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Matthew J.

Skaggs, Dave Shelton, and Danny Cecil

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Most public school students are introduced to jazz via their middle or high schools jazz ensemble. However, even well-trained classical pianists often struggle with the challenges of understanding the jazz pianists role in an ensemble. While nothing will ever replace hours spent listening to jazz as a means to learn the language, the basic concepts below can serve as an initial guide for the beginning student or music teacher.

NOTATION !! Pianists typically encounter three types of notation, as follows:

Fully realized

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Fully realized

!! With inexperienced students and/or an inexperienced director, piano parts that include both voicings and rhythms are helpful. When purchasing new literature for your jazz ensemble or combo, inspect the rhythm section parts (piano, bass, drums and sometimes guitar) for this level of detail. As the students gain experience, this becomes less important.

Suggested voicing

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Suggested voicing

!! Parts such as these are a compromise between fully realized and professional piano parts. It is up to the performer to make rhythmic choices. Generally speaking, the rhythms should be syncopated, and notes played on the last 8th note of the measure should anticipate the chord that follows. One exercise for young comping musicians is to play on the and of a particular beat throughout.

Chord symbols only

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Chord symbols only

!! Professional-level piano parts are notated with only the most necessary information. The performer makes rhythmic and harmonic choices based on what they hear. Only sections that require exact rendition, such as a melodic line or tutti rhythm, are notated in detail. If an experienced pianist encounters a part such as this, it is appropriate for the student or director to flush out the part by writing in specific voicings.

VOICING !! In general, jazz guitar and piano voicings omit the root, which will be played or implied by the bassist. The most important notes are the 3rd and the 7th, if applicable, and pitches are generally not doubled within the voicing. !! Except for half-step dissonances (see example), the pitches are usually evenly spaced throughout the chord, whether the density is closed (within an octave) or open (spread apart).

VOICING !! Similar to basic counterpoint, basic jazz voicings sound smoothest when pitches are kept in common between successive chords and move as little as possible when they must change. Pianists usually voice chords within the two octaves surrounding middle C. !! As with any rules of or theories about music, these suggestions can be and often are ignored. Nevertheless, these remain good guidelines for beginning players.

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Most jazz harmonic progressions are based on quartal root movement, which produces the most common of chord progressions: the ii7-V7-I. Examples of basic voicings are as follows:

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Shell voicings (3rd/7th only):

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3-note voicings:

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4-note voicings:

4-note voicings introduce half-step dissonances into the chords. These seemingly dissonant notes are actually consonant chord extensions. Students should practice these routines slowly and methodically at first while saying the names of the chords aloud. Each of the above should be practiced in all inversions.

The chord progression used in the previous example may be practiced along with the first track of Aebersolds Play-A-Long Vol. 3, The ii-V7-I Progression.

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Quartal and diminished voicings:

PERFORMANCE SUGGESTIONS !! The volume of the piano cannot compete with the other instruments, and it is best that the pianist tacet for much of the composed section of jazz band arrangements. !! The piano becomes most important during solo sections, when it comps (accompanies) for the soloists and may also solo. !! While some arrangements are orchestrated such that the piano does play a significant role throughout, most of the material included in piano parts is unnecessary and might even obfuscate the more important parts.

While there are examples of guitarists and pianists successfully comping for a soloist simultaneously, this requires great musical sensitivity from both musicians. !! A general rule for young rhythm section musicians is that only one instrument should comp at a time. !! If your jazz ensemble includes a guitarist, instruct the pianist and guitarist to take turns comping for alternating solos.
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When comping, the pianist or guitarist should not play too much. !! The goal of comping is to reinforce what the soloist is playing and to make the soloist feel comfortable, either by reacting to what is being played or by being a subtle part of the rhythm sections texture. !! It is vital that the accompanist listen to the soloist always and creatively find ways to make the soloist sound as good as possible.
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It is important that your rhythm section be allowed to rehearse and even perform as a unit or with a horn or two as a combo. !! The Hal Leonard Jazz Combo Paks are a great place to start. !! Eventually, your students will progress to using lead sheets, their own transcriptions from albums and eventually their own compositions.
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One of the most crucial decisions for the director is the repertoire to be performed. Young students typically lean toward contemporary rock and funk grooves, because that is with what they are the most familiar. However, the director should ensure that his or her students have the opportunity to perform in every style, including ballads, waltzes, and especially swing charts at every tempi. In addition, there exist very good jazz ensemble arrangements of standard tunes that can introduce your students to the established repertoire as they learn how to play and improvise.

SOLOING !! Because of the relative ease for the pianist to play notes as intended as well as see the harmony, directors often rely on them to solo during the improvisation section of an ensemble arrangement. !! In order to do so, all students should transcribe the playing of great players. There are advantages to transcribing entire solos as well as phrases in isolation

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Students should play complete solos along with the recording, and phrases should be practiced in all twelve keys. Just as a child learns to speak, the student will evolve from regurgitating the sounds of others to creating their own phrases and eventually telling a complete story.

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Students should practice scales and arpeggios exhaustively, to such a degree that they need not think about them while improvising. This is similar to an actor rehearsing lines or an athlete practicing fundamental drills. In performance, the musician, actor or athlete is best to be in the moment.

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Early exercises for improvisation may be practiced over the same progression as above, as follows:

As in chord voicings, the 3rd and the 7th are the most important pitches, harmonically speaking. !! It is good to advise the beginner improviser to emphasize these pitches by beginning or ending phrases on them, by sustaining or repeating them, and by playing them on the beat, especially the strong beats.
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The best advice any teacher can give an improvisation student is to listen, both to recordings of more experienced players and also to the other musicians while they are playing. Perhaps the second best advice one can give is to leave space in the music. Miles Davis and Ahmad Jamal come to mind as improvising musicians who were particularly adept at using silence effectively. All great solos, compositions and speeches employ silence as well as sound, but the young improviser is often hesitant to rest, lest others think they have lost their place.

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It is important for the young musician to know that there is no scorecard of missed chord changes, and that it is not necessary that the soloist play over every chord, measure or even measures. Just as in spoken or written language, the most interesting solos or stories involve phrases of varying length that build over time to a climax and eventual release.

SAMPLE LISTENING LIST !! No amount of spoken or written advice can replace hours spent listening to jazz. Like any language, the jazz language can only be learned by hearing others say (play) it.

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The following is an incomplete list of influential pianists to whom young pianists should listen:
Earl Hines Red Garland Duke Ellington Wynton Kelly Bud Powell Horace Silver Herbie Hancock Bill Evans Oscar Peterson Chick Corea Thelonius Monk McCoy Tyner Gene Harris Monty Alexander Kenny Barron Kenny Kirkland Mulgrew Miller Brad Mehldau

SAMPLE LISTENING LIST !! The Jazz Language Dan Haerle !! The Jazz Piano Book Mark Levine !! The Jazz Theory Book Mark Levine !! Play-A-Long Vol. 3, The II-V7-I Progression Jamey Aebersold !! Play-A-Long Vol. 21, Gettin It Together Jamey Aebersold !! Play-A-Long Vol. 54, Maiden Voyage Jamey Aebersold

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What do charts look like?

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What do charts look like?

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What do charts look like?

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What do charts look like?

Gain a basic knowledge of musical styles !! Most charts will give the performers an identifying musical style, it is the performers job to be able to perform the style. !! Styles to have a working idea for modern and classic Jazz Ensemble arrangements: Rock, Swing, Funk, Waltz, and Latin Two excellent resources to help develop a students since of style study are Tommy Igoes Groove Essentials and John Rileys The Art of Bop Drumming.
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What is what on the chart? !! Unfortunately, there is NOT one specific method of music notation for the drumset. !! In most cases the Bass Drum is notated on the bottom space, the snare drum is notated on the 3rd space, and cymbals are notated with an X. However, these are NOT universal. Players/students should look for the Key or Legend that describes the notation for the drum chart.
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How is a chart/lead sheet played?

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How is a chart/lead sheet played?

Independence/Interdependence: A technique where each limb knows exactly what the others are doing and how they work TOGETHER, not independently. John Riley !! Through the method books of Riley, (The Art of Bop Drumming) and Ted Reed (Syncopation) students can begin to develop a musical vocabulary for comping and soloing that is described through this Interdependence.
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One of the BEST learning tools for any young musician, are his/her very own ears. Listen to some good music, and steal from the best! Dave Farris Gaining a working aural knowledge of players, their individual sounds, styles, and playing habits is a wonderful encyclopedia of things practice and help an individual develop their own skills.

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The following is a list of players that you or your students may enjoy listening to, and stealing licks from for jazz and many other styles of music (for a more complete list visit www.drummerworld.com).
Jack DeJohnette Max Roach Jeff Tain Watts John Riley Elvin Jones Kenny Clarke Papa Jo Jones Philly Jo Jones Gene Krupa Chick Webb Buddy Rich Joey Baron Brian Blade Ed Blackwell Jimmy Cobb Vinnie Colaiuta Billy Cobham Terri Lyne Carrington Billy Drummond Peter Erskine Steve Gadd Al Foster Bill Hart Roy Haynes Jeff Hamilton Billy Higgins Paul Motion Shelly Mann Adam Nussbaum Sonny Payne Bill Stewert Antonio Sanchez Art Taylor Ed Thigpen Marvin Smitty Smith Kenny Washington Tony Williams Lenny White Steve Smith Bernard Purdie John Bonham Charlie Watts Ringo Starr Ginger Baker