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!
Jason Klobnak is a versatile trumpet player that has been performing as an active musician, author, clinician, composer and educator. His band, J's Ruckus, is Denver's blend of Post-Bop, Soul, Gospel, and Hip-Hop. They perform infectious and up-lifting originals for audiences hungry for a memorable live experience. J's Ruckus released their latest album, Suck Less, in March of 2020 and their first EP, Sermons, in July of 2019. Both were recorded live in front of an audience. Suck Less was recorded to a packed auditorium at Arapahoe Community College's Waring Theater in Littleton, CO. Sermons was recorded in front of a sold out crowd at the Soiled Dove Underground. The JKQ (the Jason Klobnak Quintet/Quartet) is Mr. Klobnak's Hammond B-3 centered groups. The JKQ released their third full-length album in March of 2018 called Friends & Family. It has been very well reviewed, on numerous Top 10 lists for Jazz radio stations across the country (including Denver's KUVO 89.3FM which named it May 2018's CD of the month), and in Jazzweek's Top 100. Each composition was written for specific family and close friends (that might as well be family). Their second album, New Chapter, was recorded in part thanks to the Pathways to Jazz Grant from the Boulder County Arts Alliance. In 2015 and 2016, New Chapter was in the Top 75 on the Jazzweek charts and on the Top 10 playlists for over a dozen radio stations worldwide. Their first album, Mountain, Move made the Best Recordings of 2013 list from AllAboutJazz.com by C. Michael Bailey. His very well reviewed Christmas single, Hark the Herald, in 2016 as part of a creative project with musicians James Roberson and Nathaniel Kearney Jr. Besides the JKQ, Mr. Klobnak is a B.A.C. (Best American Craftsman-custom trumpet), Denis Wick (mouthpiece and mutes) and Westone Audio endorsed artist (ES20 and Tru Customs). Mr. Klobnak has played and recorded for numerous groups ranging from jazz, soul/R&B, indie-rock/pop and gospel. In addition to performing, he has also written two improvisation-based books called Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose and Breaking the Monotony and is currently an adjunct professor and brass instructor at Arapahoe Community College. Mr. Klobnak holds a bachelor degree from Drake University (Des Moines, IA) and a Master’s degree from the University of Denver, Lamont School of Music (Denver, CO).
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