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2 minutes reading time (308 words)

Understanding the jazz language

If you are interested in becoming an orchestrator, there is no better teacher than the music itself. Find an orchestral score and recording of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker: listen, read, and learn! In so doing, you are making a connection between the written page and how it translates into sound.

If you want to become a better jazz musician, a similar approach is also valuable. Playing and analyzing arrangements is a big part of building your skills. In that spirit, I have written a Jazz setting of "Frere Jacques" for you. I hope that, in playing and analyzing this arrangement, you will broaden your understanding of the jazz language. Here are a few points of interest about the piece:

1. The introduction makes use of the melodic motif found in the fifth measure of the original tune. This introductory motif then becomes important material for the transition and key change in measures 13-16.

2. The first four bars of the melody (measures 5-8) use a harmonic device called pedal point. In pedal point, the harmony moves over a static bass (in this case, "e"). Pedal point is found in many types of music, from baroque to rock, and it serves many a jazz musician well.

3. Note the descending alto line in measures 9-12. An inner chromatic part such as this provides "glue" to jazz progressions, creating stability as other parts move around it.

4. The harmonic progression in measures 17-18 (I-vi-ii-V) is a pop "cliche" and can be found in countless songs.

5. Pedal point appears again in measures 21-22.

6. Measures 28-36 feature a minor key variation. Swing the eighth note and keep the articulations crisp. The descending bass line in measures 32-33 imitates a jazz "walking bass." '"

Happy playing!

The music for Frere Jacques appears on page 30. 

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Piano Magazine is the leading resource for pianists, piano teachers, and piano enthusiasts. We bring you informative, interesting, and inspiring ideas on all aspects of piano teaching, learning, and performing. The official name of Clavier Companion magazine was changed to Piano Magazine in 2019.

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