Jazz: Its Characteristics and Instrumentation

Every culture usually has something to contribute to the society for the entertainment and pleasure of every single individual; a delicacy, a practice, or an expertise. In the world of music and entertainment, one contribution from the African Americans that made a big leap to the music scene is Jazz. It had a great impact to the people that even up to now, it still exists and continues to fascinate.

Jazz is said to be diverse; a combination of many creative and stylistic music styles. In this type of music, the singer or musician can  experiment, alter and make modifications on the technique used and on how the song is to be delivered thus, making it more artistic and unique; this explains the most important characteristic of jazz, which is improvisation. Improvisation can be done in many elements of the composition like melody and harmony. By applying such in a song, it becomes identifiable with the listener that the piece belongs to the scope of jazz. Many musicians believe that without improvisation, a song could not be classified as jazz but this genre of music is very varied that no particular description can be made to, exactly define it. During the old times, when music was still simple, people were driven to improvise to make the song more beautiful but nowadays, people tend to compose sophisticated music giving less room for musicians to improvise. Since improvisation was a big part of the history of jazz, it was not totally detached, but instead it was incorporated on its method of composition.

People also can distinguish jazz from other genres through another characteristic, which is syncopation. It is the placement of unexpected accents in the rhythm of a composition and emphasis is placed between the beats. These accents are usually positioned on weaker beats. It somewhat creates an unexpected rhythm that is irregularly incorporated throughout the entire song. This gives the song a more distinctive sense of the timing with regards to the notes and a personalized way of execution with regards to its delivery. There are other attributes that can be incorporated in the rhythm of a composition when it comes to jazzing; this includes counterpoint and the concept of swing. Counterpoint is an attribute of jazz wherein instruments that vary are played together all woven into a harmonious whole creating a different kind of rhythm for a song. The more complex counterpoint is applied to the composition, the richer the rhythmic background becomes. Most of the jazz musicians incorporate swing in the composition to entice the listener to move and dance with the beat of the music.

Diverse music styles utilize different kinds of instruments to accompany the musicians. Instruments also help musicians identify the genre of music they want to depict. The instruments play a major role in jazz since these are the tools that the musician manipulates to achieve the desired sound for a composition. In instrumentation, an important element that needs to be understood is the timbre. This distinguishes the sound of a certain instrument from another. The timbre is the sound from the instruments that we immediately hear upon manipulation of the musicians. The timbre of a piano perhaps is different in comparison to the timbre of a trumpet. This is evident when instruments are played simultaneously just like in counterpart; the listener can easily identify the sound of an instrument even though a variety of sounds are produced. The most common instruments used in jazz are saxophone, trumpet, piano, banjo, bass guitar, clarinet and drums. These instruments are grouped in such a way that they have to complement each other to produce a balanced sound. These instruments also possess different ranges of pitch making it more diverse. The vocalist, who is free to improvise with the lyrics and sounds, can be stylish in any way like imitating the sounds of the instruments or choosing a faster or slower tempo in the delivery of words. Instrumentalists can also make some alterations with the instruments they are using for it to complement the vocals and to elicit a much unique sound for the listeners. Though vocals are part of jazz, it is mainly an instrumental music. Therefore, without the instruments, jazz will not exist.

Bob Mather