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!
Welcome to the first of what will be a weekly post of improvisation tips! This week’s tip is based off of a chapter in my book, “Targeting: Improvisation with Purpose.” If you’ve ever heard someone improvise and it sounds like they’re wandering….guess what? They probably are. One of the reasons improvisers wander is because they’re not aiming at specific targets. What are good targets, you ask? Guide Tones, of course!
You may be wondering, what is a Guide Tone? Traditionally speaking, a Guide Tone is either the 3rd or the 7th of the chord of the moment. However, if you’ve ever listened to great improvisers…they never limit themselves to just the 3rd or the 7th (but they’re a GREAT place to target if you’re starting out). They often expand their guide tones or targets out to other chord tones or upper structures (i.e. root, 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, etc).
To implement Guide Tones, take a song you’re working on and figure out all of the 3rd and 7ths for each chord. When you’re practicing your improvisation with that song, target or aim with purpose for those Guide Tones. Just targeting the 3rd and the 7th is not going to make you an instant improvising sensation. But, they will help keep you on track of your improvisation and limit your wandering. One way to think about this is like planning a road trip on a map. You’re leaving point A (the beginning of your improvisation) and need to get to point Z (then end of your improvisation). You need destination points along the way to gas up or to eat. Those destination points are targets on your map. Those targets in your improvisation are your guide tones!
For more information on how you can get to your targets, check out the link to your right to purchase “Targeting: Improvisation with Purpose” or you can click the link below!