How to Teach Jazz: Playbook At-Home Activities

Once students leave the bandroom, how can we reinforce the concepts they learned that day? Using Playbook, your students can practice at home as if they were with a live ensemble, and with instrument specific practice.
Below are a few ways Playbook Intermediate and Advanced (Level 2-4) Big Band arrangements allow you and your students to dig deeper than the written score, using our FlexPlayer.
Jazz is a complex language. Like any language, it’s easier to speak when students listen extensively. The FlexPlayer provides endless ways to listen and play along with Playbook Mentors.
#1: Learn your part within the context of the song. The FlexPlayer allows every student to customize each recording to fit their needs. Having trouble hearing your part? Mute everything else! Need help keeping good time? Add the drums and bass back in! Want to hear how your part fits into the whole section or arrangement? Mute your part and play along!

Example: Playbook has some fun, but challenging, sax solis (“Just a Closer Walk With Thee”, “That’s Enough”, “Fonzin’ Around”). The inner parts of the sax section can be notoriously tricky to properly phrase and articulate (especially Tenor 2!). The FlexPlayer allows every member of the section to customize their listening experience to hear how THEIR part sounds and how it fits into the whole section. 

Bonus: Try singing your inner soli part. If you can sing it, you can play it.

#2 Mute your solo and play along. The FlexPlayer isn’t just for learning parts. It’s the ultimate opportunity to practice improvisation. Playbook is different than other “Play-along” tracks because it places you squarely within the context of an arrangement. Even Playbook small group tracks are designed with an arrangement in mind. Creating these parameters allows students to focus their musical ideas.

Example: The Alto and Bari sax solos on “Careless Love” are written as Call and Response with another section in the ensemble. Rather than feeling pressure to play the whole time, soloists can join the conversation of the band by filling in the space. This structure allows the soloists to focus on fundamentals of improvisation: Intentional phrases, rhythm, and expressivity.

#3 Mute someone else’s solo and play along. No two solos are alike, even if they’re on the same song! Maybe there are different backgrounds, the chord progression is different, the feel has changed. Just like the professional world, we want students to feel prepared to cover any part at any time. To help, each arrangement comes with solo changes for every instrument. Educators don’t need to copy or transpose the changes into a new key – it’s already done for them!

Example: “Liza Jane” features several different solo sections. The piano solo is over a Bb pedal with clapping on 2 and 4. The brass solo trades between multiple forms over a two-beat Groove. The saxophone solo is a 12-bar blues in Bb with an up-tempo swing Groove. In this one song, every student can practice multiple Rhythmic, Harmonic, and Melodic contexts in their improvisation.

#4 Transcription made easy. Transcription is essential to learning how to perform jazz music. Start with the melody for the song you’re playing. Can everyone learn it by ear? The FlexPlayer is an effective aid – it allows every student to more clearly hear the line they’re trying to learn by muting other parts.

 Example: “There Will Be Peace (Level 2)” and “Just A Closer Walk With Thee” feature melodies that are perfect for beginning transcribers. Some tips for transcription: 1) Take your time. Always think in phrases. 2) Sing each phrase before playing it; 3) Listen for the contour of the phrase (Are the notes going up? Are the notes going down?). This will help when figuring out the notes.

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