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Learning to play Jazz

posted on #1
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There is a lot of good jazz style players on here, and I was wondering about a couple things. First thing is it appears modes and keys get thrown out the window. Traditionally we spend a lot of time learning these things. My questions are:

How do jazz musicians approach a song? I imagine it isn't find the key and explore from there.

Was the transition to playing music that doesn't follow the "rules" difficult?

Any AHA! Moments where things clicked?

As of now I can play with people with chord charts, but it is incredibly hard to play along with people with chord charts. Partially because I can't just look for a key and expand out.

Thanks in advance! Any good jazz discussion welcome. Readings, youtubes reccomendations welcome also.
Live, laugh, bass
posted on #2
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Soon as I get a new camera I might post a few vids on how I play and improvise. I think the bottom line in all jazz or technical/complicated music is practice and practice. Nothing gets thrown out the window, more just like it's put into a bag you put on your back so when you play, you can just pull out whatever. I don't think Jaco woke up one day and was just "suddenly" good.:)

With that, I would say start off knowing and playing every scale and mode available. Then practice patterns and even a little Bach on the bass. Yea, practice baroque!!
Edited by ArkRockStudio on 12-07-2017 01:15
posted on #3
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Your inquiry could open a can of worms...starting with define jazz! If you've been "studying jazz", then it's likely that you've been indoctrinated with "mainstream jazz", a form popular in the 1950s and 60s. Pedagogues have been attempting to reduce and formulate what was played at that time and teaching it as though it is the one true "vocabulary" and the only thing that can be considered "jazz". Problem is that as the song says: "it ain't necessarily so" (Gershwin, a Jazz composer 1935). There is also a large amount of "jazz" that has occurred in the past 60 years that isn't "mainstream".

The term "theory" is usually used in an attempt to legitimize the teaching of "cut and paste" style of improvisation in which riffs and arpeggios are played according to the flow of chords. IMHO it is the antithesis of creativity and the culture that brought about jazz.

Whenever you try to formulate an art form, the result for the student is to lock them into that style and period and stifle the natural progression and flow of that art form. The way most jazz is taught is as a museum piece. Music and the arts have moved on. The musicians of the 1950s and 60s were wise enough to NOT want to sound like what was happening fifty years earlier.

Of course anyone can and should play whatever style of music they love...just hard for me to imagine that so many young players are attracted to an antiquated style...more likely that they are indoctrinated through education programs that restrict their options and exposure (as I have seen and experienced).

So what's so wrong about teaching mainstream jazz? As said, if that's what someone loves, there is nothing wrong. It only becomes wrong if they haven't had a wide base of exposure and were channeled into its restrictive boundaries. The staple diet of the mainstream player is “standards”...which are tunes nobody under 70 years old knows...unless they are studying mainstream jazz. The technique is to interpret these tunes that everybody (in the 1950s) knew in clever variations. Of course that raison d'être is meaningless to 95% of today's population...uh, Huston, we have a communication problem! OK, the idea of clever variations on something supposedly everybody knows is a non-starter; well then how about giving meaningful thoughts, emotions, harmonies, melodies, stories, though music? Unfortunately mainstream jazz in a 21st century context also fails this test as students are taught that their playing should be an exposition of their technical prowess. If you don't like audiences, there is no better way to keep them away than having nothing to give them. How many audiences only want to be impressed? Similarly, it may be amazing or amusing to watch the world's fastest typist in action...for a very short while. If that typist has not written anything worth reading what's the worth of that experience?

OK, lets see if it's possible to address your inquiry by challenging you to think differently about improvised music. Can you hum a variation of a simple tune like “Happy Birthday to You”? Now can you play the same notes on your instrument of choice? If you find that you need to be reading a chart/music and can't play it by ear, or you play it differently than you hummed it, then you've got a problem. Your instrument must be an extension of you so that it's your voice.

Listening to, and understanding music, is not an external experience. If you “get it” then you should be able to hum it. If you can hum it you should be able to play it. If you feel the need to read charts or music then you are not really improvising, you are translating through a system and not including your creative, artistic and emotional potential. The painter who buys a “paint by the numbers” kit may wind up with a painting that looks OK, but what of themselves is in that painting? They just followed the numbers.

I sincerely hope this rather long diatribe has given you or others something to think about. You certainly don't need to agree with any of it...just leave it to brew and steep...
posted on #4
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Thanks Ark. I would be interested to check that out. I improvise a lot, but I guess to Wades point i use the scales and modes as a crutch. Ill just have to expose myself to it more.

Wade...you covered a ton...and I appreciate it. I knew I ran the chance of getting a very close personal answer on jazz(especially after watching Adam Neeleys episode on The Real Book). I agree with a ton of what you say, and I have wondered if developing the perfect ear is the ultimate answer. I was wondering if there was any commonalities in Jazz approach, and things like that. I understand though the flip side of that answer is narrowing down something that is very vast. Very hard to do I guess with taking a chance of boxing it in. I appreciate the discussion very much. Usually Ii feel the best way to find stuff out is start a conversation.

Thanks again.
Live, laugh, bass
posted on #5
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Improvising in general for me is all about making a story. Developing, phrasing, patterns...
The video below will TOTALLY help you out with a direction that I'm also working with.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nfAS5uwr_cY
posted on #6
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I can dig watching that guy who played with Stan...I joke I joke thanks for the link Ark!
Live, laugh, bass
posted on #7
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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fvv468cKM4o&t=1839s

Great bassist right here;
posted on #8
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Joined: 02.04.16
Hi Rob112,

There's already been some good advice in this thread, so I'll just describe my own journey into jazz. The main things for me have been listening, and playing along. Take swing for example. The exact placement of the second of each pair of quavers is probably the most important component of the feel of the swing rhythm. Some people write it like it is the third note of a triplet (i.e. two quaver triplets tied together followed by a quaver triplet), and you might even see it as a dotted quaver followed by a semiquaver, but really it is neither of those things. Laying down that quaver in the right place to really swing comes from listening to many many hours of swing -- there are no good substitutes.

Then there is playing along, which I would split into two parts -- ensemble playing, and improvisation. The ensemble playing would be to put on a track or album, and use your ears to play as part of the band. My grandad was a great jazz double bass player in the 1950s, and he must have spent thousands of hours with the radio on just playing along with the big bands of the day. I've always loved modern big band, so that's often what I've done -- join the band.

Jazz improvisation is hard to describe. There is lots of theory, and you can look at modes and keys and chords and all kinds of advanced techniques, and these things can help you come up with suitable building blocks from which to craft your solos, but it basically comes down to playing something that sounds 'right'. And 'right' comes from listening to the genre over and over. One thing that really helped me was to learn note-for-note improvised solos of the masters of the instruments I was learning. By doing this over and over you internalise the language and vocabulary of jazz. Someone might think improvisation is a pure form of expression -- music coming directly from the soul, but in my experience it is much more like creating a new work from all the sequences and licks and snippets of tunes that you have put inside you -- an expressive collage made up of all kinds of things that the player has heard, internalised, and reproduced, adding their own personal take on it.

Then the best way I found to practice was with the music-minus-one style backing tracks. Jamey Aebersold produced hundreds of these. And I think wikiloops has quite a few like this, although I would love to see the jazz section hugely expanded!

I hope this helps!
posted on #9
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Joined: 06.04.16
Three things that really helped me:

1. Progressive Steps to SYNCOPATION of the Modern Drummer by Ted Reed (super hip book of rhythm that can be used in a multitude of ways by all instruments)
https://www.amazon.com/Progressive-Syncopation-Modern-Drummer-Publications/dp/0882847953


2. Jazz Conception by Jim Snidero (a collection of 21 transcribed improvisations on popular tunes with backing tracks (with and without a soloist)... the solos go from super easy to intermediate and are available for a most instruments and even drum set, full notation...
https://www.amazon.com/Jazz-Conception-Guitar-Interpretation-Improvisation/dp/0206304048/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1502854630&sr=1-2&keywords=Jazz+Conception+by+Jim+Snidero (this copy also works for the range of a vibraphone...)

3. PERSEVERANCE! Haven't found this available for purchase on the internet ;)

4. {I have been the type of person to gravitate toward musical mentors.. they hold me accountable and motivate me on a weekly basis, especially in the beginning stages of learning something new, when I am likely to become complacent and discouraged... Teachers who have been patient, knowledgable of harmony and humble enough to walk with me through the basics up to the more complex ideas of jazz and beyond, have been great blessings in my musical journey!!! :D}

Thanks for this super cool post everyone!!!!!! :D
Love and blessings to you on your path!
posted on #10
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All that being said, I was terrified of improvising for a long time... Playing outside of the rules appeared so gratifying and freeing! Yet it seemed there were so many rules to learn in order to play the RIGHT notes and you have to break the rules like a hip cool cat and make it look easy like you could s**t out bebop lines in your sleep!!!! Then I heard people say, "there are no right and wrong notes!" Yeah, that's beautiful and wonderful but how do I sound like my favorite player whose blowing up and down the chords and modes like it ain't no thang and playing so out it sounds in without hardly breaking a sweat!? LISTENING was key and then telling my ego to F**K off. I finally started improvising and making a fool of myself... Wouldn't it be nice to say that I felt confident ever since then? But it's not the case. I've learned through jazz that you just have to keep going (even if everything sucks) and you'll never arrive but the journey gets exponentially more rewarding... That's been a lesson in life, not just music but I really saw the results with jazz first.

When I approach a song the most important thing I've learned is to trust my ear. If I've listened to the song enough and really know it, I don't need to look at the sheet music at all, I just TRUST my ear. I know the sound, I know the colors (or qualities or modes) of each chord, I know the feel (straight, swung and beyond) and it's all from the ear. Okay, it's all from the heart but I won't get all wishy-washy on you... What I'm saying is that I hear the notes before I sing them and just sing them. I don't think, okay I'm gonna sing a Cmaj9 arpeggio starting on the 3rd, I just sing what I hear and it sounds great :D

BUT, I do practice arpeggios, I do practice scales, I do practice motifs and phrases I like from other players and even transcribing myself... Filling up my toolbox as other have mentioned here.

The best AHA moment I had was trusting my ear... If I haven't stressed that enough already xD

Now I shut up <3
Love and blessings to you on your path!
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