What makes Jazz unique?

Compared to “Classical” Music in the Western European tradition, here are a few ways in which jazz differs:

  1. There is an element of improvisation in most musical elements, including harmonization, chord voicings, melodic lines, ornamentation, rhythmic patterns, introductions, and endings.
  1. Swing time is a standard practice, rather than even divisions of the beat.
  1. Harmonic structures are extended upward beyond the triad to include 7ths, 9ths, 11ths and 13ths in most cases. Dominant chords typically contain chromatic alterations.
  1. Chords may be freely associated in any direction, however traditional progressions such as the downward 5th movement, are used extensively. The secondary “ii – V” chord sequence is common.
  1. Jazz is based in communal, aural tradition. The ability to play by ear extemporaneously with others and respond to their ideas is a core principle.
  1. The roots of Jazz can be traced to the music of African American people in and around New Orleans, Louisiana at the beginning of the 20th century. The music is infused with their unique perspectives and experiences, and multicultural influences as it evolved.


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For the Student

Overview of Jazz Styles

For the Instructor

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