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#1128396 - 01/13/05 03:21 AM Jazz Grade 1 ABRSM
Rob O'D Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/11/04
Posts: 116
Loc: Ireland
Hi Guys,

I've passed my Rockschool Electric Bass Grade 4 and Piano Grade 2 Exams last year but I still can't solo to save my life.

To help address this I've ordered ABRSM's "Jazz Piano from Scratch" from www.musicroom.com. Do any of you have any exposure to this book at all? What would you recommend as a means of taking my very first steps in jazz improv?

Any suggestions gratefully received ...


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#1128397 - 01/13/05 10:42 AM Re: Jazz Grade 1 ABRSM
Spin Doctor Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/25/04
Posts: 262
Loc: Maryland, USA
What Iíd do if I were you is:

1. Find a few jazz pianist that you really like and get their recordings. Liking them to the point of obsession is a good bet for starters. One pianist is fine for now actually. It may be best to listen to him/her playing jazz standards because you can get ready access to the melody and chord changes of the tunes via fake books. Listen to this music till you can hum the licks in your sleep. If you donít know what jazz really sounds like and you havenít internalized it, you canít solo on it. Not convincingly, anyway. What this does, is help find a voice for you to emulate. Eventually, you will get your own voice, but for now, you need to know what to sound like before you can sound like yourself. Confusing, yes, but thatís jazzÖ Besides, everybody does this. I mean, everybody from Mozart to Chick Corea.

2. Iíd get volume 3 (I think) of Jamey Abersolds jazz study of the 2-5-1 chord progression. If you donít have this progression down, you canít play jazz. Period. It has a play-along CD with the piano recorded on the left side and bass and drums on the right. Turn off the piano and play with the bass and drums. Learn all the progressions for left and right hand, especially the rootless voicings. There is a booklet included to show you this stuff. For soloing, you can generally use the root, third and seventh, or the root, seventh and third, which in this case is a 10th chord in the left hand. In the right, you will be playing the rootless voicings youíve been working on, and the scalar stuff youíll pick up along the way. If you end up playing with a bassist, youíll use rootless voicings in the left hand.

3. Get a Marantz machine or some digital device to record passages of your favorite pianist. These devices will allow you to slow the music down so that you can transcribe the passages. Try to use your ears and find the solo passages that use the 2-5-1 chord progressions youíve been working on. OK, once you find a lick (passage) that you like, record it, transcribe it, learn it, then transpose it into all 12 keys. Keep doing this for a few months, to a year. However long you want.

4. Meanwhile, surf the net and get information on what scales are used over what chords and why. Take this and apply it to what you have learned when you were doing all that transcribing. Typical Jazz scales include the Mixolydian bebop, Dorian bebop, along with the harmonic minor, the major and the other usual suspects. You have to sus all this out yourself, or get a teacher to help you. Ultimately, you have to do ALL the work. You just canít read this stuff on a sheet of staff paper, which is why classically trained people generally have a tough time with jazz. At first anyway. Nearly all jazzers can play classical, but not many totally classical guys can do jazzÖAt allÖ

5. Talk to jazz pianist. Most of them will show you stuff for nothing, simply because you show an interest. I met Chick Corea once before a concert during the 80ís and he was just sitting at the piano doing nothing. Literally. There was no one around but him so I just walked up and started talking to him. He was totally cool. Then, I started telling him I had some trouble playing a certain part of a song he wrote and he showed me how he did it right then and there. I must have talked about this event for like months after it happened. I still talk about it. It was the coolest. Anyway, you donít have to always hook up with world class players. Local people can teach you a lot, and thatís really where I got most of my information. Just from people who cared that I learned.

Good luck!
"Some people's idea of free speech is that they are free to say what they like but if anyone says anything back, that is an outrage."

-- Winston Churchill

#1128398 - 01/13/05 11:04 AM Re: Jazz Grade 1 ABRSM
JazzManToo Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/25/04
Posts: 104
Loc: Somerville, Massachusetts
Rob O'Doherty wrote:
Do any of you have any exposure to this book at all? What would you recommend as a means of taking my very first steps in jazz improv?

Any suggestions gratefully received ...
I see Spin Doctor has just posted a very comprehensive approach. Mine is ever so slightly different, but no better. But since I've type it in I'll post it. (There are probably as many opinions about how to go about learning to improvise as there are improvisers.)

1.) Learn jazz theory, voicings, chord scales, etc.. Work on both hands. Maybe the book you purchased will help with this. Practice, practice practice.
2.) Do some ear training. There's some nice ear training software available online. Try some, choose one and use it. Might be freeware/shareware available. (I wish they had that stuff when I was young.)
3.) Listen to the music and players you'd like to play and sound like. A lot. Sing along with the solos. Pick a horn solo and memorize it, so you can sing it without listening to the recording. This is actually pretty hard to do. Don't worry about how your voice sounds, just make sure you hear the notes in your head. I actually think folks who want to be jazz players should start with early jazz. Start with Louie and go from there.
4.) Sit down at the piano and try to pick out the notes from the solos you memorized in step one. Then write it out.
5.) Now try to pick out the chords for the same tune.
6.) After you write out the solo and chords, transpose it to some other keys.(The more the merrier.)
7.) Repeat 3-6. Be sure to pick something easy at first. Then try harder stuff.
8.) Do this step starting today and do it forever. Sit down at the piano and just improvise. Don't worry about how it sounds or what style it is - just play. Try different things: chords in the left hand - solo lines in the right; do the reverse; play lines in both hands; think up your own ideas; mix up all of the above. Always try to keep some kind of rhythmic groove going. Let your ears quide you. Don't think about the theory. Just listen, try something, listen. Have fun! Keep doing that until your family starts going crazy and then give them a break. (A digital piano and headphones can help here.)
8.) Or find a really good improv teacher. (This Might be hard to do where you live.) He'll give you his own list.
Love that #11!

#1128399 - 01/13/05 04:08 PM Re: Jazz Grade 1 ABRSM
Webs Offline
Full Member

Registered: 12/21/04
Posts: 40
Loc: Wisconsin
Hi -- For most of my playing life I could only play if I had music....after only 2 years of jazz, I'm really starting to tear up the keyboard with my improvs so I'm living proof that it can be done....Everything the previous posts said is exactly what you need to do...but, take it in small steps because at first it can be really overwhelming.. Two years ago I could play Mozart Sonatas but didn't know the difference between a major and a minor chord. I also had three jazz teachers before I found one that could really teach it! I found that alot of jazz teachers thought I knew what they were talking about when they talked about inversions and diminished chords because I could play the piano...I didn't have a clue..so you need someone that doesn't talk over you or make you feel stupid because you don't what their talking about. My first piece of advice is to learn the chords and their inversions, and the scales. Just try improvising a chord at a time, take the major C chord, use the scale of C and make up a little melody. I started out with an easy fake book in the key of C, simple chords. Another good book is Jazz Piano Concepts and Techniques. Good Luck to you!! You can do it!!

#1128400 - 01/14/05 02:03 AM Re: Jazz Grade 1 ABRSM
Rob O'D Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/11/04
Posts: 116
Loc: Ireland
Hi Guys,

Thank you all so much for your replies. I think you've all touched off where I have been going wrong over the past two years.

I'm adept with major-scale harmony (in that I understand it and could explain it well to others) but I haven't internalised progressions (ii-V-Is etc) and I haven't spent any real time just improvising freely on the bass or piano. I tend to work on scales for strength/technique and not apply/explore/enjoy them in free-playing.

So, my homework is 1) Learn scales & arpeggios on the piano. 2) Spend a little time each day trying to improvise with a groove. 3) Transcribe/Transpose riffs that I like/stumble on. 4) Keeping listening to pianists and Jazz that I like.

To be honest, I'm not a huge Jazz fan so I'm never going to become a true jazz-cat, but I've enjoyed playing standards in jazz sessions that I have done in the past and I want to explore that a little more. I have no interest in finding myself tied to sheet-music for the rest of my life.

Once again, thank you all for taking the time to reply in such detail.


#1128401 - 01/14/05 11:19 AM Re: Jazz Grade 1 ABRSM
rintincop Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/11/04
Posts: 1810
The great jazz pianist Mulgrew Miller said he never transcribed a solo. Just a thought.
New Casio PX-360 digital piano, 1966 Mason & Hamlin piano.

#1128402 - 01/15/05 10:52 AM Re: Jazz Grade 1 ABRSM
Alanjazz. Offline
Full Member

Registered: 12/13/04
Posts: 84
Loc: England
Most great jazz pianists were true cats in that they would have cutting contests to try and out- do each other. I sincerely believe in the basic honesty of 100% enthusiasm for jazz as the first ingredient to success.

Without the passion, where is the jazz? It is born and bred in the old days of it's beginnings. I really, really mean this and to listen to the ragtime, blues, swing and boogie all that stuff is the biggest motivator of all.

Blues when your pensive, Dixieland when you are upbeat and then stride like Ralph Sutton plays.

If it doesn't excite you then turn to music that does is my humble opinion. I've never lost my terrific urge to play jazz over 60 years of playing.


#1128403 - 01/18/05 09:16 AM Re: Jazz Grade 1 ABRSM
Rob O'D Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/11/04
Posts: 116
Loc: Ireland
Quick update. My "Jazz Piano from Scratch" and "ABRSM Jazz Grade 1" books arrived. They both look very exciting because there is great emphasis on Improvisation from the very first tune in Grade 1.

I haven't read too much of the book yet but Charles Beale (author) is making quite an effort to make the nervous student (me!!) open to that fact mistakes are guaranteed and that it is only when we put ourselves in the uncomfortable positions, that we genuinly explore music.

Keep in mind, his audience is Absolute Beginners. I also see that every single tune in the Grade 1 Syllabus requires a Piano Solo. Getting a solo out of me is like pulling teeth so I'm looking forward to seeing how things progress.

Bring on the Goodness !!

#1128404 - 01/23/05 05:39 AM Re: Jazz Grade 1 ABRSM
black_coffee Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/12/05
Posts: 23
Loc: York, England
What a great mini forum.

I must say tho that the one problem with intense practice on jazz impro is that it can get so intense sometimes you feel like your head may implode with all the crazy harmony!

Jazz piano, or simply jazz, must be one of the most involved and intellectual art forms in the world.

Then add that to the fact it must end up being natural, under your hand, honest.

Gees. I might go practice some more now.
He got smaller as the world got big, the whiz man never fit him like the whiz kid did...

Ben Folds (legend)


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