This is an excerpt from a Technical article by Pauline Harding originally published in the October 2016 issue
1. Immerse yourself in the rhythm
Played with rhythmic conviction, jazz works. Miles Davis was playing notes that didn’t always match harmonically, but he did so with strong rhythm and articulation, and everyone thought it was the best thing ever.
There are two levels of rhythm. In classical music, it is often horizontal and pulsating, moving with the melodic line; in jazz, it is both vertical and anchored for the groove of the rhythm section and horizontal for the melodic line.
We need to get into the groove and add more âdiggingâ to connect the two. This tends to tire string players, as the instrument resonates best when using feel and pulsating “classic” phrasing.
Ultimately, in jazz our goal is to feel the rhythm within while playing the horizontal melody with the bow.
2. Listen to the masters
I suggest finding a CD that you really like – StÃ©phane Grappelli, or even Miles Davis or Chet Baker – and listen to a track so many times that you can start singing and chipping lines.
This will give you an understanding of the fantastic notes and rhythms played by the masters of jazz; it will teach you when to play, how to formulate and where to rest and breathe.
Then you can try to learn these phrases on your instrument. If you play with Grappelli for a few days you will find that you really start to sound like him – admittedly, on your instrument and with your own abilities, but with the same sweetness.
It’s much more difficult if you try to learn from a book right away. It’s like asking a baby to learn to speak using a dictionary.
3. Try some simple jazz standards
Autumn Leaves, Lullaby of Birdland, and Fly Me to the Moon are all good, simple songs to start with, as they aren’t harmonically difficult and don’t have extreme tonal changes. Learn the melody by heart. Once you understand the phrasing, compose your own rhythms to embellish the melody. You can also add neighboring notes and trills.
4. Repetition is the key
Just because you’re working on something creative doesn’t mean you have to play around without concentrating and âdoodlingâ all the time. Pick an aspect to work on and think about reclining, for example, and work on it until you feel comfortable. After that, you can start to be creative again.
5. A little practice goes a long way
If you add 20 minutes of jazz play to your daily workout routine, you can cover a lot of ground. Listening to player recordings should be done in addition to this.
I like to listen to jazz recordings when I’m in the car; if I’m on the train and it’s not crowded, sometimes I’ll even take out my violin and start copying what I’ve heard right away.
When you start doing these little improv exercises, it really makes you a better player. It’s basically sight reading by ear, and it makes you more flexible.
This is an excerpt from an article originally published in the October 2016 issue of The Strad.