What is jazz? It is the ultimate freedom in structure. The goal for me in teaching is to teach as if I were playing jazz. But how? First by finding the structure, and allowing myself to be creative and free. Here is what I mean.
Growing up, my piano teacher trained me classically and she always stressed the importance of learning my scales, cadences and arpeggios. It was a chore, but I did it. It built strength in my fingers and made me more agile. It wasn’t until I was turning pages for my high school music teacher that I realized the ultimate freedom those drills would give me. As I watched her fingers fly across the keys of the piano, I discovered she wasn’t playing the notes written at all, but the music poured out of her hands flawlessly. “Why?” I wondered. So I asked her.
“I’m reading the chords and melody line,” she said pointing to the score. I looked carefully at the music and saw what she meant.
During the break in the rehearsal, I quietly sat down at the piano, turned in the book to a song I was familiar with and began to play a little bit. To my amazement, I was able to accompany the melody nearly instantaneously. I wasn’t reading every note, instead I was falling back on all I had learned about scales and cadences, and I was able to improvise the harmonies. It was because I had learned so many forms of music that I was able to predict what was coming. Unbelievable!
From there, I was hooked. Hotel California would play on my tape deck and I would improvise on the piano, because I knew they chord progressions. Runs and trills would come from my fingers because I knew, just instinctively knew the scales within the piece. It was freedom, and it was fun. But it only came about after so much time learning how music is put together.
That is jazz: knowing how something is and putting it into play in your own way. That is true teaching. We know what to do, what to teach, how to teach it. And once we have mastered those skills, it becomes our time to play some jazz!
Enjoyed reading your article about jazz. I’m the Piano Teacher who drilled all those scales, chords and arpeggios into Elizabeth’s fingers when she was a young student! She’s right with what she writes about mastering the basics of music in order to set yourself free from the score. Once you have acquired the basic set of tools, you’re rready to create your own masterpiece. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Elizabeth is gifted with an incredible ear…………..
It’s one of the great lessons of music education that we learn that growth only comes by lowering your aversion to risk. Here’s an excerpt from my book that expands on that topic:
6. Risk Acceptance (Let’s Just “Jam”)
Before one can get to a place where creativity and innovation are possible, learning to trust the process that discards familiar, safe systems is a prerequisite. We must walk out on that musical limb and have “jam” sessions. We’ll just see what happens and assess the results afterwards. Musicians understand that the greatest innovations often come when you leave the harbor of predictable outcomes and sail into the sea of uncertainty.
“The insurance business is purely risk taking…You go in knowing there are going to be risks involved. Any time you play music, there are risks involved. You can have equipment failure. You can have rain. Somebody can get sick. Guitar strings break.
“Then there’s the personal risk. There are going to be better people in the audience, and I’m going to be nervous. I’m going to forget my part. Or I’ve got to sing this really high part, and I hope that I can hit that note this late in the evening. There’s a whole range of risk that you take in a band that’s highly correlative to business.”
More lessons of music education in this article:
FROM THE BAND ROOM TO THE BOARDROOM…The 9 Common Lessons of Music Education That Translate into Success
Keep up the great work.
The “Business Musician”
Thanks for your comment, Craig. I agree with everything you have here. Music draws so many parallels to life, all the arts do. I love your website. Keep up the great work!