jazz

blue river6 fun pieces for intermediate to advanced pianists

When I was a teenager, I innocently asked my piano teacher one day if I could possibly learn some pop songs in my lessons. I will never forget his reaction!

Well, the colour drained from his ancient, wrinkly face and I could tell it was all he could do to withhold the rage clearly brewing deep within him!

“Why would you want to learn such rubbish?!?” he finally exploded.

“But it’s fun! And nobody has heard of the pieces I play” I grumbled, for he kept me on a strict diet of scales and Bach! I was tired of the same old routine and desperately wanted some excitement.

“Could I then just learn some jazz and blues?…What about some Scott Joplin even?” His cheeks were starting to puff uncontrollably and he gripped his chair for support. I could tell this was going nowhere!

I dropped my shoulders is resignation. The situation was hopeless. In fact I resorted to learning to play the “Maple Leaf Rag” in “secret,” dreaming of one day playing some cool popular music. The local music shop was just as disappointing carrying an antiquated stock in their so-called “popular music” section.

Now fast forward twenty or more years on and what a different world we live in! Exciting music is easily available from all over the world with the click of a mouse (or a poke of an iPad)!

Take one such book that I recently stumbled upon…

“Blue River” by Elena Cobb. A collection of six original pieces for the immediate to advanced pianist (grade 6+). Now had such a book been available for me as a teenager, I would have loved it! And to have shown it to my old teacher…now that would have been cruel but funny!!!

Full of bluesy, jazzy pieces and even some latin thrown in for good measure, this is an exciting collection which some of my advanced piano students are really enjoying at the moment. It’s challenging them but they are having lots of fun.

Cloud Seven, Latin. This was the first piece that caught my attention. It has a classic Cuban style groove, so perfect for  [···]

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One of the unique features of  MusicTeachersHelper.com is how it continues to build a growing community of musicians and teachers around the globe. Recently, Elena Cobb--from the UK–contacted me–from the US–via MusicTeachersHelper.com to check out her books. Besides finding a new Facebook friend and fellow teacher across the pond, I’ve enjoyed playing some new music.

Elena is clearly a fan of jazz and the 12-bar blues (yes, this American form made its way overseas) and sees the importance of introducing this standard pattern to early level pianists. Higgledy Piggledy Jazz is packed full of pieces targeted for “inexperienced” pianists while the second book she shared, entitled Blue River, features more intermediate to late intermediate selections. This collection ranges in style from ballad to blues to Latin. Both books include clever, original compositions that fall into the standard blues form. They could serve as supplementary repertoire or provide great material for a studio jazz–themed unit.

 

The Higgledy Piggledy Jazz book features…

1) Ten pieces with a CD of live jazz band recordings.

2) Four tracks of varying tempos of witty arrangements for play-along enjoyment. The CD is great training for building solid rhythmic skills and confidence for future gigs with a “real” band.

3) Color coding (in some pieces) of chord changes to enhance reading security.

4) Colorful, full-page illustrations.

5) A considerable amount of extra staff instructions including fingering, counting numbers, phrase markings and chord symbols. [···]

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Arguably, the most important skill a musician can acquire is the ability to “play by ear!” Am I dismissing the art of reading notation? Absolutely not. In many aspects of my life as a musician, reading music is essential to me. What I really mean is that, whether a musician is reading music or not, his or her ability to carefully listen to the sound they are producing whilst playing is essential to creating a musical result. I like to call it the “LAD” technique (no offense LADies)! Listen, Analyse and Develop. You have to Listen carefully to the sound you are producing, Analyse the musical elements and then adjust to Develop it yet further. A person might be the best “sight reader” in the world but unless they focus on progressing their “playing by ear”/listening skills, the impact and message of the music will be lost on their audience. “Playing by ear” surely is at the very core of what we do!

So how do we as musicians and teachers develop these essential skills both in ourselves and in our students?

Ear Training Methods

One effective way is to record ourselves and hear our music back. Suddenly we are listening as a third party to the sound and can hear what’s good, bad and ugly! Carefully listening whilst simplifying the music by practicing it slower (and hands separate if possible) can help us focus on detail not previously heard. Other musicians use the

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