August 2008 Convention
Kansas City, MO

Playing and Teaching the Blues

Classically trained jazz flutist Holly Hofmann shared her insights gained from years of performing and teaching jazz. Her presentation was geared toward those wishing to learn how to teach beginning jazz students. She highly recommended the 12-bar blues form as a starting point, with emphasis on keeping instruction simple; beginners only need to know a few chords (I, IV, V), the blues scale (in all keys), a few simple jazz ornaments like falls, trills, half-step slides, etc., and the form of the 12-bar blues. Hofmann emphasized getting students to listen to jazz, and, if they have a theory background, also encouraging students to transcribe melodies from recordings to develop an ear for the jazz idiom. Hofmann outlined a few performance rules: Every note needs punctuation, very little vibrato is used, very little tongue should be used unless a flutist is playing Latin Jazz, and all notes are longer than we think.

A handout included a blues scale starting on C followed by five melodies from well-known jazz standards. Throughout the presentation, Hofmann performed examples to demonstrate how to incorporate her ideas. One of her strongest recommendations was to tell students to accent everything when playing the blues because jazz is all about the punctuation. She also offered rules for learning how to improvise: Know the melody like the back of your hand, use simple embellishments at first, and keep referring back to the melody as you go to help keep yourself on track.

Overall, this presentation was very helpful to the classical flutist wishing to teach beginning jazz concepts. Hofmann’s emphasis on keeping things simple helped assure the the audience that her ideas could be applied with confidence.

—Tess Miller, DMA