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Review of Beginning Jazz Clarinet Studies by John Cipolla
Published in The Clarinet, March 2008, Volume 35, No. 2

How many beginning jazz clarinet pedagogy books are on your shelf? I would venture to say not too many. It is a challenge for an author of any jazz pedagogy work to write a narrowly focused and accessible method without inadvertently veering off into a complete jazz history lesson, which often results in the student simply putting the book back on the shelf to collect dust after one use. Dr. Coughlin offers a concise and fun approach to beginning jazz clarinetists that gets right to the point and has the student playing immediately from the first page. Volume 1 focuses on jazz rhythm and articulation and Volume 2 focuses on jazz rhythm and syncopation.

Each volume is divided into “classes.” The classes consist of a master class that explains the new topic and then an etude that puts the topic into practice. The master class that explains each new topic is a two or three-line musical example, followed by a variation on Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star that helps the student relate the concept to a traditional song. The accompanying compact disc contains three tracks for each class -- an audio master class, a recording of the clarinet and piano playing the etude, and then a recording of just the piano part without the clarinet playing. The author emphasizes the importance of playing along with the tracks to assimilate the basics of jazz by ear.

Each volume offers four supplemental etudes at the end of the book that integrate the various topics throughout the book. The recorded examples have a clean and warm sound quality and the playing by both Coughlin, clarinet, and Lou Rainone, piano, have a lilting swing that makes them easy to listen to and imitate. There are also supplemental materials on the publisher’s Web site, www.SkyLeapMusic.com.

Though both volumes are similar in format (master class, variation on Twinkle, Twinkle, etude), Volume 2 begins with a quick review of the concepts from Volume 1. It then moves along more rapidly than Volume 1 in difficulty level. Volume 2 also includes chapters on Playing By Ear and Composition. The information in these chapters is helpful, but to a beginner jazz clarinetist with possibly no background in listening to jazz, the chapters might not connect with what the student has been doing up to this point in the series, which has been to practice jazz rhythms, articulations, and syncopations with a recorded example.

These volumes are largely practice books rather than reading books. They are to be used in the practice room, as any other etude book would be. The books are intended for beginners. They are written so that a student who has been playing for a few months can pick them up. They are also appropriate for middle school students who are interested in learning how to play in a jazz style. High school students can use them, though they may need to be reminded to focus on the lessons of style in these studies, which may be a challenge for them, as they may be looking towards more technically demanding material.

Though at initial glance one might hope a book on beginning jazz clarinet would get right into learning how to actually improvise, Coughlin emphasizes that in order to learn to improvise, even at the beginner level, one must have a foundation in the basics of jazz rhythm, articulation, and syncopation. It would behoove the student to heed the author’s advice and practice along with the recorded examples until the rhythmic feel and imitation of the articulation are achieved.

This series offers an excellent and easy to use hands-on approach for beginning clarinetists to develop the fundamentals of playing jazz. It is nice to see an author/player/teacher focusing on the youngest clarinet students, giving them a chance to get hooked on this wonderful music at the earliest stages of their musical development.

More information on Beginning Jazz Clarinet Studies, by Kyle Coughlin