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          the B
                        How To Teach
                   Classical Piano Students
                  To Play With A Jazz Band
                                     By Rhonda Ringering, NCTM

                                               n an ideal teaching situation,    swinging or improvisation. And while
                                                future jazz band pianists        seeing a prize pupil enter the studio
    Rhonda                                      would listen to jazz from the    with a stack of jazz band charts in
 Ringering, NCTM,                               cradle on. They would begin      hand may strike fear in many classical
 received a B.A.                                improvising and playing by       instructors, jazz band playing should
 degree from Walla                               ear while they also studied     be encouraged, as it will only improve
 Walla College and                      classical repertoire, theory and tech-   the students’ theory, ear training,
 an M.M. degree                      nique. In reality, most pre-college jazz    rhythmic, ensemble and improvising
 from Boston                         band pianists are intermediate to           skills.
 University. She is                  advanced classical students who have           As the student enters this new world
 an adjunct piano instructor at      had little or no introduction to jazz or    of jazz, the instructor’s job is to teach
 Linfield College and Pacific        improvisation. They join the band           skills in a way that ensures some level
 University. Her work has appeared   with technique “to burn” but with no        of immediate success and to encourage
 in several magazines.               understanding of basic jazz structures      the student to further exploration and
                                     or chords, chart reading, comping,          study. Understanding jazz theory and
22                                                                                                           APRIL/MAY 2009
style is essential to becoming a compe-     realize just how little the piano plays in   around or above middle C and have
tent jazz player and is a process that      most charts.                                 the left hand play the third and the
can take years of study and practice.                                                    seventh, and the right hand play the
However, there are some skills that         The Role of the Jazz Band Pianist            fifth and a “color” note (9th, 11th and
contribute to more immediate success           Classical piano students are used to      so forth). Drop the root; the bass will
for the jazz band pianist who has no        being soloists or perhaps performing         play that note. Through time and
background in jazz and has just a short     with one other player. Most have no          practice, the student eventually learns
amount of time to learn enough to           understanding of how the piano com-          to recognize and execute chords with-
begin playing charts: listening, under-     plements the jazz band texture and will      out the instructor’s assistance.
standing the pianist’s role in the band,    have a tendency to play too many                In his article, “Starting a Jazz
rhythm, comping and soloing.                notes. Jeff Jarvis writes, “The pianist’s    Combo at a Small High School,” Kent
                                            role is to support the ensemble by           Murdick writes, “Don’t start by teach- 6
Listening                                   emphasizing chord changes and punc-
                                                                                         ing them theory; get them playing.”
   Teaching a pianist to play jazz          tuating rhythms.” Kurt Ellenberger, in       This is particularly good advice for
should begin by teaching the ears to        his article “From Chart to Reality:
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