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Piano Nanny - Free Piano Lessons
Advanced Studies

Lesson 3 - Section 1


In Jazz, the performance of a song is ever changing and unique. The uniqueness is born out of the creative endeavors brought to the performance of a song by it’s individual players. Each person brings a special interpretation of rhythm, harmony, form, melody, and style to the performance. We will be discussing some of the individual roles for these creative endeavors in later lessons.  

The hallmark or cornerstone of Jazz is the Solo. A solo occurs during the performance of a song. The solo is based on the chords (the changes) used by the composer to construct the song. 

If you were to remove the melody line from any song, you would be left with the chord changes and you would also be left with the form of the song. It is the form of the song and it’s chord changes that a soloist uses to improvise a solo in place of the melody line.

Make sense?

Let’s say this one more time . . .

It is the form of the song and it’s chord changes that a soloist uses to improvise a solo in place of the melody line.

The Form of a Song – Part I

To learn about soloing, we need to first learn more about the construction of a song. As already mentioned, the construction of a song is called it’s form. The form of a song is divided into groups of measures. These groups are commonly made up of 8, 12, 16, or 32 bar passages or phrases. Over time and practice, you will be able to sense the passage of 8 and 12 bar phrases very easily. The form of a song will have a certain feel that you will recognize, especially a 12 bar blues.

Making use of you mind’s ear and your intuition (to sense what’s next) will become your most valuable tools in the performance of Jazz.

In Jazz, the first part and main melody line of a song is called the Head. A song is said to be played from the “top” down. The beginning of the song is the top. So when you here the conductor or band leader say, “Let’s take it from the top . . .” you will know what they are referring to.

The middle section of a song is refered to as the Bridge. The Bridge generally bridges two sections of a song.

A common form used to write a song is: Head-Bridge-Head

As we look at this form we can see that the Bridge bridges the first time the Head is played to the last time the Head is played.

When you listen to different songs being played, listen for the beginning part of a song (the first portion of main melody line or the Head). Try to pick out the middle part of the song (the Bridge). Then, listen for the ending part of the song which will be similar to the beginning part of the song (the Head played a second time).

Head (beginning) – Bridge (middle) – Head (ending)

This is one common form, however, there are many others.

Though we will not be using these terms in these lessons, in choir music and sheet music, the Head of a song is often labeled as a Verse. And, the Bridge of a song is often labeled as a Chorus.

Lesson 3 - Section 2

Feeling the Form of a Song

In order to become accustomed to the form of a song, it is important to practice counting measures in groups of 8 bars (or 12 bars for the blues). It should eventually become second nature for you to be able to intuitively know and “feel” when 8 bars have passed in a song (or 12 bars in a blues).  

Your assignment over the next few days will be to listen to songs and count their measures.

Here is the counting method I want you to use and learn. Beginning with the first full measure you hear, count out loud using the following format:

1, 2, 3, 4
2, 2, 3, 4
3, 2, 3, 4
4, 2, 3, 4
5, 2, 3, 4
6, 2, 3, 4
7, 2, 3, 4
8, 2, 3, 4

When you get to 8, 2, 3, 4 . . . then start over and count the next 8 bars. Continue doing this for the whole song. Accentuate the first number when you count . . . the one shown in bold . . . to help you keep track of the first beat of each measure.

Remember to just count in groups of eight bars at a time. The goal is to teach your body and brain what eight bar phrases “feel” like when they pass by in a song.

Here is an example of me counting 8-bar phrases for “History Lesson” by Dave Grusin from the “Happy Anniversary, Charlie Brown” album:

If possible, practice with songs that are instrumental only. YouTube has many Jazz instrumental-only songs online. Count as many songs as you can.

In addition to counting 8-bar phrases, spend some time with each song trying to identify the Bridge of each song.

That is it for this lesson, good job. Is it bear hug time again? I think so.

Give yourself a big bear hug for a job well done. You are on your way to becoming a Jazz musician. Totally cool!

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