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What is Jazz?





IV. Basic Musical Elements

A. Note


  1. A note is a single pitch of music, e.g., if you strike a single key on the piano, that is one note.
  2. Notes can be high (right side of the piano keyboard), low (left side of the piano keyboard), or in the "midrange" (middle of the piano keyboard).
  3. Notes can be played on any instrument or sung by the human voice. 

B. Melody


  1. A melody is a group of notes played or sung in succession, e.g., when a song is played or sung, the melody you hear is simply a group of notes one after the other.
  2. The particular order of notes, as well as the length of each note (i.e., whether it is short, sustains for a long time, or somewhere in between), are what make each melody different and recognizable.
  3. When you sing a song aloud, or imagine it in your mind, you are most likely singing or imagining the song's melody. 

C. Chord


  1. A chord is two or more different notes played at the same time.
  2. Most instruments (e.g., saxophone, trumpet, trombone, human voice) can only play one note at a time and, therefore, can't play chords; these are referred to as single-note instruments.
  3. Instruments that can play chords are piano (just strike more than one key simultaneously) and guitar (just strum across more than one string).
  4. Two or more musicians playing single-note instruments can produce a chord together if they each play a different note at the same time; when they do this, they are producing harmony (singers in choirs do this all the time).
  5. Chord = Harmony (they are synonymous).
  6. Chords help depict the music’s emotional content.
    1. Depending on the particular notes that are played (simultaneously), chords can portray every conceivable emotion, e.g., happy, sad, exciting, mysterious, angry, and many more - even those nuances of emotion for which there are no words (that’s why we have music in the first place: to express emotions that are beyond words).
    2. Even by changing just one note in a chord (say, from the notes C-E-G to the notes C-Eb-G) can change the emotion depicted by the chord drastically.
    3. Most chords used in jazz are comprised of 3 to 6 notes.
    4. Whereas different notes played in succession are called a melody, different chords played in succession are called a chord progression; in jazz (as well as most popular music), melodies are accompanied by a chord progression (a series of chords); for more on chords and chord progressions, as well as aural examples, click below.

Audio Snippets

speakerspacer Chords and Chord Progressions - Mark Gridley

D. Accompaniment


  1. Whereas the melody of a song (the most distinguishable part of a song) is what's sung or played "up front," all the music in the background is called the accompaniment.
  2. The accompaniment consists of all the chords the pianist and/or guitarist play as well as everything else being played behind the melody (what the bassist plays, what the drummer plays, etc.). 

the Herbie Hancock institute of jazz
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