“Bebop by the Numbers,” is a method for both learning how to improvise on any instrument, as well as teaching students how to improvise. It starts super simple and takes you through 14 additive concepts to developing Bebop ideas and placing them in your music. From total beginner to reading chord changes and playing diminished goodness that make your listeners say, “yeah.”

Featuring Simple Concepts & Terms

One of the primary goals of Bebop by the Numbers is to be able to give students specific feedback on improving their improvisation. I wanted to be able to say, “try _______” and have the term be easily understood, rememberable, and accessible for all ages.

Some of the terminology includes:

  • Stingers
  • Pickups
  • Noodling
  • Simple Scales
  • Circles
  • and more…

Each concept is attached to a specifc technique for embellishing the music.

With Bebop by the Numbers, you will learn how to:

  • Recognize these concepts in the music that you listen to,
  • Use them to develop your own ideas,
  • Place them in your music.

So why Bebop by the Numbers?

I guess it started with teaching improvisation to beginning jazz band and trying to write out ideas for students to play, without having to transpose everything. You see, band instruments are in different keys. I have no idea who’s idea that was. As a piano player, I find it fairly crazy. I started writing things using numbers, and told my band kids to figure out what each note was. Of course I did help them if they got stuck. I also started using numbers in teaching improvisation with my piano students. Specifically talking about the different intervals of the cords and how to embellish the one, three, the five, the seven, the nine of the chord. As I would teach riffs, I found it useful to talk about the ideas using numbers so my students could transpose them into different keys. Numbers are very helpful. If you can think about the numbers of the scale degrees instead of the letters, you can then translate ideas to different keys more quickly. “What’s the one, what’s the three?” And then in the other key, it’s the same question, just a different answer. You can’t transpose very quickly from one key to the other without using numbers.

I have also done a lot of experimenting with students, testing who learned faster. The students in which we used notes and their corresponding letters, or the students where we went by numbers? In my experience so far, numbers, even though they may add an extra step, and the students have to figure out how to play the pattern; in this case they tend to learn and retain and start coming up with her own ideas sooner than those where we go note by note. My theory for this is that it is need to make comparisons to play the ideas. For example, “This is the minor third, and I’m going to the sixth, the sharp four, then five; I like that sound. Ok, let me try it with this key.“ I don’t see students making those discoveries as quickly when we go note by note, and ideas are written out for them. 

So for these reasons, we’re going to focus on learning Bebop by the Numbers.

-Danny Kolke

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