Thinking in Pitch: Implications for Vocal Jazz Improvisation Education

Hargreaves, Wendy ORCID: (2013) Thinking in Pitch: Implications for Vocal Jazz Improvisation Education. In: 8th International Conference for Research in Music Education (RIME 2013), 9 April - 13 April 2013, Exeter, United Kingdom.


This paper presents new data regarding the jazz vocalist’s experience of conceptualising pitch while improvising. Research which juxtaposed vocalists with instrumentalists revealed that vocalists have significantly less awareness of absolute pitch. The singer’s lack of visual and tactile feedback, and the less categorical nature of vocal kinaesthetic feedback, obstructs the swift identification of absolute pitches. It shows that while improvising, vocalists are more likely to think in relative pitch or disregard thinking in pitch altogether. Consequently, educational approaches which rely on students conceptualising then applying musical devices in absolute pitch generates different learning experiences for singers than other musicians.

Data for this paper was obtained from a larger two phase, mixed methods study conducted as part of doctoral research at the Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University. Phase one surveyed 209 Australian jazz vocalists and instrumentalists, investigating their perceptions and experiences of jazz education and performance. PASW was used to conduct chi square analysis of the datum to delineate statistically significant results. Phase two employed qualitative interviews of 22 Australian jazz vocal performers and/or jazz educators in Australian tertiary institutions. NVivo was used to assist the thematic analysis of the datum.

This paper details vocalists’ educational experiences of conceptualising pitch during improvising and their explanations of why they reject thinking in absolute pitch. The findings have implications for jazz educators using the chord-scale formulaic method which frequently utilises knowledge of absolute pitch to apply specific musical devices. It suggests that in the combined instrumental and vocal improvisation classroom, singers may be disadvantaged by this educational approach due to the difficulty of producing specified pitches on demand.

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Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Commonwealth Reporting Category E) (Speech)
Refereed: No
Item Status: Live Archive
Additional Information: Files associated with this item cannot be displayed due to copyright restrictions.
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: No Faculty
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: No Faculty
Date Deposited: 25 Jul 2022 02:53
Last Modified: 25 Jul 2022 02:53
Uncontrolled Keywords: improvisation, vocalist, jazz, instrumentalist, pitch
Fields of Research (2020): 36 CREATIVE ARTS AND WRITING > 3603 Music > 360302 Music composition and improvisation
36 CREATIVE ARTS AND WRITING > 3603 Music > 360303 Music education

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