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Learning the Basics of Music Theory

Studying jazz theory can instill a deeper understanding and appreciation for its rich musical heritage. While the task may seem overwhelming at first to a novice music student, learning jazz theory doesn't have to be as difficult.

What is the best way for a jazz fan to learn more about the basics of music theory? "I'm a big fan of learning music by ear, so I'd say for a student to work on imitating a song and solo exactly as it was played will be very helpful. That way, he/she is able to pick up on theory in a melodic context and improvisation as it relates to music on the whole, not just the specifics of what notes to play on a C7 chord," said jazz trombonist and educator Delfeayo Marsalis.

Listening is an important component of learning. It allows you to gain a familiarity with the artist and the music. "Recordings are the best source for phrasing, group interaction, solos, style, and just overall essential for learning. Jazz is like a language - just learning it from a book would make you sound awkward and silly, the aural component gives you the communication skills and right phrasing," said jazz pianist Dr. Monika Herzig.

If you are new to jazz, it can be difficult knowing where to start your listening homework. "All composers of the Great American Songbook are fabulous sources. Irving Berlin's songs are especially approachable since he composed everything in C with one finger," said Dr. Herzig.

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