According to Dizzy Gillespie, all great jazz musicians started out by "trying to play exactly like somebody else". (See more on this in my research paper on modeling and patterns.)
Shouldn't there be a "however" coming soon? Oh, yes, here it comes...HOWEVER, there are some major problems with giving young students an assignment to transcribe a solo.
Problem 1: Most Recorded Solos Are Too Fast
Jazz solos are not too fast to listen to, but they are definitely too fast for beginning improvisers to figure out what the notes are. A student could spend two hours trying to figure out the notes in the first four measures. Time well spent? Perhaps, but it doesn't exactly engender an enthusiasm for transcribing, or a likelihood that she will do more of it when it is not a school assignment.
Problem 2: Most Recorded Solos Use Notes That Are Too High
Unless you are listening to soloists from the Dixieland or early Swing Eras, in nearly every solo you will find notes that are in the extreme upper register of the instrument. This is not such a problem on the rhythm section instruments (piano, bass, and guitar), but is a major problem on the wind instruments (trumpet, trombone, and saxophone). Most young brass players just can't hit notes above the 5th partial, and most saxophonists can't play altissimo notes. Meanwhile, the solo doesn't sound right when played in a lower octave, so transcribing a typical recorded solo is impossible at worst, or unsatisfying at best.
Problem 3: Most Recorded Solos Are Played Over Advanced Chord Changes
Unless your beginning jazz students are working on soloing over jazz standards like Autumn Leaves or How High The Moon (unlikely), it will be near impossible for them to find a recorded solos based on the chord or basic changes they are learning. Even with simple, standard chord progressions like the blues, most recorded solos will utilize more advanced chord substitutions or variations on the basic form, such that the note choices will not match up with the chords the student has been taught. Thus, when the transcribed solo is analyzed, it will not make sense when compared to the expected chord progression.
As a public school jazz educator, I find that these problems are so substantial that it is an exercise in total futility to assign and expect my students to go find and transcribe a solo. Thus, transcribing is the WRONG answer for young beginning jazz musicians in a large class.
Did I seriously say that out loud?! Of course, I'm not saying "transcribing is bad", I'm only saying that "transcribing is ineffective when the model solos are too hard or too unrelated to the chord progression the students are working on".
Okay, so is there a way to make transcribing the RIGHT answer? Yes! But, until now, it has been too cumbersome a task, or too expensive a proposition to create a curriculum that introduces basic chords and chord progressions which includes hours of accompanying recordings of professional-level, but developmentally-appropriate improvised solos on EVERY instrument. A curriculum like this has never been available among the thousands of jazz books and method...until now. Thanks to a generous grant from Brigham Young University and the cooperation of Caleb Chapman and his amazing Crescent Super Band, the Improv Pathways classroom jazz improvisation method makes transcribing an easy, integrated, and valuable part of the curriculum. All the model solos are truly improvised by some of the most talented and most experienced young jazz musicians in the world, and they are all played within the basic range of each instrument, with just enough "speed" to make them a fun challenge for beginners to transcribe. Students on every instrument in your jazz ensemble will have a successful, motivating experience transcribing solos that will truly help them develop their improvisation skills. With Improv Pathways, transcribing jazz solos is the RIGHT answer!
Orem Junior High