Chinese Proverb

"Tell me and I'll forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I'll understand." - Chinese Proverb.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Lesson #31 (Jazz #1 11/13/11): Intro to Jazz

I had my first jazz instruction in cello a few days ago, and it was a lot of music theory, scales and arpeggios. Which was what I expected so I practiced even more on my scales before this lesson.

I highly recommend Wendy Bissinger's Sequenced Scale Studies for the Cello. The workbook provides areas where I have to write in notes and fingerings which is helping me maneuver and learn the fingerboard more thoroughly. I didn't realize how poorly I knew the fingerboard until I had to write it out on paper or search out specific notes.

  • Example: I could easily play my assigned scales, but as soon as I had to find all the F's or E flats in first position, etc., I was stumped and it took me awhile to go through and find them all!

I took this lesson from a different cello teacher, Clayton.
Jazz was out of Adam's area of expertise, so I asked another graduate student (which my co-worker's cello teacher had also recommended) because he had studied jazz and played the double bass, but is now playing the cello. He's also pursing his doctorate degree in music performance with cello. I have to say I was really impressed with him, he came well prepared to our first lesson and he was super nice and knowledgeable!

We're using Jamey Aebersold's Jazz Handbook and went through the three most commonly used scales: the Ionian Scale (a.k.a. your normal Major scale), the Dorian Scale and the Mixolydian Scale along with their corresponding arpeggios.

Major Scales (Ionian - denoted by a triangle)
  • We went over C, G. D, A, F & B flat Ionian scales
    • I already knew C, G and D, but started learning F and B flat before the lesson to try and get as many scales under my belt 
  • Extensions
    • Clayton also taught me how to do forward and backward extensions since I hadn't learned how to do that yet
  • Technique: finger slant
    • We went over how my fingers should be more slanted. I guess, my hand position was fine for the most part, but as soon as I started doing extensions I lost the slant in my fingers which was making it more difficult do forward and back extensions
    • He said I could either think of it as my hand facing the floor or my fingers going down a flight of stairs down the fretboard
    • Experiment: 
      • Put hands on a table or flat surface and spread my fingers as wide as possible. Notice how limited my fingers are able to spread. 
      • Now, tilt it and open my fingers up like a fan instead. 
        • Having the fingers slanted provides an easier, more comfortable and longer reach. 

Major Arpeggios
  • We then went over arpeggios, I only knew the arpeggio for D, so I had a lot to practice this week! Although I haven't memorized them all yet. :(
    • C (C,E,G): 0,3,0,4,1,4,2
    • G (G,B,D): 0,3,0,4
    • D (D, F#,A): 0,3,0,4
    • F(F,A,C): 4,1,4,2
    • B Flat (B flat,D,F): 2,0,2,x1

Dorian Scales (denoted by the key and then a -7)
  • Minor 7th chord
  • Starts on the 2nd note of the Major Key - I kept doing this wrong because I always forget to count the root key (or first note played as #1)
  • The 3rd and 7th notes are flattened
Dorian Arpeggios
  • C (C,Eflat,G): 0,2,0,4,x1,4,2
  • G (G,Bflat,D): 0,2,0,4
  • D (D,F,A): 0,2,0,4
  • A (A,C,E): 1,4,1,0
  • E (E,G,B): 1,4,1

Mixolydian Scales (denoted by the key then 7)
  • Starts on the 5th note of the major key
  • The 7th note is flattened
Mixolydian Arpeggio
  • Clayton only gave me the fingering for the key of A and said I should be able to figure out the rest
    • They're the same as the Ionian Major scales! 
  • A (A,C#,E): 1,x4,1

My Assignment: 
  • Pick 1 Major Key per session and practice: Scale + Arpeggio for Major, Dorian and Mixolydian 
  • Extension practice fingering: 2, 1; 2, x1; then repeat 
  • Start improvising! Take 2-3 minutes with each scale and just mess around  
    • Harder than it seems!! 

Next week we'll be working on rhythm... uh-oh... I'm REALLY bad at that!

Circle of Fifths:
I found going over the Circle of Fifths to be helpful as well. I'm going to try and memorize this. So far, it seems to be fairly easy since the cello is tuned in Fifths - it starts with the same notes as the cello strings: C, G, D, A => so I just have to memorize the remaining E, B, F#, C# and then go backwards!

...then there's memorizing how many sharps and flats are in each key, but I already know C, G and D so I have 12 keys to go! I have my work cut out for me! Lol! :)

Thoughts on Improvisation/Jazz:
IMHO - I think one should strive for the highest form of expression (whether it be in music or dance); and to me, being able to improvise is the highest form of expression.

It's like in Lindy Hop or Blues dancing, once I got the technique down (i.e. technique was internalized so it became secondary, and expression became the primary focus), I was able to improvise within my partner's lead and within the music. Hopefully, I will be able to get to that level where I am able to do that with my cello playing...

I think Jazz is a great avenue to understand and learn about music theory and use expression to the fullest capacity! I'm not sure why Jazz hasn't really taken off with regards to playing the cello (maybe because it can be difficult, or its the genre, or its uncommon, or not a lot of cello teachers teach jazz), but I think it's a great learning tool!

I still very much want to explore and learn "classical" music and have a list of pieces that I want to be able to play. But there is something to be said about being able to improvise. All the great composers, (e.g. Bach, Mozart, Handel, Schubert, Chopin, etc) were known to be the best improvisers of their time.

Even if one isn't particularly fond of Jazz music (which I don't like a lot of jazz music - probably because I don't have a very good understanding of it), I think Jazz can enhance our interpretation, expression and how we hear music in general... I don't know, just a thought...we'll see if my opinion changes as I progress through these studies.


  1. wow another big step in your journey of cello playing i see :)

    Don't know much about jazz (i've nvr had the chance to love it i guess) but do agreed on jazz as a good tool to enhance our intepretation.

    My teacher isnt adept of teaching jazz himself but i am quite fortunate my guitar playing bro taught me 1 or 2 things about improvising earlier on when i havent even started on cello. So last week when i was learning Air on G string and got totally immersed, i pulled something 'swingy' during the long notes (where it was just supposed to be a simple vibrato at most). Both my teacher and I lol'ed the hell out of it cuz both of us nvr expected that(especially when it was a duet!) My teacher did praise my 'accidental' effort, though i suspect he tried to make it less embarrassing for me :P

    I dunno if in jazz they use the term 'contrapuntalism' but when my bro and i jam he'll always tell me to make it more contrapuntal during the improvise - that i barely understand despite so many Bach music i've made myself accustomed to..

    anyway, good luck with jazz :)

  2. LOL!!! That's totally hilarious!!! :D.
    I can completely relate - I've done some embarrassingly silly accidental bowing / fingering combos that I just couldn't help but laugh! And I'm finding more and more of this as I start to "improvise!"'s sooo absolutely dreadful I have to laugh.... ;).

    ..yeah, I prefer "Alternative" Rock, or Blues, or Swing more, and I'm still learning to like Jazz... my thinking though is if I learn Jazz, I'll learn to improvise, learn more in-depth music theory, and know the cello fingerboard and scales up, down, left, right and sideways! :).
    And I'll learn how to play pizzicato so it sounds more like a bass for backup! The cello is awesomely versatile!! LOVE IT!!
    AND from what I've read, learning to improvise will help me recognize notes so I can recreate a song and play it by ear! Something you can do fairly easily, maybe because you get to jam with your brother! =p

    ..hhhmmm... I think Jazz does use contrapuntalism...I think it means to do a contrasting melody so that it stands out and is different from what the rest is doing. Using more of a distinct and OBVIOUSLY different line so it doesn't blend with the backup?

    You're playing Air?! Such a beautiful piece, that's on my To-Do list!! ...jealous...lucky you! I'm on Long, Long Ago... yaay... =p