I wanted to start a new mini-series on teaching improvisation to kids. Most of my students are teenagers on up, but occasionally I will work with kids that are 10 and under. It’s amazing how much of an interest they have in improvisation and how quickly they absorb information.
The first part in this series is one that I think is applicable for adults just as much as it is for children. Have fun! Adults especially when we work hard on developing a skill set we tend to get serious and lose the joy we had when we first started improvising. This isn’t just something that we do when we are practicing, but something I think we should try to do when we’re on the gig as well. I believe we captivate an audience if they can first sense that we’re having fun which then translates into them having fun.
Some fun things for kids to do when first learning how to improvise is to try and imitate something that is funny to them on their instruments. For instance, I love listening to trumpeter Clark Terry. To me, he is at the top of the list of jazz musicians who have fun while they play. Below is an example of Clark Terry playing in his latter years while doing his Mumbles character.
Singing along with Clark Terry’s Mumbles character helps give some melodic ideas and phrases. If the kids attempt to imitate they are accomplishing two goals in one: 1) Having fun 2) Learning the language.
Another thing you can have them do is to try and transcribe simple melodies by ear and play with it. The video below is from a gig I did on my birthday and you will notice the “Happy Birthday” melody thrown in by a few different soloists. This was the last song of the night and we were having fun! You’ll notice the audience was enjoying it as much as we were. Jazz doesn’t have to be uptight and stuffy!
I hope you’ve enjoyed the first part of this series. If you haven’t had a chance to check out my books or want to help get us closer to our album goal you can go to my Digital Store for more information!