Tag Archives: articulation

5 Ways to Introduce Students to the Stylistic Nuances of Jazz

Blog-IntroducingJazzToBeginners_May2017_BG_Proof1

By Vince Gassi

Jazz is a many-splendored thing. The numerous styles falling under the umbrella of “Jazz” (Swing, Bebop, Latin, Funk, etc.) allow performers and composers to be expressive in a variety of ways. It is a dynamic and ever-evolving genre, and each style has its own set of standard practices with regard to length of notes and phrasing. For young musicians, adapting to these stylistic nuances is a critical skill. This article offers a few suggestions to help your students toward that end.

1. Pattern Recognition

With Swing, quarter notes are played short unless otherwise marked. Eighth notes are played unevenly though they are written as normal (see fig. 1). The reason for this is that it is simply easier to read.

Swing Notes

Figure 1: Swing Eighth Notes

 

But this is just one style. A Bossa Nova or a Samba has a different code to unlock. Quarter notes are not necessarily always short or long and eighth notes are not swung but played evenly. And what about Rock or Funk? No matter the style, lots of listening and imitation is required. Like learning a language, learning any style of music takes countless hours of listening and practice in order to learn pattern recognition and to apply the appropriate style. If you wanted to be an award-winning novelist, simply reading a lot would not get you there. You would have to read constantly and then imitate. It’s the same with any musical style.

2. Recommended Listening List

Have your students listen as much as possible to big bands, small bands, soloists, anything jazz related (and any other musical style possible) and try to copy what they’re hearing. Why not make a listening list and include a list of things to focus on (e.g., concept of sound, time, ensemble playing, effects, improv, phasing). Pick out phrases that you can isolate and have your students work on.

As a young trumpet player in high school, I was drawn to the big bands of Maynard Ferguson, Buddy Rich, Thad Jones / Mel Lewis, and Rob McConnell and the Boss Brass. To this day one of my favorites is a tune called “Stay Loose with Bruce” (Maynard Ferguson Band featuring Bruce Johnstone on baritone sax). This tune is a great example of the swing articulations and other effects like fall offs, shakes, bends, scoops, etc. Also, have a listen to the interplay between the ride cymbal (Randy Jones), the upright bass (Rick Petrone), and of course the baritone sax player, and the ensemble. (By the way, I just love upright bass. My uncle Ray played upright bass with a big band when I was a kid. I was mesmerized by the instrument). Quarter notes are short and the eighth-note swing feel is oh so sweet! Later on when just the bass and baritone sax are playing together, notice how the sense of time is maintained by just these two players. There is an endless supply of great Jazz artists in bands and vocal ensembles big and small for your students listen to and imitate. Recommending a listening list to your students will greatly increase their in-depth listening skills and differentiation of styles and interpretation. Miles, ‘Trane, Ella, Basie, Maynard, Buddy, Goodwin, New York Voices . . . the list is endless!

3. Ensemble Matching

Choose a rhythm, say the one in “Stay Loose with Bruce” (see fig. 2), and have everyone play/sing it in unison (note how the articulations on the 8th notes remind players of the triplet feel). As in Figure 2, insert a bar of rest every other bar to allow students to process what they are hearing in the silence. This also gives them an opportunity to focus on their sense of time. Alternatively, you might instruct the drummer to simply keep playing time in the rest measures. A third option is to have one section play/sing the rhythm and another section match it exactly in the next bar. By the way, this exercise can just as easily be done with a vocal ensemble. Try using syllables such as “Dut doo ba doo bop!”

Swing Articulation Exercise

Figure 2: Swing Articulation Exercise

4Live Performances

Find out where live jazz is happening in your locale and plan a “Jazz Trek.” The first live big band I heard was Maynard Ferguson’s band. My dad allowed me to skip off a day from my summer job so we could travel four hours by car to hear this amazing band at the Interlochen Centre for the Arts in Michigan. Mind blowing! Not just for the technical displays but for how tight the ensemble was and how well they could swing. To a kid in high school, hearing these sounds for the first time, it was transformative. Don’t you want to transform your students?

5. Transcription

Encourage your students to make a habit of transcription. I spent hours wearing out the grooves in my vinyl (yes, that’s right…vinyl) albums, attempting to listen to and imitate what I was hearing. Just jot down pitches to begin with (one at a time); rhythms will come later. Students should use their instrument to test the notes they are hearing. There’s a great app called The Amazing Slow Downer which allows you to slow the tempo of an MP3 down without affecting the pitch. Additionally, you can loop sections and isolate one or more bars or even just a few notes.

Be sure that your students notice inflection—the altering of a note or notes; another essential ingredient which tells the listener about what style you are communicating. Listen to Snooky Young’s cup mute trumpet solo on a tune called “Tiptoe” (Thad Jones Mel Lewis Big Band). It’s legendary, not because he plays a million notes, but because he is so musical. Notice how he shapes the last note of certain phrases with a slight vibrato. It’s a very subtle thing but adds to the coolness of the music. I don’t think anyone taught him that. Later in the chart you’ll hear the tastiest trombone soli (with upright bass). Put this music on and see if you can stay still, not tap your foot, or start moving in any way. Impossible!

All of the tips in this article (pattern recognition, recommended listening, ensemble matching, live performances, transcription) come down to listening and imitating (deciphering the code) and this applies to anything we want to learn. There is such a wellspring of expression and energy just waiting for your students to discover and these experiences will change the course of their lives. John Cacavas said it best, “Each day is different and your capacity for learning and expression will grow. Every time you browse through a score, hear a recording, see a movie, or attend a concert, your artistic self will absorb that which impresses you and will add to your experience.” As with any creative endeavor your students will eventually gain a greater awareness of their artistic self and begin to develop their own “voice.” So, encourage them to listen, listen some more, keep listening, and just see how much sweeter life is because of this music.


gassiVince Gassi
 is a much sought-after composer, conductor, and clinician. With nearly 100 published titles to his credit, Vince’s creative and energetic style has made him a favorite with young musicians. His works, both challenging and musically rewarding, appear on many international concert and contest lists. For 25 years Vince has taught instrumental music at the elementary and secondary school levels. He is in frequent demand as a guest conductor, adjudicator, and clinician throughout the United States and Canada.

Preparing Students to Improvise

BJim Snideroy Jim Snidero

Improvisation is a scary proposition for many music students and teachers. But the word “improvisation” is fairly misleading, as much of what an improviser uses to create a solo is actually preconceived, and therefore can be learned and developed.

Preconceived concepts regarding form, rhythm, melody, harmony and importantly, solo construction, are some of the elements that are tirelessly practiced and perfected by great improvisers (e.g. masters). This creates a foundation for what will be played. Furthermore, masters have preconceived concepts regarding how they will play. Tone, technique, time feel, articulation, phrasing and vibrato style are often the thing that most identifies a master, being carefully formulated and developed, then repeated over and over again.

What separates an improvisation master from everyone else is (1) the quality and quantity of what’s preconceived, (2) art and, (3) taste. The good news is that (1) can be studied and practiced to the point that you can gain control over a massive amount of preconceived concepts. The bad news is that not everyone can create a work of art, and not everyone has exquisite taste.

Masters strike a balance between preconceived concepts and going with the moment, letting their “spirit,” for lack of a better term, lead them to very human expression. This creates a kind of inspired flow. And this sense of balance between essentially “knowing and not knowing,” to quote Chick Corea from a 1976 Keyboard Player magazine article, is informed by incredible taste and yes, talent. But here’s the thing: it’s very tough to create (2) and (3) without (1)! And (1) is something that most definitely can learned.

There’s a little secret that masters know regarding preconceived vocabulary. To quote Chick again from the same article:

“The myth is that you always have to play something different to be spontaneous. But that’s not true. What’s important is how “there” you are when you’re playing: that’s really the point. Good music is just good music whether it’s composed, improvised or whatever.”

No matter how many times you play an idea, if you are “in the moment,” it is spontaneous and can never actually be played the exact same way again, as no one ever experiences a moment exactly the same way. Charlie Parker played some of his signature ideas thousands of times, but they never sounded exactly alike. The same can be said about virtually every master. So preconceived vocabulary is crucial to the creative process.

Transcribing a solo is the best way to build vocabulary, but quality books are also a good source. For example, the new edition of the Jazz Conception series contains a section on improvisation, extracting over 100 ideas from 21 etudes over various common chord progressions. Vocabulary and context!

Once ideas are committed to memory, you then have material to develop both timing and balance. If one idea is active, dense with notes or rhythms, perhaps the next idea could be static, using just a couple of notes or rhythms. If the contour of an idea ascends, perhaps the next idea might descend, creating a peak. This helps you to develop a sense of balance, maybe even taste.

These instincts then allow you to assemble ideas in a logical and musical manner, often helping to “say” something when improvising. The more material, the more you can say. Eventually, your instincts will allow you to play new things that you hear spontaneously in a musical, logical manner, or react to what your bandmates are playing. You will then be able to balance improvisation between “knowing and not knowing.” It’s powerful stuff, not to mention a whole lot of fun!

Jim Snidero is an alto saxophonist, author and educator living in New York City. He is a Savant recording artist, author of the Jazz Conception series and president of The Jazz Conception Company.

Shop the Jazz Conception series here.

7 Steps to a Killer Music Program

Caleb ChapmanBy Caleb Chapman

Starting a Music Program from Scratch
Back in the fall of 1998 my wife, Alison, and I went for a lazy Sunday drive that changed my life. I was an undergrad student at Brigham Young University in Utah completing a music degree with plans to pursue an MBA. On that drive, Alison suggested that instead of me pursuing a business degree, we should open a music school. To me it seemed like a crazy idea with little chance of success, but I learned a long time ago to listen to my wiser partner. So, just one month later, without much experience, without money, and without any significant business training, we opened a tiny music school in Utah.

Onward and Upward
Today that tiny music school has grown into a program with 13 ensembles and close to 200 top-notch young musicians, ranging in age from 10-18.

Our flagship group, a jazz ensemble called the Crescent Super Band, has received international attention, thanks to the program’s 22 DownBeat Awards, and appearances at venues from New York to the Netherlands. In fact, the band has been named Utah’s “Best Professional Ensemble” in any genre by Utah Best of State for 8 consecutive years – pretty amazing for a bunch of high school kids.

In a very short period, our graduates have landed significant scholarships in many of the nation’s top music schools – Berklee, North Texas, Miami, USC, the New School, and many others. In fact, each year our 20-30 graduates from the program rack up well over $1,000,000 in scholarship offers.

I just got word that an upcoming show for the Crescent Super Band at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola has already sold out and our headlining debut at Carnegie Hall has almost sold out a month before the concert. I had to pinch myself when I got this news! How did we go from that Sunday drive in 1998 to having a full house at one of the world’s most famous concert venues?

A Recipe for Success
As I took a moment to reflect, I realized that there are several key philosophies that have served us well. They are not genre-specific and I am confident that the success our program has experienced can be duplicated anywhere when these principles are implemented. And, while none of them are “groundbreaking,” when combined, they provide a powerful recipe for a successful music program.

1. Keep music fun
As soon as studying music becomes something our musicians have to do—a chore—we have lost the battle. And this isn’t true just for our students; music needs to remain fun for the educator as well. Think back to what sparked your own passion for music. How can you instill that in your students?

2. Instill pride in the product
Music programs are cool! How can this be communicated properly, and the pride shared with the students and community? It comes from a mix of culture, programming, recruiting, professionalism, and other aspects. It starts with the way you, your students, and the public view the program. What can you do to position your group as a cultural resource to your community?

3. Remove students’ perceived limitations
Young musicians don’t know what the limitations on their ability are until you tell them. Don’t be afraid to set the bar high and keep notching it up. You will be amazed at the results!

4. Practice (and rehearse) for perfection
You already know that when a student practices while allowing mistakes, all he is doing is getting better at making mistakes! Create a culture that strives for as much accuracy as possible in rehearsals as well as performance and select the repertoire that will allow you to do that. What motivates your students to strive for perfection?

5. Empower your musicians with clear guidelines for learning the repertoire
It’s the old “teach a man to fish” analogy. A good educator can teach students how to play any piece of music. A great teacher will educate those students on how to accomplish this on their own. This approach allows them to learn new music during their individual practice time and not just when they are in rehearsal. For example, something that worked great for my jazz students was establishing a set of “rules” for articulation, which they apply to every piece they sight-read or play, whether in class or at home.

6. Surround yourself with a powerhouse team
Start with mentors for yourself; assemble an all-star cast of musicians and educators that have the skills that you want to develop who are willing to coach and guide you. Then, build a dream team for your students—clinicians, a network of private teachers, parent volunteers and boosters, and a staff of specialists. We’re all in it for the same reason: the students. Let’s help each other succeed.

7. Listen. Listen. Listen.
Encourage your musicians to learn the language of music through active listening. Provide information on area concerts in all styles, not just the one they are focused on in the classroom. Assemble listening recommendations and a forum for them to share their current interests and artists they have discovered.

As an educator, I love hearing about how other educators help their students succeed. What are your tips to helping your students achieve their best? Share in the comments below.

Caleb Chapman is an award-winning performer, author, music educator, and producer. His new book, The Articulate Jazz Musician co-written with Grammy-winning saxophonist Jeff Coffin, was released by Alfred Music in 2013. For more information on Caleb’s projects and educational innovations, visit CalebChapmanMusic.com.