How to Teach The Blues

Watch my 12-year-old student tear up a classic blues tune in this throwback video.  Notice how he throws in riffs, kicks, an improvised solo, and even a key change along the way without reading music (the music on the stand is a different piece).  Now, some would assume this kid is exceptionally gifted or that his teacher is a miracle worker. As much as flattery is hard to deny, I insist that talent is overrated when it comes to playing or teaching creatively. My student is a well-rounded regular kid with normal musical aptitude and a lot of other interests as his uniform attests (soccer practice after the lesson).

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What are the best notes for improvising?

As a jazz educator, I am often, “How do you know what notes to play in an improvisation?”  Given the many possibilities, it’s tempting to over explain this with overly detailed concepts such as modes, jazz scales, blue notes, chord tones and the like.  However relevant these may be, too much information too early in the game tends to sap the confidence of inexperienced improvisers.  Fortunately, there’s a simpler, more practical answer:  The best notes for improvising on any given tune are the same notes that are in the melody.  All the improviser has to do is mix them up and it’s easier than you may think. 

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