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Beyond the Music: What Jazz Teaches Us

Non-musical life skills, benefits, and educational lessons


Jazz music teaches us many things beyond the sounds. As jazz performers we strive to be better players and advance our art. As jazz teachers we strive to instill in our students all of the techniques and best practices we know to allow them to flourish. And as jazz students we strive to gain as much as we can from the past and present to bring music to the next level in the future. Throughout the study and performance of jazz music we develop focused habits of working, self-discipline, communication skills and fluency of professional vocabulary, teamwork, the ability to accept constructive feedback, and critical listening skills, to mention a few examples.

The life of a contemporary jazz artist, teacher, composer or performer, begins as a student and continues as such throughout her career. Just as every person is unique; every music student is different learning in her own way. In order to grow as an artist, she needs to balance time learning alone with time spent working with other musicians. Once she has acquired high-level skills and knowledge as a musician, the circle begins and she is ready to become a teacher.

As a teacher she is learning from her students and learning for her students – often at the same time. The lessons shared encourage both teacher and student and influence the music being created. Teachers need to understand each student and provide the tools and motivations necessary to guide them to personally discover music.

When a teacher inspires a student to make music in her own way, she becomes a performer who is able to apply lessons learned into her art. She is writing real time compositions with her colleagues during live performances. This means jazz performers create a new story on stage and have the power to move people’s feelings in the moment. To do this, she must be a student of the world – looking for new inspirations, ideas, and ways to improve. Accordingly, she must embrace hard work and the art of practice.

This article is designed to highlight non-musical life skills, benefits, and educational lessons embedded in the study, practice, and performance of jazz music through the lenses of student, teacher, and performer.

Part 1: Solitude

Jazz is individual and personal. It requires time, focus, listening, preparation, repetition, and more – just as athletes or dancers require individual training to perfect their abilities. Individual work leads to rewarding interactions with others.

For the student, performing jazz is a process of self-discovery that requires listening to the music, listening to a teacher, and listening to the sounds she is making on her instrument or with her voice. This critical listening provides a role model for the sounds of jazz music, familiarity with jazz icons and their original contributions to the art form, and self-awareness of individual progress. The ability to listen is personal and varies depending on the seriousness and maturity level of the student. Time spent working alone teaches us self-discipline, determination, motivation, and a sense of pride and accomplishment when improvements are made.

For the teacher, advancing jazz music requires the ability to guide students as a role model, selecting effective repertoire and exercises, and balancing praise with constructive criticism. The preparation requires teachers to select experiences for individual students and tailor lessons to specific needs and abilities. It also requires planning for long- and short-term goals for themselves as teachers and for each student in their studio. Focused time alone getting ready for lessons with students teaches us the value of preparation, professional engagement, and power of selecting repertoire for other artists that simultaneously inspires, challenges, and showcases growing talent.

For the performer, playing jazz requires hours and hours of practice, critical listening, and self-evaluation, as well as artistic curiosity, tireless dedication, and self-motivation to prepare her to be a contributing member of a band or ensemble. The solitary investment allows musicians to develop technique, flexibility, agility, and an artistic voice. In addition, the individual work of the musician allows her to own the information to be able to apply it in performance and demonstrate vocabulary, literacy, and skill.

To illustrate our ideas a bit further, we offer the following examples of non-musical life skills, benefits, and educational lessons embedded in the study and performance of jazz music while working in solitude:

• Ability to Work Independently

• Cognitive Memorization

• Confidence while Developing a Command of the Instrument/Voice

• Critical Listening

• Decision Making

• Dedication

• Establishing a Routine

• Focus

• Follow Through

• Imitation

• Kinesthetic Memory

• Pacing

• Patience

• Perseverance

• Planning

• Pride and Joy

• Reading

• Reflection

• Respect for Other Artists

• Revising

• Self-Awareness and Evaluation

• Self-Management of Goals

• Sense of Accomplishment

• Time Management

• Transcribing

• Value of Repetition

• Work Ethic

• Working through Frustration and/or Self-Doubt

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