Knowing how to count off the jazz band is a really important skill that every musician should have. Singers and instrumentalists alike should feel comfortable counting off the band in any tempo and groove, as should choral directors, band directors and anyone else who might work with a live band or even just a pianist.
Be in Greater Control
The ability to count off the band is an important skill that shows that you know how to address the musicians and speak their language. It also puts you in greater control of how a musical experience will work out, since you get to decide the tempo and the groove of the piece.
Counting off the band might seem easy to do, but it is actually a really important moment in music making. The count-off establishes not only the tempo, but also the rhythmic framework for the song, and having the proper count-off will help get you and the band in sync, into the same mindset. If you are a chorus conductor doing a jazz inspired number, a proper count-off can help your group perform with real authenticity.
Framework for Success
Before we get ourselves into the specifics of counting off songs with different time signatures and grooves, I want to set up a framework for success. The first thing to understand is that whomever is counting off the band needs to have a sense of what the band is going to sound like. You have to have internalized the sound of the rhythm section to some degree in your mind, if your count-off is going to be effective.
How do you do this? It doesn’t mean you have to be a master jazz musician, but it does mean that you have to do some advanced preparation by listening to recordings. If you are working on a particular piece, you should find a recording of that song performed by the best musicians you can find. You should also find other recordings that are of a similar groove to the song that you are working on. This will help you get a picture in your mind of what the rhythm section sounds like. You want to make sure you have the right sound in your head as you get ready to count off the jazz band.
Steps to count off the jazz band:
Step 1: Sing a little bit of the song in your head (or out loud!). This will ensure that the tempo is correct and not too fast or too slow when you count off the jazz band.
Step 2: Tap or snap along to your singing to establish what tempo you want.
Step 3: Snap or tap loudly so the band can hear your tempo and start to internalize the groove.
Step 4: Count off the band, loudly and clearly while facing the band.
A note for teachers teaching jazz band:
Train your students, both instrumentalists and singers, to count off the band. Have your students take turns counting off the band at every rehearsal. It is such a great way to expand their musicianship skills, build leadership skills and take greater ownership of the rehearsal process.
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