Your Rules, Your Fears

I was invited to give my talk on "No Rules, No Fear Jazz" in February 2018 at the NJMEA Annual Conference. I asked the folks attending to give me a quick answer to my four key questions:

  • What rules about jazz are you looking for permission to break?
  • What rules must we keep for it to still be considered jazz?
  • What is your biggest fear about teaching jazz?
  • What is your biggest fear about playing jazz yourself?

Here, just as they wrote them, and in no particular order, are the answers I got back:

What rules about jazz are you looking for permission to break?

  • Scalar
  • Diatonic
  • Release drumset from merely time keeping
  • What changes to instrumentation and composition are allowed in the jazz world?
  • What is the line between “artistic” and “copyright infringement”
  • The styles I can teach. I don’t want to swing all the time.
  • Not sure…
  • Do the kids need to memorize all of the blues scales to be able to improvise properly?
  • Using jazz improv in concert band or lessons (more how to)
  • Straight time, “square” meter
  • Rules of style and structure in jazz pieces
  • Instrumentation

What rules must we keep for it to still be considered jazz?

  • Chordal
  • Phrasing
  • Expression
  • Feeling
  • time
  • Make it swing
  • Not sure, there’s a lot of innovation and fusion out there. Where is our threshold?
  • I’m not sure there are any.
  • Get the styles correct!
  • Keeping some of the jazz traditions
  • Listening
  • Swinging eighths and emphasis on 2 and 4
  • Style
  • Tempo

What is your biggest fear about teaching jazz?

  • Losing rehearsal time or repertoire
  • Teaching beginning improvisation
  • Student fear
  • Rhythm section
  • Getting kids to feel comfortable with improvising
  • Not being able to help students (and myself) personify the music
  • I’m not an accomplished drummer, so I don’t always know how to explain what to do
  • I want the students to at least try to incorporate the sophisticated theory I’m presenting them, but I fear a) they are inexperienced and overwhelmed or b) afraid to play alone (which is a big part of jazz)
  • Getting the styles wrong
  • My own chops
  • Staying stylistically appropriate
  • Improv
  • Identifying chords and general phrasing
  • Having very limited exposure to it as a classically trained musician

What is your biggest fear about playing jazz yourself?

  • Improvisation
  • Getting lost in changes
  • Not playing idiomatically
  • N/A
  • Not being able to improv well enough to show the kids
  • experience/my ability to accurately demonstrate
  • Playing without variety/sounding boring or uninteresting
  • Improv
  • Playing style outside of traditional
  • Improv
  • Finding appropriate repertoire for my instrument (horn)

When I look through these answers, it seems like the number one thing people are thinking about when teaching jazz improvisation is: IMPROVISATION! This makes sense to me, because improvisation is one big thing that's really different than much of what we teach in "regular" music education.

In the next blog post, I'll start sharing my thoughts on the "Improvisation" issue.

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