Part 2. Simplicity is one of the key ingredients in teaching young children about improvisation. While some kids might soak up theory information…most do not. Most, in my experience, just want to play. They want to improvise. Try keeping the theory information as simple as possible (like the first 5 notes of a major scale or the major pentatonic scale)
The more in-depth theory can be saved for later after they have had an opportunity to have fun improvising.
Play the scales with them so they can try and match your sound. It helps solidify their scales as well as their intonation and tone on the instrument. Have them play those scales while you play chord progressions on the piano (or some form of play-along if you’re not comfortable playing them yourself).
Something else I do with younger students is limit the number of note options they have to improvise. Limiting their palette of options can free up their creative mind. This is one of the big reasons I like teaching pentatonic scales. 5 note choices is less information to organize in real time then 7 or 8. For younger students I like to limit their options of notes down to 3 or 4. I like having groupings that are part scale and part leap (like the examples below):
Obviously these aren’t the only small note groupings that can be used. However, they do contain some step-wise motion (major or minor 2nds) and slightly larger leaps. Melodies aren’t 100% scales or leaps. They are a combination of the two. Giving a child the combination helps them understand that improvising is more then just running a scale up and down a chord change. Give them an opportunity to play around with those simplified note groupings with you on a chordal instrument or play-along. Let them make mistakes and figure some things out.
Once they start getting the hang of it, or start getting bored with 3 notes, then expand their options outward. Start simple and expand from there. I find this causes them to learn complex ideas faster and they retain the information longer.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s tip and that it has added some value and benefit to you and your students! Don’t forget to check out my Digital Store today to grab one of my books, schedule a Skype lesson or get more information on how you can help be a part of my next album, “Mountain, Move.”
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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