Every genre of music has the ability to teach us something new. But there is one genre of music that will not only teach you something new, but change the way you play music entirely — jazz, baby.
Now we might be biased, but here at the Jazz Music Institute, we strongly believe ALL musicians should attempt to study jazz at some point throughout their musical journey. At first, jazz may not be at the top of your “genres to learn” list, but perhaps this article might swing you over to our side of the musical street.
So okay… “How?”, I hear you ask. Follow along.
What exactly makes jazz the ultimate genre of music to learn?
Before you dip your toes in, it is important to note that to an outsider or beginner, jazz is complex — harmonically, rhythmically and melodically. It demands a certain level of virtuosity from each musician. The good news is, if you’re able to crack the code and master its complexities, you will unlock a musical superpower that makes you an extremely adaptable and skilled musician.
1. It will expand your music theory and importantly, your harmonic knowledge.
Don’t let this deter you however, instead it should ease your anxieties! To put it simply, music theory is just a way of labelling what we hear. Try not to think of music theory as such a dry musical tool and instead think of it as the science behind music.
Also, jazz music and jazz standards are jam-packed with harmonic information, both diatonically and non-diatonically. Basically, that just means within the key and outside of it too! If you are unsure about how chords are formed or built, jazz will most definitely expand your knowledge there — and maybe even blow your mind a little bit.
Jazz chord colours are diverse and will diversify the creative choices available to each musician. You may or may not have heard that in jazz, we love to use our 7th chords, or extensions, and alterations? These types of chords have all the answers and will ultimately teach you the most important lessons in how to voice-lead or connect chords together.
On top of all of this, jazz theory will prepare you for improvisation or creating in the moment. It will teach you openness, malleability, and your own personal expression. And once you learn the theory, you will slowly unlock a way to create new music spontaneously for the rest of your life. Which is the perfect segue for me to bring up reason number two…
2. Jazz will teach you to improvise and improvisation is the bread and butter of what jazz music is, and what inevitably makes the jazz musician, the ultimate musician.
“With jazz improvisation, instead of playing Beethoven, you are Beethoven,” said jazz musician and educator Dave Frank.
When you improvise, you have no map — except your own skills, tastes, and choices. Improvisation proves that you and your instrument are actually capable of more than you think! When you learn to improvise without your map (aka, sheet music), it requires you to be more physically and mentally engaged with your instrument. Naturally, all of the important elements of music (melody, harmony, rhythm & expression) will begin to deepen and give you more confidence as a musician in any setting.
If you are unable to play music without reading notes from a page, then you simply don’t know the full potential of your instrument yet. So… *cough* learn jazz *cough*.
3. Jazz forces you to become highly proficient on your instrument of choice.
If you’re jamming with others and improvising regularly, you will have no choice but to become a master of your instrument. Jazz has many harmonic complexities, a vast range of slow to fast tempos, various arrangement possibilities and many different rhythmical styles. The overall language of the music will without fail, put you above the rest. There are simply no shortcuts in jazz. You will be forced to dive headfirst into every crevice of your instrument. And jazz will always shine a light on what needs work.
4. Jazz will improve your ear.
Even if you have a strong knowledge of theory, chords or scales, you will not be able to advance without a strong ear. Developing a strong connection between your theory knowledge and your ability to hear and identify chords and scales will improve your musicianship exponentially. An essential part of jazz training is transcription, which is essentially learning common phrases and licks by ear. If you study jazz, you will be doing a lot of this. Transcription is an excellent way of improving what you hear and being able to hear what you play.
Reggie Thomas, Head of Jazz Studies at Northern Illinois University once said:
“Music is the greatest teacher of music”
— and we concur.
Check out this vlog by JMI’s Head of Woodwinds Teacher, Joshua Hatcher on how to hear what you play before you play it.
5. And finally, you will become competent and adaptable in all musical genres, thus making it all worth it.
Within the musical family tree, below the all-hailing mother that is JAZZ, sits blues, pop, rock, hip-hop and more. Jazz is the mother genre. Learning jazz will give you all the tools you need to be able to learn and play other genres. Jazz theory can easily be translated to pop or rock styles like no other genre. So if you’re wanting to expand the genres you play, learning jazz will get you there a lot faster than any other genre.
“Jazz is a more elevated, advanced version of pop and rock theory,” said Piano Power founder and director Abraham Levitan.
“It seemed almost like cheating to play pop and rock after I learned jazz theory, because pop and rock is a simpler version of jazz.”
If you enjoyed this blog, please see some of our older blogs relating to a similar topic.
You don’t need to aspire to become a jazz musician to get something out of learning the genre. There is truly something that jazz can offer to every musician.