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Learning to Learn to Play Jazz Music – Part One, The Mental Journey

There are numerous websites dedicated to teaching jazz music. These sites contain some good exercises and resources to help you learn. But what many do not contain are tips and resources that can help you learn how to learn to play jazz.

There is no end to learning to play jazz, it is a continuous journey on which you embark. By this I mean that it is not enough just to sit down and say to yourself 'today I am going to learn jazz'. Jazz is a commitment (usually lifelong), and the best approach to learning jazz is to understand what you need to be successful at playing it.

Playing jazz music is not just about demonstrating an ability to play jazz on an instrument, but is also a mental process based on an awareness of what jazz is and where it comes from. Developing this awareness will guide your playing to a deeper level of understanding and appreciation. Below are a number of mental and practical tips to help you to think about your own jazz journey.

1. One of the first steps you should take on this journey is to listen to good jazz music. There are a wide variety of styles and a lot of it around. Begin with listening to some of the greats of jazz – Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Charlie Christian, Joe Pass, Ella Fitzgerald to name just a few, and there a many more. You will soon begin to recognize the differences in jazz styles of these artists.

For example, many jazz tunes are based on what are called 'standards'. These tunes can be found in 'jazz fake books', that contain a collection of jazz standards, which usually give a brief lead sheet (notation) of the melody and harmony (chords) of the tune. Now listen to how different jazz musicians play the same jazz standard tune, try "Satin Doll". You will notice that every artist will play a different version of that tune in their own style.

2. Get to know the wide variety of jazz music styles from swing, to bebop to blues, to free jazz and more. You will soon be drawn to those styles that you like the best. But always be prepared to shift your likes to suit the mood you are in.

The more you listen to the jazz standards played by different artists the more you begin to identify their different styles, for example, Charlie Parker- the father of bebop compared to Louis Armstrong- the master of swing.

Once you understand the difference in styles when playing jazz standards you can branch out and listen to these artists playing their own non-standard numbers. For example listen to Miles Davis's album – 'Kind of Blue' – on it you will hear how his style has moved on from pure bebop to what is called 'post bop' a style with minimal chord changes and an emphasis on improvisation – have a listen to the track – "All Blues".

3. As your interest in jazz music starts to grow start reading about some of the pioneers of jazz music. Read about their lives and the historical background of the development of their music. For example, a good place to start is with the great horn player Louis Armstrong. Read about his life in New Orleans and about his early career in that musical city. Did you know that Louis Armstrong began his musical career whilst serving time in a juvenile offenders institution. He became a keen member of the institution's brass band and progressed from playing drums to blowing the horn. Who knows if he had not been sent to that institution he may not have become the great jazz musician that he was.

Knowing about the history and background of jazz music has given me an affinity (mental link) to the musicians of the jazz age. I feel that I am part of a greater movement, which has helped me on my jazz journey.

With the above mental resources in place you are now in a position to begin to learn jazz music on a deeper level.

The next step is the gathering good learning resources around you, both local and global to help you on your journey.

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