David Baker's Pedagogical Approach to Bebop Improvisation

April 6, 2009 / By: Jeff S. Levine

The intent of this study is to determine how jazz method books and, in particular David Baker’s method book approached the concepts of teaching jazz improvisation and the development of jazz vocabulary within his How to Play Bebop series.  How do Baker and other method book writers (1) Use and apply bebop scales and patterns to common jazz chords; (2) Use and apply other scales and patterns to jazz chords; (3) Utilize common chord progressions and their relationship to the improvisational process; (4) Use rhythm and rhythmic motives; and (5) Sequence improvisation ideas?

Based on a survey of current college jazz professors, private lesson teachers, and active jazz musicians, four prominent jazz improvisation method books were selected based on their content, focusing on use of scales and their manipulations, applications of scales to melodic patterns, application of scales to common jazz chord progressions, and use of rhythm in conjunction with improvisation.  This investigation is an attempt to show how the various method books develop improvisational skills by use of bebop scales, and their relationship to melodic practice patterns.  This research also demonstrates how melodic patterns were connected to and derived from chord progressions.  Finally, this investigation explains how the method books use rhythm as a jazz improvisational teaching tool, and how they sequence their information.

Results of this study indicate that the various method books have different pedagogical approaches to jazz improvisation.  All the publications presented concepts dealing with chords and scales; each method book listed melodic practice patterns based on an examination of a chord or scale; and only three of the method books focused on rhythm as an important component to an improvised jazz solo.  Within his How to Play Bebop series, David Baker presented the greatest number of melodic practice patterns designed for student acquisition of jazz vocabulary.