How to Use Jazz Improvisation to Improve Communication Skills In Teenagers
As a high school student or even a band director, you might be looking for ways to improve your improvisation and communication skills for yourself or your students. You might think that jazz improvisation isn’t the right place to start, but it’s one of the best places to begin. Improvisation is a skill that can be learned and applied in many different areas of life. By learning how to improvise in a jazz band, students can improve their communication skills, develop their creativity and learn how to work together as a team.
The common challenge for band directors is that they don’t know how to teach improvisation during jazz band when it’s a class during the day. It becomes even more of a challenge when jazz band is an extra-curricular activity. Improvisation is a skill that takes time and patience to develop, which is why it is often glossed over.
For students, it can be hard to stay motivated when you’re struggling with getting something creative to come out. Most people have trouble coming up with new ideas, and that’s okay. Everyone sounds stiff and awkward when they first start out improvising. Not to mention no one enjoys making mistakes in front of others.
There is a confidence boost that occurs when someone figures out how this art form works and feels like they can start to construct melodic ideas. It becomes much easier to take risks and experiment when you feel like you have a firm grasp on the basics. That confidence carries over into other social situations as well.
Let’s take a look at some of these benefits and give four of my favorite tips on making improvisation work for you or your students (along with some resources to help get the most out of those tips).
1. Why jazz improvisation is good for the brain
It’s no secret that music is good for the brain. Studies have shown that music can help improve cognitive function, memory, and communication skills. Here’s a link to a study that you can check out just some of the research. Jazz improvisation is particularly beneficial because it requires you to use both sides of your brain at the same time. This can help improve your problem-solving skills and increase your ability to think creatively.
2. How it helps students communicate
Improvisation is a skill that takes time and patience to learn. It can be hard to stay motivated when you are not doing well with your improvisation skills. Improvisation helps you think of new ideas, and it can also help you communicate better with others. When you are improvising, you are constantly listening to the other members of your band and reacting to what they are playing. This requires you to be able to think on your feet and come up with new ideas quickly. In addition, when you are improvising, you are also communicating with your bandmates non-verbally. You might not realize it, but you are using body language and facial expressions to communicate with them. This can help you learn how to better communicate with others in general.
How improvisation helps students develop teamwork skills
Jazz bands in high school are typically made up of ten to fifteen members in a big band and five to six people in a small group. This means that everyone in the band has to be able to work together for the band to sound good. If the students want to sound good (and why wouldn’t they? The alternative is embarrassment on stage from a lack-luster performance in front of an audience), they will need to figure out ways to work together. While the band director can help facilitate that teamwork, it’s best to give them an opportunity to figure out solutions themselves.
How it can help students overcome shyness or stage fright
Some students might be shy or have stage fright, but improvisation can help them overcome these fears. When you are improvising, you are thinking about what you are going to play next. This can help you relax and focus on the music instead of worrying about whether what you played previously was cool or not.
3. Four tips for how to improve at improvisation
You might be here for some tips on how to improve at improvisation for yourself or, as a band director, your high school’s band. There are a ton of free resources on this site for you as well as books or courses that you can find HERE. But, these 4 tips below are foundational to getting better as a jazz soloist. That, in turn, helps your overall communication skills too.
1. Listen to as much jazz music as you can. The more you listen, the better you will be able to understand and imitate the sounds of jazz improvisation. Clark Terry said, “imitate, assimilate, and innovate.”
2. Practice improvising by yourself. This will help you get comfortable with the improvisational process and help you come up with new ideas. Technology has given us an incredible opportunity to work out ideas, phrasing, and other important musical tools in our practice routines. If you would like a great suggestion for a jazz-oriented practice routine…check this one out.
3. Find a jazz band or group to play with. This will help you get better at improvising by playing with other musicians and reacting to what they are playing. Jazz is a community experience. There are a lot of local jazz communities and it is quite possible that one is close by you.
4. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Improvisation is full of trial and error. The more you experiment, the better you will become. The brain is incredibly complex in what it stores and what it seemingly deletes (until we remember it later on when we least expect it). The ideas that you experiment with and find successful the brain logs as important and we can recall with greater ease.
What to do next…
Improvisation is an essential skill for musicians of all types and backgrounds. It’s useful not only because it helps you think outside the box, but also improves your communication abilities when talking with other people or playing in different environments like on stage at a concert!
It takes time to learn how to improvise. There are no quick fixes or cheat codes. There have been several ways that have been found effective by those who’ve studied improvisation over long periods; however, even if we don’t master every single one right away our creativity still increases exponentially through continued practice (just ask any jazz musician)!
Jazz improvisation is a great way to get your brain working. Not only does it help with creativity and communication, but it’s also a lot of fun. If you want to start learning how to improvise, I have a ton of more strategies and tips for you. And if you’re already an experienced band director or jazz musician that’s looking for something new or a different perspective, be sure to check out the other resources on this site. I hope you find this beneficial to your playing (or teaching) in some way!