At the Nashville Jazz Workshop, we’re very privileged to have so many fantastic instructors. Whether you’re a vocalist or instrumentalist, we’d love to have you as a student in our classes. Of course, we know that’s not possible for all of you, so here are some tips for you, advice I give to both vocal and instrumental students.
1. Always learn the melody first!
2. Know the key center(s) and the form of the tune. Is it an AABA, ABAC, AAB song form? It’s always a little easier when you know the first 8 or 16 bars of a tune, because most likely, it will be played at least one other time, if not twice! For example: An AABA form has three A sections, most likely with same chord changes, with a slight change into the bridge. That means once you learn the A sections, you know 75% of the tune.
3. For vocalists: learn the lyric and its meaning. Journal about the tune, and find a place for it in your heart. For instrumentalists: learn the lyric too! You have to know what you’re playing about.
4. Know the harmonic structure of the song. Find out where all the ii-V patterns are and their key centers. Make sure you know where the extensions are and whether they are used in the melodies.
5. LISTEN! Vocalists should listen to instrumentalists. Instrumentalists should listen to vocalists. Ella Fitzgerald learned to sing, because she got to sing in front of a big band every night. She sounded like a horn player . . . no doubt. You can tell that saxophonists Houston Person or Stan Getz listened to tons of vocalists by the way they phrased. When you know the lyric, you automatically start phrasing the music better. Speak the lyric as if it were a poem.
So whether you’re planning to perform or learning a song for your own pleasure, these five tips will support your efforts, and, hopefully, make the process a lot more fun.