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Jazz For Classically Trained Pianists

Jazz For Classically Trained: Elena Cobb Article Written For The MusicTeacher Magazine
Elena Cobb, author of Higgledy Piggledy Jazz

Below is my article from the Music Teacher magazine UK, November 2013. I am very grateful to all who took part in the lively discussions on the Facebook piano teachers forums, made suggestions and offered their opinions on this highly interesting and often controversial topic.

in 2016, Improv Exercises for Classically Trained Beginners was published based on my experiences of teaching jazz and improvisation to the classically trained pianists – take a look here >.

Special thank you to Snake Davis (UK)Kay Alexander (Canada)Elissa Milne (Australia)Rami Bar-Niv (Israel)Tom Lydon, the editor of the Music Teacher magazine UK and Paddy Warren. Not everything made it to the press but below you can read it in full and also download the exercises.

Over a hundred years ago musical pioneers created a phenomenally popular musical style – jazz! Exciting, rhythmic, harmonious, colourful, toe-tapping and ear-catching, jazz had it all – and people loved it! It was a massive shaking up of the musical world. And, as well, it had something new – it had a swing!
However, this new creation had come from the poor and disinherited in the world; people who had lost much in their lives and had little; people who understood loss, disinheritance, loneliness, isolation – and for many, the associations of these people who had nothing and had lost an enormous amount (even, in the case of slaves, their freedom) meant that the normal music-loving populace could not give the new musical invention its due. Improvisation was not willingly added to the classical music scene and it is not an element that exists in our current musical exams.  But – why not? Besides watching how excited pupils become playing jazz tunes and how fast they learn to play them, would it be a stretch too far to say they would also be happy to include improvisation in their musical learning?

Judging by the number of children entering the classical exams each year, it’s clear that children can be interested in whatever kind of music their teachers recommend. But, however malleable the pupils might be, teachers tend to believe that you need to be a specialist to teach jazz. They think that children who are eager to focus on it, need to learn sophisticated bass lines and intentional dissonances under the watchful eye of an expert and it isn’t considered to be something that an untutored teacher can offer – disappointing news for the average child.

Of course, classically trained teachers do have the advantage that they can tell pupils how to play each piece appropriately for the chosen composition style to make sure no marks are lost, and this works well for how current exams are structured, but what about the one, very important element of jazz which is different from the elements of classical music – improvisation?

Improvisation is believed to be a spontaneous moment of sudden inventiveness and, in reality, it has been around for as long as music exists. Great composers and performers of all classical styles were very good at improvising. But, somehow, it didn’t make it into the books we use today and it seems that only jazz musicians carry on the tradition.

Here is a quote by Snake Davis“I’m an improvising musician. Yes, I read, yes I learn parts by ear and repeat them, but I am most happy when I “shut my eyes and blow”. But improvising can be very frightening. Nowhere to hide, no safety net, very exposed, like going on stage naked. So it needs to be handled with care, taught with passion and sensitivity. I love teaching it, de-mystifying it, I call it “making stuff up” rather than “improvising”. Should classical students be encouraged to improvise? YES! because it will make them braver, more free, more confident players. Should classical teachers teach improvisation and jazz? Yes, but ONLY if they themselves are confident and proficient improvisers.”

Not wanting my pupils to miss out on such an important musical experience I felt that as a modern classically trained teacher, I should be able to cross boundaries to provide a balanced education to my pupils. So I wrote and published ‘Higgledy Piggledy Jazz’ series for young pianists, (also for sax players and classical guitarists) which, unlike normal jazzy piano books (which don’t have improvisation sections), includes elements for young pianists who have plenty of enthusiasm for improvisation. And I hope that my recommendations will find their way into your lessons so the journey into the world of Jazz for you and your pupils can begin.

The main benefits I have found that jazz improvisation brings to classically trained children include:

–       an increase in confidence and self-esteem

–       a more positive attitude to home practice

–       improved sight reading and eye-hand coordination

–       improvements in the ability to maintain the beat and think on the go

–       greater creativity in the lesson with increased development in independent thinking

–       a sense of achievement for something that is considered difficult by others

–       and last (but not least) let’s not forget the ‘cool factor’ – with lots and lots of fun!

If you’re a classically trained teacher and you find yourself confused as to whether to introduce improvisation to your pupils or not, you could find the following improvisation exercises very useful as a start. There are both rhythm and notation exercises and you could practice them with your pupils from memory or by looking at the sheets associated with this magazine with this article.  Hopefully, you’ll find the exercises logical and easy to remember – and it will be fun for both you and your pupils.

1  Rhythm exercises Tip – Count aloud

Remembering that every crotchet consists of two quavers and we are getting ready to ‘swing’ them, tap the rhythm on your thighs and count aloud one and, two and, three and, four and.  Get your pupil to start slowly and repeat each exercise until they are ready to move on to playing. Note that the left hand always taps crotchets.

2  Notation exercises Tip – Know your notes and fingers

The blues scale is very special and if you play the notes from it you create a ‘blues sound’. The exercises below are based on the blues scale on C and for your pupils to play them effectively, make sure they find the notes on the keyboard first and then stick to the fingering for the right hand of:

– 1st finger for C

– 2nd finger for Eb

– 3rd finger for F

– 4th finger for F#

Transpose the exercises into any key and let your pupils use them for different pieces or just for enjoyable practice.

Putting it together using ‘Super Duck’ Tip – Count the bars

Take a look at the preview of the piece and you’ll see that there is colour in the bass clef notes. C is in the usual black ink, but F is green and G is red. Make sure your pupils memorise this colour usage and when they’re playing, make sure they count the bars (as below).

(4 x C) + (2 x F) + (2 x C) + (1 x F) + (1 x G) + (1 x C) + (1 x G) = 12 bar blues

‘Super Duck’, one of the tunes in the ‘Higgledy Piggledy Jazz’ book, is a twelve bar blues and we can use that tune to start off with. It would be most suitable for a pupil already working on Grade 1 (and above) classical piano. From bar 15 you’ll notice that your pupil has the chance to play what they’d like with their right hands – they can play it as it is or they can use that space to improvise and make it into a solo.

Get your pupil to start practising by playing the entire solo, repeating one bar from the notation exercise in the right hand. When they’re feeling confident, tell them to try mixing the notation exercises up. When they’re feeling very confident and ready to go – let them use their own ideas. Tell them to remember that they are improvising and what they thought was a mistake could well be a real gem of a find! And finally, like a pro, get them to create a fantastic ending by adding the pedal to the last chord and playing it on the tremolo.

Certainly, jazz improvisation can be a little tricky initially and not everything will come easily. But it will be invigorating and rewarding to watch your pupils turn dreams into reality.

All Material Is Copyright 2013

 And for even more enjoyable experience, please take a look at my play-along tracks here >

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EVC Music at Carmel Klavier Competition 2018 USA

Elena Cobb Star Prize Star Prize at Carmel Klavier
I am delighted to tell you that for the second year running, the committee for the Carmel Klavier International Piano Competition has selected piano works published by EVC Music for the programme and a great variety of piano pieces by our composers will be featured in the Contemporary Composers category.

Heather Hammond, UK
Irina Nenartovuh, USA
Andrew Higgins, UK

Donald Thomson, Scotland
Sam Wedgwood, Australia
Lindsey Berwin, UK

 
Cash prizes will be presented to the most outstanding performances of their works. Pieces by either composer may be used to enter the Contemporary Composers category (levels Elementary, Intermediate. & Advanced).
 
And the most exciting prize of all – the winners will be invited to perform at the Winners Concert at the Royal Albert Hall in Spring 2019. Please email team@elenacobb.com for any questions and sign up for updates. For the Repertoire List, please click >
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Meet EVC Music Composer Irina Nenartovich

Meet Composer Irina Nenartovich EVC Music

Meet composer Irina Nenartovich!

Irina was born in Sankt Petersburg and studied composition at the world-famous The Rimsky-Korsakov Saint Petersburg State Conservatory under Sergey Slonimsky. Her first composition, Gavotte, Irina wrote when she was only in the 7th Grade. Currently, Irina works and lives with her family in the United States.

In 2018, Irina’s piano pieces will be featured in the Elena Cobb Star Prize repertoire list for the Contemporary Composer category at the Carmel Klavier (USA) and Feurich International Piano (Vienna, Austria) competitions. 

Irina’s compositional style can be described as the Contemporary Classical. Her piano works possess some very unique qualities of musical expression of diatonic and chromatic technique, elements of folkloric style and neo-romantic music.

 

Sankt Petersburg. Photo Credit Lonely Planet

Sankt Petersburg

60-Second Interview With Composer Irina Nenartovich

Dogs or Cats?
2 Cats. I love dogs, but as a night owl, I can’t walk at 6 am!
Bach or Mozart?
Bach.
Composing at the piano or in your head?
Mostly at the piano, but can do both.
How old were you when you had your first music lessons?
5 years old.
Morning person or night owl?
Night owl.
Favourite city?
I have two – Saint Peterburg and Jerusalem.
Facebook or Twitter?
Facebook.
Workout or night out?
Prefer night out but enjoy the workout too.
Tea or Coffee? 
Coffee and green tea (strong).

… and finally, the first collection with Irina Nenartovich piano works will be released in 2018.

Elena

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Meet EVC Music Composer Heather Hammond

Meet EVC Music Composer Heather Hammond

EVC Music is growing and with so many new names, I decided to write a weekly feature introducing to you each composer and the music she or he writes.

All this week, I am offering up to 50% off on Heather’s music for piano, clarinet and flute. To order the books, click on the link >.

To my knowledge, Heather Hammond has never written a tune that is not filled with the innate sense of happiness, groove or a swing. Heather is a prolific British composer with over one hundred books in Jazz and Pop styles for different instruments released by the various publishers during the past decade. Many of her pieces are regularly included in the Syllabuses by the major exam boards. 

From 2017, Heather’s piano pieces are also featured in the Elena Cobb Star Prize repertoire list for the British & International Federation of Festivals and starting from 2018, her works will be included in the Contemporary Composer category in several prestigious International piano competitions too. Read more about it in the next Newsletter.

60 Seconds With Heather
Dogs or Cats?
Dog
Bach or Mozart?
Both 
Composing at the piano or in your head?
Both
How old were you when you had your first music lessons?
8 years old
Morning person or night owl?
Changeable 
Favourite city?
York 
Facebook or Twitter?
Facebook
Workout or night out?
Night out
Tea or Coffee? 
Tea

… and now you know! 

Elena

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Elena Cobb Star Prize at the Prestigious Feurich Competition Vienna 2018

Elena-Cobb-Star-Prize-at-Feurich-Vienna

I am delighted to share with you that piano works by various composers published by EVC Music are now included in the programme of the prestigious Feurich Competition 2018 in Vienna.

Elena Cobb Star Prize is a new and optional category for contemporary composers
Needless to say that as a publisher, I view this opportunity as a big honour and responsibility as historically, Vienna remains the centre of the European Classical music tradition and the opportunity for our compositions to be played in the settings of this great city fills me with pride. 
The winners of the Elena Cobb Star Prize category will receive a cash prize and will be invited to perform at the Winners Recital at the Royal Albert Hall in London in 2019. The date will be announced soon, please sign up> for the updates. 
 
If you are a teacher, parent or guardian who is interested in entering your student or child to take part, please click on the link> to discover the performance repertoire list selected by the organisers. 
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Scottish Waters by Composer Donald Thomson Launch at Blackwell Bookshop Edinburgh

Donald Thomson Scottish Waters Launch EVC Music

EVC Music is delighted to announce that the third piano book by Donald Thomson Scottish Waters will be officially launched on October 14th at 2 pm in Blackwells Bookshop, South Bridge in Edinburgh. The composer will be performing all five pieces from his brand-new collection for piano as well as talking about the places which feature in the music.

The Scottish musician Donald Thomson is a talented composer. His inspiration comes from Scotland’s landscapes and seascapes, and his fans often describe his music ‘as a breath of a fresh air in the new educational repertoire’. The style of Thomson’s piano works is ‘Contemporary Scottish’ and the pieces in his three collections from the Celtic Piano Series –  A Borders Suite, A Hebrides Suite, and Scottish Waters – are all original compositions that are uncompromisingly steeped in the style and mood of traditional Scottish melodies: slow, lyrical ballads and quick, jaunty jigs and dances. Scottish Waters is available to order on our website at £7. To preview, listen to the piano works and to order please click here >.

We recommend reserving your free tickets for the launch event in advance –
 click here >.
Please join our mailing list to be the first to know about our news – click here >