The Playing Changes series presents and expands on concepts from my book, The Living Jazz Tradition: A Creative Guide to Improvisation and Harmony published by CMA Press.
Jazz standards from the New Orleans, swing, and bebop eras are based on a system of chords and scales known as tonal harmony. This system originated in European classical music from the common practice period—roughly 1600 to 1900. Tonal harmony serves as a foundation for many styles of music, including pop, rock, folk, blues, country, and gospel.
I’m delighted to host events for student musicians in Seattle for three of my favorite organizations.
Why do so many students lack the confidence to improvise? The way we teach plays a huge role.
Courtesy of Flickr/Evonne
Just as doctors practice medicine and lawyers practice law, we practice music. Treating practice as tedious work in isolation for future results is a recipe for frustration, guilt, and giving up. Our practice isn’t just preparation; it is every aspect of living a musical life.
The Playing Changes series presents effective strategies for internalizing harmony and playing creative solos over jazz standards. If you are overwhelmed by jumbles of scales, chord symbols, licks, and patterns, these articles will help you cut through the noise.
I had the privilege of contributing to a couple great new records:
Call and response is deeply embedded into African-American musical traditions including blues, jazz, gospel, R&B, soul, and hip-hop. The phrasing is a musical conversation—a statement made by a musician or group musicians is answered by a response.
Call and response comes from Sub-Saharan African cultures and developed in America through slave work songs and field hollers, spirituals, and blues.
I never intended for this blog to be a personal journal, but friends and readers continue to talk to me about my article, “The Story Behind the Blog.” So on occasion, I will post about my personal journey to build a fulfilling and financially sustainable career as a freelance musician and teacher.
Improvisation, the most widely practiced of all musical activities, is probably the least recognized or understood. Vague descriptions like, “making it up as you go along” or “playing off the top of your head” give no idea to the pervasiveness and power of improvisation in music. Perhaps the air of mystery that surrounds it is inevitable.
Derek Bailey, On the Edge: Improvisation in Music
Photo by Steve Korn
Common myths about improvisation contribute to the “air of mystery.” I’d like to address four of them.
Something spontaneous sounds different from something that is not, and that the audience benefits from that in a performance. . .Whenever I’ve played improvised cadenzas, the audience gets very quiet. For the first time in most of their lives, they’re at a classical concert where, and despite their familiarity with the piece, they don’t know what’s going to happen next.
Robert Levin, Inside Early Music: Conversations with Performers
For centuries, classical musicians were improvisers. Not just geniuses like Bach and Beethoven—improvisation was part of basic musical training until the late 19th century. Professional and amateur musicians improvised embellishments, cadenzas, accompaniments, and spontaneous compositions.
Courtesy of Flickr/CelloPics