''The discovery of improvisation through the practice of Jazz has been the most engaging and rewarding experience of my musical life.''
Jazz Guitar Lessons
''The RGT@LCM has now introduced four Jazz Guitar Performance Diplomas. (DipLCM, ALCM, LLCM and the FLCM.) These offer advanced players professional qualifications and are a welcome addition to the range of qualifications available.''
The guitar was first used in Jazz as an acoustic rhythm instrument, replacing the banjo during the 1920's. The invention of the electric guitar, championed by Charlie Christian allowed it to compete on equal terms with 'front line' instruments such as the saxophone and trumpet affording it a new status in the evolving Jazz ensemble. Each successive generation of players has developed new possibilities for the instrument. The term 'Jazz guitar' today covers a huge spectrum of different techniques, styles and musical philosophies. Guitarists like Russell Malone focus on styles of Jazz that were perfected in the 1940's and 50's. Bill Frisell and Pat Metheney incorporate all of the technological and musical innovations of their own post 60's generation. Guitarists like Ralph Towner and Egberto Gismonti have brought a new acoustic perspective, introducing elements from contemporary classical composition and world music.
The complexity and variety of approaches to improvisation present special problems to the teacher. Basic skills such as reading, scales, arpeggios, chords and theory can be taught in the traditional way and become the main focus for beginners. Many people come to Jazz after acquiring some experience in other types of music. Such people often need to fill in any gaps in the basics mentioned above before moving on to the development of improvisational skills and to familiarise themselves with the playing styles of major figures in the instruments history and acquire overview and appreciation of Jazz as a whole.
I place great importance on intermediate students learning and playing Jazz standards. This is a tried and tested way to instil many of the core improvisational skills including listening, group interaction, phrasing, awareness of form and harmonic function. It also gives us a body of material which can act as a template for our own musical evolution I am also a firm believer in the value of transcribing and memorising sections of recordings of the music of great players and have developed useful strategies to help students with this.
Unfortunately there are no really satisfactory grade one to eight exams available for Jazz guitarists. The London College of Music offer their Electric Guitar syllabus which has some relevance to Jazz players-especially in the higher grades and the Trinity Guildhall Plectrum guitar exams are again useful but limited in their relevance to contemporary improvising musicians.
Advanced students are faced with the ultimate objective of discovering their own musical voice. This is the point when craft has the potential to transform itself into art. It is beneficial for students at this level to become mentors for less experienced colleagues and to seize every opportunity to play and perform with other more experienced musicians.