This is an extract from a Technique article by Pauline Harding originally published in the October 2016 issue
When played with rhythmic conviction, jazz works. Miles Davis played notes that didn’t always fit harmonically, but he did it with strong rhythm and articulation, and everybody thought that it was the greatest thing ever.
There are two levels of rhythm. In classical music, it is often horizontal and pulsing, moving with the melodic line; in jazz, it is both vertical and grounded for the groove of the rhythm section and horizontal for the melody line.
We need to lay into the beat and add more ‘dig’ to connect the two. This tends to strain string players, since the instrument resonates better when using the pulsing ‘classical’ feel and phrasing.
Ultimately, in jazz our aim is to feel the rhythm inside while playing the horizontal melody with the bow.
I suggest finding a CD that you really love – some Stéphane Grappelli, or even some Miles Davis or Chet Baker – and listen to a track so many times that you can start singing along and extracting phrases.
This will give you an understanding of the fantastic notes and rhythms played by the jazzmasters; it will teach you when to play, how to phrase and where to rest and breathe.
Then you can try to learn those phrases on your instrument. If you play along with Grappelli for a few days, you’ll find that you really start to sound like him – admittedly, on your instrument and with your own abilities, but with the same sweetness.
It’s far harder if you try to learn from a book right away. It’s like asking a baby to learn to speak using a dictionary.
Autumn Leaves, Lullaby of Birdland and Fly Me to the Moon are all good, simple tunes to start with, because they are not harmonically challenging and don’t have extreme key changes. Learn the melody off by heart. Once you have a good understanding of the phrasing, make up your own rhythms to embellish the melody. You can add neighbouring notes and trills too.
Just because you’re working on something creative doesn’t mean that you should play without focus and ‘doodle around’ all the time. Choose an aspect to work on, and think about bowing, for example, and work on it until you feel comfortable. After that, you can start to be creative again.
If you add 20 minutes of jazz playing to your daily practice routine, you can cover a lot of ground. Listening to recordings of players should be done in addition to this. I like to listen to jazz recordings when I’m in the car; if I’m on the train and there aren’t too many people about, sometimes I’ll even get my violin out and start copying what I’ve been listening to straight away. When you start doing these little improvisation exercises it really does make you a better player. It’s basically sightreading by ear, and it makes you more flexible.
This is an extract from an article originally published in the October 2016 issue of The Strad