Even a 12 year-old can play Jazz


I’ve heard people say something to the effect that “jazz doesn’t lie well on the violin”, and was always skeptical. Having started playing jazz when I was about 20, it wasn’t an easy thing for me to master a new language and skill set, and I’ve watched many of my students at Berklee struggle with it, frustrated that it doesn’t come more quickly. I always believed it was a matter of the “culture of education”. For example, guitarists have a certain way of teaching and learning that perpetuates itself. Improvisation is popular. So is understanding the construction of the music, the way the different parts of songs go together like bass lines, inner voices, grooves…. Bassists and drummers have their “culture” of learning and teaching as well. Jazz pianists probably have the highest bar. since they’re expected to internalize so many different combinations of voice-led chord changes, all while executing bass, inner voices, and melody or solo, sometimes unaccompanied. But I guess horn players are expected to play sheets of sound in twelve keys so it’s hard to compare.
The point is, the violin is just as suitable for any kind of music as any other instrument, obviously, and the ONLY reason violin players can’t swing or improvise is because they weren’t encouraged to do these things by their teachers. Give a young student the opportunity to improvise and he or she will do so naturally, from the very beginning.


Camille Howes performing at the 2009 Creative Strings Workshop


As the Suzuki method has proven so well, by starting early, it really makes all the difference, since kids have a heightened ability to pick up language, whether verbal or musical. Malcolm Gladwell’s recently published book, “Outliers”, also makes the point very persuasively that most or all of the people we view as being exceptional at something benefited from early exposure to their particular pursuit. One could think of this in the same way as accruing financial equity- those that start their 401 k’s in their twenties far exceed the growth of others beginning in their thirties.

Even a 12 year-old can play Jazz 3

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