"Gotta get to my study room!"

AC #23 How to learn the language of jazz? Speak Like a Child!

I don’t know about you but the first word I heard as a newborn baby was probably the word “NO!” Well, maybe it was “mom” or “dad”, but “NO!” was probably very high on the list of first-heard words.

My first physical experience was probably the doctor-administered “rear-end spank” that was customarily given to newborns. Do they still do that today? That spank hurt and it made me cry, and henceforth, my connection to “blues” music was immediately solidified! (Just kidding!)

Seriously though, I chose “Speak Like a Child” to be a part this post’s title because, for me, the phrase has a special figurative significance.

When a child learns to speak English or any other spoken language, a big part of the process is spending lots of time listening to and imitating the words, phrases, and sentences being spoken by the people around them–family members in most instances. The key words here are listening and imitating.

Likewise, one of the best ways for people to learn the language of jazz is to spend lots of time listening to and imitating and even transcribing the sounds of musical ideas and phrases being played in the music you hear or by the musicians around you. The key words here are also listening and imitating.

All of the world’s best orators started off as kids learning the intricacies of speech by listening and echoing single words, short phrases, longer phrases, and sentences, etc. until eventually, the ability to compose and express their own thoughts finally took hold. The language of jazz has the same dynamic!  That is to say, all of the world’s best instrumentalists and improvisers started off as beginners who could barely make a sound on their respective instrument(s). But through the long process of listening, imitating, and learning to read in many cases, the art of self-expression finally developed and they became great players.

So if you’re not already doing it, I want to encourage you to “Speak Like a Child” and add this type of listen-and-imitate approach to your practice routine. Get in there and get started by learning to imitate some short phrases first before moving on to medium length and longer phrases. Melodies and fragments of melodies are good too! I’m going to ask a couple of my students to let me post some of their work along these lines on their student page in the near future. It really is a very effective way to learn the syntax of jazz language and to build a lexicon of phrases and vocabulary. Stay tuned.  

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