The realities of a profession in music move seamlessly between the integrated topics frequently presented separately in academic curriculum. Whenever possible, I aim to guide a student through the entire creative process of a project from start to finish. This may begin with instrumental performance practice and study of historical context, then proceed into more advanced compositional and improvisational concepts, ensemble preparation or studio engineering, and finally packaging and promoting a finished product to present to an audience, live or recorded. I believe that experience with the entire creative process is essential to the development of musicianship.
Developing a Personal Language
Developing the whole musician involves fostering both a preparedness for any professional situation and the development of a unique, artistic voice. To nurture the growth of that voice, I aim to empower my students to do more than follow academic instruction; I want them to learn how to learn so that musical progress becomes self-powered.
This is achieved through an adaptive structure open to the different kinds of learning with two key components. First, I want students to not only follow the music that inspires them to pick up their instrument, but to also explore new areas for both their historical understanding and expanding their musical palettes. This is aided by creating a bridge between the music that drives them and new areas to study. Second, learning new concepts on their instruments is obviously key, but even from early on, empowerment over musical growth is aided by enabled decisions. I find it beneficial to present an array of options, such as different scale choices over a particular chord, and allow them to pursue the sound that interests their ears after experimentation.
I want to empower students in building their own musical voice, and an understanding of the process can help them do so. However, this must all take place on a foundation of listening by pedagogically training the ear and stylistically being engrossed in jazz.
The New Technology Standard
As an educator in a continuously evolving industry, I embrace the responsibility of preparing my students for the new professional climate they will be entering. One key component of this is having a baseline understanding of the technology used in the field, particularly in two key areas.
First, sound production and recording technologies are becoming more commonplace in the careers of jazz musicians as has been in other styles of music. It is important that students have a basic understanding of notation software, DAW’s, compositional software, and equipment that can be applied to their instrument.
Second, in the area of live performance, I work with my guitar and bass students on understanding not only the mechanics of their instruments, but also the best utilization of their equipment and adapting to different performance settings. This involves considerations such as amplifier projection, resonance frequencies and equalizer functions. It’s crucial that they understand how the sound they hear from their instrument relates to that of the rest of the band as well as the audience.
As many developing improvisers learn their instruments and the fundamentals of this music, they may improvise successive ideas with little musical cohesiveness. To help them grow their unique sense of a solo as the single piece of music it is, I work with my students on creating solos with an overarching form, often through exercises in executing thematic improvisation.
Two benefits of this: First, these exercises help them early on foster a sense of solo shape and structure, so that improvisations tell a story that engages the listeners and other musicians, and functions as a composition in a larger sense. Secondly, students are increasingly encouraged to follow their ears, which in turn improves ensemble listening and interaction.
Exercises may include continuously returning to one primary theme such as a simple phrase or cell of notes, or having every new idea have a clear connection to the previous one for smooth but continuous development. For the more advanced students, I ask them to alternate between two themes that freely develop and interact.
These concepts are practicable and help students learn the value of quality over quantity of content in their improvisations, resulting in more skilled solo form and contour.