I spotted another elephant today. She’s hiding; I’ll show you.
I mentioned in the previous post that these music teachers recognize the imbalance and want to change, but don’t know how. What I should have said is that they want to change and think they know how. They hired me didn’t they?
“Mr. Donnelly, please teach us how to teach jazz!”
I had one hour to teach “how to teach jazz” to music teachers who know nothing about the jazz tradition. There’s the elephant! No, not the ‘one-hour.’ I’m referring to the last part.
Let me be clearer: These teachers are not qualified to teach jazz just as I’m not qualified to teach Russian. No number of workshops will change this. No number of workshops can substitute for blood, sweat and tears.
Here’s the problem: Anything other than blood, sweat and tears is a shortcut. I don’t believe in shortcuts; they’re beside the point. Otherwise we’re resorting to teaching RCM-approved Oscar Peterson solos, jazzy versions of Pachabel’s Canon in D and other shortcuts/variations. So what can you teach them to teach that’s not a shortcut?
Deeper: If our goal is to build another room, to what degree, if any, can the new room include non-specialists?
The topic: How to Teach Jazz Piano.
The class: Remember this post? Generally, the class consisted of piano teachers from the ‘read-execute’ tradition who are encountering more and more students interested in learning “jazz.”
The elephant: I’m not interested in RCM-approved transcriptions of Oscar Peterson solos. I’m not interested in jazzy versions of Pachabel’s Canon in D. I’m interested in a fundamental shift in methodology. They need to embrace a ‘listen-execute’ tradition. And I want them to embrace the jazz ‘listen-execute’ tradition!
Every music teacher I spoke to recognized the imbalance. They all want to change, but don’t know how. The elephant is getting bigger.
Our goal: Build another room!
UPDATE: I spotted another elephant.
For musicians, technique often refers to ‘fast playing,’ but can also refer to precision, control, range and balance. Virtuosos are master technicians. They possess all of these qualities. In an effort to improve our technique, we’re taught, for example, to master scales (in every key!)
But isn’t there a flaw in this approach? If you have no intention of performing music that requires the skills acquired from practicing scales, then why practice scales!?
There are two issues here: The musical and the physical.
We often hear the question: Who has better technique, Oscar Peterson or Thelonious Monk? It’s a silly question. Some will argue: “With his incredible facility, Oscar has ability to express more than Monk!” To which I respond: “Yes, Oscar can express more Oscar than Monk. But Monk can express more Monk than Oscar! Are you listening to the music or notes/minute!?”
What if Monk acquired technical skills beyond what was required of his own music? One day, he ‘mastered’ the C major scale and could play it up and down faster than anybody. Knowing that he would never use a scale like that, one could say that it wouldn’t benefit his music. It might one day benefit someone else’s music, but most likely, it was a waste of Monk’s time.
How does one know what technical exercises they should practice?
What do you want to perform? Pick your repertoire. Repertoire comes first. Music comes first. That should be your goal. Then devise a strategy to acquire the skills needed to execute the music (if you don’t have them already!). Technique is a means to this end, not an end in itself.
Side note: If you are a master technician (i.e. technique is your main objective), could you say that you are a composer’s means to this end?
In regards to the second issue (the physical), I fear that students are too often injuring themselves and becoming discouraged because of ‘technical expectations.’ Their physical limitations make it impossible for them to achieve the proficiency of say, Oscar Peterson. What they need to realize is that everybody has a point of physical exertion on their instrument that can’t be crossed without injury. I would encourage all musicians to explore the limits of their physicality but never try to achieve someone else’s.
Remember: Music comes first.
“The artist has only to take care that everything stands clearly before us in its most authentic form so that we can sense it. He is on guard against all that is vague or ineffective, zealous to find the most accurate depiction of all objects, and diligent in thinking of a good form for his work whereby its totality becomes interesting.”
- Johann Georg Sulzer, General Theory of the Fine Arts (1771-74)
I was going to write a reflection, but wouldn’t that have defeated the point?