Thursday, October 04, 2018

First jazz lesson

Here's an item for teachers. This is a process I improvised in a lesson with a 6th grade student yesterday, to introduce him to playing the jazz rhythm on the drums.

We did this verbally, reading only p. 11 from Syncopation, lines 11 (running 8th notes) and 15 (jazz cymbal rhythm). I only intended to teach him to count 8th notes with a swing interpretation, but as we started playing line 14 on the cymbal, the lesson evolved into teaching him some basic drumset coordination.

Steps we used were:
1. Counting the rhythms normally.
2. Counting the rhythms in a swing interpretation. Swing is an interpretation of 8th notes, and I explained it as a legato feeling with the &s of the rhythm falling late. I then sang the rhythms for him, and we sang them together. At no point did I mention triplets. Students tend to sing swing rhythms very staccato at first, so we took a moment to get a legato feeling in his singing.
3. Learning a logical series of simple playing exercises for putting the rhythm on the drum set.

Note that all exercises should be finished on beat 1; don't end exercises with “4-&.” The lone beginning quarter note can be confusing to some students, so you can also start the exercises on 2— taking care to get the counting right. After learning these patterns, I had my student play through them all without stopping— again, the only written music we were using was line 15 from Syncopation, p. 11.

Depending on the student, I might take these steps in a different order, or go another direction entirely. Subsequent steps might be to learn a few more obvious coordination ideas, or to improvise with the combinations learned so far. Teachers who emphasize quarter notes on the bass drum as part of the basic jazz beat will probably want to develop a slightly different sequence of exercises to teach that.

With this student my next steps will likely be to reinforce counting swing 8th notes, to introduce the idea of writing swing 8th notes as triplets, and to teach him some coordination using my “skiplet” concept. He instinctively understood the premise of that method— that the cymbal rhythm is oriented around 2 and 4. In playing the exercises, he would often start on 2. It will take a little bit of creative teaching to exploit that, while making sure he still understands where the 1 is.

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