February Theme – All That Jazz

Hello Musicians! Welcome to the month of February!

With only 28 days in the dead of winter, this month tends to feel a whole longer than it is. Unfortunately, it will not be nearly long enough to thoroughly cover our new theme, which is the music genre JAZZ! We will be sharing tips and strategies for beginner playing of this genre of music, and perhaps some ideas for clinical implementation as well. For better or for worse, we will not have the space or time on this blog to share enough to do this topic justice, so what we hope to provide is enough information to get you started and enough helpful resources for further learning if you desire.

If you are not a Jazz musician, don’t leave!! I am not a Jazz musician either, so I will be learning right along with you! If you ARE a Jazz musician, please offer comments on your own experience! As a classically trained pianist, I have always wanted to learn Jazz because it looks so fun and it’s such a different tool for musical expression. But the most advice I have ever been given was “Just read the chords, and feel the music” (which is really not helpful especially considering I don’t understand the chords) and “start listening to it every day and try to mimic what you hear” That one is a little more helpful, but extremely time consuming,and would require some very simplified jazz recordings. The 3rd response I have received was an immediate conversation about Jazz theory which was waaaaaayyyyy over my head… Making me feel more confused and intimidated. SO this month I hope to start getting my feet into the water, so to speak, and try to translate what I learn into understandable language for a classical musician. My style of writing will sound authoritative, but just know that it is mostly research based, and only slightly experience based.

The first thing you NEED to do before you even start playing m7 chords is start thinking about your music in Roman Numerals. I do this with allll the songs I play (and I try to do this when I play classical music as well) because it enables me to keep track of where in the harmonic structure I am and it provides a channel for easy transposition too. For example, the chord progression in C major

C   F   G   C

Could be written as:

I   IV   V   I

If you are already thinking about your chords in terms of harmonic structure, you will not have to translate into different keys in your head, you just apply the roman numerals to whatever key you are in. You are also more likely to understand surprising (or deceptive) harmonic movement and notice if/why it sounds like you are playing something wrong. Theory is super useful, guys. Anyone else think this way?

Understanding Jazz Harmonic Structure: The Beginning
I found this really helpful video on Kent Hewitt’s YouTube Channel which takes you through the steps to reharmonizes Twinkle Twinkle Little Star with Jazz concepts. This was the first really clear explanation I have found that made me really understand why different chords work to reharmonize a melody.


The video is 25 minutes long, so I will try to summarize a little, enough to maybe peak your interest.
First, here is traditional harmonization for the first 2 lines of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star:

I                        IV      I
C          C/E       F      C/E
Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

ii7       I             V7            I
Dm7   C/G       G7/D         C
How I Wonder What You Are

The first step he takes in the tutorial, is to reharmonize the melody using diatonic 7 chords which enable stepwise motion in the voices.

Diatonic Harmonization
I            ii7      iii7     vi7     IV7        vii7/V   I
C         Dm7 Em7   Am7  Fmaj7   F#dim  C/G
Twin – kle  Twin – kle    Lit – – – – tle     Star

ii7      V7  iii7     vi7   ii7      V9   I

Dm7  G7  Em7  Am7  Dm7   G9   C
How    I    Won-der    What  You  Are

The second step he takes is to alter some chords to create secondary dominants (Jazz music contains a lot of ii V I progressions), thus creating half-step approaches.

Jazz cyclical harmony with secondary dominants.
I           IV7     iii7    V7/ii   ii7       V7       I       V7/ii
C           F7   Em7     A7     Dm7    G7    C/G     A7
Twin – kle  twin – kle     Lit – – tle      Star

ii7                   iii7    V7/ii   ii7       V9      I
Dm7   Fm6   Em7   A7    Dm7    G7      C
How      I       Won-der    What   You   Are

The rest of the video goes on to add color tones and tritone substitutions, but I don’t think my brain can handle that until I get a little more comfortable with harmonization. This is a very simplified version of Jazz, which is why I want to start here. The next thing I will research is voicing. Once I have an understanding of the Harmonic structure, I would really like to know where to put the notes.

Usually we start off the month with a Repertoire List, Top 5 or 10 must know songs for the theme. But I would like to spend a bit of time getting familiar with Jazz chords and harmonizations first. So instead of our traditional Song of the Week, we are going to have a Project of the Week.
Here it is: Take the above explanation/demonstration and reharmonize a different simple melody!
I will be using You Are My Sunshine.

What do you think? Will you take the challenge?

Let us know how it goes on the facebook page!

Be Musical!


One thought on “February Theme – All That Jazz

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