In September 2015 I decided to cut down on my drum teaching and focus more on jazz improvisation workshops. In that time I have taught about 120 workshops (with not a real book in sight, everything is transcribed from original recordings) and now run 2 regular adult classes as well as teach improvisation classes to junior and secondary school pupils at the Jazz School, which we set up at our local music centre at the beginning of 2017, and which won a national award in November 2017. Over all this time and all these sessions I have developed some processes and routines that I found worked well for less experienced improvisors. Children and adults without years of formal musical training or a sound knowledge of harmony and theory, but who never the less enjoy this music enough and are keen and brave enough to give it a go. I needed to break the music down and offer simple concepts and step-by-step directions along a clear pathway that enabled the students to understand the music enough to have the confidence to improvise and the tools to do the job of creating a satisfying solo and not get lost.
One of the methods that I found particularly effective is what I have used as the basis for this first book “How To Learn To Improvise Using Minor Pentatonic Scales”. It follows a simple 4 step process which shows the student how to turn scales in to melodies, which can be used for improvising. Each step is a small step from the last step and the whole process breaks down, what can feel like for some, a huge leap. It bases the improvising on creating melodic phrases (just how jazz musicians originally started) and this allows the students to create solos which have shape, sound musical and keep the form of the piece. I have found this method so simple and effective that I believe most music teachers could also use it to teach their students to improvise, even if they have never improvised before.
I have often found that too much music education focusses on information and not enough of it focusses on process. Students need process. I have always thought that Hal Crook does an excellent job of this and have recommended his books many times. However, I have also found that the contents of his books, whilst excellent for music conservatoire students and a must have for any serious student of jazz, can be overwhelming for less experienced musicians. (I know “Ready, Aim, Improvise” addresses a lot of this, but it is such a weighty tome it puts a lot of them off).
So my aim is to make a series of books, each one focussing on one particular concept or process that can be used for improvising, based on the things that I have found work well in my classes. Each book will provide a thorough and rigorous approach with notated exercises in all 12 keys with audio files embedded in the book to play along with at different tempos. With clear guidance and an easy to follow structure these books can hopefully benefit...
Buster Birch is an award winning jazz educator from London, UK. He has been a professorial member of the jazz faculty at Trinity Laban conservatoire of music for seven years where he taught improvisation, musicianship, jazz repertoire and jazz history classes. He has been a visiting lecturer at The Royal Academy of Music, The Guildhall School of Music & Drama and Middlesex University. He is co-director of the UK’s longest running jazz summer school www.theoriginalukjazzsummerschool.com, a week long residential course hosted at The Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama for singers and all instrumentalists of all ages and experience levels. He runs two regular jazz workshops for adult learners www.saturdayjazzworkshop.co.uk and www.tonbridgejazzworkshop.co.uk. He is the course leader for BYMT Jazz School (www.bymt.co.uk) which runs regular jazz improvisation classes for junior and secondary school students at the Bromley music hub. In 2017 BYMT Jazz School won the prestigious Will Michael Diploma Award for Jazz Education, a national award recognising “outstanding commitment to jazz education” and “acknowledging the work of those field practitioners who are actually delivering jazz education and in many cases helping to combat the widespread jazz phobia among classroom music teachers and instrumental tutors.”
Buster Birch is also a busy freelance jazz drummer who has worked with a great many of the UK’s finest jazz musicians. He has an honours degree in music from the University of London and a post-graduate diploma in jazz performance from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He also studied at the Drummers Collective in New York City and privately with Jim Chapin and Joe Morello (of The Dave Brubeck Quartet). He has performed at virtually every major concert hall and jazz club in London as well as major international festivals and toured in over 30 countries. He has been a member of three “world” music groups (Terza Rima, The Branco Stoysin Trio and Heads South) who he recorded and toured with extensively. He has played for various orchestras including The Royal Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra and The Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra and has deputised on West End shows including the multiple award winning Blood Brothers.
He also created his own critically acclaimed show www.busterplaysbuster.com which features the Buster Birch Jazz Quartet playing live to the screening of different classic Buster Keaton feature-length movies, for which he has arranged and scored over 4hrs of music to sync.
Current bands he can be heard playing with include... The Alison Rayner Quintet (ARQ), The Jo Fooks Quartet, Heads South, The London Jazz Trio, The Sue Rivers Quintet and The Halstead Jazz Club Big Band.
For more information please see www.busterbirch.co.uk