I get a lot of questions from teachers about my That’s Jazz piano method regarding ability levels. They usually fall into three categories:
1. Beginner Students
I have a first year student who I think would enjoy your books. What level of technique is required to begin?
2. Play by Ear Students
My student reads a little but would rather noodle around than play written music. I think he might like jazz. Do you think Book 2 is right for him?
3. Good Readers
I have an advanced student who reads and plays written music very well but is new to improvisation. What book do you suggest?
To all these questions, I always suggest everyone start with Book 1 – Getting Into It regardless of their technical ability.
For beginners, Book 1 is an obvious fit as soon as they have the very basics down. The
first tune, Spare Change, consists entirely of half and quarter notes in the key of A minor. If a student is not yet capable of playing hands together, make it a duet. Play one hand yourself while your student plays the other. Then switch parts. They’ll learn a lot just by osmosis and without all the “teacher talk.” The main thing is to get them playing creatively as soon as possible so that it becomes a natural way to play music.
For ear players, the goal is to balance their ears with their eyes. What better way to interest them in reading than to offer written music in a style they enjoy? One of the things that makes That’s Jazz unique are the Going Further pages that follow every tune. This is where students learn to personalize the tunes using bite-sized improvisation tips they will revisit throughout the series and beyond. Some teachers use these pages as a reading incentive saying, “When you can play this tune exactly as it is written, I’ll show you some cool tips [from the book] about how to improvise like a jazz musician.
For advanced students, I still start with Book 1 so they won’t miss important creative concepts. The essence of jazz is improvisation. Jazz musicians take pride in never playing anything the same way twice. Students who are interested in this genre often learn stylized arrangements which they strive to play the same way each time because that’s what you do with written music. While I see nothing wrong with this, let’s just not call it “jazz.” With no options for improvisation, written arrangements are more accurately described as “jazzy.” That’s why the Going Further pages are so important to the That’s Jazz series. Even the simplest improvisation tips in Book 1 are used by every improvising musician on the planet every time they play. It would be a shame for a technically advanced but inexperienced improviser to miss these by skipping ahead.
Remember, it’s never too soon or late to develop musical creativity. Do it today. Right now. Stop reading this and go doodle on your instrument. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, avoid self-judgment and start playing music your way. Try improvising for half of every practice session: 50% traditional and 50% creative. It will change your life.
Until next time, enjoy your musical journey!