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An Honest Review of the Jazz Deck

The Jazz Deck has been quite the craze in jazz education lately.  Brian Switzer, the creator of the Jazz Deck, was kind enough to send me a free deck to do a review of the product.  We also had a nice phone conversation about life, jazz, our businesses, and how to use the Jazz Deck.  I wish Brian the best of luck with continued sales of the Jazz Deck.  It’s been a success already.  The purpose of this review is to help you understand what the Jazz Deck is and help you determine whether it might be something you could benefit from.

My Misconceptions about the Jazz Deck

I must admit that I sort of misunderstood what the Jazz Deck is when I saw one of the promotional videos.  The video, seen below, shows what a student can do with the Jazz Deck.  Brian confirmed for me that the student used the Jazz Deck to create his solo.  Aaron Kranzler is a high school 9th grade saxophonist who sounds pretty mature for his age. Clearly he already has a good command of his instrument, but Aaron created the solo using the concepts of the Jazz Deck.

I was under the impression, upon seeing the video for the first time, that the Jazz Deck gives you sheet music for stock licks or something.  I was expecting the Jazz Deck to contain written licks to adapt to different chord changes.  This isn’t really the case.

 What is the Jazz Deck?

At first glance, the Jazz Deck looks like a set of very hip chord-symbol flashcards.  They are well-designed and they look great!  The flash cards basically help you to identify chord notes in different chord symbols.

However, the Jazz Deck is more than just chord-tone flash cards.  The first four cards in the Deck are very important because they help you understand how to use the deck. The Jazz Deck is only $19.95.  It’s worth it for a beginning or intermediate improvisor struggling to identify and navigate their way through chord changes.

In addition to teaching jazz online through Learn Jazz Standards.com, I am an active jazz educator to middle school, high school, and college-aged students.  I know that many students struggle to quickly identify the notes in different chords and to create stylistically correct solos.  I believe the Jazz Deck can help students to make better note choices in their solos.

Who should buy the Jazz Deck?

It is geared toward beginning and intermediate jazz improvisers, particularly those who do not automatically know the notes in a particular chord or for people who struggle to play chord tones.  For these people, the Jazz Deck could be a BIG help!

Jazz Educators can also use the Jazz Deck to help teach soloing concepts, such as enclosures.  It sort of bypasses chord-scale theory, which I think could be a positive thing for beginning improvisers. Arming a beginner with a scale and no knowledge of chord tones or how to use the scale can sometimes be dangerous!  I think the Jazz Deck can be a nice, practical alternative to teaching full-blown chord-scale theory. It’s very important to be able to use chord tones convincingly, and the Jazz Deck and the formulas it teaches can get an improvisor started off on the right foot.

Who should not buy the Jazz Deck?

The Jazz Deck is not for professional players or people who already have a solid handle on all of the chord tones and extensions for different chord symbols.  That’s a big part of what the Jazz Deck teaches, so if you or your students don’t struggle with your speed and accuracy identifying chord tones and extensions, the Jazz Deck isn’t for you.

Conclusion

No product out there can replace the basics of listening, practicing, and transcribing.  No one should attempt to use these cards without a healthy dose of listening to jazz.  Lots of listening.  That said, I believe this is a great product that will help students to make better note choices in their solos.

You may purchase the Jazz Deck here.  If you buy the deck, don’t skip over familiarizing yourself with the first four cards in the Deck, which will help you know how to use the other cards.  I hope this article may help you decide whether or not the Jazz Deck is right for you.  I think it is a valuable product for beginning and intermediate improvisors struggling to identify and navigate their way through chord changes.

Keep Swingin’,

-Camden Hughes

Camden Hugheshttp://camdenhughes.com/
Camden is a working jazz pianist, multi-instrumentalist, and music educator currently living near Boise, ID. He teaches music at the Idaho Arts Charter School, and is the jazz adjunct professor at Northwest Nazarene University. Check out his music at www.camdenhughesmusic.com.

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