Jazz: Broadening our musical language

Approach to Jazz piano lessons

One popular request among piano students is to learn how to play Jazz. That request opens into a myriad of variables that as jazz piano teachers we should know how to structure before to describe and clarify to our students without overwhelming them with too much information, as Jazz music, and especially Piano Jazz is a vast and sometimes, even endless topic to cover.

Firstly, we should encourage our students to listen to lots of different trends within jazz music, as Alvaro Sisti explains in his article “It’s a musical world with an enormous variety: it covers from the Dixieland to Bebop, going through Ragtime and Fusion. Jazz identity is not easy to delimit, being this term associated more with a musical language”

As a language, active listening becomes paramount at the beginning of every training. Every Jazz style has a peculiar and very specific way of playing and performing the music, especially how they articulate the notes. In this style, this creates the personality and the unique way that every pianist and composer seeks.

One of the main points in Jazz music is improvisation. This entails much more than being creative: from learning scales, modes, chords, voicings and most importantly, analytic listening and transcribing solo music. This means to write on paper the improvisations of the musicians we are interested in emulating. As Maestro Sisti states “We can only be good improvisers with expert management of the technic and the harmony, original ideas and a personal sound, involving the concept of how you play instead of what you play.”

Lastly, another important part of this style is being able to play with other musicians, this is clearly shown in the common Jam sessions.  That brings other complexities to our improvisation: active listening, aural skills, perfect sense of timing and lots of practise with our scales and chords. Musicians add their own identity and personality and also know where to take their position to the background. The genre expects diversity within continuity.

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