How Can I Learn To Play Jazz?

I have been involved with jazz music most of my life and have been asked that question often. Many books and systems have been written on this subject and most will improve your ability to improvise, but I have learned through close observation of many players, not everyone can excel in this field. This situation can be attributed to several factors and one I hold to be true is that not everyone can learn to play jazz at an acceptable level.

One of my very best musician friends was an avid jazz enthusiast and spent most of his life listening to and playing with every recording he could find. For hours he would sit next to his record player and try to imitate the music coming out of the speakers. To his last day he was not able to achieve what he wanted most. He had taken classes at a leading university and had collected every method and exercise book he could find, and still he was unable to improvise jazz. This has made me conclude that some people just can’t learn to play jazz. Then why am I writing this post? I wanted to explain to those of you who have the desire and have spent the time trying to be a jazzer, you might realize that you could be built in such a way that you never will learn to play jazz. I’m sure many of you did not expect that, but some people are not equipped to learn to improvise and my first in this series will illustrate to many of you, your patience and dedication to learning how to improvise may be something you are not able to control.

Why are some players gifted at improvisation and others are not.

Ask yourself this question-

1.      Am I better in art or math?

2.      Am I a leader or a follower?

3.      Do I get bored easily doing repetitive chores or do I enjoy repetition?

4.      Does my mind tend to wander or can I keep focused for long periods of time?

5.      Are you more theoretical or practical in everyday matters?

6.      Are you more interested in theory than fact?

7.      Are you good at keeping your checkbook balanced or do you hate the chore?

8.      Do you enjoy starting new ventures or do you enjoy long term projects.

9.      When removing a new product from its box, do you start putting it together at once or do you read the instructions?

10.  When listening to someone tell his/her story, do you want to jump ahead because you are impatient for the person to finish what you already have concluded, or do you wait patiently for the story to end?

11.  When you are driving your car, do you know at all times where you are going or do you have the route already fixed in your brain?

12.  Do you forget important dates or do you plan ahead for every occasion?

By now you realize that I have divided the dreamers from the planners, the artists from the engineers. If you answered strongly positive on the first option of each question (10-12) you have strong tendencies to help become or are an accomplished jazz improviser. If you fall into the middle section (4- 9) with positive on the first option, the prediction of success is very good. But if you answered only 1 to 3 of the first options as your preference, don’t be surprised if you have had or will have a difficult time turning yourself into a true Jazzer.

Due to the answers you have given to the above questions, I would recommend that you approach the study of improvisation from two distinct directions. If you are the creative type, I will suggest how you might approach jazz improvisation and if you are attempting to develop your improvisatory ability from the re-creative side, I have a different approach for you.

Earlier in this post, I described my good friend who was unable to learn to improvise well. He was a very brilliant engineer and draftsman who was extremely factual. A person as opposite to me as anyone could be. I was amazed at the preciseness he lived his life.

An informative blog which was posted earlier explains the difference between the two approaches and I strongly advise you to read this post at this time- Classical Musician and Jazz Musician – What’s The Difference? In it I describe the two sides of the musical brain and this material may answer some of the questions you may have at this time. My following post will give information to those who answered the majority of my 12 questions positive on the first options. The post after that will deal with the other group who favor the middle and I will try to make some suggestions to those of you who rated high on the second option to each question.

Buying Music in a Tight Economy- Part 3

Inexpensive High Range Duets

You may be wondering why I would be suggesting a clarinet duet book for high range practicing rather than a trumpet duet book. The fact is the best high range duet book I have seen is the old Bud Brisbois trumpet duet book “Trumpets Today” and is currently out of print. But, because of the wonders of the internet, it is available to you free of charge at . In addition to the music, the host of this site has included recordings of each duet so that you have someone to play the parts with. That’s about the best deal I can find for you and check it out before the site is taken down. Now back to the clarinet duets.

My recommended duet book for high range trumpet playing is Selected Duets for Clarinet Volume 1 (Easy-Medium) Compiled and edited by H. Voxman and published by Rubank Educational Library No. 137

Price: $8.99

Features of the Book

  • 17 Duets by Klose
  • 12 Duets by Magnani
  • 7 Duets in Canon Form by Saro
  • Nine Duets by Berr
  • 24 Duets by Gliere, Hohmann, Pleyel, Spohr, Volckmar, and others
  • 7 Duets by Moxart

Total pages 72

Advantages of using a clarinet duet book

The upper register of the clarinet, written in this book is ideal for trumpet students wanting to extend their high range for each duet is written in a very melodic fashion and to be able to actually see the notes above the staff will help develop confidence in the player. Too many times we are encouraged to play our middle register notes up an octave, but unless you can actually see these notes on the page, little is done to develop confidence in playing the written notes. You need to see the note as it is actually printed. Although the duets do not exceed a high C until duet #14, reaching these upper notes are more difficult than if they were written for a trumpet. Because of the ease with which a clarinet can maneuver from one note to another, some of the intervals will be challenging for a trumpet. Because of this advantage, the clarinet writing is a great way to test your ability when moving from one note to the next. I find the difference in writing style to be refreshing and challenging. It tends to polish our musicality and technique.

From duet #14 to the end of the book, you will be asked to play notes from high C to G above high C. These duets are generally written about a third higher than we are accustomed to seeing, which is perfect for the more advanced student requiring more of a challenge in high range playing.

Disadvantages of using a clarinet duet book

Due to the fact that the clarinet’s range extends below the usual range of a trumpet, the player will occasionally find notes written below our low F#. Although there are a few of these notes, you will get used to recognizing there names and some of you will be able to put them up an octave or if you really want to learn every aspect of your instrument, you can lip them down for better lip control.

Suggestions when using this book

The use of this book can be approached in different ways. If you have a friend who would like to play duets with you, read the book. If you are playing it by yourself, you can record the second part and play along with it on the first part. Another way to use this book would be to play the first phrase on the top parts and the next on the bottom. In this way, you will be able to get a few measures of easier playing and thus prolong your lip.

When considering trumpet duet books written for the upper range, you will be paying somewhere in the price range of $10.00 to $15.00 for five duets. For my money, I think this will get you more “bang for your bucks”. 76 duets for under $9.00!

Buying Music in a Tight Economy- Part 2

My second recommendation for purchasing music on a budget might seem more expensive than expected. The price may seem high but the importance of the book far out weighs the cost. I would consider the H. L. Clarke Technical Studies for Cornet to be the second most important book written for the cornet/trumpet. Of course, the Arban Complete Method for Cornet would be the most important document. Every trumpet player has been subjected to some of the most difficult fingering exercises known to man from these pages and we all have gained from them. The most famous would be line #31 from the second Study which introduced us to the complexities of trying to play in the key of B below the staff. At times I have wondered if my fingers would fall off trying to negotiate that line with accuracy and speed. To this day I still run through it from time to time.

What benefits are gained from this book?

Although this book was written to help develop finger technique, many other benefits will be developed-

  • Gradual increase in range
  • Increase in flexibility
  • Finger coordination
  • Mastery of keys
  • Increased breath control
  • Improvement in slurs
  • Gradual increase in range

Gradual increase in range– Each exercise begins at the lowest range of the instrument and very gradually ascends to the top of the trumpets practical range. Most material for the trumpet at the time this was printed tended to limit the player to the note high C. This continuation into the higher notes is very valuable to the younger student. It is very helpful to actually see the notes above high C when developing the upper register. Even the Arban Method was guilty of this limitation. Although the notes above high C are not included until page 24, there are plenty of exercises from High C up to G above High C.

Increase in flexibility– Every exercise includes slurred scales and arpeggios which is the bases of good flexibility. Dynamics are also indicated and tend to be on the soft side throughout; another important element when practicing flexibility exercises. My personal favorite flexibility exercise is the seventh study.

Finger coordination- As I stated before, the second study is one that can be practiced every day and you will still need to develop some of the keys such as #29, 31 and 33. In these lines, you are required to coordinate difficult fingerings which include our weakest and least coordinated third finger. Through regular practice you will gain both of these abilities and hopefully gain the same amount of control and speed as the other exercises.

Mastery of keys- This book takes you through the entire major and minor keys and although the exercises sometimes become tiring and uninteresting, they all will help you to become an accomplished mover of the valve.

Increased breath control- The author has carefully notated the breathing expectations throughout the book. One particular etude will always remain in my memory; Etude V. One day I noticed the suggestion at the top of the etude which read, “Play the entire page in one breath”. This was the challenge that I was waiting for. For a solid month, I worked on the fingering so that I could play the etude with the suggested breathing challenge. I eventually was able to play the entire page in one breath so the next step was to try to play it twice in one breath. Once I had that down, I was ready to impress my teacher at that time. I began my lesson as usual with small talk and local chit chat and eventually got around to mentioning that I had read that the fifth etude was to be played in one breath. My teacher shared with me the fact that none of his students were able to do the page in one breath. I casually mentioned that I thought that I might be able and that perked his attention. I took a deep breath and proceeded to play down the page, start at the top and continue to the middle of the page before I had to stop for a breath. As I remember to my best recollection, my teacher stood up, walked out of the room, knocked on the studio next door, and proceeded to rave over the fact that one of his students had just performed the fifth etude one and one half times in one breath. I guess he was impressed. The rest of the lesson was filled with praise of my recent feat of ability. I never told him that I had set him up by practicing for a month on the piece and while he was talking and just before I started to play, I was hyperventilating to the point of almost passing out. Isn’t it great to have those kinds of moments and still have the memory to remember them?

Improvement in slurring- Every exercise is slurred. There are suggestions for single, triple and double tonguing but for the most part, everything is slurred. I am a strong supporter of massive amounts of slurring for I have seen that constant slurring tends to open your throat and thus open your sound. In addition to the open throat, you will also play with your tongue lower in the oral cavity which also improves your tone. Slurring also promotes a more gradual approach to embouchure change and thus improves endurance.

Gradual increase in range- Every exercise raises your notes by one half step. This is very important when you reach your highest notes. The small increase in range is controllable and your expectations of success are also predictable. A sudden and radical jump in range induces bad habits such as great amounts of embouchure change.

Even though this material is relatively high in price, the benefits far out weigh the initial cost. Take care of this book for you will have it around for a long time.

Free Trumpet Duets – Your Ultimate Source

I will continue to add selections as time goes on and if anyone would like to contribute to the library, feel free to contact me and we will add as we receive.

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