So often in music theory we focus right away on those materials that can be found on the surface of a particular style or genre, describing their behavior and relationships with a long list of rules: this harmony tends to resolve to that harmony, these harmonies are associated with these scales, such and such a harmony can be voiced in such and such a way, except when…, except when…, except when…, etc. (This is of course a gross over simplification.) Though such an approach embodies a great deal of information about the mechanics of a particular style, it offers less in the way of general understanding, as the rules that are applicable in one musical context may well be null and void in another.
By contrast, The Walden Musicianship Course begins with core concepts (namely acoustics) and gradually expands outward, providing foundations that support exploration across a wide range of musical styles. The course is designed so that each new concept grows smoothly from material already covered. Jazz Musicianship builds on this organic design, traveling paths from acoustics to the surface of the jazz language in all its diverse utterances (from the blues to the avant-garde). In addition to providing strong foundations for common practice materials, this approach helps students understand in musical terms how the jazz language has evolved in the past and recognize ways in which it may continue to grow in the future.
The second key characteristic of Walden Musicianship is that it is activity based. Once discovered, materials are drilled in a variety of ways, involving singing, playing, listening, spelling, reading, writing, movement, and games. This kind of hands, ears, and minds on approach engenders deep fluency with materials, a high virtue in the study of jazz.
The third key characteristic is that creative application is engaged on a regular basis at all levels of the learning process. Having discovered and drilled a particular concept, students are asked to truly make it their own by applying it in compositional and improvisational activities. The intention is for students to become increasingly accustomed to making personal decisions with musical materials. In Jazz Musicianship, frequent creative work thus serves as a healthy counterbalance for the study of the jazz masters, each activity enriching and being enriched by the other.