2010 ASMTA Conference – Improvising-Fun! Not Scary – Professor Jay and Evan Rees

Guest post by Jennifer Foxx

Professor Jay Rees who teaches at the U of A brought his son, Evan with him to help with this presentation, having Evan be the “student” in his examples. Evan is a professional jazz pianist at the age of 16.

Professor Rees starts off by explaining that we must play WITH music. It is not scary to use ear and imagination to make up things and we should encourage it in our lessons.

The best and easiest way to open the door to creativity is to start with the Blues. For example: Start with major scale (ex. Eb). From the pentascale-play around with these 5 notes. Now start on C and these are your 5 notes (C minor) (Relative minor=Blues you are in). There are certain notes to play and certain notes to avoid and students can usually figure out just with their ear what they are. Now do whatever you want!

You can have student mimic – watching your hands. Then have student mimic with eyes closed using those licks that you just did.

Some things to try:

  • Question and Answer format
  • Idea, Idea, and Answer. Later you can change a note or two
  • LH would play chord and then do RH scale

Listening is EVERYTHING!

“There’s only 12 notes, it’s gotta be 1 of them.”

On a personal note: There was a time where improvisation was a scary thing to me. It wasn’t until I started attending workshops and classes on improvisation that encouraged me to apply these principles in my own studio. So I would start off and do a summer workshop on the blues, improvisation, music and the imagination, etc. Over the years, because I have done this with my students, I myself as a teacher have enjoyed the ride along with my students and feel more confident in creating. One of my favorite showcases at the MTNA conference was the Pattern Play showcase (Frederick Harris Music is the publisher). I have used some of the pieces in these books with my students and plan to continue next year to use them more and more. They are a great resource for students to get started in this fun process of improvisation!

Share and enjoy!

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