Sing & Play Guitar at the Same Time—How to Teach It!

Nikki O'NeillBy Nikki O’Neill
Author, Songwriter, Teacher

While many guitar students want to learn how to sing and play songs, there are also many guitar instructors who don’t sing. The main challenge for most beginners in this area has to do with polyrhythms, not melodic pitches. It’s about singing the different rhythms of the vocal lines while keeping the strumming rhythm of the guitar constant. The most common mistake is when the strumming hand tries to mimic the various vocal rhythms. So if any guitar instructors are intimated by singing in front of their students, remember that it’s okay to just “talk-sing” the lyrics á la Tom Waits as you coach your students! Here’s my step-by-step approach:

1. Pick a slower song in 4/4 time with a very simple and straightforward rhythm guitar part. A ballad like “Let it Be” by The Beatles is a great one to start with; all you do is play two quarter-note down-strums for each chord. Next time, try “From Me to You”—also by The Beatles—and play it with a simple down, down-up type of strum.

2. Analyze the guitar part from a rhythmic perspective. Count the four beats out loud in each measure as you play. Which beats are the strums on?  Is every strum on the beat, or are some strums in-between the beats? Take a look at the excerpt below from Women’s Road to Rock Guitar for more on teaching strum patterns.

Excerpt from Women's Road to Rock Guitar

“Must-Know Strum Patterns in Rock”

3. Memorize the guitar part (chord changes and strum rhythm) and play it with rock-solid time before you sing anything. Then put the guitar away. Now it’s time to analyze the vocal part.

4. Start speaking the first lyric line of the vocal part. Don’t even worry about singing the notes — just speak the lyrics with the same rhythm as if you would sing them. Tap the four beats in each measure as you speak. Which beat does the vocal start on? Do a couple of beats go by before it starts? How many? Pay attention to rhythmic patterns (numbers of syllables could repeat in another line.)

5. Once you know how the guitar and vocal parts each relate to the beat, it’s time to try both together. You might need to work at it one syllable at a time. Next, it’s one line… and eventually you get a whole section. Talk-sing the vocals at first while you play, then you can start singing the actual melody notes.

If your student has trouble singing the correct pitches, let them play the melody on their guitar and try to match each pitch with their voice.

To help your students improve their rhythm and sense of musical time, while learning lots of great strum patterns in rock and pop, and getting rhythm-related tips from guitarists Orianthi and Ann Klein, check out Women’s Road to Rock Guitar.

A Few Tips on Selecting Your Halftime Show Music



By Michael Story
Composer, Arranger, & Editor

Times sure have changed since I was in high school band. We used to perform a different halftime show for each home game. Nowadays, most bands perform just one show a year, which makes it even more important to select a show that truly fits your band. Although marching band students are not exposed to as much music as we were, the advantage to doing just one show a year allows for a much higher level of achievement in performance quality. Here are few tips to help you in your halftime music selection:

  • Type of Music: Although many bands have had success with original compositions for their show, there are many good reasons to consider a show based on pop music. Sure, there is good and bad pop music (just as there are good and bad original compositions), but many popular songs offer great teaching opportunities. The added benefit is that you will generally have a better opportunity to connect with your audience.
  • Difficulty Level: You want to choose music that is neither too easy nor too hard. Students will become bored with music that is too easy, and discouraged with music that is too difficult. Choosing music that is right at your band’s ability level (or slightly easier) allows you to focus on increased musicality and polishing the drill.
  • Quality: Are ALL the parts (not just the melody) interesting, musical, idiomatic, and written in a comfortable range for your students? Has the composer or arranger chosen an appropriate instrument or section to play the melody? Do the interior parts, countermelodies, and bass lines make musical sense?
  • Form: Does the show achieve a balance of REPETITION and CONTRAST? Examples of repetition include recurring themes or ideas, or an ending reprise of the opening melody to tie the show together. Contrast is achieved not only from varying the musical content, but also through textural and instrumental changes, including solos or ensembles within the show, musical highs and lows, and percussion or other section features.

Good halftime show music can come in all shapes and sizes–there can be great educational opportunities in all genres. Whatever music you choose, have fun with it, and have a great year!

Skyscraper: A Beautiful View into the MTNA Collaborative Commissioning Project

Wynn-Anne Rossi

By Wynn-Anne Rossi
Composer, Arranger, Teacher

Following the premiere of Skyscraper at the 2014 MTNA National Conference, I walked to the John Hancock Center with a friend and took a speedy elevator to the 96th floor. In a quiet lounge, I gazed over the many skyscrapers of Chicago. I could see Lake Michigan and the famous ferris wheel at Navy Pier, so tiny from this perspective. The jazzy sounds of the new piece were fresh, and they played in my mind as I watched the tall, twinkling lights of the city. What a day!

This experience all started about a year ago when I got a phone call. Ann Witherspoon, director of the MTNA Collaborative Commissioning Project, asked if I would be interested in being one of two commissioned composers for the 2014 MTNA National Conference. This was not a difficult question to answer. Yes! The commission was for a late intermediate trio, and we discussed possibilities for instrumentation. My inklings were towards jazz, and we settled on Bb clarinet, Eb alto saxophone, and piano.

When I compose, I usually begin with a seedling of an idea. In this case, it was…skyscraper. I came to Chicago as a child, and these towering giants made a huge impression on me. As a composer, I love the presence of architecture in music. My mind went to the skeleton of the structure, full of steel girders forming squares and triangles. I liked the idea of representing these shapes through my harmonic and melodic choices using minor 3rds and 4ths (quartal harmony). I also looked up the famous “Chicago Poems” by Carl Sandburg.

“By night the skyscraper looms in the smoke and the stars and has a soul.”
–final line of “Skyscraper” from Chicago Poems by Carl Sandburg

Nighttime view of Chicago from the 96th floor of the John Hancock Building.

Wynn-Anne’s nighttime view of Chicago from
the 96th floor of the John Hancock Center.

Full of inspiration, I sat down at the piano.  After briefly experimenting with ascending and descending 3rds and 4ths, the music began to take shape.  As many writers will admit, a piece will take on a life of its own, and you enter a place of trust as it creates itself.  I was particularly pleased with a “nature break” that happened in the music, featuring two gliding birds.  Then came the revision stage!  In fact, I wrote two entirely different endings.  One landed gracefully at ground level, and the other flew off the top!  I hope listeners are pleased with my final choice.

Click the button below to listen to a recording of the MTNA performance of Skyscraper with Janice Wenger on piano, Leo Saguiguit on saxophone and Paul Garritson on clarinet.

The first rehearsal with live performers is always a magical moment. Imagination becomes reality! Through the incredible talents of faculty musicians from the University of Missouri-Columbia, the skyscraper emerged with Janice Wenger on piano, Leo Saguiguit on sax and Paul Garritson on clarinet. By the time the audience arrived and the actual performance began, my bubbly nature had bubbled over. I would like to say that I am always calm and professional in these situations, but I simply had too much fun to behave!

Wynn-Anne Rossi with Janice Wenger, Leo Saguiguit and Paul Garritson.

Wynn-Anne Rossi with Janice Wenger (center),
Leo Saguiguit (left) and Paul Garritson (right).

The MTNA Collaborative Commissioning Project is a valuable gift to composers, performers, and teachers. Ensemble music is particularly exciting, bringing musicians together to celebrate new works. From small local groups to national organizations like MTNA, commissioning programs such as these help to inspire new works well into our future. No group is too small. LAMTA, with four teachers in Langdon, North Dakota sets an excellent example. They are hosting a Latin Festival in May, 2014 with a commissioned finale. As a composer, these projects are incredibly energizing, and they help me discover the inspiration to keep doing what I enjoy the most.

Playfulness Is an Attitude: A Practice That Revitalizes Teaching and Learning

Peggy D. BennettBy Peggy D. Bennett
Professor of Music Education,
Oberlin Conservatory of Music

With so many restrictions, constrictions, and curricular demands made of educators, your classes and lessons can seem not your own. It can feel as if your aliveness in your classroom has been systematically eroded. And, if you feel depleted of vitality, your students may feel that also. Reviving the passion and enjoyment in teaching and learning is key to offering your best teaching to your students. And, I believe that imaginative playfulness is an extraordinarily effective way to revitalize your energy, your passion, and your enJOYment for teaching.

Playfulness is an attitude. It is a twinkle in the eye and an open, encouraging (sometimes smiling) face to accompany open-ended questions: “I wonder what would happen if…” “Describe what you see…” It is a loosening of rules in order to welcome spontaneity and surprise. Playfulness is the tapping of imaginations as students contribute images and ideas for a rhyme, song, or instrumental recording. It is inventing ways to elicit imaginations and verbalizations as we lead children to study and perform music. It is demonstrating the inflected speech, conversational curiosity, and spontaneous delight that we would like to see in our students as well as ourselves. In short, playfulness can make music come alive for both children and teachers.

To play with nursery rhymes, consider asking these kinds of questions: “Why did that mouse run all the way up to the top of the grandfather clock?” “When the mouse looked down from the top of the clock, what did it see?” Questions such as these help prepare children to create a scene from their own imaginations as they explore the nursery rhyme “Hickory Dickory Dock.” Children can also be “plopped” into the story by giving them a first person voice as the scene unfolds: “Brandon, you little mouse. What caused you to run all the way up to the top of that clock?” “Katie mouse, when you looked down to the floor and spotted that cat, were you worried? Why not? How did you know that cat?”

Imaginative play with music masterworks helps children embrace them as beloved treasures and pave the way for listening again and again. Floating down the Moldau river with their friends on a beautiful boat and stopping along the way to describe what they see on the riverbanks can keep children engaged in “performing” the piece. “Oh, my goodness. Look at that crowd of people over there near the Moldau River. What do you think they are doing?” As Americans in Paris and the teacher as the Tour Guide, children stop when the music pauses and the guide tells them about a famous Paris bakery that makes delicious food. “What will you buy when we go into that bakery? Oh, what kind of cake is your favorite?” The Americans in Paris can also encounter the wild Paris traffic as they try to cross a busy street with very fast drivers, drivers who are also amazingly safe and skillful because they rarely cause a collision.

Tapping into children’s imaginations through playful questions and story-making creates a unique experience with a song, rhyme, or masterwork. Stories give songs, rhymes, and instrumental works meaningful context, especially when the story is created or partially created by the children. The images and stories your students create are uniquely theirs for that song. Singing “Skip to My Lou” with “little red wagon painted blue,” one class may decide that the red wagon was painted blue, because they didn’t have any more red paint. Another class may decide they painted the red wagon, because blue is their favorite color. In answer to “Joshua, where are you taking your newly painted wagon?” Joshua may answer “to the store to get some candy.” Kaeli may answer “to my friend’s house so we can take our dolls for a ride.”

Follow-up questions and comments are especially important for energizing imaginative play. [For “little red wagon painted blue”] “What is your favorite candy? . . . Oh, I like those, too!” “Do you plan to share it with anyone when you get home? . . . Is it your sister’s favorite candy, too?” “How much do you think it will cost? . . . That seems like a bargain to me!” “What is the name of your doll?
. . . What an interesting name!” Where did you get your doll?” . . . Wasn’t that a nice birthday surprise!” “Where will you take your dolls in your wagon? . . . Be sure to be safe and watch for traffic as you take a trip around your neighborhood.” Frequently interspersing story-making with repeating the song, rhyme, or recording is critical to these questions energizing rather than bogging down the pace of the lesson.

Playfulness does not necessarily involve playing a “game.” But, when playfulness sets the tone for the plans we make, the questions we ask, the inviting facial expressions we display, the trust we show in venturing into a new way of interacting, and the spontaneous decisions we make based on students’ verbal, physical, and musical responses, teachers and students can regain vitality, their sense of liveliness for learning and teaching. And, when we infuse a song with context of meaning by giving it an imaginative story, we sing the song with meaning, we sing it more musically.

You may be wondering how you will find the time to be playful with music activities, given your schedule demands. My experience with infusing imaginative play into songs, rhymes, and classics has convinced me that a brief investment of story-making can transform our experience with the evolving study of the music. I most often hear an energized expressiveness in singing, speaking, and moving as a consequence of childrens’ creative responses to my open-ended questions. And, when I hear expressive, fluent singing and speaking of songs and rhymes, and see energized, sensitive movement to recordings, I know that we are making music musically.

Activities cited here are published by Alfred Music and may be found in:

Bennett, P.D. (2012). Playing with the Classics: Music Masterworks for Children, Volume 2.

Bennett, P.D. (2011). Playing with the Classics: Music Masterworks for Children, Volume 1.

Bennett, P.D. (2010). RhymePlay: Playing with Children and Mother Goose.

Activities may also be seen at SongWorks for Children: A Video Library of Children Making Music

We Need We! Healthy Staff Relationships

Mark CabanissA 7-Step “Program” to Healthier Staff (and/or choir) Relationships
By Mark Cabaniss
Managing Director, Alfred Sacred

File this article under “things they never taught us while majoring in music.” I teach a class once a year in music business at Belmont University, and each year, I tell my students that no matter what we do in life we’re all ultimately in the same business: The People Business. And if we can’t get along effectively with each other, then life is going to be a lot tougher.

And church staffs are filled with co-workers and volunteers. Yes…people! Many bad situations are often rooted in poor staff relationships (which often begin with misunderstandings). Too many times, churches are weakened because of staff relationship problems. People leave, get fired, burned out, etc., so here are seven steps to healthier staff relationships.

Many of these things you already know; some you don’t; all are great reminders of what it takes to keep a healthy staff.

Brethren, We Have Met to…Work Together!

  •  Have a mission statement. Everyone work together to forge it. Everyone owns it. Frame it. Everyone should have a copy of it. It’s the forest…not the trees.
  • Cultivate a team spirit: Socials (baseball game, birthday treats, team goals/contests).

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate!

  • In general, too much is assumed! One of Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
  • Email is a great tool for effective communication (there’s an electronic paper trail) but be careful not to assume everyone reads everything you write. Important issues: Call or visit in person in addition to an email.
  • Inform your pastor and co-workers constantly. Write a weekly report. Consider a weekly or monthly newsletter.
  • Weekly staff meetings. Important. Keep them structured.
  • Be honest about your feelings. Address unpleasant issues soon before they fester. Choose the right time to express such issues (for the person to whom they need to be expressed and for yourself as well). Don’t dump on someone when you’ve reached your boiling point.

Support your Local Pastor and Co-Workers

  • The Pastor is the Boss. Dissension in the ranks can be contagious and detrimental.
  • Support those events/activities of the pastor/co-workers…great and small.
  • Diplomatic compromise is healthy. When there’s a roadblock, agree to disagree.
  • When large issues are at stake where compromise isn’t possible, one needs to examine and pray if they should stay in that situation. You should feel “called to the church AND the pastor.”

Thou Shalt Be Open to Change

  •  “The only thing permanent in this world is change.” (Helen Cole Krause)
  • Sometimes change is difficult. Be open; be positive.
  • Serenity Prayer: “Change those things you can, accept what you can’t, and give me the wisdom and grace to know the difference between the two.”

Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way

  • Creeping apathy/negativity…permeates a lot of organizations (big and small!)
  • Apathy/negativity is sometimes inevitable…be on guard against it!
  • Weekly meetings: Inject positive thoughts, scripture, etc. Celebrate triumphs! Talk about challenges and how to handle them. Confront it all! (Even the air conditioning…heating…etc.)

We Need We!

  • Independence: I don’t need you. Dependence: I need you. Healthy interdependence: We need each other. Cultivate this mindset.
  • The sum is greater than the parts. Encourage free exchange of ideas.
  • Have a yearly staff retreat. Get away. Be creative. Have fun. Socialize.

Take Time to be Wholly (Complete, That Is)

  • Balance your life. The personal is interminably linked to the professional. (Just as the spiritual is linked to the physical).
  • Encourage counseling when needed. “We’ve all got baggage, it’s either checked or unchecked.”
  • Engage in keeping the whole life balanced: spiritually, physically, emotionally, intellectually.
  • Encourage staff-wide (or choir-wide) book readings/devotionals. Share your thoughts in staff meeting (or choir rehearsal) once a month.
  • By doing these things that aren’t urgent (but very important) you’re “depositing” into the emotional/professional bank account and can draw upon those things in the crunch times.

I hope some or all of these ideas will stimulate your thinking to keep your relationships with staff…and your choir…healthy and satisfying.

Piano Teaching Tips from Wynn-Anne Rossi

Wynn-Anne RossiAsymmetry! This is a quality I love to discover in my favorite pieces of art and music. In the Classical Era, beauty was considered to be the result of balance, order, and perfect symmetry. However, the 20th century “creators” challenged these philosophies, composing radically new forms of art. Today, we stand with the wonder of opposites. Balance and imbalance are no longer incompatible. Symmetry and asymmetry can work together “in harmony.”

I am pleased to introduce “Asymmetry” from book 4 of my new series, One of a Kind. This is an intriguing piece to present in terms of opposites working together. Click the image below to see the score with helpful markings.

One of a Kind Solos, book 4The time signature is an excellent place to start, being the rhythmic foundation of the piece. In measure 1, 5/8 immediately sets up an imbalanced nature: 3 + 2. Measures 9, 10, and 11 have the 7/8 pattern while measure 12 has the unexpected switch back to 5/8. Another point of inequality is the 3 (alike) + 1 (different) nature to the measure format throughout the music. This is easy to see via the patterns of the left hand. At measure 13, to counteract the imbalances of the individual measures, the larger picture of a dependable 4-measure structure (3 + 1 = 4) begins to emerge. Also, recurring rhythmic patterns in the left hand brings a distinct sense of order. The musical ear begins to rely on these patterns throughout the piece.

Asymmetry, from One of a Kind Solos, book 4

Asymmetry, from
One of a Kind Solos, book 4

Like the rhythm, the melody also follows a distinct measure format: three simple notes (m.1), retrograde (m.2), repetition (m.3), then something new (m.4). This 3 + 1 configuration continues at measure 9 when the piece switches to 7/8. Notice the strong use of sequencing in this section: mm.9-10, mm.13-14 and mm.15-16, which acts as a transition into a new key. The new section, beginning in measure 19, introduces a hybrid melody, nostalgic of the opening, as the 3 + 1 structure continues. Melodic sequences can be spotted in several measures, bringing “soothing” order into a seemingly imbalanced musical atmosphere.

At a glance, the harmonic language defies expectation! The music starts in A minor and ends in D major. Minor and major interact to the point where the ear wonders which one is actually in control. A melodic minor emerges as a strong force with the D (IV) and E (V) major chords in measure 4. Measure 9 is a surprise with the introduction of the A major chord. However, it is immediately followed by a C major chord, hinting back to the minor key via the C natural. Yes, it is complicated! Measure 16 offers a gentle transition into D minor. Note that A is the dominant key of D minor. At measure 27, the original A minor returns. After a recap of measures 9-16 at measure 35, the coda leads to D major. This offers a refreshing surprise ending. Contemporary music often weaves in and out of keys. I consider this to be a unique form of asymmetry.

I have always appreciated the age-old idiom of “opposites attract”. Through the musical fundamentals of structure, rhythm, melody, and harmony, opposites work together in complex ways, similar to life itself. Symmetry mixed with asymmetry can express new forms of artistry.

I send my best to you and your students as you discover new perspectives into what makes music truly beautiful!

Musically yours,
Wynn-Anne Rossi
Author, Arranger, Composer

Learning to Listen to My Heart

Katie KriedlerA Student’s Reflection on Selecting Music as a Career
By Katie Kriedler

The world has always encouraged us to “do what we love to do.” At age seven, I remember standing on stage in church to sing my first solo. Although I was incredibly scared of everyone (and my nerves were so bad that my legs were shaking), there was something bigger keeping me up on that stage. That was the first moment I decided that music was what I loved to do.

I was lucky enough growing up to have all the encouragement and inspiration a little girl could dream of. It has always been the people around me that have kept me moving forward—my mother, most of all. For as long as I can remember, my mother was driving me to and from hundreds of music practices, dance lessons, and dress rehearsals. She was the one who picked out the songs for my winning performances, the one who sat in the living room and listened to me practice over and over, and the face in the front row each time I got on stage.

I was also blessed in being surrounded by the best musicians during my time at school. Most importantly, my music teachers have been a huge impact. They are the ones who deserve the credit for my musical successes. Teaching me to sing or to play an instrument is one thing, but they have done so much more. They took a timid, seven year old girl who loved to sing, and instilled in her all the best qualities of determination, perseverance, and passion for music. There is no greater way to grow as a musician.

Junior year of high school is notorious for being the most difficult year for any high school student. My junior year, I was faced with many challenges in my life. I was trying to balance AP courses, running for student body president, auditioning for the school musical, and still trying to have a social life. I was applying for every scholarship I could get my hands on, deciding on one college, and choosing between majoring in something “realistic” or following my passion—music.

Meanwhile, my family was dealing with bad news that flipped our world upside-down. In June 2010, before the school year began, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. So this year, rather than getting rides to rehearsals, I was giving my mom rides to chemotherapy. Rather than being an average teenager at night, I was taking care of my ill mother. On Christmas Eve that year, my parents sat us down and told me, my brother, and my sister that there was nothing more the doctors could do—the cancer was terminal.

I lost so much when I lost my mother the next year. I lost my motivator, my inspirer, and my number one fan. The year ended with my decision to pursue something other than music. I turned all my musical ambitions into nothing more than a dream I once shared with my mom. I thought I was done with music, and that I could never follow my dreams without her.

During my first year at the State University of New York at Cortland, I heartbreakingly set aside music as a hobby. Yet no matter how much my studies piled up, I found myself craving to perform, reaching out for every opportunity to play my music. My friends and classmates noticed even before I did—they saw what my mother and teachers had always seen in me. Everything that I thought I had lost with my mother was actually still with me because of my music.

I am proud to say that I have chosen to pursue music as a career. It has carried me so far in my life, and I am excited to see where it can take me in the future. The way I see it is this: the world has always encouraged us to “do what we love to do.” But other forces in the world will tell us to “find a good paying job” or to “be more realistic.” We have to be careful of who we listen to. I chose to listen to those who love me and those who inspire me. And even more so, I chose to listen to the music in my heart.

Creative Concert Concepts

Bob PhillipsBy Bob Phillips

Many of us use all sorts of music over the course of a school year to build creative, interesting concerts. I highly recommend a varied program over time. This can be done with great classical pieces, eclectic styles, pop tunes,  guest artists, side-by-side concerts, and so on. It can also be done with quirky, unusual, or novelty pieces that just make players and audience smile. A few pieces that might fit that category are featured in this e-mail. These are definitely worth checking out!

The new 2014 catalog has a few that fit this category as well. Be looking for that promo in your email box in April!

Recruitment and Retention

Chris BernotasBy Chris M. Bernotas

Spring is coming and that is certainly welcome here in the Northeast!  Along with fresh air, spring also brings many exciting events in the world of education.  We are all enthusiastically preparing our ensembles for spring concerts, spring trips, spring community events, and many other performances.  The other school event that occurs around now is student course scheduling for next year’s classes! Kids are excitedly running to their counselors, looking ahead to the new and unique opportunities that await them (I can dream, can’t I?)  Of course the first thing on their list to register for is band!  That, at least, is the scenario we all hope and strive for.

Recruitment and retention are always on the minds of music educators.  Some goals in music education are to help students learn to be independent thinkers and problem solvers, as well as cultural contributors.  Without students studying music, it would be hard to achieve that.  We also want to share our love of music and our passion for working together in creating emotional performances and lifelong memories with as many students as possible.  Actively recruiting is essential in our quest of filling the sea of chairs in our room with fresh young minds that are eager to learn.

One way to encourage students to continue their study of music in band is to host a District Band Festival.  Many of us facilitate a district concert. Usually, we have all the different level bands perform a selection or two for each other and perhaps end the concert with a massive group performance. This is a wonderful concept and, while it can present a few challenges to arrange, the end result is often well worth it. How would a district festival work differently? First of all, the District Band Festival isn’t necessarily focused on holding a concert performance—it is about student-to-student interaction.  Let me explain.  The concept is to host a side-by-side day.  Seat the younger students next to the older students within the ensemble and run a workshop. Teach them a new piece of music!  What I love about running a festival day is that it allows the younger students (even at the 4th and 5th grade levels) to experience making music together with the older students and not just observe them.  The older kids are their heroes, their rock stars, and now they get to sit with them and even play music with them! That exciting opportunity alone creates a lasting impression on them.

The side-by-side experience is also wonderful for the older students. I encourage them to look at those little legs that don’t quite reach the floor, and think about when they were that age and what that music meant to them.  They love the reflection and gain an appreciation of how far they have come, and I bet that some of them feel wonderful about how they are making an impact on an impressionable young mind.  Not to mention that those younger kids get to see you, the director, in action doing what you love!

Adults can tell younger students that band is wonderful and how music is a lifelong passion and while we do need to impart that wisdom, words from student-to-student are incredibly powerful. Between their experience performing alongside their heroes, seeing a teacher that loves what they do, and hearing from older kids about how they love band, continuing to study music is a no-brainer.  To complete the day you may want to include a performance of the new piece for parents, teachers, administrators, and community members.  It is even a great idea to alternate between having a District Band Concert and a District Band Festival each year.

Music is an easy sell.  If we create memorable experiences that kids enjoy and connect with, when that day comes in the Spring and that student gets set to select his or her course schedule, they may just smile and remember that special day.

What’s a Jazz Play-Along?

What’s a Jazz Play-Along?
A question and answer approach.

Peter BarenBreggeAn example of a modern jazz play-along is Freddie Hubbard & More (book and DVD-ROM). This jazz play-along features jazz standards composed by jazz trumpeter Freddie Hubbard plus jazz standards by other jazz composers. Each tune features a written-out melody, written-out sample jazz solo, and written chord changes for soloing. The innovative, easy-to-use TNT2 Custom Mix software on the accompanying DVD-ROM allows you to customize a demo or play-along track, loop a section for specific practice, slow down or speed up the tempo, and more. The pro rhythm section and horn player demo tracks provide examples of jazz interpretation, articulation, and improvisation. By removing your instrument part from the track mix, you can play along to practice with the rhythm section. Tips and suggestions for improvisation are included for each jazz standard.

Q: What is a jazz play-along?
A: A jazz play-along is a practice tool to help you improve your jazz improvisation skills. The music is typically based on jazz standards, i.e., jazz tunes that are frequently played by jazz musicians.

Q: How does a jazz play-along help me learn to improvise?
A: Essential concepts to learning/improving jazz improvisation are: 1. listening and, 2. “hear it—sing it—play it.” For example: if you play a C, B-flat, E-flat, or bass clef instrument, here is a simple plan for each jazz standard in the play-along using the Freddie Hubbard & More Jazz Play-Along. Sample pages are provided here.

  1. Listen to the demonstration performance (by trumpet or saxophone) of the melody and sample solo on the play-along DVD disk. Repeat as needed.
  2. Sing along with the melody and sample solo using simple “dah” or “doo” jazz syllables. Repeat as needed.
  3. Play along with the demo track of the melody and sample solo and imitate the style and concept played by the pro jazz player.
  4. Play the melody and sample solo with the rhythm section only—mix out the demonstration trumpet or sax. Repeat as needed.

What have you accomplished?

  • You will have listened to the melody and sample solo played in a jazz style.
  • You will have sung along with the melody and sample solo. This has opened your ears to some musical nuances and allowed you to delve deeper into imitating the demo performance.
  • You have played-along with the rhythm section to imitate what you have heard and sung.

Q: What about improvising on the chord progression? I’m used to playing only written notes, I don’t know what to play when I see chord symbols.
A: Essential concepts to begin to improvise. 1. learn the form, and 2. learn the chords and melody, and 3. learn to play using your ear—not the written page.

  1. You have learned the form from listening/singing/playing.
  2. You have heard and recognize when the chords change and learned the melody by listening/singing/playing.
  3. With the melody and sample solo mixed out, play the root of each chord in the chord progression with whole/half/quarter notes depending on the duration of the chord. Then play the third of the chord, then the fifth, and so on. Repeat as needed.
  4. In the solo section with chord changes, play the sample solo numerous times with the rhythm section. This written-out sample jazz solo provides you with motifs, ideas, snippets, and devices that you can use in your solos to get you started.
  5. As you begin to improvise, start slowly and simply by playing the root, third, fifth and seventh tone of the chords. Embellish the melody rhythmically and melodically, use snippets and ideas from the sample solo and the melody. Slow the tempo down as needed.
  6. As you become more familiar with the melody and harmony, close the book and play by using your ear. Trust your ears!

Final comments:

  • Jazz improvisation is not an overnight learned skill, it is a lifetime quest!
  • To become a jazz improviser, you will need to spend time listening, learning, transcribing solos, and imitating. Immerse yourself.
  • Books and jazz instructional media are valuable tools, but in conjunction with listening and imitating.
  • Play songs by ear.
  • Depending on your experience level, using this play along and following these steps will get you going with jazz improvisation.
  • The written-out, sample jazz solos are not necessarily a definitive solo but merely examples of how to improvise on the given chord progressions.
  • For a rhythm section player (piano/bass/drums), there is a corresponding book/DVD for rhythm section instruments.
  • Check out the Freddie Hubbard & More Jazz Play-Along published by Alfred Music.

Have fun playing jazz!

Pete BarenBregge