Intentional listening is an essential part of learning music. One of the first forms that we often teach to students when immersing them in jazz music is the 12 bar blues. C Jam Blues is a classic blues head that is simple yet beautiful. It develops uniquely over the 3 unique harmonic phrases, and it is a lot of fun to make music over.

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This live recording by the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra is an excellent recording to use for some intentional listening. The recording is about 3 ½ minutes, so you will need to set aside about 10 minutes to do this, but what is cooler than listening to jazz for homework?

Here are a few steps I would suggest starting with:

  1. Listen once just for enjoyment. Sit back, listen, feel the groove. Don’t think.
  2. Listen again, this time follow along in your music. Finger your part on your instrument while the recording plays during the head (melody section). Melody players, finger the melody the first time, and then feel free to finger a guide tone, harmonized melody or counterpart/background line the second time. Guitar and piano, note that during the melody the piano is essentially just filling in with improvised lines. Once the solos start the piano begins to comp the changes. When the solos begin, try to follow the form and the chords and mentally note each time they change chords and end the form. You should be able to note each time they get to bar one of the 12 bar blues again. Guitar and piano, try to match the rhythm of the piano player on the recording if you can (their comping pattern).
  1. Listen one more time. This time really pay attention to the solos. Notice their melodic shape, the rhythms. See if you can sing some of them. If you really dig what they are playing and you want to challenge yourself, this would be a great time to start transcribing (see here for help with that)!

This is a great way to get started in learning a new genre of music or a new song.

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