Blue – All Blues – Au Privave – Bessie’s Blues Billie’s Bounce – Blue Monk – Blue Trane – Blues for Alice – Footprints – Freddie Freeloader – Mr. P.C. – Now’s the Time – Straight, No Chaser – Work Song


    A Fine Romance
    All of Me
    All of You
    All the Things
    Beautiful Love
    Days of Wine and Roses
    Don’t Get Around Much Anymore

    Have You Met Miss Jones

    Here’s that Rainy Day
    How High the Moon
    I Love You
    I’ll Remember April
    April in Paris

    In a Mellow Tone
    It Don’t Mean a Thing

    Someday My Prince Will Come

    Stella by Starlight
    Stompin’ At The Savoy
    Take the A Train
    There is no Greater Love

    There Will Never be Another You

    What is this Thing Called Love

    Green Dolphin Street
    Sweet Georgia Brown
    Satin Doll
    Night and Day
    My Romance
    In Your Own Sweet Way

    Just Friends
    Out of Nowhere

    Someday My Prince Will Come

    Stella by Starlight
    Stompin’ At The Savoy
    Take the A Train
    There is no Greater Love

    There Will Never be Another You

    What is this Thing Called Love

    Green Dolphin Street
    Sweet Georgia Brown
    Satin Doll
    Night and Day
    My Romance
    In Your Own Sweet Way


    Anthropology – Cottontail – I Got Rhythm Lester Leaps In – Oleo
    Rhythm-A-Ning – Webb City


    A Night in Tunisia – Cherokee – Confirmation – Four
    Well, You Needn’t – Groovin’ High – Joy Spring – Moment’s Notice

    Scrapple from the Apple – Solar – Hot House Donna Lee Nardis
    Giant Steps – Countdown – Ko-Ko – Ornithology – Perdido

    Afternoon In Paris – I Mean You – Lady Bird – Woody ‘N You


    Angel Eyes

    But Beautiful

    Chelsea Bridge

    God Bless the Child

    I Can’t Get Started

    In a Sentimental Mood

    I Remember Clifford

    Lush Life
    My Funny Valentine

    Round Midnight

    When I Fall in Love

    Body and Soul Mood



    Girl from Ipanema

    You Are Blue Bossa
    How Insensitive
    One Note Samba
    Nica’s Dream
    Song for My Father


    So What
    Maiden Voyage
    Cantaloupe Island
    My Favorite Things


    Speak No Evil

    Waltz for Debby
    Dolphin Dance
    Pent-Up House
    Seven Steps to Heaven

    Take Five
    Witch Hunt
    Speak Low
    Softly As in a Morning Sunrise

    Mercy, Mercy, Mercy
    Love for Sale
    Good Bait

    Jazz Sheet Music Download

    1. Jazz Transcriptions, Fake Books, Real Books, Jazz Anthologies, Authors’ sheet music, Jazz Collections, Great Jazz Tunes, Jazz Standards, etc.etc.
    2. Jazz Technique and Exercises Books
    3. Jazz and Blues Play Along
    4. Guitar Play Along (Books & background MP3 audio tracks)
    5. Piano Play Along (Books & background MP3 audio tracks)

    Keith Jarrett LIVE concerts and sheet music transcriptions.

    Keith Jarrett – The Art of Improvisation COMPLETE (full 2005 documentary, including the extra interviews)

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