Combo Levels

During the registration process, workshop registrants will choose one of the following specific combo levels:

  • Beginner/Advancing Beginner
  • Intermediate
  • Advanced
How to decide which combo level?
  • Read the combo level descriptions below

Accomplished jazz improvisors have honed a wide range of skills that allow them to improvise over jazz standards fluently and musically, but all players are “in progress,” working to get more comfortable in more keys, to play at different tempos, or to learn new tunes. While experience playing in school big bands is helpful, improvising fluently in smaller jazz combos requires a deeper understanding of jazz theory and experience taking solos on multiple tunes.

The combo level descriptions below are provided to help students decide where they are, generally, on their journey towards mastering jazz improvisation as well as to help them decide which combo level to choose while registering.

Mr. Rarick helping his combo with a new tune.

Beginner/Advancing Beginner Level

Students entering grade 7 through adult, who can read music, and who want to begin exploring jazz are welcome in our workshops.

Our combos for beginners and advancing beginners are best for players who…

  • Know all the notes on their instrument
  • Are new to improvising or have a bit of experience playing in school band or a workshop like this
  • Have some or no training in jazz music theory
  • Are just beginning to learn about how to improvise over a song
  • Pianists and guitarists should know their notes and be familiar with some chords
  • Drummers should be able to keep steady time and have some experience playing a drum set
  • Vocalists should be able to sing an octave range, sing on pitch and to read notes

Bill Chapin leading a 2018 workshop session.

Intermediate Level

Our combos for intermediate players are best for anyone who…

  • Has played in school jazz bands
  • Can improvise over the blues with the blues scale
  • Is working on “playing the changes”—hitting chord tones and using the correct scale for each chord while improvising
  • Has developed at least a beginning understand of jazz music theory and chord progressions like the ii-V-I

Jack and Kyle at the saxes.

Advanced Level

Advanced players…

  • Have multiple years of experience improvising (have taken multiple solos) over tunes in jazz band or while playing in jazz combos
  • Are comfortable improvising over ii-V-I’s and other chord progressions in multiple keys
  • Can play swing, Latin, and jazz waltz tunes with a good sense of time and feel