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Elements of Jazz








10. each chord symbol (e.g., F-, Eb7, etc.) indicates to all the performers what chords the pianist and/or guitarist is playing (jazz musicians know what notes these symbols represent); each blank measure indicates that the previous chord is still being played (for example, in Song for My Father F- is played for two measures, Eb7 for two measures, Db7 for one measure, C7sus for one measure, etc.); each measure represents the time length of four steady taps of the foot at whatever tempo the band is playing

11. sometimes, not often, the head will be repeated for the second chorus; this is usually up to the players involved

12. generally speaking, the larger the ensemble, the more written notes (melodies, harmony parts, background accompaniment parts, etc.), the less room for improvisation

13. in a big band, guitar is considered part of the rhythm section

V. Form

A. Structure


Most jazz tunes utilize a recurring chord progression that serves as the structure of the tune; the way in which the different sections of the progression are grouped determines the form of the tune. 

B. Musical Blueprint


Form can be considered a tune’s “musical blueprint,” allowing each musician (and educated listener) to keep his/her place in the structure. 

C. Sections


Each different section of a chord progression is assigned a different letter. 



for example: if a tune is 24 measures long and is divided into three eight-measure sections with the first two sections containing a set of identical chords and the last section containing a set of different chords, the form is AAB (see Song for My Father10) musical form 



for example: if a tune is 32 measures long and is divided into four eight-measure sections with the first two sections containing a set of identical chords, the third section a different set of chords, and the last section the same as the first, the form is AABA (see Take the A Train)
musical form 

D. Chorus


In a jazz performance, the form of a tune, i.e., all the chords of the tune in a predetermined sequence (such as AAB, AABA, ABAC, etc.), will be repeated over and over; each time through is called a chorus

E. Common Sequence


For each chorus, something different happens. The most common sequence is: 



first chorus: the melody instruments (e.g., the horns) play the head, that is, the composed melody of the song11 



middle choruses (undetermined number): each musician in turn improvises a solo using the form as his/her guide, knowing the chord progression of each section (the chords provide the impetus for what notes can be played by the improviser); each soloist can improvise for as many choruses as he/she desires 



last chorus: the head again (called the "out" head as the musicians are taking the tune “out,” that is, ending the tune) 

F. Before and After


Often before the first chorus (the head), there is an introduction, AKA an "intro;" often after the last chorus (the out head), there is an ending, AKA an "outro." 

G. Common Forms


The most common forms found in jazz include AABA, ABAC, 16-Bar Tune, and 12-Bar Blues (see Common Forms sheet and the Uncommon Forms sheet). 

H. Arrangement


Who does what during each chorus is called the arrangement



Arrangements can be determined prior to the performance and are often written. Generally speaking, the larger the ensemble, the more need to have written arrangements.12 Arrangements are written and published for jazz bands of all sizes and levels from elementary school to professional. Most are written for the standard “big band” instrumentation of five saxes, four trumpets, four trombones, and four “rhythm,” i.e., piano, bass, guitar,13 and drums (incidentally, most high school jazz bands utilize this instrumentation). More to come on big band music in lesson #4 when discussing the swing era. 



Besides arrangements that are written, simple arrangements can be determined by a brief “talk over” prior to a performance or even on the spur of the moment (this is called a head arrangement). This usually occurs in the small group (quintet or smaller) setting. When occurring at an informal jam session, who does what when is directed by common practice, intuition, and visual cues (e.g., head nods, looks, etc.). 

I. Song for My Father



See the arrangement  (see and hear an animated Song for My Father arrangement sheet). 



watch video Video of Horace Silver performing "Song for My Father" 

the Herbie Hancock institute of jazz
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