Being plunged into the depths of Jazz solos

Grace Buttler

Grace Buttler

In your third year at Trinity Laban, you can choose two classes to go towards your end of year mark. I decided to do arranging as one and jazz as the other. I knew nothing about jazz and took it because I liked the sound and wanted to know more. Although I find the lessons very hard, I feel like I’ve learnt a lot about how jazz pieces are structured in terms of chords. This has also helped with my Arranging course.

One of the jazz assessments was to choose a solo and then transcribe and play it from memory. I chose ‘Tiny’s Tempo’ by Charlie Parker and I used the 3rd take. I like this solo because it is upbeat and the saxophone improvisation wasn’t too unrealistic to play on the violin. We were instructed to learn the head (the unison tune at the start) and then the solo so you had approximately 3 choruses (all 12 bars long).

To aid with the transcription I used a computer program called ‘Transcribe!’ which allows you to slow down the track to hear all the notes more clearly (without altering the pitch). I started by writing out a rough version and then re-wrote it, to make the rhythms more accurate. Then I had to learn it from memory. Memorising isn’t really my strong point, so this was the most challenging task for me.

I started by taking small sections and playing them slowly along with the recording, repeating over and over. Gradually I made the sections longer and sped them up. By the end I could play it up to speed and without any music. This was a huge achievement for me, as I managed to memorise the piece in only a week and it wasn’t a standard piece of violin music, making it more awkward to play (as saxophones don’t have to deal with string crossings, position changes, a fixed low G…).

I think the assessment went alright. Nerves got the better of me at first, and I ‘fell off’ the recording, but the second time through I got it. After doing this I’m more comfortable with memorising and I’ve been practicing small memory exercises. If you ever have trouble memorising I’d recommend doing this. Like anything, memory improves with practice so if you aim to learn a few bits from memory (script, poetry, revision, music etc…) every week, you’ll gradually build up the skill to do it quickly and efficiently.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the above track and this blog. Hopefully if you need to memorise anything, the above technique might work for you too.

Grace Buttler

BMus 3 Violin

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