Monthly Archives: June 2015

Jazz Ensemble: The 80 percent rule.

Pete BarenBregge

A jazz ensemble should always try to find its energy output “sweet spot.” What does this mean?
The sweet spot is all about playing with efficiency, and how much output or power the band can deliver. When the band can play with dynamics, have a core sound that is focused, deliver blend and balance, hear each other, and ultimately produce a cohesive and full sound as an ensemble—then you have found the sweet spot.

Often, if the band sees a fortissimo dynamic marking, that means they will play as loud as possible, at 100 percent. When that happens, that means every player is maxed out—with no room left for any nuances. In other words, you have nowhere to grow energy-wise, and that’s all you have to offer—you’re done! Instead, when the band plays, they should play at 80 percent. If they play unified attacks and releases, listen to each other, and play together as a unit, they will hardly ever exceed an output level of 80 percent of their potential. Let me be clear, this does not mean playing softer or with less intensity—you can still give 100 percent musically! This also doesn’t mean that the band should never play past the 80 percent level. There will be times when the band exceeds the 80 percent target. If the band is playing together and listening to their section and the ensemble, then every indicated dynamic and nuance and the overall band sound will be totally effective—all with the desired intensity.

Beyond the fact that when players exceed 80 percent output there is no room for nuances, the ensemble sound will be “spread.” This applies to every instrument, including the rhythm section. For example; if the rhythm players are playing too loud / too much, it will sound cluttered and the groove will typically be smothered, which means there is no space. The groove, no matter what the style is, needs some space to breathe. The saxes will be over blowing which will produce intonation problems, a distorted and poor tone, and the players will tire easily. The brass will also have intonation issues, the sound of the horn will be exaggerated, distorted with a wide sound with no center core, and players will definitely tire easily. Combine all that and the ensemble sound is “spread.” We’ve all heard bands do this and it’s not a good sound. Rhythm players will tire easily and wind players may feel tightness in their throat, hurt their ears, and more. It’s like putting the gas pedal to the floor all the time—not practical and not good.

Simply put, avoid over blowing the music. Yes, it’s loud but the sound will not carry to the back of the room because it is so spread. The goal is to back off a bit, get the same intensity, play together as one but with a solid and efficient tone that will project. The band will have more endurance, be able to execute dynamics and nuances, hear soloists, hear each other, and still be able to deliver 100 percent of the music with efficiency.

Let’s call the 80 percent concept “efficient playing.” An efficient band can deliver all the intensity it can muster and rarely exceed 80 percent. This includes all the dynamics—from fff to ppp, and any physical movements as well. The soloists will be heard, the background behind soloists will be just that, background. The rhythm section players will hear each other: the saxes and brass players will hear each other and play with better intonation. The audience will hear the nuances and dynamics, and not be overwhelmed with sheer volume. Everyone wins!

It all boils down to this: back off a notch and save some juice for that special moment. You’ll need to remind your band frequently about this efficient and more effective concept (and maybe remind certain individual players a little more often).

Enjoy the jazz!

Pete BarenBregge

Instrumental Jazz Editor

Premier Piano Course and Piano Maestro: The Perfect Combination

By Linda Christensen, JoyTunes Director of Education

A little over a year ago, Alfred Music began a collaboration with JoyTunes by including one lesson book from the Premier Piano Course inside the Piano Maestro app. Since that time, Alfred Music has become a strategic partner with Piano Maestro, adding numerous additional publications. Click here to see a full list of the Alfred Music publications available in Piano Maestro.

First, it helps to understand the organization of Piano Maestro. When you first register for Piano Maestro as a teacher, you can add all of your students by lesson day. When you open the app after that, your students for that day are listed on the first screen. You can simply choose the appropriate student and begin!

It is easy to explore on your own. Simply choose “start a lesson with any student,” see your name at the top, and choose “Explore.” Doing this allows you to use the app in the same way as the student and explore the available material.

The next screen shows the available material:

Journey mode is Piano Maestro’s built-in curriculum, based on Middle C. It is the “game” part of Piano Maestro, where the student must achieve enough stars to get to the next chapter. This is a good place to begin your exploration of the app and learn to how the game works.

This article will focus on the Library option, in the middle of the screen. This is where you will find the Alfred Music material by choosing “Library,” and then “Methods.”

But, how does one incorporate the Alfred Music and Journey material into lessons? Here is an example of how to use a Premier Piano Course Lesson Book, the online material from Premier Piano Course, and the Journey feature of Piano Maestro together. To help with this, JoyTunes has a great resource that correlates all of the Journey material with the Premier lesson books by concept. You can find that PDF here.

If you are on Premier Piano Course Lesson Book 2A, page 20, you first would need to introduce the concept of eighth notes. To support your efforts, you and the student could watch the free Premier Online Assistant instructional video with your student:

Next, introduce “Qwerty,” the piece on page 21 that uses eighth notes. You could introduce it with the book or take a different approach and learn it in Piano Maestro! After going to the methods section and finding Premier Piano Course, Lesson Book 2A, you can move the arrow over to the screen that includes page 21, “Qwerty,” and select the song.

When you select “Learn,” you see a few available options.

At the top, you can listen to the piece to hear how it sounds while following the music in the Lesson Book. Then, ask the student to go through the learning steps for the piece. The first step has the student focus on the correct notes by stopping whenever an incorrect note is played. Step 2 focuses more on rhythm by having the student play slowly with the background music. Each of the steps takes one phrase and repeats it, reinforcing section practice. When you feel the student has grasped the concept well, you can stop the learning steps and have the student play the song by pressing “Play.”

After working on “Qwerty,” you can consult the correlation chart to see what pieces use two-eighth notes in Journey mode. One piece is “Angry Birds” in Chapter 14! Go to the Songs section of the Library and search for “Angry Birds.” Start the piece and then immediately tap the top of the screen where you see a metronome. This will bring up some practice options.

You can choose options to slow the tempo, practice one hand alone, turn on the Hold On feature, or turn on the note names.

Tempo allows you to slow the tempo down as much as 50%, or speed it up as much as 125% of the original tempo.
Choose Hand allows you to isolate and practice each hand before trying hands together.
Hold On is a feature that removes the background track, adds a metronome, and stops if the student does not play the correct note. If the correct note is not played within a very short time, the app will show the student where the correct note can be found, highlighting it on the on-screen keyboard.
Note Names allows the student to toggle the note names on or off.

If you tap the small arrow at the bottom of the screen, these options are hidden and you are free to scroll through the piece looking for trouble spots, eighth notes, or other tricky measures. Since there are only four measures in the piece that use eighth notes, the student could practice only those measures before playing with the background music.

Finally, you will see many examples on the correlation chart to assign as Home Challenges for the student. To do this, make sure you are in the student profile, and select the small icon that looks like a house.

Using Premier Piano Course with Piano Maestro will help your students stay motivated and engaged in the learning process! This is a great, magical combination of pedagogy and technology! The online resources that follow will aid you in your teaching using Premier Piano Course:

Frequently Asked Questions about Premier Piano Course:

Premier Piano Course correlation with other methods:

Premier Online Assistant: