We must never be afraid to go too far, for success lies just beyond. –Marcel Proust
The study of music, especially jazz, requires active participation. Most, if not all, musicians pursuing the serious study of jazz, make a conscience decision to devote regular time, study, and energy towards their goals. Successful musicians make a concerted effort to continually challenge themselves on a regular basis, through practicing, learning and performing.
The trick to learning jazz is not so much learning how to play, but learning how to listen. Jazz is a language, and just like learning a spoken language, jazz has its own unique system of communication. Musicians working together use this language to communicate with each other while they’re playing. When learning a spoken language, one studies words and sentences, but its only through listening and participation in conversation that one learns the essence and subtleties of dialog. Jazz is the same way; consistent and acute listening increases understanding and fluency. A systematic practice routine carried out regularly allow students to enjoy pursuing jazz, the result of which is richly rewarded.
I direct students to listen to as much jazz as they can. Not just pianists, but other instrumentalists as well. Almost the entire jazz repertoire is available on YouTube, iTunes, Google Music, and other music streaming services. A selection of jazz CDs are available at public libraries. Many scores are available through a Google search, and those that aren’t can be ordered on Amazon. Jazz is more accessible now than ever!
Since these are key elements to musical success, I teach tried-and-true routines that have been used by professional musicians for many years. This allows a student to maximize their time and achieve goals on a regular basis.
“Miss one day of practice, I notice; miss two, the critics notice; miss three, the audience notices.” – Ignacy Jan Paderewski
In order to consistently progress, all students must adhere to a regular regimen of practicing. A little practice each day is better than trying to cram a week’s worth of practicing an hour before the lesson. This concept cannot be stressed enough. Daily practice reinforces technique, skills, memory, song acquisition and performance. Brains and muscles commit repetitive actions deep into memory, and this regular, daily skill is key to success in learning piano, especially jazz. Besides, students should exhibit self-interest and responsibility/direction to take on an endeavor like music training.
Part of the great thing about taking music lessons is adding structure to learning. For a professional musician, practicing never stops. A pitcher practices their whole life to get into the major leagues. What do they do before they walk onto the field? They’re warming up. That’s practicing. If it’s not a game day, they’re still on the field, practicing…right next to the batters hitting ball after ball. Ice skaters show up at the rink at 5 am every day to perfect their skill and routine. An actor repeats their lines again and again, every day, to engrain their script in their memory and to perfect their delivery. These are the telltale activities of a serious practitioner of their craft.
Practicing doesn’t just perfect and hone skills. Practicing diligently reveals fresh perspectives and ideas that convey through knowledge and performance.
“Time to practice” shouldn’t evoke eye rolling; it should be seen as the next opportunity to better one’s self through structure and routine. This is one of the reasons why music improves academics; you learn to work smart, study smart, and perform (or test) smart. You also learn the most important skill of all, called “grit”. Grit gives the extra push you need when you don’t have it. Grit teaches persistence, diligence, and stick-to-it-ness. Grit makes you practice the hard stuff, not the stuff you already know. Grit makes you practice on the days you don’t want to. There’s nothing more satisfying and exhilarating than getting past the obstacles and pushing through.
One person who knows about music education, especially jazz, is Jamey Abersold. He was, and still is, at the forefront of music methodologies. His play-along jazz recordings that premiered over 50 years ago, have taught a multitude of musicians, many successful, professional, working musicians. He learned first-hand from the world’s greatest jazz musicians how to learn and how to practice.
Jamey said this about saxophonist Charlie Parker:
“(Charlie) is an excellent example of someone who seemingly, in jazz, has made it to the top but can still lean over and help the beginner and give encouragement when all else seems to fail. I would like to think one of the finest things jazz education can offer is the dissemination of valuable information to each corner of the musical world without any thought of return.” Parker’s contribution to the lexicon of jazz has done just that.