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I was interesting in getting a little more involved with jazz theory. I know classical music theory and harmony up to a point.

Should I keep developing my classical music theory/harmony knowledge before I continue with jazz or is it not necessary?

PS: I'm not a total beginner; I have been studying music for some time now.

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4 Answers 4

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Coming from a similar perspective as you (likely with less classical music theory) I can only say go for the jazz now. There are a lot of overlapping areas, the foundation of scales and chords is obviously an area where a lot is shared.

There are jazz theory books; I've been using one called Jazzology, which contains a lot of stuff. It starts out with basic triads and scales though, so not much prior knowledge is needed. You should know staff notation, basic knowledge about how the modes of a scale works is a definite advantage.

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Do they start from the scratch or do I need any knowledge before I pick up a book like that? – Shevliaskovic May 12 '14 at 13:28
@Shevliaskovic: They start pretty much from the start with triads, basic scales and then continue onwards. – Meaningful Username May 12 '14 at 13:30
can you add it to your answer? It would be more complete – Shevliaskovic May 12 '14 at 13:32
@Shevliaskovic: Done and done! – Meaningful Username May 12 '14 at 13:45

It rather depends where the 'point' is that you've got up to.As a sort of yardstick, ABRSM grade 5 theory is probably as far as you need to go with Classical theory, as harmony, scales, basic chords etc., are covered, plus a lot of stuff that only applies to classical playing - ornaments, writing for transposing instruments, alto clefs and so on won't be too relevant.

Stuff that will be, at this level, is - odd time sigs., writing in certain keys,intervals etc.Then there's always extended chords !At this level, you're probably better going off at a tangent and studying jazz theory, which will have started in the same frame of mind as the Classical anyway.

I'm guessing you're studying this with bass in mind, but whatever instrument, the theory will make far more sense when it becomes practice. Play with other jazzers, read the real and fake books.Get backing tracks: there are loads to Google, and get good at transcribing notes and chords from them.

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As a general rule, knowing "classical theory" does not help you when it comes to playing jazz. to get started on jazz piano, first get a good foundation in harmony, then start learning jazz voicings and reharmonization methods:

  1. Understanding and Implementing Harmony on the Piano.

  2. Play Piano by Ear.

  3. The Blues Scales: Essential Tools

  4. The Harmonic Foundation for Jazz and Popular Music

Once you've made some progress on those, then the next steps are indispensable:

  1. private instruction with a performing jazz musician in your area

  2. playing with a jazz band

The goal is to learn the fundamentals and basics from the books, and then to learn best practices of how to really implement this from playing with others.

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Is that really true that classical theory does not help you? To understand e.g. the functions of chords should be a great help. Many (most?) of the greats had classical training. – Meaningful Username May 15 '14 at 7:02
The classical theory by itself does not get you to playing jazz. – Michael Martinez May 15 '14 at 21:18
That's a totally different statement than "classical theory does not help you when it comes to playing jazz"... – Meaningful Username May 16 '14 at 13:47

Let me give an answer that is from a broader perspective (and supports Tim's response).

All western music that you hear, whether it is techno, jazz, or hip hop, is based off of "classical theory" (a.k.a western harmony). Therefore, you will need to know the classical theory fundamentals.

However, those fundamentals will naturally be taught first before you start learning "jazz theory". You can't understand the significance of the raised 7th of a chord without knowing what a triad is, for example.

So, you probably don't need to devote any time to "classical theory" (you don't need to be adept at counterpoint, for example), therefore go for theory books that come from a jazz perspective.

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