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#1 Cyrilla



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Posted 24 April 2017 - 22:29

Not quite sure where best to post this but I hope people see it and can help!


Someone I know has said to me that 'people need a great amount of classical training before they can handle the challenges of jazz harmony, playing and improvisation.'


Is this true??  Are there not jazzers who learn their craft without a high level of classical training first?

I know next to nothing about jazz so I'm hoping someone here can help.





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#2 BadStrad



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Posted 25 April 2017 - 00:23

Not jazz, but bluegrass improv. The guys I know are a real mix. Some are *highly* trained classical players, others have always played bluegrass and use their ears (and both spent hours noodling around) to improvise. Familiarity with the musical lexicon seems to be far more advantageous than classical training (though of course good technique helps).

I have often heard it said, by jazz improvisers, that classically trained players "don't know how to swing." Ie. They play everything very much on the beat. So maybe too much classical training impedes good jazz playing. Again the jazz players I know are a mix of classically trained who listen to a lot of jazz and others who only play jazz.

What I have seen, is that the good improvising players (bluegrass or jazz) spent a lot of time practicing to be spontaneous. They are very familiar with their musical genre, so they "know" what sounds right but may not have any classical training.

I think there are people who want to make their part of the musical world special. There are old bluegrass guys who think you can't possibly play it if you weren't born on an Appalachian mountain. There are classical players who think it is the only training worth having. Others who live in (choose a country) believe only people who were born there can play (choose composer born in said area). Everyone thinks what they have is special. It is to them, but it doesn't mean it's the only way to achieve something.
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#3 mel2



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Posted 25 April 2017 - 08:04

It could be true that classically trained musicians 'don't know how to swing' (certainly, that was true of me according to my mother....)
When I have worked through Dave Frank's (very good) youtube classes or read jazz fora (also DF's IIRC) then a level of knowledge of chord structure and stonkingly esoteric scales is a given if you want to follow the conversations. I daresay my own standard of theory with 2 music-related degrees and a grade 6 theory is far from exhaustive but I admit I was struggling with octatonics and other jazz scales which need to be securely under the fingers for any aspiring jazz piano improviser. I've still got the books and it is a work in progress, but temporarily shelved.
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#4 polkadot



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Posted 25 April 2017 - 12:22

Someone I know has said to me that 'people need a great amount of classical training before they can handle the challenges of jazz harmony, playing and improvisation.'

This sounds like a rather clinical and academic approach to playing jazz - the antithesis, in fact, of the essence of jazz.


I used to listen to a lot of New Orleans jazz, albeit less so these days.  I might be wrong, but I think very few of the jazz greats from the heyday of the New Orleans jazz era had any classical training, let alone to an advanced level.  As far as I know, they mostly listened to the jazz musicians in the streets, brothels and bars around them, and then emulated them and added their own personality.  Some were taught by more advanced jazz musicians, but IIRC, what they were learning was jazz technique (bending notes, for example) rather than classical.  I dare say there were exceptions.


Assuming the person who made this claim is a musician, what is his/her background which leads them to this opinion?

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#5 steinberger



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Posted 25 April 2017 - 16:46

Starting out a mainly self taught player before having classical piano and jazz guitar lessons as an adult, if you have a good ear and can learn how to play over chords, such as 2-5-1 which are very common in jazz, that should be fine. I know several classically trained pianists who need music and cant improvise or compose. I started the other way, listening to records and working out solos etc.
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#6 Tenor Viol

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Posted 25 April 2017 - 23:17

As usual, you will get every option in reality. I am just about to start doing a jazz improv course on tenor sax (eek). I ahve a reasonable understanding of standard theory. Jazz theory is a world of its own and I have got some books, which I really ought to make some progress on... (mind you I keep saying I ought to do G7 and G8 theory).

People I know come from all angles: those who have traditional music background and move on to jazz; those who purely learn by ear and rote - rather like traditional Scottish fiddle players; and plenty of people inbetween the two extremes.

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#7 Splog



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Posted 26 April 2017 - 10:08

I've always felt that the best preparation for being able to play/sing jazz is to listen to lots of it.

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#8 Clovis



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Posted 26 April 2017 - 12:50

One of the best amateur classical pianists I've met had a background in jazz as well. There was nothing he didn't know about chords or rhythm.

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#9 jazzrob



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Posted 26 April 2017 - 22:56

Ive a degree in classical music and a diploma in arranging from Berklee. My frustration these days (in a playing capacity) is of legit players with no jazz experience! A knowledge of harmony and some improv experience can help your reading and musicality so much.
(Sorry, probably doesnt answer your question though). In general, I'd say straight to jazz is fine.
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#10 onemoretime


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Posted 27 April 2017 - 20:38

My daughter can play to grade 8 standard but has no theory grades, she's still very young and at the beginning of her career but she has Jazz harmony, and improvisation lessons, solo's in Big Band, plays in ensembles, alongside classical lessons.


I think it's a different style of music language, from the bits I've learned.

With me it has the tendency to go in one ear and out the other. 

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#11 jelly roll harris

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Posted 02 May 2017 - 18:21

My background is in classical but I was always able to play by ear and I had a sound idea of harmony. I also like, listen to and appreciate jazz. Many don't, and don't want to!

Listening is very important in developing a jazz ear. I'm always surprised at how many very accomplished musicians I know don't know the first thing about improvising, or where to begin. You DO need a very thorough understanding of chords, scales, and of course, rhythm. And there's an intellectual component to jazz that many musicians I know find off-putting. There's an idea that it's somehow "too difficult" or "not my thing".

And yes, the spontaneity is often anything but.
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