Musicians spanning all kinds of genres across the world all have one thing in common: they want to become better at their craft. They want to become better players within their genre, and they want to become more proficient on their instruments. The desire to become the best musicians we possibly can unites us.

Every genre of music has something to teach us, whether it be pop, rock, hip-hop, or classical; and these are just the most prominent styles. There are unique styles of music being played in every corner of the world, all with their own sets of challenges and lessons to be learned.

One style of music I believe all musicians should spend some time studying is jazz. Perhaps it’s just my bias as a jazz musician talking, but indeed, jazz music is a genre that covers many different musical elements.

Jazz can be complex harmonically, rhythmically, and melodically. It’s not the easiest of genres to get good at because it demands a certain level of virtuosity from the instrumentalist.

So if you’re a musician outside of the jazz circle looking in, wondering if it could be worth your time to study some jazz, here are four reasons why it will be well worth it!

1. It will expand your harmonic knowledge.

Jazz standards are rich with harmonic information. It utilizes the full spectrum of diatonic harmony but then also stretches into the non-diatonic realm. If you want to understand how chords and chord progressions are built, then jazz will teach you.

Jazz utilizes lots of chord colors. In jazz repertoire, the default chords are 7th chords, and then extensions and alterations are added on top. These kinds of chords being strung together into chord progressions become incredible lessons in voice leading and how to connect chords together.

If you want to understand the possibilities of harmony and music theory, you should spend some time studying jazz.

2. It will force you to be proficient on your instrument.

Because of the harmonic complexities in jazz, the range of slow to fast tempos, and the language of the music itself, you will have no choice but to become proficient on your instrument.

Jazz doesn’t let you take shortcuts. It’s not a “one scale fits all” kind of music and to play authentic jazz language, you need to be able to navigate your instrument competently. If there are gray areas on your instrument or basic fundamentals you are missing, jazz will let you know what those are.

This is obviously great news for any musician! If you can identify and be forced to practice your weaknesses on your instrument, it will only help you play your style of music better.

I once had a singer songwriter come in for a guitar lesson with me. He just wanted to get a different perspective on things. He had that attitude of wanting to improve and being willing to look into another genre for help.

In that first lesson, I taught him how to play major and minor triads in all inversions and shapes all over the fretboard; the kind of stuff that comes in handy when playing jazz. It rocked his world! He began re-approaching all of his original compositions to add different voice leading by simply subbing out different chord inversions.

Now, you don’t need to study jazz to learn that, but this is one small example of how this kind of training can have you going down different paths you wouldn’t have gone down before.

3. It will improve your ear…big time.

At the core of jazz is improvisation. That’s what this music is all about, and to become a great improviser you need to have a great ear. No amount of theory and chord/scale knowledge will get you to where you want to go without a great ear.

Jazz is traditionally learned by ear. You can learn repertoire and solos from sheet music, but that’s not how jazz has been passed on through the decades. Jazz musicians have always learned repertoire, solos, licks, and phrases by ear. This is an essential part of a jazz training.

Learning the content of jazz standards themselves will build your ear. It’s harmonically and melodically complex, and when you start to adjust your hearing to these sounds, your ears will hear more.

4. It will help you become a better composer.

Having all of this harmonic knowledge and understanding of chords and chord progressions will help you become a better composer. Jazz will constantly feed you with different ideas of how to connect chords in both diatonic and non-diatonic ways.

Jazz standards are also great studies of melody. Want to know how to compose a great melody? Jazz standards have stood the test of time because of the richness of their melodies.

There is so much that jazz has to offer to every kind of musician. You don’t need to aspire to become a great jazz musician to get something out of it.

If you are not already, make it your goal to study some jazz standards and see where it takes you.

30 Days to Better Jazz Playing
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Brent Vaartstra is a professional jazz guitarist and educator living in New York City. He is the head blogger and podcast host for learnjazzstandards.com which he owns and operates. He actively performs around the New York metropolitan area and is the author of the Hal Leonard publications “500 Jazz Licks” and “Visual Improvisation for Jazz Guitar.” To learn more, visit www.brentvaartstra.com.

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