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How Do I Become a Jazz Musician?

Jazz singers should get used to working with a wide range of microphones.
Saxophones are a popular jazz instrument.
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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 19 October 2014
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Aspiring to become a jazz musician is a dream for many music enthusiasts. In order to make that dream become a reality, dedication, objective self-assessment, and talent are all necessary components. Though there is no one way to become a jazz musician, any person seriously considering a career as a professional teacher or performer must be willing to put in years of training and concerted effort.

The road to become a jazz musician begins with the choice of an instrument. Traditional jazz instruments include piano, drums, saxophone, trumpet, and flute, as well as vocalists. Nearly any instrument, however, can also be tailored to suit jazz music, from cellos to trombones. Some musicians choose to specialize in one instrument only, while others may learn to master several over time. Those who wish to become jazz music teachers may need to learn at least one instrument in every major category: percussion, brass, woodwinds, and strings.

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After choosing an initial instrument, it is important to undergo training in jazz performance and composition. Jazz training is often significantly different than classical training, and may stress skills such as harmony, improvisation, and rhythm. In addition to taking music classes and learning to read music, a jazz education can be greatly enhanced by listening to live and recorded jazz, participating in bands or jazz choirs, and reading about the history of the genre. The time to master an instrument may vary between individuals, but many jazz musicians stress that a true musician never stops learning.

One important step needed to become a jazz musician is competent, objective assessment. Many musicians make recordings of their practice sessions in order to review their performance and figure out where more work is needed. It may also be helpful to have a private instructor who can point out specific problems and suggest possible solutions or methods of improvement. Willingness to listen to constructive criticism and apply solutions can be crucial to mastery of a instrument.

Though new jazz music is constantly being composed, the form also relies heavily on a historic repertoire of songs called “standards.” In order to become a jazz musician, it is important to work on memorizing as many jazz standards as possible, so that nearly any request for a specific song can be met. Music stores often carry large songbooks of jazz standards, many in shortened versions that contain the basic chords and lyrics to ease the memorization process.

While it is certainly possible to become a jazz musician simply for pleasure, many people hope to turn a talent for the style into a career. Finding a job as a jazz musician is generally easier in cities that have many music clubs and a strong culture of music performance; though even rural areas often have occasional gigs available. It is also possible to start a jazz career by recording at home and releasing music through online forums, using social networking to get the word out about a new album.

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