Jazz Theory for Community Singers
Houston, Glennis Colleen
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I developed a six-week curriculum for teaching jazz theory, including harmony and aural skills, to community singers. Research on readily available teaching materials revealed that many books include piano instruction that fairly quickly progresses to advanced skills, and material devoted to theoretic instruction assumes previous exposure to theory rudiments. Academic research focused on creating theory sessions for singers in the community is sparse, and dissertations and theses that address vocal improvisation and jazz theory education largely focus on students in academia. Theory classes, also difficult to locate in Calgary, AB, focus on material beyond community singers breadth of understanding. Community singers with whom I spoke prefer to learn in one-on-one lessons or in classes offered over only a few weeks; their work and family schedules make it difficult for them to commit the time necessary to learn and absorb the complex subject of jazz theory in self-study sessions. I designed this six-week course to fulfill the following objectives: 1. Offer the vocalists basic jazz theory education grounded in aural skills, rather than written theory; 2. Clarify concepts and terminology common in the jazz idiom; 3. Provide examples on how they can immediately use this training in their practice and performances; and, 4. Introduce the concepts of intervals, triads, sevenths, common chord progressions, forms, and chart analysis in a vocalist-friendly manner rather than from an instrumentalists viewpoint. I taught the course in a series of six casual pop-up sessions, much like a house concert. We alternated venues weekly amongst participants homes and the students sat comfortably around the piano. I encouraged them to ask questions as they occurred, and we ended each session with a discussion about how they might incorporate the ideas into their practice sessions and performances. It was challenging to create a course that was brief enough to encourage their participation without an onerous time-commitment, difficult enough to speak to their adult intellects and emotions, and broad-based enough to include the pertinent aspects of jazz in order to provide a solid foundation.