In a typical lesson, you learn and build on many skills.
These skills include:
- Playing from chords
- Reading music sheets
- And so much more!
These are all effective jazz techniques and methods that give you freedom whilst sounding authentic.
Everything you play will teach you a new skill, not just another piece of music. You could probably read a new piece on your own if you've had lessons before, and, besides, notes on the page alone will not teach you to play jazz. The key is getting the balance between musical literacy and musical understanding. You will learn all of the important ingredients and skills used by musicians, which are not on the page, as well as those which are clearly on the page. You will find that once you achieve a basic understanding, you will gain a musical independence that allows you to use your new skills to learn new music well.
This approach will teach you the language and foundations (which there is no getting away from in any style), and then you will learn how that relates to what you hear musicians do. You will play as you learn and learn from what you play! Shan believes that the teacher and student should play music together. In complete contrast to many other piano teachers, he plays music with the student, so as to provide constant musical examples, demos and accompaniment to the student, within a productive, supportive atmosphere.
Shan's teaching is made up of 4 main areas:
1 Chord playing
For beginners, "chord playing" is knowing what the chords are, how to find them and how to get into a routine with practise. These skills are learned through scales, exercises and by using pieces as a vehicle for learning skills. You do not just play pieces without any musical understanding.
Intermediate/advanced students learn how to play beautiful-sounding chord movements and voicings that are rarely found at all in typical jazz education. Shan is one of the only jazz educators in the UK to have the know-how and proficiency associated with this method. For more background, please see the About Shan page.
2 Understanding chord sequences and how music works
This area touches on all parts of the lesson. Shan organises this part of his teaching into what he calls the "5 Pillars of Harmony". This is a set of five basic principles (plus two additional principles) which explain exactly what's happening in jazz standards. Students who have studied jazz before appreciate the logic and simplicity that can be mastered as a result of seeing music this way.
Demystifying note choices for solo lines, building musical phrases and knowing how to add extra chromatic notes (see video example at side) are all taught with clear strategies for how to incorporate the skills into student playing. This learning goes hand-in-hand with the skills you will master regarding how chord sequences work. In turn, you learn how to make the correct-sounding note choices that are appropriate for the given context.
The approach here about turning the knowledge you learn in lessons into skills that you can use freely in a real situation.
4 The approach
Students are encouraged to embrace mistakes with a smile, in order to learn the lessons embedded within them. Memorising music rather than knowing the language of music is a challenge for many students, at first. Students who want to remain within their comfort zones and never make mistakes tend to struggle with the whole process because they tend not to spend their practice routines approaching materials from different directions to gain freedom from them.
Learning to turn knowledge and ideas into skills that truly belong to the students, rather than relying on memory, is central to Shan’s approach. Only being able to play the last piece learned (remembered) is a good example of what happens if musical language skills are not mastered. You are encouraged to develop a "jazz musician mindset" throughout the learning process and to approach practice as a way to break free of ineffective habits.