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How to learn jazz violin

Jazz violinist Regina Carter, interviewed here, offers some advice on exploring the genre

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‘If it’s not your language you have to do a lot of listening and transcribing – not necessarily writing it down, but listening and playing it back. Then tape yourself playing it, because it’s not just about the notes: the notes are the least important of what you’re transcribing. Are you phrasing like they phrase and breathing when they breathe? Are you using their vibrato? It’s really difficult for string players to let go of vibrato, so either slow it down or get rid of it completely and try to sound as much like that language as possible.’

How to break away from eight-bar phrases

‘It’s hard. Just listen to players and see how they cross that barline, how they approach their soloing and the statement they’re making. Be mindful and pay attention to not starting on the one or ending on the four. It was something I really had to work on because it’s so easy to play on those barlines and uncomfortable to go across them. I really think about it when I’m improvising. What is it I’m trying to say? Try not to stay within these barlines because then you’re just saying short sentences, so try saying extended sentences. I pay attention to what’s going on around me in the band and to work off what they’re doing. That’s always part of the process.’


‘If you start on the paper it’s difficult not to have the paper there. Try to improvise and come up with your own story. You have to start small and simple. I always like to start with the blues, because even if we think we don’t know it, we hear it. Or modal tunes that don’t have a lot of chord changes. Just play and get comfortable.’


‘Be open stylistically and don’t box yourself in as a player. Discover all the types of music out there, whatever your main language is going to be. Do a lot of listening. The more styles that we’re open to the more opportunities will present themselves. Don’t think of yourself as a violinist but as a medium for the music to flow through. Don’t say, “You can’t do that on the violin.” Say, “How am I going to do that?”’


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Photo: David Katzenstein

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