Perspectives on teaching jazz piano "comping" in the college music program with sample instructional units

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Roothaan, John P. E. (John Philip Edward)
Buttram, Joe B.
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Thesis (D.A.)
School of Music
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The purpose of this study was to design and develop instructional units for teaching jazz piano comping to collegiate music students possessing basic piano skills but limited experience in jazz performance. In establishing bases and rationale for the instructional units, a number of issues were considered. These issues were (1) the need for teaching jazz piano comping, (2) a definition and explanation of the musical elements and characteristics of jazz and jazz comping, (3) an understanding of the African and European transmission traditions and musical characteristics that contributed to the development of jazz, (4) a review of literature relating to jazz piano comping, including jazz, music teaching and learning, and learning theory literature, and (5) a review of jazz piano comping practice from the swing era to the present, as reflected in the work of selected central jazz pianists. The twenty-four instructional units present basic harmonic and rhythmic materials of jazz piano comping. Harmonic materials include seven basic chord structures, harmonic extensions and alterations, upper-structure triads, II-V-I cadences, tritone substitution, chord successions, and typical chord progressions. Rhythmic materials include typical jazz rhythms. Each instructional unit is comprised of (A) presentation of a theoretical concept, (B) exercises for learning the particular concept, (C) a chord progression containing the particular concept, (D) a list of recorded examples of the chord progression for examination, and (E) suggested song titles for realization by the student. The instructional units are organized into four chapters of six units each. Instructional Units I through VI focus on individual voicings, organized into cycles of descending fifths. Units VII through XII focus on the II-V-I cadence and tritone substitution. Units XIII through XVIII focus on short chord successions. Units XIX through XXIV serves as a "summing up" of material presented in the first eighteen units. Overall, this work is designed to guide the student to technical proficiency, theoretical understanding, idiomatic fluency, and a creative approach to jazz piano comping.