The Jazz Count Off

Counting off a tempo to a jazz band is one of the most important things a director needs to do.  The whole tone and style of the music is dictated by the way the director kicks off the chart, yet it’s something that easily gets neglected.  Here are some pointers to help even non-jazzers figure out how to get a good count off.

First, insist that your band take your tempo.  It’s common for younger (and even more experienced) groups to immediately settle into a different tempo almost right from the get go.  Obviously you can’t stop during a performance and restart (or rather, you probably shouldn’t unless the band crashes and burns), but you do have this option in rehearsals.  Get your band to understand from the beginning that your tempo is the only tempo they’re allowed to use.

When I kick off a chart, the time starts before I even begin counting by snapping my fingers or clapping my hands to establish the tempo.  Get your students to focus in whenever the tempo starts.  Once I’m snapping my fingers I tend to wait until I have everyone’s attention before I start the count off to ensure that they are already keyed into the groove.

How you snap or clap depends on the style of the groove you’re kicking off.  Continue reading The Jazz Count Off

Matt Otto Music Blog

Matt Otto is a saxophonist currently based in Kansas City, but who has spent time in Japan, New York, and Los Angeles.  He also has a blog with some really nice online lessons dealing with different aspects of playing jazz.  Here is his latest, where he discusses a phrase from J.S. Bach’s Two-Part Invention #15 and learning to play it in all 12 keys.

Matt talks about not just learning the keys and intervalic relationships, but also emphasizes singing and ear training.  Be sure to go to his page on this lesson to download the pdf file of the Bach melody he’s working with.

Now to get my metronome out and start practicing in all 12 keys…