Jazz education has been going for over 40 years and it works. I’ve uploaded some very useful videos that show the well-known jazz teacher JB Dyas of the Thelonious Monk Institute giving a seminar on Teaching Jazz Fundamentals To High School And College Musicians. There are 10 videos which take around 90 minutes to view in their entirety and some include a supervised performance by a group of students:
I found the videos at artistshousemusic.org . This is a great site that also has videos of masterclasses by Kenny Werner (pianist and author of Effortless Mastery), Benny Golson (saxophone), Hank Jones (piano), Jesse McBride (piano), Larry Baione (guitar), Kirk Whalum (saxophone) and Jimmy and Percy Heath (saxophone, bass).
It can be a bit confusing working out what software can best support jazz education, so here are some personal views based on experience. Wherever possible I have tried to identify a good free or extremely low-cost app as an alternative to more expensive options.
You will need a recording program or Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) and this costs nothing. If you have a Mac you will have Garage Band for free. If you have a PC you can download Audacity. There are obviously much sexier products for both machines but these are not really necessary for practicing. Using either of these programs you can record yourself playing along with either a backing track from the likes of a Jamey Aebersold CD, or you can use an original version if you feel like it. There’s nothing like hearing yourself as you really sound although it can be a bit of a shock at first!
Having access to play-along backing tracks can really help build up your skills and confidence. For many years the market leader was Jamey Aebersold who provides CDs with recordings of jazz standards by top musicians, which are great but expensive if you get addicted (there are over 130!). An alternative is midi-based play-along software, and the historic market leader here is Band-In-A-Box (“BIAB”), which costs $129; a quick internet search will find free downloads of song files with all the main jazz standards, and BIAB allows you to print out the sheet music including the melody line. BIAB also has some good extra features including ear-training drills. The cheaper alternative here is iReal Pro, which costs $12.99 or $19.99 depending on platform and is available for all Apple formats and Android (no Windows version). This works very well and its only major shortcoming compared to BIAB is that you will need an alternative choice of sheet music. This can be addressed by buying or borrowing a fake book (see below). If I had to recommend one particular app for a beginner student to spend money on, this is it.
Ear training can be intimidating if one assumes it’s driven by natural gifts rather than practice. In reality ten minutes work a day for a few months will bring results although it is difficult to rush the process. The best paid application is Earmaster but in this area there are very good free resources including drills online at musictheory.net and teoria, which also cover a lot of music theory (as you might expect).
Next up is transcribing. Transcribing is the academic term for copying material from records, and it’s relevant whether you want to be John Coltrane or Keith Richards. The most popular program is Transcribe! which costs $39 and allows you to change the pitch and/or tempo of an audio file with, and to loop particular sections. Some people prefer Amazing Slowdowner which costs $49. These apps will make transcribing solos as painless as is realistically possible, and transcribing is a vital tool in ear training and the development of jazz vocabulary. There are free alternatives such as anytune available for Android, Apple and Windows which might be a good way to get started.
Transcribing moves us on to music notation software as it’s a lot less messy than pencil, paper and copious amounts of eraser shavings! Also, if you enter the solo you are working on into the program instead of writing it down on paper the program will play it back, which can really help resolve any worries about whether you have got the notes right. Notation software is obviously useful for writing down original compositions as well as other musician’s solos. There are paid applications such as Finale and Sibelius but these are expensive (over $600 for Sibelius). Band-In-A-Box notation is ok but is really a byproduct of BIAB’s main play-along functionality (see above). The good news is that there is a very good free product called MuseScore which has very good jazz-specific fonts and functionality and has been around long enough that it is largely bug-free.
This could obviously be a very long section so I’ll limit its scope to books of a general nature plus one piano book, seeing as how we’re all meant to play a bit of piano. I can vouch for all of these from experience and they are all recommended by some of the educators I’ve studied with. I mentioned fake books above – these are numerous and expensive and you may be better off asking your teacher for copies of sheet music. The most useful are the Real Book series (Hal Leonard) and the New Real Book series (Sher Music).
How To Improvise and Ready, Aim, Improvise by Hal Crook (Advance Music)
The Jazz Theory Book by Mark Levine (Sher Music)
Mental Approach (this matters!)
Effortless Mastery by Kenny Werner (Jamey Aebersold)
Free Play by Stephen Nachmanovitch (Jeremy P. Tarcher)
Jazz Piano From Scratch by Charles Beale (ABRSM)
(This author wanted to fill a gap in the market for beginner jazz pianists and did it. It’s also the course book for the ABRSM jazz piano exams)
http://www.allaboutjazz.com/ will shortly hit 8,000 articles in its archive.
http://www.jazzinamerica.org is designed as a resource for seconadary school education and is run by JB Dyas (see What is Jazz Education).
GRADED JAZZ EXAMS
ABRSM provides Grade 1 to 5 examinations in jazz piano and most wind and brass instruments. They also provide ensemble examinations at beginner, intermediate and advanced levels.
London College of Music provides Grade 1 to 8 examinations in jazz piano and most wind and brass instruments. They also provide Grade 1 to 8 examinations in electric guitar, bass and drums – these are not specifically jazz exams but cover a lot of relevant subjects such as harmony and improvisation.
LJW is happy to put interested students in contact with teachers who can prepare them for these examinations.
There is full jazz performance degree course at Newpark Music Centre in Blackrock, Dublin, and numerous similar courses in the UK and elsewhere.
www.jazzuk.org.uk provides a useful international course search facility.