Beginning Jazz Lessons

With so many great school jazz programs in the Seattle and Wallingford area, we often have families who come to CMA looking to start jazz lessons for their child. Or they are at least curious about whether they should start their child in jazz lessons or do more traditional music lessons. After helping students learn to play jazz for years and years, here is some information that may help you understand the role that private lessons take in your child's development in tandem with a school jazz program.

One of the biggest mistakes I made as a new "jazz piano" teacher, was that I spent much of the time in lessons helping students with their school's big band music. I felt pressure from parents and band directors to help the student get ready for a jazz band audition or program. When in reality this ended up hurting the student way more than it helped them. When I finally focused all my energy on helping the students become the best possible jazz pianist they could be, they actually became very strong players and were able to contribute to their school band programs way more than when they just worked on their big band charts.

Our philosophy on teaching jazz lessons evolved from this experience. We see the immense value in the school jazz programs in that it allows the students to work on the application of all the concepts we cover in the private lessons. We may work on swing feel, tone, improvisation, voicings and much more in the lessons. But we'll work on these concepts over a wide variety of jazz standards and originals. Then the students can apply these concepts they learn to not only their jazz band music, but music they will encounter in many situations for the rest of their lives.

Here are some specifics that we focus on during private lessons…

  • Individual technique - it's still important to learn classical music and traditional exercises on their instrument. This will serve their jazz playing very well.
  • Sound - how to manipulate the sound of their instruments for different playing situations.
  • Groove - how to play in different jazz, classical and popular styles so their groove is appropriate.
  • Improvisation - different approaches to improvising in different styles of music.
  • Reading - concepts that will help them read music more quickly.
  • Repertoire - students learn songs that are part of the standard repertoire for their instrument and whatever styles they may be interested in.
  • Composing - composing and improvising are so closely related it doesn't make sense to study one without the other.
  • Ear Training - jazz is an aural tradition. With all the printed materials this gets lost in the shuffle sometimes. We stress the importance of listening to and learning directly from the records.

If you want to start your child in jazz-focused lessons, we can help. At the beginning we may do a blend of traditional and jazz lessons since it often makes the most sense for their long-term development. It makes sense to have a broad background in the beginning. Then the students can start to zero in on their specialty as they get closer to college or even later.

The main thing is that they should start when they are interested and listen to jazz recordings as much as possible . It's the best way to understand the language and it will give them an inspired head start in the process.