Comping 103—Waltz-time broken chords

​ Here's a riddle: What do you break to fix? Answer: bland blocked chords. ​Whether improvising teacher accompaniments or helping students dress up ho-hum arrangements, broken chords are a very useful trick to have in your bag. Broken chords sound great with lyrical, long-note melodies that beg for a busier accompaniment. They are also particu...
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Comping 102 -- Going further with "boom-chicks"

Last time, we explored playing a basic (boom-chick) stride pattern to accompany students when no duet part is provided. Now, we'll consider two ways to enhance and adapt this useful "stock" accompaniment. 1. Passing note bass Add variety and momentum to the steady boom-chick of a basic stride by connecting the roots of chords with passing bass note...
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Comping 101 - Accompanying Students

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Accompanying students is an enjoyable way to transfer musicality from veteran to rookie efficiently without so much "teacher talk."  For students, it  • tightens up their sense of time;  • helps them listen while playing;  • enables them to feel more like "real musicians";  • prepares them to play in ensembles;  • and ...
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Dot spots

Add improvised pizzazz to the easy rhythms found in beginner tunes by asking your students to identify "dot spots." These are places where students can substitute dotted rhythms in place of quarter notes. Instead of this: Students play this: Listen and play It's not necessary for students to know how to read dotted rhythms prior to exploring their ...
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Creating by chance

Can't get started making your own music? No excuses! Use the laws of chance to prime your creative pump. In the eighteenth century, Mozart devised a game for composing minuets by assigning pre-written melodic fragments to the numbers on dice. Here's a similar activity you can use to prompt creativity in your studio. 1. Rhythm a. Easy waltz rhy...
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Notable next-door neighbors

Many music theory textbooks illustrate melodies that often consist, in part, of chord tones—the notes that match an underlying harmonic progression. An example of this may be seen below, in the folk song Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair. The first three pitches, above the words "Black, black, black," are chord tones outlining a D mino...
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Introductions

A good musical introduction creates anticipation for the listener by suggesting the key and style of a tune about to be played. Ready? Go!  The easiest way to set up a tune is to play a V7 intro chord. This works because it takes advantage of our expectations about functional harmony. Since most tunes begin with the I chord, a V7 chord pl...
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How do you create solo piano arrangements from a fake book?

Today's jazz pianists learn to play within many different contexts. They might find themselves in a big band, a combo, or by themselves as keyboard soloists. As soloists, they must supply the harmony, rhythm, and melody while only being given a lead sheet version of a song as a guide. At the professional level, this skill can be quite complex. Howe...
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How do we honor a child’s musical voice?

My eleven-year old student Corey arrived at the year-end recital dusty and sweaty from playing two tournament soccer games. With fifteen minutes to start time and no audience yet present (graduation parties, other soccer and baseball games), Corey sat down at the piano to try out his pieces. He ran through the ABRSM Jazz Piano arrangement of Duke E...
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I-Hsiang Chao
This is a very instructive and well-written article, and your readers can only be grateful of its illumination of the teacher’s fu... Read More
Sunday, 29 September 2019 17:37
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Chord Substitution

One thing that has always drawn me to jazz is the harmony. It is fascinating to hear how a single chord change can define one artist's interpretation of Autumn Leaves or Night and Day from another artist's interpretation. Applied judiciously, these harmonic variations will add touches of color to your own arranging and performing. When one chord is...
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The rhythms of jazz: Syncopation

An important aspect of rhythm (in any style of music) is the alternation of accented and unaccented musical elements. When the accented elements differ from what is expected, we have syncopation, an essential part of jazz. This article will examine two kinds of syncopation first outlined by Winthrop Sargeant in his pioneering 1938 work Jazz: Hot an...
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A finger in every pie

For teachers brave enough to ask students to perform their first improvisations, the excuses are all too familiar: "I don't know what notes to play", "I don't feel the rhythm", "It's too hard", and--eventually--just plain "I can't do it".  There are many factors preventing students from at least trying to make something up, among them ner...
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Preluding with the Masters

For centuries, improvising introductions to keyboard works, also known as preluding, helped inspire musicians and prepare audiences for what was to come. (The German verb präludieren and the French verb preluder can simply mean "to improvise.") Preluding had practical functions as well, allowing performers to warm up, test tuning, or adapt to unfa...
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Progressive progressions

​Something wonderful happened to me this year: I was assigned a new student, Chris (not his or her real name), who is a very talented pianist, and who studied with a fine teacher. Chris always arrives at every lesson motivated, eager, and excited, but even more fascinating is Chris' desire to start each lesson with scales! Chris asks me for a key, ...
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How do you work on improvisation in your group classes?

Improvisation activities with your group classes can be surprisingly effective. Working with their peers can help encourage and motivate students to try out different ideas and get over any initial hesitation they have about improvising. It is an activity that can engage everyone, and students get to develop their aural skills as they listen to eac...
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Understanding the jazz language

If you are interested in becoming an orchestrator, there is no better teacher than the music itself. Find an orchestral score and recording of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker: listen, read, and learn! In so doing, you are making a connection between the written page and how it translates into sound. If you want to become a better jazz musician, ...
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In the mood for modes

Musicians throughout the centuries have been fascinated by modes, their unique structure and sound, and the opportunity for expressiveness they offer. From folk songs (Scarborough Fair) to pop music (Eleanor Rigby) to jazz (Maiden Uiyage), we have been intrigued by the mystery their distinctive elements create in our ear. Jazz musicians especially ...
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The art of the vamp

A vamp is an improvised piano accompaniment, sometimes containing melodic figures (licks or riffs), other times simply consisting of block chords played in rhythms. Or it can have both! You usually vamp when you are accompanying a soloist. A basic chord progression is provided and it's your job to "fill in." Here's a fun chord progression to p...
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Improvising for non-improvisers

When you hear dazzling improvisation from top jazz players, you may be overcome by something very akin to inertia. "I could never do that so I'm not even going to start," could well sum up many people's view on improvisation. My wife once summed up her own view of jazz as "a lot of men showing off." Cruel (but fair) as this jibe might appear, ...
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How Do You Use Technology to Teach Composition?

from the series: Tomorrow Today: Technology George Litterst, Editor Current technologies offer students and professionals a clear connection between the notation of a composition and the resulting sound of the piece. I first became excited about composition in high school. My early attempts were very simple and naive, but the results were...
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