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Jammin' the blues


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Presumably one of your students has presented this book to you and needs help. Thank you for taking the time to check out this page, I hope it will be helpful.

The essence of Jammin’ The Blues is to give young and beginner musicians the opportunity to improvise/jam on the blues. The first requirement is to learn to play the G Minor blues scale from memory. Playing from memory is a prerequisite for the whole book in fact. A player needs to have the scales comfortably in their hands before attempting to improvise. So I have given the G minor blues scale to start with, as it is easy on most instruments. Your student will need to learn this in whatever time they need. There is no rush. Throughout the book stresses to players to 'take your time'. Your task may be then to encourage them in this area not to rush for results.

The CD has track 1 for tuning. The second track is the first of the piano 'grooves'. As you can hear it is quite simple and in a slow tempo so as not to frighten beginners. I have been playing this type of 'groove' to young players for 15 years with amazing results. Once the scale is played from memory and truly felt by the young player it is time for them to move to 'mixing the note values'. This is to play the scale with crotchets , quavers and minims but in a mixed up order of their creation. Normally scales are played with the same time value notes and very even, now I want students to play the scale as they 'feel' long notes, short notes, very long it does not matter. The point is they are endeavouring to create a small tune in a controlled space of the scale. Obviously there are a vast number of possible combinations, the student’s task is to explore as many as possible. Again No Rushing, they need to feel the process, to feel safe creating those small up and down melodies. An aspect I always try to bear in mind is that by nature young people improvise from an early age and as a society we train it out of them with our schooling methods and need for form. So to recapture that mislaid approach to things needs patience and a little guidance. Your students already have shown a desire to improvise, which is the hardest step, so let them work at their pace. I fully appreciate that this may be a different approach in an age where fast achievement is 'everything' and where the pursuit of grade results so "important' but jazz playing is a different issue where time values and fast results are meaningless. The student has to feel the sounds of the scales in their hearts and hands and only then can jamming on the blues happen. So a teacher’s task is to facilitate the learning of an interested student by allowing them to discover the feeling of these sounds. Letting them gently work the scales over the piano grooves and start to make their own melodies.

The blues scales, as you know, are minor pentatonic with the 'blue note' flat five added. The history of these scales go right back to man’s earliest times. The pentatonic form is in all music cultures around the world. So our pupils already know the sound of these scales from the listening they have done. They will not necessarily be conscious that they know it. By their nature these scales are melodic and the aim of the books and CDs, with your support and encouragement is to help he pupils really hear these scales. Later that understanding can grow into playing the sophisticated approach needed for jazz. That issue I will address in later books.

Melody is very much the main issue throughout the books. These pupils are creating their music with their musical ideas and our task is to allow it to grow. I do not interfere with a pupil’s arrangement of notes or styles they may be trying to create; it is their journey. I encourage even if I find it odd, because then I feel I may have something to learn from what they may have played. As a jazz player I have heard many quite fantastic melodies and sound from these naive players and enjoyed every moment of them. 8 to 12 year olds have no preconceptions of how things should sound so what they create is often amazing and we as teachers should try to enjoy and allow the process wholeheartedly to blossom. The students are trying to rediscover a process which intellectually is very difficult to grasp when one analyses what happens in a improvisation. Some teachers may not be comfortable themselves with improvising (try it). My guide books and CD endeavours to take away the thoughts on the intellectual level and to work with the 'feel' of improvising. Later when students have a good feel for improvising and creating music does the intellectual realm of jazz playing start. At this point students study chords in more detail, harmony, rhythm, polyrhythms, transposition etc. As you can see heavy stuff that a young or beginner musician does not need to know. They just need to feel the blues scales to create tunes, and they have a CD of piano grooves and a blues band to accompany them on their journey. In my view a teacher’s role if willing is to encourage, support and help the players make their music.

Once the scales are truly learnt and the aspect of mixing the note values played over the scales felt, then the next stage is ready to be attempted which is to mix up the note positions. The student will have in their grasp the flexibility to mix the note values with no problems. So to suggest to them to play the scale in a different order is a natural process given the skills they have acquired so far. The student will probably need a lot of time to work on this section, it has not been envisaged that all lesson time be spent on this book but that the student work away at home and then bring to you areas where they need help. This aspect of the whole book will take the most amount of time learn. This will be the first time that they have attempted such an exercise and you and the student need patience. You can see that once one scale is used to jam over the blues successfully then the next scale will be easier because the process needed to play it is already felt or in their grasp.

So within these few paragraphs you have the essence of the Jammin’ The Blues book and CD and how it is was intended to be used. When the G minor scale is played successfully by which I mean that the student is improvising with ease and creating their melodies it then a good time to extend the range of the blues scale into the next octave. Again take loads of time. Then to the whole range of the particular instrument being used. This process for the individual may take many months, or weeks. Whatever it takes the pupil needs to feel what is happening. That is the signal to move on to the next scale and so on. You may have noticed some of the tracks are solo piano whilst others have bass and drums added. The piano grooves are intended for student to practice and learn from and the band tracks to hear what it is like to play with a band. All the early band tracks have the 'piano groove' in them whilst the 2 whole blues sequences the piano plays a freer role. Again to give an idea of ensemble playing.

The book has all the information and suggestions if things get difficult to enable students when they finish the book to play two Blues sequences G Minor Blues and C Minor Blues.


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