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

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